ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM: MAY 14 – MAY 21, 2020

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Key Takeaways:

  • Kadhimi Reaches Out To Hostile Militia Commanders; Pride Flag Incident Threatens Relations With EU; Kadhimi Orders Investigations Into Forced Disappearances; Fresh Protests reported In Several Provinces – On May 16, PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi visited the popular mobilization forces (PMF) commission and met with several senior commanders, including that of Kataib Hezbollah, a militia group that accuses Kadhimi of assisting the U.S. in killing its late commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. On May 16, members of Parliament accused security forces loyal to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of assaulting and arresting dozens of protesters in Duhok. On May 17, a move by the EU mission and other foreign embassies to raise the LGBTQ pride flag sparked angry reactions from the religious endowment organizations and Islamist political parties in Iraq, including a call by former PM Nouri al-Maliki to expell the ambassadors of the EU, UK and Canada. On May 17, PM Kadhimi instructed the Ministry of Interior to “use all available resources” to uncover the fate of kidnapped and forcibly disappeared Iraqis. Kadhimi also gave instructions to create “an accurate list” of Iraqis, whether civilian or military, who were killed, wounded or disabled during mass protests since October 2019. On May 18, security forces in Diwaniyah opened fire at protesters who had gathered to demand the release of four protesters who were arrested earlier in the day. In Dhi-Qar, security forces arrested protesters and set their tents on fire after they blocked the entrance to the Ahdab oil field. On May 19, a member of the parliamentary finance committee said the cabinet has begun drafting a 2020 budget bill that will be limited to operational spending with no allocations for investment. more…
  • ISIS Intensifies Crops Burning Campaign, Launches New Deadly Attacks; Iraqi Forces, Coalition Airstrikes Pursue ISIS In Multiple Provinces – Between May 15-20 ISIS militants attacked villagers, killing at least four and setting wheat crops on fire in Diyala, Salah ad-Din and Ninewa. Government documents said 88 fires destroyed 1,460 acres during the three weeks ending May 14. On May 14, militant attacks killed one popular mobilization forces (PMF) fighter and injured one more in Babylon while mortar fire wounded four civilians in Diyala. On May 15, an IED and small arms attack wounded five PMF fighters in Diyala and an IED attacks killed five Iraqi security forces (ISF) members and injured six in Diyala and north of Baghdad. On May 16, ISIS attacks killed three ISF members and wounded two in Kirkuk, Salah ad-Din and Diyala. On May 17-18, two IEDs killed two PMF fighters and injured four in Salah ad-Din, while two other attacks killed two policemen in Ninewa and a soldier in Kirkuk. On May 19, three IEDs killed three people and wounded three in Diyala and Madain southeast of Baghdad. On May 20 ISIS militants killed one ISF member and injured two in Anbar. On May 15, Coalition airstrikes killed seven ISIS militants in Ninewa. On May 17, the ISF launched a large-scale operation to the desert between Anbar, Ninewa and Salah ad-Din, killing of three ISIS members and seizing weapons, explosives and vehicles. On May 17-18, Iraqi and Coalition airstrikes killed an unspecified number of ISIS militants and destroyed their tunnels near Kirkuk. On May 19, the ISF killed eight ISIS members in in Diyala and Salah ad-Din. On May 19, ISIS militants destroyed or damaged three high voltage towers in Diyala, then attacked repair crews with an IED, wounding two people.
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  • Iraq To Isolate Entire Districts, Initiate Stricter Measures Against COVID-19 Ahead Of Major Holiday As New Cases Climb Higher – On May 18, Iraq’s Health Minister said the government has decided to establish a “regional cordon” around several districts in Baghdad in response to “the accelerating increase” in COVID-19 cases in the capital. The impacted districts are: Sadr city, Habibiyah, Kamaliyah, Hurriyah, Shula and Amiriyah. On May 18, the KRG decided to extend the ban on travel between provinces in the region and the rest of Iraq until June 1, while imposing a total curfew for 72 hours starting on the first day of the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which begins this weekend. The KRG Minister of Health said on May 19 that the appearance of new cases represent a continuation of the first wave of COVID-19, attributing the disease’s persistence to the decline in compliance with preventative measures. On May 20, the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh (UNITAD) reported making “significant progress” in its effort to investigate ISIS crimes in Iraq, saying its investigators looked into data from two million calls, collecting evidence that will strengthen the cases against members of the terrorism group. On May 21, Iraq’s Health Ministry reported that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increased this week to 3,877 representing a new record weekly increase in confirmed infections. Deaths from confirmed cases of COVID-19 reached 140 while a total of 2,483 patients have recovered. Iraq’s Minister of Health warned that the growing numbers of COVID-19 patients was starting to put pressure on Iraq’s health care system. more…

