ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM: APRIL 2 – APRIL 9, 2020

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Key Takeaways:

  • U.S And Iraq To Discuss Troops Presence In “Strategic Dialogue” Set For June; Adnan Al-Zurfi Steps Down, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi Becomes The New Prime Minister-Designate – On April 5, care-taker PM Adil Abdul-Mahdi met with U.S. ambassador Matthew Tueller to discuss an American proposal to initiate “strategic dialogue” between Baghdad and Washington. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the talks will begin in June and will address, among other things, the status of U.S. military presence in Iraq. On April 6, al-Mada reported that three major Shia political blocs, Fatah, Hikma and State of Law, agreed to present Mustafa al-Kadhimi, the chief of Iraq’s intelligence agency, as the new candidate for the premiership. KRG President Nechirvan Barzani welcomed the news, while the Saeroun coalition of Moqtada al-Sadr said it had no objections to “any candidate” who could form a government outside the party quota system. On April 9, President Barham Salih officially appointed Mustafa al-Kadhimi as the new prime minister-designate, while Kadhimi’s predecessor, Adnan al-Zurfi announced he was stepping down citing “internal and external” reasons behind the stiff opposition that prevented him from forming a government. Many senior political leaders attended the designation ceremony, implying broad support for Kadhimi. Kadhimi now has 30 days to negotiate with the political blocs and select the members of his cabinet before presenting it for a vote of confidence in Parliament. more…
  • Coalition Forces Vacate More Bases; ISIS Ramps Up Attacks In Kirkuk And Diyala; EU Extends Advisory Mission – On April 3, an IED killed two members of the Iraqi security forces (ISF) and wounded three others in Makhmour. On April 3, ISIS militants killed two members of the ISF and wounded three others in Kirkuk. On April 3, two IEDs in Diyala wounded two members of the popular mobilization forces (PMF) and four members of the Iraqi army. On April 4, the Iraqi joint operations command confirmed that the U.S.-led coalition handed over the Habbaniya base to the ISF, making it the fourth base, after K-1, Qayyara and al-Qaim, that coalition forces have vacated recently as part of a plan to consolidate and reorganize their presence. On April 5, two IEDs wounded two members of the PMF and two children in Diyala. On April 5, ISIS militants attacked an ISF checkpoint near Rutba with mortars and small arms, killing two members of the ISF and injuring three. On April 6, three rockets struck near sites belonging to American oil services firm Halliburton in Basra. On April 6, an IED wounded three police officers in Kirkuk. On April 7, an IED wounded two ISF members south of Kirkuk. On April 7, the EU announced a two-year extension of its advisory mission (EUAM) which was established in 2017 to support the Iraqi government and ISF plan and enact “security sector reforms.” On April 7, ISIS militants captured three members of the ISF in Kirkuk and took them as prisoners. They were found dead two days later. On April 8, an IED killed a federal police officer in Kirkuk. On April 7, ISIS militants killed two Peshmerga fighters in Diyala. On April 8, an IED wounded three PMF fighters in Salah ad-Din. On April 9, an IED killed two farmers and wounded two others in Diyala.
    more…

  • Reuters Suspended Over COVID-19 Report; Clashes Over Curfew In Nasiriyah; KRG Extends Curfew; Government Announces $500 Million Relief Plan; COVID-19 Cases Exceed 1,200 – On April 3, the Iraqi government decided to suspend the reporting license of Reuters for three months after the news agency published a report suggesting the government was hiding the true extent of COVID-19 infections. On April 5, the WHO said that Basra University succeeded in producing the virus transport medium (VTM) required to move COVID-19 test swabs to the testing labs. On April 6, protesters in Nasiriyah held the provincial police chief responsible for the recent assassination of an activist who advocated for breaking the curfew, and for deadly clashes sparked by growing discontent from the economic impact of COVID-19. On April 6, the KRG Interior Ministry extended the general curfew in the region until further notice. On April 7, the Iraqi government allocated ID 600 billion (~$500 million) to mitigate the economic impact of the curfew on approximately 10 million affected citizens over the next two months. The government will also postpone the collection of food ration fees and rent on public land for the next three months. On April 8, the prime minister’s office issued instructions for government agencies to coordinate the repatriation of Iraqis stranded abroad due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, placing the Health Ministry in charge of processing returnees, while tasking security forces with providing the necessary logistical support. On April 9, the Iraqi Ministry of Health said the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has risen to 1,232 and deaths reached 69, while a total of 496 patients have recovered. 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.


