- New Sanctions Target Iran’s Affiliates In Iraq; Abdul-Mahdi Cautions Against Escalation Between U.S. And Militias; Fatah Moves Against President Salih; Zurfi Faces Stiff Opposition And Iran Pushes For Alternatives – On March 26, the U.S. added twenty Iranian and Iraqi businesses and individuals to the list of entities designated by the Treasury Department as supporters of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps. On March 29, outgoing PM Adil Abdul-Mahdi warned against further military escalation between the U.S. and pro-Iran militias in Iraq after The New York Times said the Pentagon was developing plans for large scale attacks on Kataib Hezbollah. On April 1, the leader of Fatah’s bloc in Parliament, Mohammed al-Ghabban, threatened to prosecute President Barham Salih through “legal and parliamentary” measures in an effort to nullify the selection of Adnan al-Zurfi as PM-designate. Ghabban vowed that Zurfi “shall not see the premiership.” Meanwhile, Iranian General Ismael Ghaani, the new Quds Force commander, arrived in Baghdad to persuade Iraqi Shia political leaders to agree on an alternative to Zurfi. In spite of persisting opposition, sources close to PM-designate Adnan al-Zurfi claimed on April 1 that he was “close to wrapping up his cabinet selection,” and could present it within a week. more…
- Anbar Commander Faces Court Martial Over Corruption Charges; U.S.-Led Coalition Vacates K-1 Base; U.S. Deploys Patriot Batteries To Iraq – On March 27, a rocket struck near the Green Zone without causing casualties. On March 27, ISIS militants killed one member of the popular mobilization forces (PMF) and wounded two in Diyala. On March 28, four mortar rounds struck the Abbara subdistrict in Diyala. On March 30, an IED killed one civilian in the same area. On March 28, Turkish airstrikes killed eight PKK members in the Kurdistan region. On March 28, al-Sumaria reported that the Iraqi army’s chief of staff issued orders to send the Anbar operations commander, Major General Nasir al-Ghannam, to face corruption charges at a court martial. On March 29, the U.S.-led coalition handed over the K-1 base near Kirkuk to the Iraqi security forces (ISF). On March 29, American officials said the U.S. military began positioning Patriot air and missile defense units in Iraqi bases hosting U.S.-led coalition forces, starting with Ain al-Assad and Harir. On March 30, the ISF killed three ISIS militants and destroyed their vehicle in Salah ad-Din. On March 31, two rockets targeted, and missed, Ain al-Assad base in Anbar. On March 31, four mortar rounds struck a village near Jalawla in Diyala. On April 1, an IED killed one member of the federal police and injured three more. On April 1, ISF killed four ISIS militants, including a suicide bomber, in Diyala. On April 1, an IED killed one member of the federal police and injured five more in Salah ad-Din. On April 2, an IED wounded one civilian south of Kirkuk. more…
- Iraq Extends Curfew, Sends Military Backup To Help Enforce It In Sadr City And Karbala; Health Ministry Says COVID-19 Cases Rise To 772, But Doctors Say Thousands Are Sick – On March 27, The U.S. government said it was providing $15.5 million to help Iraq set up labs and emergency procedures at entry points to enable better response to COVID-19. The aid includes 11 sets of COVID-19 testing equipment to help expand testing. On March 28, courts in Iraq began releasing detainees to reduce the risk of COVID-19 breakouts at detention facilities. On April 1, Iraq’s Health Minister said the government decided to extend the general curfew imposed since March 17 through at least April 19. Minister Jafar Allawi said that Iraq could “defeat” COVID-19 by June if the public cooperated with government orders. Earlier this week, Iraq sent military reinforcements to Sadr city and other provinces to help enforce the government imposed curfew to control the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes Karbala, as the city prepares for an upcoming annual Shia Muslim pilgrimage. In the Kurdistan region, where a quarter of COVID-19 cases exist, the governor of Erbil warned that not taking the curfew seriously would bring “catastrophe” since the virus was now spreading within the community. On April 2, the Iraqi Ministry of Health said the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has risen to 772 and deaths from the disease reached 54, while a total of 202 patients have recovered. A number of Iraqi health workers claim the number of cases is actually much higher than the official figures, offering numbers between 3,000 and 9,000 based on information available to them. On April 2, Iraq’s Health Ministry asked the Transport Ministry to put a hold on the repatriation of Iraqis who are stranded abroad until there is room to hold them isolated for 14 days. Iraq’s Foreign Ministry has been organizing special flights to repatriate Iraqis who were stranded in Lebanon the UAE, Egypt, Turkey, Iran and Jordan. more…
- Iraq Seeks Oil Production Cost Cuts As Revenue From Exports Drops By Almost Half – On March 27, Reuters reported that Iraq’s Oil Ministry has asked foreign oil companies operating some the country’s major fields to prepare to cut their oilfield development expenses by 30%. Iraq also wants to delay payments due to foreign oil companies for at least three months. Meanwhile, oil refiner Hindustan Petroleum Corp, a major buyer of Iraqi crude, asked Iraq to cancel two shipments of one million barrels each as fuel demand slumps because of COVID-19. On April 1, the Iraqi Ministry of Oil announced that crude oil exports during March averaged 3.376 million bpd, generating $2.988 billion in revenue, about $2.5 billion below February’s figures. In March, Iraq sold its oil at an average price of $28.43 per barrel, about 45% lower than from February’s $51.37. In spite of lower prices and slowing demand, Iraq reportedly plans to increase production and exports by 200,000 bpd in April. On March 30, Iraq Oil Report mentioned that the KRG has created four new pipelines it will soon use to import refined fuels from Iran. 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.