  • COVID-19 Severely Impacts Of SMEs Production And Revenue; Iraq Harvests 1.9 Million Tons Of Wheat; New Government Seeks More Saudi Investments – On May 14, a recent study by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) showed that COVID-19 was having a severe impact on small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Iraq. On average, productivity dropped by more than half and sales in several sectors have dropped by as much as 70% in the past month. On May 17, the state-owned grain trading company said that the wheat harvest season has entered its peak stage, with farmers delivering more than 1.9 million tons of wheat as of May 15, out of an expected six million tons. On May 21, Prime Minister Kadhimi dispatched Finance Minister Ali Allawi to Saudi Arabia, with a mission to discuss bilateral relations, regional economic issues and expanding Saudi investments in Iraq. 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.


Kadhimi Reaches Out To Hostile Militia Commanders; Pride Flag Incident Threatens Relations With EU; Kadhimi Orders Investigations Into Forced Disappearances; Fresh Protests reported In Several Provinces

On May 16, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi visited the headquarters of the popular mobilization forces (PMF) commission and met commission chairman Falih al-Fayyadh and several senior commanders. Footage from the meeting showed that the commanders of units affiliated with clergy of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani (aka the shrine brigades) also attended the meeting on Kadhimi’s side. These units had announced their separation from the PMF commission in April in a sign of a growing row between PMF units close to Iran and those sponsored by the Najfa clergy. Also notable was the cordial encounter between Kadhimi and a Kataib Hezbollah commander known as Abu Fadak, since the group had accused Kadhimi of assisting the U.S. in killing its late commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. During the meeting, Kadhimi praised the PMF sacrifices in the fights against ISIS and underlined the force’s role in combating the resurgent terrorist threat. Kadhimi also expressed his support for the force “within its legal and official framework” as part of the Iraqi military structure, stressing that he will defend the 2016 PMF law which “protects your rights,” in reference to the legislation that regulates the PMF as part of the Iraqi security forces under the authority of the commander in chief.

On May 16, two members of Parliament accused security forces loyal to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of assaulting and arresting dozens of protesters in Duhok. Local reports said that hundreds of journalists, teachers and activists organized a protest in Duhok demanding payment of their delayed salaries. 

On May 17, Iraq’s Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement condemning a move by the European Union mission and other foreign embassies in Iraq to raise the LGBTQ pride flag on their buildings. The statement said the flag was contrary to “the values, morals and social norms” of Iraq and offended “the moral values of all heavenly religions.” The flag incident sparked angry reactions from the religious endowment organizations and Islamist political parties in Iraq, including a call by Nouri al-Maliki, a former prime minister, to expell the ambassadors of the EU, UK and Canada.

On May 17, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi instructed the Ministry of Interior to “use all available resources” to uncover the fate of kidnapped and forcibly disappeared Iraqis. Addressing senior officers, Kadhimi urged the ministry to move against organized crime “without fear of their alleged political affiliations.” On May 21, a member of the Iraqi High Commissioner for Human Rights (IHCHR) said  that 75 people were kidnapped or forcibly disappeared during violence against protesters since October 1, 2019, only 25 of whom have been released. The official also said the IHCHR  received 8,615 reports of missing people since 2017, mostly in Ninewa, but was able to confirm the fates of only 125 people while the rest remain unaccounted for. Human rights activists claim that armed militias maintain eight secret prisons around Baghdad to illegally hold an unknown number of forcibly disappeared Iraqis from two groups: protesters and civil society activists, and civilians kidnapped from their towns during military operations against ISIS between 2014-2017. 

On May 18, an angry crowd broke into the office of TV station MBC in Baghdad and destroyed its contents. The attack happened after the channel aired a program that implicated Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the Kataib Hezbollah commander who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in January, in a 1981 bombing that targeted the Iraqi embassy in Beirut. The attackers accused the Saudi-fnded channel of being a mouthpiece for “Saudi terrorism” using graffiti and signs posted on the office walls. The Iraqi Interior Ministry condemned the attack, stressing in a statement that “while we respect peaceful protest…we reject any illegal behavior attacks against the media.”

