- Shia Blocs Fail To Agree On Supporting PM-Designate Adnan al-Zurfi; Al-Khazali Calls For Giving The Care-Taker Government Emergency Powers; Fatah Coalition Tells Zurfi To Step Down – On March 20, Reuters reported that the U.S. government was “enormously disappointed” with Baghdad’s ineffective efforts to protect American personnel from repeated militia attacks. On March 21, the Hikma bloc said a meeting between Shia political leaders failed to produce an agreement on supporting PM-designate Adnan al-Zurfi amid “absolute and irreversible” opposition by the Fatah and State of Law coalitions to Zurfi’s selection. Meanwhile, Asaib Ahl al-Haq leader Qais al-Khazali reiterated the call for granting “emergency powers” to Adil Abdul-Mahdi’s care-taker government. The Nasr coalition, to which Zurfi belongs, called for replacing the care-taker government with a new one “as soon as possible.” On March 24, the PUK said that voting to approve a government led by Zurfi was contingent on the normalization of conditions in Kirkuk and agreements on the Kurdistan region’s share of the federal budget. Meanwhile, a KDP member confirmed that talks between the main Kurdish parties and Zurfi have not started yet, expecting talks to commence “after the Shia political house achieves consensus.” On March 25, the head of Fatah’s bloc in Parliament said that Fatah continues to reject the way by which President Salih selected Zurfi because it “violated the constitution and political norms,” asking Zurfi to step down. Earlier thi week, Moqtada al-Sadr had sent a message to other Shia blocs saying that he opposed discussing anything related to replacing Zurfi with another candidate.
- International Coalition Pulls Troops, Transfers Base To Iraqi Forces; Turkey And PKK Violence Escalates In The KRI; New Rocket Attack Hits Baghdad – On March 20, the U.S.-led international coalition against ISIS said that it was reducing its personnel level in Iraq in response to COVID-19 as Iraqi security forces (ISF) halted their training programs in response to the outbreak. The coalition also handed the Qayyara base back to the ISF. On March 21, Iraqi air force F-16 jets bombarded ISIS hideouts in the Himrin mountains, killing “tens” of the militants. On March 21, an IED explosion in Anbar killed two Iraqi soldiers and wounded four others. On March 22, an IED killed one woman in in Diyala and another IED explosion killed one member of the popular mobilization forces (PMF) and wounded two southwest of Baghdad. On March 23, the Turkish military killed or captured two members of the PKK in Duhok. On March 25, a mortar attack by PKK militants killed two Turkish soldiers and wounded two others. Turkish forces responded with a new offensive, killing or capturing eight PKK members. On March 23, two IEDs wounded two ISF members and one civilian in Diyala. On March 23, clashes between the ISF and ISIS militants in Salah ad-Din killed an ISF officer and three ISIS militants. On March 24, unidentified militants killed a family south of Baghdad, torched their home, and set up an IED that later wounded a member of the ISF. On March 24, a militant attack on the Tarmiyah power station north of Baghdad killed one of the facility’s guards and injured two more. On March 25, an IED killed two members of the ISF in Diyala. On March 26, two rockets struck near the Baghdad operations command center in the Green Zone. There were reports of casualties. more…
- Iraq Extends Curfews And Travel Bans To Contain COVID-19 But Crowded Pilgrimage Raises Risks; Confirmed Cases Double, Fatalities Triple This Week – On March 22, senior cleric Ali al-Sistani asked people to stay at home in a bid to contain the COVID-19 outbreak during an annual Shia pilgrimage to a major shrine in Baghdad. Despite government warnings and Sistani’s message, many worshipers insisted on performing the pilgrimage, with little intervention from the security forces. The UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs said the government’s decision to stop millions of foreign pilgrims from entering the country was a “significant achievement” that contributed to containing the pandemic, but warned that failure to stop thousands of local Iraqis from crowding the pilgrimage site means that “an increase in the number of daily cases recorded is expected in coming weeks.” On March 24, Iraq’s Central Bank said it received ID44 billion (~ $36 million) in donations earmarked for purchasing respirators needed to treat COVID-19 patients. On March 26, Iraq extended a week-long curfew that was announced last week to April 11 in an attempt to control the spread of COVID-19. Despite airport closures, Iraqi authorities continued to operate limited special flights to repatriate Iraqis stranded in foreign countries. The KRG too extended the curfew in its provinces until April 1. In Baghdad, security forces told residents to stay at home unless they have an emergency, warning that they would arrest anyone who violated the curfew. The Iraqi army said its units will help local police and authorities enforce the curfew. On March 26, the Iraqi Ministry of Health reported that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has risen to 382, more than double the 177 cases reported a week earlier. Fatalities from the outbreak have tripled over the last seven days, rising from 12 to 36. Seven of the deaths and 36 of the new infections were reported within the previous 24 hours alone. more…