New Sanctions Target Iran’s Affiliates In Iraq; Abdul-Mahdi Cautions Against Escalation Between U.S. And Militias; Fatah Moves Against President Salih; Zurfi Faces Stiff Opposition And Iran Pushes For Alternatives
On March 26, the United States added twenty Iranian and Iraqi businesses, officials and individuals to the list of entities designated by the Treasury Department as entities that “provide support to or act for or on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) in addition to transferring lethal aid to Iranian-backed terrorist militias in Iraq.” The Treasury Department statement listed money laundering, weapons trafficking, acts of intimidation and spreading terrorist propaganda, and using Iraq’s ports for smuggling, among the illicit activities in which these entities were engaged. The full list of the designated persons and companies, and justifications for their designation can be found here.
On March 29, a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) said the Kurds won’t be an impediment against the approval of any government presented to Parliament so long as it “respects the [Kurdistan region’s] constitutional rights.” Representative Imad Bajalan said the problem “lies with the Shia powers opposing him, in reference to Prime Minister-designate Adnan al-Zurfi, because “they couldn’t agree on an alternative, whether by reinstating resigned Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi or by presenting another agreed upon name.” Another KDP member, Ahmed al-Saffar, confirmed that the KDP “has no objections on any figure the Shia parties deem suitable for the premiership because it is their share [of government positions].”
On March 29, outgoing Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi issued a statement that warned against further military escalation between the U.S. and pro-Iran militias in Iraq. Abdul-Mahdi denounced recent rocket attacks on Iraqi bases hosting U.S. forces “illegal and irresponsible acts” and violations of Iraq’s sovereignty. Abdul-Mahdi also said that his government was “worried” about reports of “unauthorized [U.S.] flights near military establishments” in several parts of the country. He cautioned against “unauthorized retaliatory military actions” which Abdul-Mahdi said would violate Iraq’s sovereignty and strategic interests. Abdul-Mahdi’s remarks followed reports in The New York Times about the U.S. Department of Defense developing plans to crack down on Kataib Hezbollah, the militia group Washington accuses of conducting several rocket attacks against U.S. personnel in Iraq. There are growing concerns among militias and their affiliates that the U.S. decision to evacuate small bases and consolidate forces in larger bases protected by Patriot missiles is a prelude for escalation against the militias. A member of the Badr bloc in Parliament called the redeployment of U.S. forces “a transparent maneuver” that suggests the U.S. wants to be in well-defended positions when the militias retaliate for future U.S. strikes against them.
On March 31, there were reports in the local press that certain militia groups in the popular mobilization forces (PMF) were taking precautions against imminent U.S. military strikes against them. According to unnamed security sources, militia leaders were reducing their movement and changing vehicles and residences frequently to avoid detection. The measures also included the relocation of some weapons stores, the evacuation of some command centers and establishing alternative mobile headquarters. Meanwhile, a senior member of Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, one of the pro-Iran militia groups threatened the U.S. with “a harsh response if it conducts any mischief against us.” Abul Ala al-Walaie, the leader of Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada, another pro-Iran militia group, said the militias had “ready plans for response” to U.S. strikes against them, pointing to “unification in disposition and military movements” among the militia factions.