On May 18, security forces in Diwaniyah opened fire at protesters who had gathered in front of the national security agency’s office in the city. The protesters were demanding the release of four protesters who were arrested earlier in the day. In Dhi-Qar, security forces arrested an unspecified number of protesters and set their tents on fire after protesters blocked the entrance to the site of the Ahdab oil field in the province. The Oil Ministry said the incident did not impact operations at the field. In Kut, the capital of Wasit province, protesters blocked roads with burning tires, demanding the release of the protesters arrested near Ahdab. A statement from the prime minister’s office said that the courts released two lawyers who were arrested in the events in Diwaniyah and “a number of protesters” who were arrested in Kut. 

On May 18, a group of 145 members of Parliament submitted a letter to the deputy speaker of Parliament requesting the resumption of the legislative session. With the exception of the May 6-7 session to approve the government of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Parliament has not convened since late March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On May 19, a member of the parliamentary finance committee said that the emergency economic reforms committee established by the prime minister has begun drafting the budget bill for the current year. The representative, Ahmed al-Saffar, said he expects the draft to arrive after Eid al-Fitr holiday, which begins this weekend. Saffar said the budget will be limited to operational spending with a focus on paying salaries for the remaining six months of the year and no allocations for investments. 

On May 19, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi gave instructions to establish a committee to create “an accurate list” of Iraqis, whether civilian or military, who were killed, wounded or disabled during mass protests since October 2019. A government statement said authorities will use the documentation effort to “honor the martyrs” and compensate the families of the victims.

On May 19, Iraq’s new government held its third meeting since its formation and discussed a number of steps to address the country’s financial crisis. According to an official statement, these steps included authorizing the Finance Ministry to borrow to compensate for the increase in budget deficit caused by the collapse of oil prices. The government also discussed maximizing non-oil sources of revenue, alluding to “uncontrolled financial accounts with some ministries that were not entered into the state treasury.”


ISIS Intensifies Crops Burning Campaign, Launches New Deadly Attacks; Iraqi Forces, Coalition Airstrikes Pursue ISIS In Multiple Provinces

On May 14, unidentified militants opened fire on popular mobilization forces (PMF) positions in Jurf al-Sakhr, in northern Babylon province. The attack killed one PMF fighter and injured one more.

On May 14, an attack with mortars in Diyala province wounded four civilians. The incident took place at the village of Zahra, in the Abbara subdistrict northeast of Baquba. Further northeast, ISIS snipers injured the mukhtar of the village of Mubarak near Khanaqin, and in another incident ISIS militants set fire to crops in nearby farms. The following day, an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded in the area, wounding three PMF fighters. Another attack injured two other PMF fighters in the Udheim subdistrict, north of Baquba.

On May 15, security sources said that ISIS militants set large areas cultivated with wheat in the village of Shohani northeast of Baquba in Diyala province. In Salah ad-Din province, unidentified militants killed four members of the same family and burned their wheat crops during an attack in the Jlam area north of Samarra. In Ninewa, the civil defense directorate said its crew responded to several fires that destroyed large areas of wheat and barley crops across the province, including in Qahtaniyah, Makhmour, Bartella, Muhalabiyah, Rashidiya and Wana. On May 17, the Qara Chogh area between Ninewa and Erbil was hit with crop fires for the third time in a week, and there were also reports of additional fires damaging wheat and barley crops in Qara Tappa in northeast Diyala. A document by the Ministry of Agriculture circulating in news websites recorded 88 fires destroying 1,836 dunams (1,460 acres) during the three weeks ending May 14. 

On May 15, an IED explosion killed three PMF fighters and injured two more in the Hawi al-Udheim region in Diyala province. A PMF statement said the IED attack and subsequent clashes with ISIS militants who attacked the PMF in the area resulted in four deaths and six other injuries among members of the PMF brigade 23. 

On May 15, an IED explosion killed two members of the ISF and injured four others in the Tarmiyah area north of Baghdad. 

On May 15, the International Coalition to fight ISIS killed seven ISIS militants in airstrikes targeting caves they were using as hideouts in al-Hadhar, southwest of Mosul. 

On May 16, unidentified militants assassinated an Iraqi lawyer and activist in the Abbara subdistrict in Diyala province. 

On May 16, security sources said that ISIS militants killed a policeman in an attack on a checkpoint in the Yaychi subdistrict west of Kirkuk city. Further west, ISIS militants attacked a police station near Hawijah with rocket propelled grenades. There were no reports of casualties. 

On May 16, ISIS militants attacked a checkpoint from the Iraqi security forces (ISF) in Dijail, in southern Salah ad-Din province. The attack killed one member of the ISF and injured one more.