- Iraq Awards Gas Processing Contract To China’s CPEEC; KRG Struggles To Pay Oil Companies; U.S. Shrinks Baghdad’s Iran Sanctions Waivers – On March 23 Iraq awarded CPEEC, a Chinese oil services firm, a contract valued at $203.5 million to establish gas processing infrastructure at the Majnoon oilfield in Basra. On March 25, industry sources said the KRG has not been able to make the latest monthly payments to oil companies operating in the KRI due to financial difficulties. Two companies operating fields in the KRI warned that the delay would undermine their plans to invest in new oil works. On March 26, the U.S., citing Iranian interference in Iraqi politics, granted Iraq a mere 30-day extension on a previous waiver that allows the country to purchase gas and electricity from Iran despite American sanctions on Tehran. more…
For more background on most of the institutions, key actors, political parties, and locations mentioned in our takeaways or in the stories that follow, see the ISHM Reference Guide.
Shia Blocs Fail To Agree On Supporting PM-Designate Adnan al-Zurfi; Al-Khazali Calls For Giving The Care-Taker Government Emergency Powers; Fatah Coalition Tells Zurfi To Step Down
On March 20, Reuters reported that the U.S. government was “enormously disappointed” with the ineffectiveness of the Baghdad government’s efforts to protect American personnel and interests from repeated militia attacks. The report, which quoted a U.S. State Department official, comes amid strained relations between Baghdad and Washington following rocket attacks by pro-Iran militias that killed and wounded American and British personnel in Iraq, and American retaliatory airstrikes that resulted in casualties among Iraqi civilians and government forces.
On March 21, a representative of the Hikma bloc said that a meeting between Shia political blocs hosted by Hikma’s leader Ammar al-Hakim failed to produce an agreement on supporting Prime Minister-designate Adnan al-Zurfi. Hikma representative Assad al-Murshidi attributed the disagreement to the “absolute and irreversible” opposition the Fatah and State of Law coalitions have shown to the selection of Zurfi as the new prime minister. On the other side, Saeroun coalition leader Moqtada al-Sadr, who is believed to be supportive of Zurfi, had reportedly sent a message to the meeting saying that he opposed discussing anything related to replacing Zurfi with another candidate. Despite this apparent support for Zurfi, representatives of Saeroun have claimed that the bloc was “neutral” and has not made an official decision to back Zurfi’s attempt to form a government.
On March 21, Qais al-Khazali, leader of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, reiterated his earlier call for granting “emergency powers” to the care-taker government of outgoing Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi. Khazali argued that Parliament should consider declaring a state of emergency to authorize the government to take necessary measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic declaring that “it’s not reasonable that our people and economy are facing death and ruin while the political powers are busy selecting an alternative candidate” to Prime Minister-designate Adnan al-Zurfi. He added that the current government with its limited powers cannot provide the funds the ministers need to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak. Khazali attempted to preempt “doubts that he was aiming to keep the resigned government in office,” by suggesting that there could be prior agreement to let the emergency powers expire as soon as the health crisis ends. Other blocs, such as the Nasr coalition to which Adnan al-Zurfi belongs, believe the solution is in expediting government formation. Nasr representative Nada Jawdat said on March 24 that the COVID-19 crisis “exposed the corruption and failure of the current government,” arguing that “therefore, the care-taker government must end as soon as possible, and a new government that can deal with crises must be formed.”
On March 24, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) bloc in the Iraqi Parliament said that voting in favor of approving a government led by the new prime minister-designate, Adnan al-Zurfi, was contingent on agreements on several issues. Almas Fadhil, a PUK representative said these issues included normalization of conditions in Kirkuk and other disputed territories, the Kurdistan region’s share of the federal budget, and other constitutional rights of the region. The representative said the Kurdish parties had no reservations on the names of ministers in the new government “so long as there was an agreement on the role and weight that Kurds shall have in the new cabinet.” Hassan Ali, another PUK representative stressed on March 25 that government formation negotiations between the party and Zurfi have not started yet. Ali added that Kurdish representatives were working from their provinces due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and would return to Baghdad when those have been lifted. Meanwhile, a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) confirmed that talks between the main Kurdish parties and Zurfi have not started yet, saying that “our talks begin after the Shia political house achieves consensus.”