U.S And Iraq To Discuss Troops Presence In “Strategic Dialogue” Set For June; Adnan Al-Zurfi Steps Down, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi Becomes The New Prime Minister-Designate

On April 5, care-taker Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi met with U.S. ambassador Matthew Tueller to discuss an American proposal to initiate “strategic dialogue” between Baghdad and Washington. Abdul-Mahdi’s office said the prime minister and Tueller also discussed government formation developments in Iraq and international coordination in fighting COVID-19. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo provided more details on April 7, saying the future talks may begin in June and will address, among other things, the status of U.S. military presence in Iraq. Pompeo stressed that in light of Iraq’s struggle with collapsing oil prices and the COVID-19 pandemic, it was important for Baghdad and Washington to “work together to stop any reversal of the gains we’ve made in our efforts to defeat ISIS and stabilize the country.”

On April 6, al-Mada reported that three major Shia political blocs have agreed to present Mustafa al-Kadhimi, the chief of Iraq’s intelligence agency, as the new candidate for the premiership. The leaders of the groups (Hadi al-Amiri of Fatah, Nouri al-Maliki of State of Law and Ammar al-Hakim of Hikma) reportedly met on Sunday and reached an agreement to nominate Kadhimi to replace Adnan al-Zurfi as the prime minister-designate. President Barham Salih had selected Zurfi as the prime minister-designate on March 17 but several powerful political blocs, especially Fatah and State of Law, strongly opposed Salih’s move. While Fatah and the State of Law blocs consistently opposed Zurfi, the change in Hikma’s position was rather abrupt. As late as April 5, Hikma was ostensibly supportive of Zurfi, who had sent his cabinet program to Parliament and requested a date to be set for the vote of confidence, predicting he had sufficient support in Parliament to get his cabinet approved. Sources from the Fatah coalition said the three groups sent a letter to President Salih informing him of their decision to reject Zurfi and nominate Kadhimi to replace him. Kadhimi’s name had surfaced before as a potential candidate for the job but he faced fierce attacks from militia groups who accused him of being an American agent. 

On April 6, the Saeroun coalition led by Moqtada al-Sadr said it had no objections to “any candidate” for the premiership who could form a government outside the party quota system and can address the country’s current needs. Amjad al-Oqabi, a Saeroun representative said the group “has no personal dispute with [Adnan] al-Zurfi or any other candidate,” and does not oppose “national consensus among the political blocs representing the Iraqi communities.” By April 8, Saeroun appeared to acquiesce to the move by other Shia parties to nominate Mustafa al-Kadhimi to replace Zurfi. Amir al-Kinani, another Saeroun representative said the bloc would vote in support of whomever candidate presented in Parliament. “If a parliamentary vote is held for Zurfi, Sadrist Movement lawmakers will vote for him, and if Kadhimi is passed, then the deputies will support him too,” explained Kinani. 

On April 7, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, part of the Fatah coalition, expressed preference for keeping resigned Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi in office and expanding the powers available to his care-taker government. Saad al-Saadi, a member of the Asaib’s political office, claimed that there was no concrete agreement on nominating Mustaf al-Kadhimi to replace Zurfi as the prime minister-designate. Asaib Ahl al-Haq leader Qais al-Khazali has made repeated calls over the past several weeks for granting “emergency powers” to Abdul-Mahdi’s government instead of trying to replace it.