On May 16, ISIS militants attacked an ISF patrol in the Abbara subdistrict in Diyala province. The attack killed one ISF officer and injured another. 

On May 17, the ISF launched a large-scale security operation, dubbed “Lions of the Jazira” to clear large swaths of the desert between Anbar and Ninewa provinces. Participating forces include the PMF, tribal mobilization fighters and the operations commands of Ninewa, Salah ad-Din and Anbar, supported by the air forces and army aviation. An ISF statement said initial results included the killing of three ISIS militants and seizure and destruction of weapons, explosives and vehicles. Four members of the ISF were also injured during the operations. 

On May 17, ISIS militants attacked a police checkpoint near the village of Mahana, near Qayyara in Ninewa province. The attack killed two policemen.  

On May 17, an IED explosion killed one PMF fighter and injured three more near Tuzkhormatu in Salah ad-Din province. The explosion hit the PMF vehicle while the fighters were responding to reports of ISIS militants setting crops on fire in the area. The following day, another IED explosion killed another PMF fighter and injured one more in the Salah ad-Din desert. 

On May 18, the Turkish military said it conducted airstrikes that killed three members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq. 

On May 18, the counter terrorism service (CTS) supported by airstrikes from the international coalition targeted concentrations of ISIS militants in a mountainous area near Dibis, west of Kirkuk. The joint operation resulted in the destruction of eight tunnels and the death of unspecified number of militants who were occupying them. On May 17, an airstrike by the Iraqi army aviation killed two other ISIS militants near Daquq, south of Kirkuk.

On May 18, ISIS militants attacked an Iraqi army checkpoint near Daquq, south of Kirkuk, resulting in the death of one Iraqi soldier. 

On May 19, security sources said that a Katyusha rocket struck an empty house near the Green Zone in Baghdad, where many embassies and Iraqi government buildings are located, without causing casualties. The rocket was reportedly launched from the Idrisi neighborhood in eastern Baghdad. 

On May 19, an IED explosion killed one civilian and wounded another in the Abbars subdistrict in Diyala province. To the northeast, an under-vehicle IED exploded killing an ISF officer near Muqdadiyah. 

On May 19, the ISF reportedly killed four members of an ISIS cell and destroyed six hideouts used by members of the terrorist group in the Wadi Thlab area northeast of Baquba in Diyala province. Meanwhile, another ISF unit clashed with ISIS militants northwest of Baiji in Salah ad-Din province. The ISF killed four ISIS militants and seized their vehicles.  

On May 19, security sources said that an IED placed inside a minibus exploded in the Madain district southeast of Baghdad. The explosion killed one passenger and injured two others. 

On May 19, local sources in Diyala said that ISIS militants sabotaged high voltage towers using explosives, destroying two towers and damaging a third one. The attack targeted power lines near Mansouriyah, northeast of Baquba. The following day, an IED explosion targeted repair crews attempting to fix the damaged towers. The explosion wounded two members of the repair crew. The attacks impacted power supplies to Kirkuk, Diyala and Salah ad-Din, according to the Ministry of Electricity.

On May 20, three mortar rounds struck a village near Jalawla in Diyala province. ISIS militants also reportedly set fire to wheat crops in the area. 

On May 20, ISIS militants attacked a checkpoint for the ISF near Garma in eastern Anbar province. The attack killed one member of the tribal mobilization forces and injured two Iraqi soldiers. 

On May 21, security sources said ISIS militants used explosives to damage a bulldozer used in works associated with a water project near the subdistrict of Shora south of Mosul.


Iraq To Isolate Entire Districts, Initiate Stricter Measures Against COVID-19 Ahead Of Major Holiday As New Cases Climb Higher

On May 15, UN-Habitat said it rebuilt 46 war-damaged homes in Sinjar and Mosul in Ninewa province and handed them back to their owners. The reconstruction of these homes is part of a larger project that was briefly suspended in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and resumed after UN-Habitat developed the required safety procedures. 

On May 18, Iraq’s Health Minister said the government has decided to establish a “regional cordon” around several districts in Baghdad in response to “the accelerating increase” in COVID-19 cases in the capital. The minister, Hassan al-Temimi, explained that the impacted districts are: Sadr city, Habibiyah, Kamaliyah, Hurriyah, Shula and Amiriyah. On May 20, Iraq’s prime minister presided over a meeting of the government’s national health and safety committee to discuss developments in the fight against COVID-19. An official statement said the committee decided that the increase in cases necessitates strengthening the quarantine measures and more efforts to educate the public about the dangers of ignoring health instructions designed to control the spread.