On March 25, Sarkawt Shams ad-Din, a member of a group of Kurdish parliamentarians excluding the PUK and KDP, said his group was having discussions with Zurfi. Shams ad-Din said the talks focused on “adhering to the constitution, including article 140, the financial entitlements of citizens in the region, and treating them as Iraqis, irrespective of political and oil disputes…and responding to the legitimate demands of protesters.” The representative said the talks also addressed the issue of working with the Kurdish Peshmerga as a formal Iraqi military force.
On March 25, the Fatah coalition asserted its opposition to Prime Minister-designate Adnan al-Zurfi. The head of Fatah’s bloc in Parliament, Mohammed al-Ghabban, said in a statement that “Fatah’s rejection of the mechanism by which Zurfi was designated is unchanged because the president of the republic violated the constitution and political norms established since 2003.” Ghabban, a former interior minister, said Fatah invites Zurfi to step down “to avoid ending his political career by squandering the [Shia] majority’s right [to form a government].” Earlier remarks by other Fatah members were harsher in denouncing Zurfi, who was selected by President Barham Salih to be the next Prime Minister on March 17. Fatah representative Karim al-Mhimmadawi said Zurfi was “purely American…who had a role in Iraq’s ruin and sponsoring the Jokers at protest sites,” a derogatory term used by politicians close to Iran-backed militias to dismiss Iraqi protesters as foreign agents. On March 23, a member of the Fatah coalition said the group intended to initiate talks with other blocs to find alternatives to Zurfi. Representative Mokhtar al-Mousawi explained that “Shia blocs who are against prime minister-designate Adnan al-Zurfi will have a series of meetings with Kurdish and Sunni powers to discuss canceling Zurfi’s nomination.” Mousawi added that the discussion would also aim to reach an agreement on “a consensus candidate” to replace Zurfi and form the next government. The Nasr coalition, to which Zurfi belongs, warned that attempts to nominate a replacement for Zurfi during the 30-day government formation period would be against the constitution.
International Coalition Pulls Troops, Transfers Base To Iraqi Forces; Turkey And PKK Violence Escalates In The KRI; New Rocket Attack Hits Baghdad
On March 20, the U.S.-led international coalition against ISIS said that it was reducing its personnel level in Iraq in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. A statement by the coalition explained that coalition personnel tasked with training Iraqi security forces (ISF) were temporarily sent back to their countries because the ISF has halted their training programs to protect troops from COVID-19. For some coalition countries, like France, the movement is also motivated by the need for troops deployed overseas to return home and assist with domestic responses to the pandemic. The statement added that the reduction was also part of “long-planned adjustments to the force to reflect success in the campaign against Daesh.” The troops redeployment coincided with the handover of smaller bases to the ISF, first at al-Qaim in Anbar, and now at Qayyara in Ninewa.
On March 20, local security sources said that ISIS militants fired three rockets at the town of Amerli in eastern Salah ad-Din province. The attack did not result in casualties.
On March 21, Iraqi military sources said that Iraqi air force F-16 jets bombarded ISIS hideouts in the Himrin mountains area. The airstrikes reportedly killed “tens” of the militants.
On March 21, two mortar rounds struck a village outside the district of Khalis in Diyala province. The attack did not result in casualties.
On March 21, the explosion of an improvised explosive device (IED) in the Rutba district in Anbar province killed two Iraqi soldiers and wounded four others.
On March 22, an IED explosion near a farm killed one woman in the Waqf area, northeast of Baquba in Diyala province.
On March 22, an IED explosion killed one member of the popular mobilization forces (PMF) and wounded two more in the Jurf al-Sakhr subdistrict southwest of Baghdad.
On March 23, the Turkish military said that military operations backed by air attacks against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq resulted in killing or capturing two members of the group. According to local sources, the Monday raids focused on the Amadiya district of Duhok province. On March 25, the Turkish military said a mortar attack by PKK militants killed two Turkish soldiers and wounded two others. The incident occurred in the Haftanin region near the Iraq-Turkey borders. Turkish forces responded to the mortar attack with a new offensive that led to the death or capture of eight PKK members.
On March 23, ISIS militants attacked a police checkpoint near the village of Khabaza west of Kirkuk. The attack wounded one policeman.