On April 8, Kurdistan region president Nechirvan Barzani welcomed the news of an agreement among Shia blocs to nominate Mustafa al-Kadhimi as the new prime minister-designate. In a statement, Barzani said the Kurdistan regional government (KRG) believes that “Iraq’s political and security stability…require forming a new government that is supported by all powers in the country.” The Iraqi Forces coalition, the Sunni group led by Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi, also declared its support for the new agreement on nominating Kadhimi. The group, which initially backed Zurfi’s efforts to form a government, said in a statement that its decision to support Kadhimi was motivated by a “commitment to political unity.” The group added that a candidate for the premiership must enjoy “the approval and support of the political powers responsible for the selection,” in reference to the Shia political establishment. 

On April 9, Iraqi President Barham Salih officially appointed Mustafa al-Kadhimi, the country’s intelligence chief, as the new prime minister-designate. Kadhimi, is the third person to take on this role this year after two previous candidates, Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi and Adnan al-Zurfi, failed to win enough political support to form a government. Zurfi, who was tasked with forming a government in mid-March, announced on Thursday he was stepping down saying there were “internal and external” reasons behind the stiff opposition that prevented him from forming a government. Iraq has been under a care-taker government since late November, when outgoing Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi resigned under public pressure from widespread protests. Footage from the designation ceremony showed many senior political leaders in attendance, implying broad support for Kadhimi. Those included Fatah’s Hadi al-Amiri, al-Hikma’s Ammar al-Hakim, Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi, the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s Fouad Hussein, and even Haider al-Abadi, who leads the Nasr bloc to which Zurfi belongs. The new prime minister designate also received calls of support from other political leaders, including KRG President Masrour Barzani and Lahur Sheik Jengi, the co-president of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. President Salih, in his speech during the ceremony said the broad consensus around Kadhimi’s selection was proof that Iraq overcame “a tough phase” during which “intense disputes” among the political parties delayed the formation of a new government and exposed the political order “to constant doubt.” Kadhimi now has 30 days to negotiate with the political blocs and select the members of his cabinet before presenting it for a vote of confidence in Parliament.  


Coalition Forces Vacate More Bases; ISIS Ramps Up Attacks In Kirkuk And Diyala; EU Extends Advisory Mission

On April 3, an improvised explosive device (IED) targeted a vehicle transporting members of the Iraqi security forces (ISF), killing two of them and wounding three others. The roadside attack occurred in the Makhmour district southwest of Erbil. 

On April 3, ISIS militants attacked ISF positions near Daquq south of Kirkuk city. The attack killed two members of the ISF and wounded three others. 

On April 3, an IED explosion wounded two members of the popular mobilization forces (PMF) in the Nafhkhana region in northeast Diyala province. A second IED explosion near Khanaqin, also in northeast Diyala targeted an Iraqi army vehicle, wounding one officer and three soldiers.

On April 3, an under vehicle IED attached to a civilian car exploded in the Khadra neighborhood of Kirkuk city. The attack injured one civilian who was in the targeted car. 

On April 4, the Iraqi joint operations command confirmed that the U.S.-led coalition handed over the Habbaniya base west of Baghdad to the ISF. The departing coalition forces also left behind equipment and supplies worth an estimated $3.5 million as a gift for the ISF. Habbaniya is the fourth base, after K-1, Qayyara and al-Qaim, that coalition forces have vacated recently as part of a plan to consolidate and reorganize their presence in the country. On April 7, the coalition also handed over a site in Baghdad co-located with the Iraqi army’s 6th division that was used by French military advisers. 

On April 5, an IED exploded against a PMF patrol in Muqdadiyah, in northeast Diyala province. The attack wounded two members of the PMF. The same day, another IED explosion wounded two children in the Jalawla subdistrict in northeast Diyala province. 

On April 5, security sources said that ISIS militants attacked an Iraqi military checkpoint near Rutba in western Anbar province. The attack, which involved indirect mortar fire and a direct assault using small arms, resulted in the death of two members of the ISF and injured three others. 