On April 1, the leader of the Fatah coalition’s bloc in Parliament, Mohammed al-Ghabban, threatened to prosecute President Barham Salih through “legal and parliamentary” measures in the next 48 hours. Ghabban said the measures will aim at annulling the selection of Adnan al-Zurfi as the prime minister-designate, which Fatah have deemed unconstitutional. Ghabban vowed that Zurfi “shall not see the premiership” because he “dared to override the rights of the majority.” This week the Fatah coalition has reiterated its rejection for Zurfi’s selection as the new prime minister-designate. Fatah representative Saad al-Sadi said on March 29 that Fatah “continues to reject Zurfi and will not reconsider this decision.” Another Fatah member, Badr representative Karim Elaywi said the attempts by Zurfi’s allies to approve a prime ministerial candidate “in an unconstitutional way is a fantasy. We will not allow it to happen at any cost.”
On April 1, al-Akhbar, a Lebanese newspaper affiliated with Hezbollah reported that Iranian General Ismael Ghaani, the new Quds Force commander, arrived in Baghdad on March 31 to mediate between Iraqi Shia political leaders. Ghanni reportedly met with Ammar al-Hakim, Nouri al-Maliki, Hadi al-Amiri and would meet later with Moqtada al-Sadr to persuade them to agree on an alternative to Prime Minister-designate Adnan al-Zurfi. Ghaani reportedly informed the Iraqi leaders that Iran opposed Zurfi’s selection for the premiership. Other Iraqi sources said that Ghaani’s message was that Iran did not care who replaced Zurfi so long as that person was not hostile to Iran. Iraqi sources said that Ghanni’s meetings produced two possible replacements for Zurfi: former Interior Minister Qasim al-Araji from Badr, and former Najaf governor Abdul-Hussein Abtan from Hikma.
On April 1, sources said to be close to Prime Minister-designate Adnan al-Zurfi claimed that the latter was “close to wrapping up his cabinet selection,” and could present it within a week. But other political powers were more skeptical of Zurfi’s chances in light of strong opposition by the Fatah coalition (details above). A member of the Saeroun coalition expected Zurfi to fail in getting sufficient political support to form a government. Representative Ghayeb al-Omayri said Zurfi’s fortunes have “declined considerably” due to persistent opposition from the State of Law, Fatah and Hikma coalitions (Hikma has denied this). Al-Omayri added that despite the opposition, Zurfi had no intention to step down. Meanwhile, there have been conflicting reports about the state of Zurfi’s negotiations with the political blocs. Riyadh al-Masoudi, another Saeroun member, said Zurfi has not entered negotiations with Sunni or Kurdish blocs and has not begun selecting his cabinet members because he was yet to secure enough support from Shia parties. However, a member of the Fatah coalition said Zurfi has been attempting “unsuccessfully” to entice groups opposed to him with promises of ministerial appointments.
On March 27, Iraqi security sources said a rocket struck near the Green Zone in Baghdad. There were no reports of casualties or damages.
On March 27, sources in the popular mobilization forces (PMF) said that ISIS militants attacked PMF positions near Naftkhana in northeast Diyala province. The attack killed one PMF fighter and wounded two more.
On March 28, four mortar rounds struck the Abbara subdistrict in Diyala province. The attack did not cause casualties. On March 30, an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion killed one civilian in the same area.
On March 28, ISIS militants attacked federal police positions in the Mazarei area in southern Salah ad-Din province. The attack inflicted four casualties among the federal police forces.
On March 28, Turkish airstrikes on the Metina area in the Kurdistan region of Iraq (KRI) killed eight members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
On March 28, al-Sumaria reported that the Iraqi army’s chief of staff, General Othman al-Ghanimi, issued orders to send the Anbar operations commander, Major General Nasir al-Ghannam, to face corruption charges at a court martial. Ghannam, who is being tried along with three other officers, two of whom are his brothers, has been the Anbar operations commander since August 2019, when he replaced General Mahmoud al-Falahi who was accused of helping the U.S. and Israel target pro-Iran militias in western Iraq.
On March 29, the U.S.-led coalition handed over the K-1 base near Kirkuk to the Iraqi security forces (ISF). The departing coalition forces also left behind equipment and supplies worth an estimated $1 million as a gift for the ISF. K-1 is the third base, after Qayyara and al-Qaim, that coalition forces have vacated recently as part of a plan to consolidate and reorganize their presence in the country. Meanwhile, concerns over COVID-19 and possible attacks by Iran-backed militias prompted a withdrawal of non-essential personnel from the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and consulate in Erbil.