On March 23, an IED exploded against an ISF patrol in the Waqf area northeast of Baquba in Diyala province. The explosion wounded two members of the patrol. The same day, another IED placed under the vehicle of a government employee exploded while he was driving in central Baquba, causing serious wounds to the employee.
On March 23, a unit from the ISF clashed with ISIS militants during a search operation in the town of Ishaqi in Salah ad-Din province. The fighting resulted in the death of the unit’s commander and one of the ISIS militants. A PMF unit in the area reported tracking and killing two more ISIS militants who were involved in the earlier clashes.
On March 24, the ISF killed three ISIS militants after intercepting them in a village near Qayyara, south of Mosul in Ninewa province. According the security sources the three militants were wearing suicide explosive vests.
On March 24, unidentified militants raided the home of a family in Yusufiyah south of Baghdad. The militants reportedly killed the residents, torched the building, and set up an IED that exploded later, wounding a member of the ISF who was part of a patrol that responded to the attack.
On March 24, security sources said a militant attack on the Tarmiyah power station north of Baghdad killed one of the facility’s guards and injured two more. In a statement, the Ministry of Electricity praised the guards whose action stopped the militants from breaking into the facility, which the ministry said was undamaged.
On March 25, an IED exploded against a passing ISF patrol south of Baquba in Diyala province. The attack killed two members of the ISF.
On March 26, Iraqi military sources said that two rockets struck near the Baghdad operations command center in the Green Zone. The sources said the rockets were fired from the Nahdha area across the river in eastern Baghdad. Initial reports did not indicate that there were casualties.
Iraq Extends Curfews And Travel Bans To Contain COVID-19 But Crowded Pilgrimage Raises Risks; Confirmed Cases Doubel, Fatalities Triple This Week
On March 22, Iraq’s most senior cleric Ali al-Sistani issued a list of instructions to followers in a bid to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. The message came during an annual Shia pilgrimage in which many thousands flock to the shrine of Imam Kadhim in Baghdad. Sistani’s message asked people to stay at home and avoid contact with others to avoid spreading the virus. Sistani used terms that equated a person’s negligence leading to another person’s death from the disease to manslaughter. The senior cleric also allowed followers to divert money from the religious tax due on Shia Muslims toward supporting public efforts to combat the pandemic and encouraged people to care for the COVID-19 patients “regardless of their religious or sectarian affiliations.” Despite government warnings and Sistani’s message, many worshippers insisted on traveling to the Imam Kadhim shrine in Baghdad to perform the pilgrimage rites, with little intervention from the security forces. Moqtada al-Sadr, who encouraged his followers to perform the pilgrimage, faced widespread criticism from activists who held him responsible for spreading disease.
On March 24, the Central Bank of Iraq said it has received ID44 billion (~ $36 million) in donations earmarked for purchasing respirators needed to treat COVID-19 patients. Last week, the Iraqi government set up a special account to receive aid from domestic and foreign donors wishing to support the country’s effort to contain the outbreak. Meanwhile, the U.S. embassy in Baghdad said Washington has donated $67,000 to Iraq through the World Health Organization to help the country fund its ongoing measures to contain and respond to the COVID-19 outbreak.
On March 24, the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation said it was providing $26 million in financing to a project in the Kurdistan region to build a new 161-bed medical facility. The Seema Hospital, expected to become operational next year, will be Erbil’s “first private hospitals with oncology, radiotherapy, and burn units.”
On March 25, the World Food Program (WFP) reported that the Japanese government has made a new contribution of $4 million to help support internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraq. The money will enable WFP to provide eight months worth of food support to 26,000 in-camp IDPS in the form of “electronic vouchers with which they can purchase the food they need in shops in the camps.”
On March 26, Iraqi authorities extended a week-long curfew that was announced last week to April 11 in an attempt to control the spread of COVID-19. Travel restrictions also include a halt to movement of travelers between the country’s provinces. The government decided to renew the ban on flights to and from all of Iraq’s airports until March 28 as well. Despite the airport closures, Iraqi authorities continued to operate limited special flights to repatriate Iraqis stranded in foreign countries. Meanwhile, the Kurdistan regional government (KRG) extended the curfew in its provinces until April 1. In the Iraqi capital, security forces said they have arrested more than 1,500 people and impounded hundreds of vehicles for violating the curfew. The Baghdad operations command told residents to stay at home unless they have an emergency situation, warning that its forces would arrest anyone who violated the curfew. The Iraqi army’s chief of staff, General Othman al-Ghanimi, said he will make available several army battalions to help local police and authorities enforce the curfew.