On April 6, Iraqi security sources said that three rockets struck in the Burjusiya area in Basra close to sites belonging to American oil services firm, Halliburton. Other sources said the attack involved five rockets. The ISF later discovered a rocket launcher along with eleven more rockets on a nearby road linking the Shoeiba and Zubair areas. The attack did not cause casualties or serious damages to oil operations in the area. 

On April 6, the Turkish military said that Ankara’s air force killed five members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in the Kurdistan region of Iraq (KRI). The PKK confirmed that one of its senior members was among those killed in the latest air strikes on the Qandil mountains area. On April 8, new Turkish airstrikes in the KRI killed two additional PKK members. 

On April 6, an IED exploded against a federal police patrol south of Kirkuk city. The explosion wounded three police officers. 

On April 7, ISIS militants targeted a village in the Daquq district south of Kirkuk with several mortar rounds. The attack did not cause casualties. ISIS militants later attacked the village directly, and clashed for hours with nearby federal police units. An IED explosion later struck a federal police patrol searching the area, resulting in two injuries among the federal police.   

On April 7, the European Union announced a two-year extension of its advisory mission (EUAM) which was established in 2017 to support the Iraqi government and security forces plan and enact “security sector reforms.” EUAM works with and advises Iraq’s Interior Ministry and National Security Adviser’s office to “support coherent implementation of the civilian related aspects of the Iraqi National Security Strategy and the security sector reform.”

On April 7, ISIS militants ambushed a unit of the federal police near the Dibis district northwest of Kirkuk. The militants managed to capture three members of the federal police and took them as prisoners. The three victims were found dead two days later. On April 8, a federal police officer died when an IED exploded at the entrance to a tunnel the officer was searching in the Kani Doblan mountains near Dibis. 

On April 7, ISIS militants attacked Peshmerga positions in the Kolajo area in Diyala province, killing two of the Peshmerga. 

On April 8, an IED explosion wounded three PMF fighters in the Eitha region in northern Salah ad-Din province. 

On April 9, an IED explosion killed two farmers and wounded two others near Jalawla, in northeast Diyala province.


Reuters Suspended Over COVID-19 Report; Clashes Over Curfew In Nasiriyah; KRG Extends Curfew; Government Announces $500 Million Relief Plan; COVID-19 Cases Exceed 1,200

On April 3, the Iraqi government decided to suspend the reporting license of Reuters for three months as punishment for the news agency for publishing a report a day earlier that suggested the government was hiding the true extent of COVID-19 infections in the country. Reuters had based that report on interviews with Iraqi health workers who claimed the number of infections was much higher than the official figures, offering numbers as high as 9,000 cases. A spokesman for the Ministry of Health called the information “inaccurate.”

On April 5, the World Health Organization (WHO) office in Iraq said that Basra University was able to successfully produce quantities of the virus transport medium (VTM) required to move COVID-19 test swabs to the testing labs. Initial production included 1,600 VTMs and twice as many nasal swabs used in testing, and the WHO representative in Iraq said production plans will ultimately cover all Iraq’s needs of these supplies. 

On April 6, protesters in Nasiriyah issued a statement in which they held the provincial police chief responsible for the recent death of a female activist and other acts of violence against protesters. The slain activist, Anwar Jasim Mhawis, was assassinated in her home by unidentified attackers who also injured two of her sons. The activist had reportedly advocated for breaking the curfew that has been imposed on the province and rest of Iraq as a measure against the COVID-19 pandemic. At least two other people were killed and 27 others were wounded in Nasiriyah in earlier clashes between security forces and protesters expressing their anger at authorities because the curfew prevents day laborers and low-income people from going to work. 