On March 29, an IED exploded against a shop owned by a local activist involved in anti-government protests in Amara, the capital of Maysan province. The attack caused physical damage to the building but did not result in casualties.
On March 29, American and Iraqi security officials reported that the U.S. military began positioning Patriot air and missile defense units in Iraqi bases hosting U.S.-led coalition forces. The officials spoke of four Patriot batteries: one positioned at Ain al-Assad base in Anbar, another at the Harir base in Erbil, and two more currently in transit in Kuwait. Earlier in March, the commander of the U.S. Central Command stated that the U.S. was sending “air defense systems and ballistic missile defense systems” into Iraq to protect U.S. personnel in the country “against another potential Iranian attack.”
On March 30, Iraqi military sources said the ISF killed three ISIS militants and destroyed their vehicle during operations in the Wadi Thar Thar region in Salah ad-Din province.
On March 31, local security sources said that two rockets targeted Ain al-Assad base in Anbar province. The rockets reportedly missed the base and landed in a nearby village, causing material damages but no casualties.
On March 31, ISIS militants attacked the ISF in a village near the district of Tuzkhormatu in Salah ad-Din province. The attack wounded one member of the ISF.
On March 31, four mortar rounds struck the village of Islah near Jalawla in Diyala province. The attack did not cause casualties.
On April 1, an IED exploded against members of the engineering battalion of the 3rd federal police division between the districts of Dibis and Hawija southwest of Kirkuk. The attack killed one member of the unit and injured three more.
On April 1, ISF units with the Diyala operations command killed four ISIS militants, including a suicide bomber, during search operations in the Sudour region. The ISF also uncovered a weapons cache containing rifles and IEDs.
On April 1, an IED explosion killed one member of the federal police and injured five more, including a brigadier general and a captain. The incident occurred while the force was clearing IEDs in the Makhoul mountains area in Salah ad-Din province.
On April 2, an IED explosion wounded one civilian on a road near the Rashad subdistrict south of Kirkuk.
On March 27, The U.S. government said it was providing $15.5 million in health and other humanitarian assistance to Iraq. The U.S. embassy in Baghdad said in a statement that the funds would help Iraq set up labs and emergency procedures at entry points to enable better response to COVID-19. On March 29, the embassy added that the U.S. plans to deliver 11 sets of COVID-19 testing equipment to help authorities in the federal government and the KRG expand testing for the virus. The deliveries will begin with four sets destined for public health institutions in Baghdad and Erbil, to be followed by an additional seven sets in the near future.
On March 28, judiciary authorities in Iraq said they began releasing detainees to reduce the risk of COVID-19 breakouts at detention facilities. The first case involved 27 convicts who qualified to be released on parole in Ninewa. In Salah ad-Din, the courts released 129 detainees, while Karbala released 149 detainees on bail to avoid crowded conditions in the province’s jails. In the capital, courts released 608 people for similar reasons, including convicts qualified for parole and defendants who posted bail.
On March 30, the parliamentary religious affairs committee presented suggestions to the government to mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19 on low income families. According to the committee’s chair, representative Hussein al-Yasari, the suggestions included completing the distribution of delayed food ration items, dispensing social security salaries on a monthly basis (instead of every third month), and issuing either an extra food ration share or an immediate ID 100,000 (~$80) stipend for each low income family.
On April 1, Iraq’s Health Minister announced that the government decided to extend the general curfew imposed since March 17 through at least April 19. Minister Jafar Allawi said that Iraq could “defeat” COVID-19 by June if the public cooperated with government measures to control the pandemic. The following day, Baghdad’s police chief said orders were issued to close down several market areas in Sadr city in which large crowds were reported, adding that authorities had to force several unessential shops to close their doors. Earlier in the week, the Iraqi joint operations command said it was sending military reinforcements to Sadr city in Baghdad and to several other provinces to help enforce the government imposed curfew to control the COVID-19 pandemic. Security sources said that units from the Iraqi army arrived in Sadr city that day and began blocking roads with concrete barriers and barbed wire to control traffic.