On March 26, the Iraqi Ministry of Health reported that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country has risen to 382, more than double the 177 cases reported a week earlier. According to the ministry’s data the number of deaths has tripled over the last seven days, increasing from 12 to 36 across the country. Seven of the deaths and 36 of the new infections were reported within the previous 24 hours alone. Meanwhile the total number of recoveries has increased from 49 patients to 105 this week. In its weekly update on the COVID-19 situation in Iraq, the UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs (OCHA) said the Iraqi government’s decision to stop millions of foreign pilgrims from attending pilgrimage rites in Baghdad earlier this week was a “significant achievement” that contributed to containing the pandemic. The OCHA report, however, warned that failure to stop thousands of local Iraqis from crowding the pilgrimage site in Baghdad’s Kadhimiya district means that “an increase in the number of daily cases recorded is expected in coming weeks.”
Iraq Awards Gas Processing Contract To China’s CPEEC; KRG Struggles To Pay Oil Companies; U.S. Shrinks Baghdad’s Iran Sanctions Waivers
On March 23 Iraq awarded CPEEC, a Chinese oil services firm, a contract valued at $203.5 million to establish gas processing infrastructure at the 240,000 barrels per day Majnoon oilfield in Basra. The 29 month project involves building a facility that can handle 4.39 million cubic meters per day of sour gas.
On March 25, sources close to the oil sector in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) reported that the region’s government has not been able to make the latest payments to oil companies operating in the KRI due to financial difficulties. The report attributes the payment delay to $1 billion in KRG funds being “stuck” at a bank in Lebanon, which is facing a liquidity shortage. Analysts described the $1 billion held in that account as money the KRG, which is dependent on revenue from oil exports, had saved “for a rainy day.” Oil prices have suffered a steep decline in recent weeks due to economic slowdown from the COVID-19 pandemic and OPEC’s recent failure to agree on supply cuts. Oil remained below $30 per barrel this week despite marginal price improvements. Two companies operating important fields in the KRI, DNO and Genel Energy, warned that the delay in payments, typically made on a monthly basis, would undermine their plans to invest in new oil works. “At sub-$40 prices – and now at sub-$20 due to the significant net discounts the KRG sells at – the region is effectively insolvent unless it radically cuts spending,” one analyst cautioned. In spite of delays caused by the COVID-19 situation, the federal government has continued to send monthly payments of some ID450 billion (~$375 million) to the KRG to help pay for civil servants in the KRI.
On March 26, the U.S. granted Iraq a 30-day extension on a previous waiver, granted in February and set to expire soon, to allow Baghdad to purchase gas and electricity from Iran despite American sanctions on Tehran. The waiver allows Iraq to continue importing 1400 megawatts of electricity and 28 million cubic meters of gas per day from Iran, which Iraq relies upon to supplement its chronically inadequate power generation and distribution capacity. The last two waiver extensions are considerably shorter than previous ones, which lasted 90-120 days each. Iraqi officials said the U.S. informed Baghdad that the shortening of the waiver period was a response to Iran’s interference in the formation of a new government to replace outgoing Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Madi and his cabinet.
On March 26, Reuters reported that Iraq’s Trade Ministry has revised the country’s grain purchase plan to include an additional 250,000 tons each of wheat and rice. In December, Iraq had planned to purchase 750,000 tons of wheat to augment domestic crops. Ministry officials say the additional grain imports would help Iraq have sufficient grain to supply the food rations system and establish surplus reserves for a few months.
IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties
Casualties Due To IEDs from March 19 - March 26, 2020The following table includes both civilian and security forces who were either injured or killed due to improvised explosive devices (IEDs), vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), or suicide attacks.
|03/22/20||Waqf area, Diyala||1||0|
|03/22/20||Jurf al-Sakhr, Babylon||1||2|
|03/23/20||Waqf area, Diyala||0||2|
|03/24/20||Yusufiyah, south of Baghdad||0||1|
|03/25/25||South of Baquba, Diyala||2||0|
Please note: some geographic locations represented are approximations and this map may not represent all incidents.
Derived from firsthand accounts and Iraq-based Arabic and Kurdish news sources, the Iraq Security and Humanitarian Monitor is a free publication of the Enabling Peace in Iraq Center.
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