On May 18, the government of the Kurdistan region (KRG) decided to extend the ban on travel between provinces in the region and the rest of Iraq until June 1, while imposing a total curfew for 72 hours starting on the first day of the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which begins this weekend. The new instructions require all shops that were recently allowed to reopen to close down again. In Sulaymaniyah, the governor announced on May 17 that travel to and from the province will be banned until further notice. The move came after the province reported 13 new COVID-19 cases following 20 consecutive days of no new cases. The appearance of new cases in the Kurdistan region also prompted the religious endowments directorate to ban mosques from holding the traditional Eid prayers to avoid crowds. The KRG Minister of Health, Saman Barzenji said on May 19 that the new cases represent a continuation of the first wave of COVID-19, attributing the disease’s persistence to the decline in compliance with preventative measures after life began to return to normal in the region. 

On May 20, the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh (UNITAD) reported making “significant progress” in its effort to investigate ISIS crimes in Iraq. These investigations concern the 2014 ISIS genocidal campaign against Iraq’s Yazidi community in Ninewa and the “Speicher massacre” of Iraqi air force cadets in Salah ad-Din province. UNITAD said that with the cooperation of Iraqi authorities, its investigators looked into data from two million calls, collecting evidence that will strengthen the cases against members of the terrorism group. UNITAD said that over the next six months, it will continue to work with the Iraqi government to prepare for local trials supported by the evidence it has collected. 

On May 21, the Iraqi Ministry of Health reported that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country has risen to 3,877 representing an increase of 734 cases from the 3,143 reported a week earlier. According to the ministry’s data there were 25 new deaths during the same period, bringing total fatalities to 140. Meanwhile the total number of recoveries has increased from 2,028 to 2,483. This week saw more acceleration in new cases in Iraq, with an unprecedented 153 cases reported on May 21 alone. The last 24 hours also saw six new fatalities. The areas with the most active cases are Baghdad’s Rusafa district, followed by Basra, Baghdad’s Karkh district, and Najaf. Earlier this week, Iraq’s Minister of Health warned during a cabinet meeting that the growing numbers of COVID-19 patients was starting to put pressure on Iraq’s health care system.


COVID-19 Severely Impacts Of SMEs Production And Revenue; Iraq Harvests 1.9 Million Tons Of Wheat; Iraq Seeks More Saudi Investments

On May 14, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that a recent study showed that COVID-19 was having a severe impact on small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Iraq. The IOM study surveyed 456 SMEs, mostly in regions that are home to the largest communities of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returnees. The information obtained indicated that average productivity dropped by more than half in the previous month, costing these businesses 27% of their revenue by the end of June. The data also showed that sales in several sectors have dropped by as much as 70% in the past month due to the impact of COVID-19. To cope with shrinking sales, businesses also cut both wages and the size of their paid staff size by more than a third. 

On May 17, the state-owned grain trading company said that the wheat harvest season has entered its peak stage, with farmers delivering more than 1.9 million tons of wheat as of May 15. A company statement said that 13 provinces have begun delivering harvested wheat, with Wasit province delivering the highest volume at more than 283 thousand tons. The Trade Ministry also plans to receive up to 400 thousand tons from farmers in the Kurdistan region. In April, the Ministry of Agriculture said Iraq was preparing for its best grain harvest in decades, expecting up to six million tons from nine million dunams (~222,000 acres). 

On May 17, officials at the Ninewa agriculture directorate reported that an outbreak of bird flu (H5N8) forced poultry farmers to euthanize 65,000 chickens to prevent the disease from spreading. The officials provided assurances that the infection originated from migrating birds and was limited to one poultry farm only.    

On May 21, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi dispatched Finance Minister Ali Allawi to Saudi Arabia, with a mission to discuss bilateral relations, regional economic issues and expanding Saudi investments in Iraq.


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

Casualties Due To IEDs from May 14 - May 21, 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
05/15/20Khanaqin, Diyala03
05/15/20Udheim, Diyala32
05/15/20Tarmiyah, north of Baghdad24
05/17/20Tuzkhormatu, Salah ad-Din13
05/18/20Salah ad-Din desert11
05/19/20Abbara, Diyala11
05/19/20Muqdadiyah, Diyala10
05/19/20Madain, southeast of Baghdad12
05/20/20Mansouriyah, Diyala02

 

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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