Additional security forces also deployed around Karbala to help enforce the curfew and stop visitors from other provinces as the city prepares for an upcoming annual Shia Muslim pilgrimage. Meanwhile Interior Minister Yassin al-Yasiri issued new directives aimed at preventing public gatherings anywhere in the country. The directives included reinforcing the traffic police and other police units charged with enforcing the general curfew and streamlining the procedures that allow essential goods to pass through checkpoints. By March 31, the Baghdad operations command said its forces had arrested more than 6,600 people, impounded more than 700 vehicles and issued more than 29,500 fines for curfew violations since the restrictions were imposed two weeks earlier. In the Kurdistan region, where a quarter of COVID-19 cases exist, the governor of Erbil warned that not taking the curfew seriously would bring “catastrophe” since the virus was now spreading within the community.
On April 2, the Iraqi Ministry of Health reported that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country has risen to 772, more than double the 382 cases reported a week earlier. A number of Iraqi health workers claim the number of cases is actually much higher than the official figures, offering numbers between 3,000 and 9,000 based on information available to them. According to the ministry’s data the number of deaths from the disease across the country has increased from 36 to 54 over the last seven days. Two of the deaths and 44 of the new infections were reported within the previous 24 hours alone. Meanwhile the total number of recoveries has increased significantly from 105 to 202 this week. The World Health Organization (WHO) says the rise in confirmed cases was a result of higher availability of testing as Iraq sets up more testing facilities across the country. WHO also expects this to lead to “a continued surge in confirmed cases in coming days.”
On April 2, Iraq’s Health Ministry asked the Transport Ministry to put a hold on the repatriation of Iraqis who are stranded abroad. The Health Ministry explained in a letter that all arrivals must be quarantined for 14 days, and it was recommending delaying new arrivals because there was no room for holding more people at this point. On March 29, Iraq’s Foreign Ministry said it was organizing two special flights to bring home Iraqis who were stranded in Lebanon due to COVID-19 travel bans. The Ministry is also organizing more flights to help Iraqis stranded in other countries return home, including flights from the UAE, Egypt, Turkey, Iran and Jordan.
On March 27, Reuters reported that Iraq’s Oil Ministry has asked foriegn oil companies operating some of the country’s largest fields to prepare to cut their oilfield development expenses by 30%. The State-owned Basra Oil Company also wants to delay payments due to foriegn oil companies for at least three months, preferably six, according to AFP. The collapse in oil prices this month prompted the Ministry’s request for spending cuts, which Baghdad wants the companies to undertake in a manner that does not undermine production levels. An official with one of the foreign operators said that that parties have not reached decisions on what specific spending cuts to make. Despite the call for spending cuts, Bloomberg reported that Iraq wants to ramp up crude production and exports in April by 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) from current levels to reach 4.8 million bpd and 3.6 million bpd, respectively.
On March 30, Reuters reported that Hindustan Petroleum Corp (HPCL), an Indian oil refining company and major buyer of Iraqi crude oil, has asked Iraq to cancel two oil shipments. HPCL‘s decision to declare force majeure to cancel the two, one million barrel shipments was motivated by slowing fuel demand in India because of COVID-19 movement restrictions.
On March 30, Iraq Oil Report mentioned that the KRG has created four new pipelines it will soon use to import fuel from Iran. The KRG hopes the new pipelines will carry approximately 35,000 bpd of “gasoline, diesel, and kerosene” across the border starting this week, allowing trade to continue despite traffic disruptions caused by COVID-19.
On March 30, the Trade Bank of Iraq (TBI) said it plans to increase its capital by $700 million from $2.3 billion to $3 billion. The state-owned bank said the plan, which was approved by the prime minister, was spurred by the growth in profits, which reached $556 million in 2019. The bank said it transferred a fifth of its 2019 profits ( approximately $111 million) to the state’s treasury.
On April 1, the Iraqi Ministry of Oil announced that crude oil exports during March exceeded 104.683 million barrels (an average of 3.376 million bpd), a slight change from February’s 3.415 million bpd. These exports generated over $2.988 billion in revenue, about $2.5 billion below February’s figures as Iraq sold its oil at an average price of $28.43, about 45% lower than from February’s $51.37 per barrel. Exports from the southern ports in Basra exceeded 3.27 million bpd, while northern fields in Kirkuk rose to 106,000 bpd exported through the Turkish port of Ceyhan, compared with February’s 61,000 bpd. Trucks delivering oil to Jordan exported approximately 9,000 bpd and exports from the Qayyarah field in Ninewa (trucked to the Basra ports) dropped to 4,000 bpd from last month’s 17,000.
IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties
Casualties Due To IEDs from March 26 - April 2, 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.
|04/01/20||Between Hawijah and Dibis, Kirkuk||1||3|
|04/01/20||Makhoul mountains, Salah ad-Din||1||5|
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.