On April 6, UNDP said it will receive contributions totaling $5 million from three donors to support Iraq’s plans for fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds, pledged by Belgium, Sweden and the Netherlands, will augment previously available $22 million in funding and will be used to enhance “testing capacity of laboratories, providing personal protective equipment to healthcare workers, increasing the number of isolation wards, and undertaking assessments to establish post-COVID-19 recovery strategies.” The activities will prioritize services for “vulnerable communities” to be provided through nine health facilities in the provinces of  Anbar, Diyala, Dohuk, Basra, Karbala, Najaf, Ninewa and Salah ad-Din.

On April 6, the KRG Interior Ministry announced that the general curfew in the region, imposed since March 13, has been extended until further notice. The Ministry also said it was evaluating proposals to relax some of the movement restrictions that are in place as a measure against COVID-19 but the curfew, which applies to pedestrians and vehicles alike shall remain in effect until the ministry issues new instructions in this regard.    

On April 6, the judicial authorities in the KRI said the region’s courts in Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Duhok have ordered the release of 1,443 inmates to avoid crowded conditions that increase the risk of spreading  COVID-19 at detention facilities. Last week, courts across Iraq began releasing hundreds of prisoners and detainees on bail as part of the country’s measures to fight COVID-19.

On April 7, the high committee for health and national safety, a group set up and led by care-taker Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi to plan Iraq’s response to COVID-19 met and issued a number of decisions for dealing with the pandemic. The committee allocated ID 600 billion (~$500 million) to mitigate the economic impact of the curfew on approximately 10 million affected citizens (2 million heads of households) over the next two months. The committee also decided to postpone the collection of food ration fees and rent on public land for the next three months. The committee also said it will revisit the curfew, in effect through April 18, at a later time based on available public health data.

On April 8, the prime minister’s office issued new instructions for government agencies to coordinate the repatriation of Iraqis who are stranded abroad due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. The instructions emphasized that the Health Ministry shall be in charge of processing the returning citizens, while tasking the security forces with providing the necessary logistical support. The government provided different testing and isolation guidelines based on whether people were in high-incident countries. This issue has caused confusion and disputes between different government entities. On April 2, Iraq’s Civil Aviation Authority suspended all flights planned to repatriate Iraqis who are stranded abroad due to lack of quarantine facilities where arriving passengers can be held in isolation for 14 days. The suspension was in response to a request from Iraq’s Health Ministry to put a hold on the repatriation process because of a shortage in isolation facilities. The Foreign Ministry, however, called the Aviation Authority’s decision “illegal” adding that its embassies and consulates continue to facilitate the repatriation of stranded Iraqis per earlier instruction from the prime minister and the ministerial and parliamentary committees charged with the COVID-19 response. 

On April 9, the WHO noted the “full support” of the religious authorities in Iraq for the health organization’s recommendations to postpone mass gatherings to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Iraq. Karbala city was prearing for an annual Shia Muslim pilgrimage on April 8, but the city appeared largely empty as residents and visitors respected instructions from city and security authorities and the senior clergy in Najaf asking them to observe their religious rites from the safety of their homes.

On April 9, the Iraqi Ministry of Health reported that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country has risen to 1,232 compared with 772 reported a week earlier. According to the ministry’s data the number of deaths from the disease across the country has increased from 54 to 69 over the same period. Meanwhile the total number of recoveries has increased significantly from 202 to 496 this week. Thirty  of the new infections, 44 of the recoveries and zero deaths were reported within the previous 24 hours.


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

Casualties Due To IEDs from April 2 - April 9, 2020

The 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.
DateLocationDeathsInjuries
04/03/20Makhmour, southwest of Erbil23
04/03/20Naftkhana, Diyala02
04/03/20Khanaqin, Diyala04
04/03/20Khadra, Kirkuk city01
04/05/20Muqdadiyah, Diyala02
04/05/20Jalawla, Diyala02
04/06/20South of Kirkuk03
04/07/20Daquq, Kirkuk02
04/08/20Dibis, Kirkuk10
04/08/20Eitha, northern Salah ad-Din03
04/09/20Jalawla, Diyala22

 

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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