ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM: MAY 21 – MAY 28, 2020

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Key Takeaways:

  • Saeroun Trying To Replace Speaker Halbousi; KRG Blames Baghdad For $27 Billion Debt; PM Kadhimi Speaks With World Leaders, Seeks Economic Support – On May 21, the Saeroun bloc led by Moqtada al-Sadr said it will issue an ultimatum to Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi “to correct his path” amid reports of ongoing effort to remove Halbousi from office. On May 22, KRG PM Masrour Barzani said his government faces $27 billion in debt, attributing most it to Baghdad’s policy of withholding the KRG share of the national budget, and alluded to plans for austerity measures. On May 22, PM Kadhimi spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and discussed mitigating Iraq’s financial crisis and preparations for strategic dialogue in June. On May 23, Kadhimi spoke with the presidents of France and Russia and met with China’s ambassador to Iraq. The talks focused on expanding foreign investments in Iraq, support for reconstruction of war-damaged cities, and counter terrorism cooperation. On May 23, Iraq’s finance minister visited Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to encourage investments in Iraq and discuss debt forgiveness and electrical grid links. more…
  • ISIS Continues To Burn Farms While IED Activity Declines; Top ISIS Commander For Iraq Killed In Syria – Between May 22-27, suspected ISIS militants attacked a small refinery in Kirkuk, killing one person and wounding three, while an explosion and small arms attack wounded a civilian and two members of the Iraqi security forces (ISF) in Diyala. ISIS militants also killed a civilian and burned farms in at least three locations in Kirkuk and Diyala, while two attacks on ISF positions in Salah ad-Din left three militants dead and injured three ISF members. Meanwhile, suspected ISIS militants kidnapped four men from villages in Kirkuk and Diyala. Finally, two IEDs wounded three members of the ISF in Babylon and Diyala, while an attack south of Baghdad killed one Iraqi soldier and wounded another. On May 25-26, ISF helicopters destroyed three ISIS armed trucks near Rutba while Iraq’s counter terrorism service said the International Coalition killed a top ISIS commander for Iraq an airstrike in eastern Syria. The ISF also killed four militants southwest of Baghdad and destroyed two ISIS vehicles in Salah ad-Din. On May 27, a Turkish airstrike killed five PKK members in Sulaymaniyah and damaged a nearby hospital and civilian homes. more…

  • UNAMI Report Says 490 Activists Killed Since October, Presses Baghdad To Investigate; COVID-19 Outbreak Worsens – On May 23, the UN assistance mission for Iraq (UNAMI) published an update on violence against Iraqi protesters since October, counting 123 cases of missing persons, 490 killings and 7,783 injuries. UNAMI urged the Iraqi government to locate the missing activists, investigate kidnappings and torture, protect protesters from new abuses, and expose those behind the abuses. On May 28, the KRG issued orders to extend the closure of airports and ban on travel between the provinces of the Kurdistan region through June 15. On May 28, the Iraqi Ministry of Health reported that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increased this week to 5,457 representing a new record weekly increase in confirmed infections. Deaths from confirmed cases of COVID-19 reached 179 while a total of 2,971 patients have recovered. To date, Iraq has tested a total of 211,485 samples for COVID-19. Iraq’s prime minister instructed security forces this week to be more strict in enforcing the curfew designed to contain the spread of COVID-19. more…

  • Baghdad Borrowed To Pay May Salaries; Erbil And Baghdad To Negotiate Budget Settlement In 30 Days; Saudi Companies To Invest In Iraqi Gas Field – On May 23, a financial advisor to the Iraqi government said the financial crisis forced Baghdad to borrow ID 3 trillion (~$2.5 billion) from local banks to secure enough funds to pay salaries and pensions for the month of May. On May 23, the KRG agreed to a road-map proposed by the Iraqi government to resolve their budgetary disputes. Baghdad will pay the region ID 400 billion (~$333 million), then the two sides would audit the KRG non-oil revenue and hold intensive meetings leading to a final settlement within 30 days. On May 23, Iraq’s finance minister said Iraq has reached an agreement with Saudi firms to invest in the development in the Akkaz gas field in Anbar province. On May 23, the director of the Basra Oil Company said Iraq has begun drilling the first new production well in the Majnoon oil field since former operator Royal Dutch Shell withdrew from the field in 2018. 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.


Saeroun Trying To Replace Speaker Halbousi; KRG Blames Baghdad For $27 Billion Debt; PM Kadhimi Speaks With World Leaders, Seeks Economic Support

On May 21, a representative of the Saeroun bloc led by Moqtada al-Sadr said his group will issue an ultimatum to Speaker of Parliament Mohammed al-Halbousi “to correct his path…and improve [Parliament’s] legislative and supervisory role.” The representative, Jawad al-Mousai, warned that Saeroun would “have a different talk” with Halbousi should he fail to meet the demands, which are to be communicated to the speaker this week. Al-Sumaria reported on May 22 that various members of Parliament spoke of an ongoing effort to remove Halbousi from his position, accusing him of failing to convene Parliament while the country is dealing with an economic crisis and COVID-19.

On May 22, Masrour Barzani, the prime minister of the Kurdistan regional government (KRG) addressed the people of the Kurdistan region in a public statement about the ongoing financial crisis amid the collapse of oil prices, which impacted the KRG’s ability to pay salaries. Barzani argued that his government faces $27 billion in debt, attributing most of that amount to Baghdad’s policy under various administrations to withhold the KRG share of the budget. Barzani added that the severe drop in oil prices has reduced the KRG net oil revenue from $700 million a month to a mere $30 million. Barzani said the KRG’s massive public payroll consumed 80% of revenue before the crisis, creating unsustainable financial conditions. The regional premier pledged to diversify sources of revenue, pursue reforms, and work towards resolving financial disputes with Baghdad. At the same time, he asked the region’s residents to prepare to “adapt to any rough times we may encounter,” adding that his government has prepared plans to rationalize spending, including all salaries. Barzani, in a subsequent statement, said that most of the $27 billion were due to “mandatory savings”; funds the KRG deducted from public servants salaries during previous financial crises.  

On May 22, supporters of Thar Allah, a pro-Iran militia active in Basra demonstrated near the group’s office, and attempted to retake it from security forces that were occupying it. Security forces initially blocked the gate and prevented the militia supporters from entering the building. Thar Allah, however, claimed on May 28 that it regained control of the building, thanking the prime minister for “correcting the matter.”  Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi had ordered security forces on May 11 to raid the building after its guards opened fire on civilian protesters, killing one and injuring four of them.  

On May 22, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and discussed the collapse in oil prices and mitigating its impact on Iraq’s economy. Kadhimi’s office said the prime minister and Pompeo also went over preparations for the bilateral strategic dialogue discussion scheduled for June. Kadhimi also spoke with Dan Brouillette, the U.S. Secretary of Energy and expressed Iraq’s interest in attracting more American investments in Iraq’s energy sector. Kadhimi and Brouillette also discussed measures to stabilize the oil markets. 

On May 23, Iraqi Finance Minister Ali Allawi met with Saudi crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and delivered a message from Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to the Saudi government. Allawi’s visit to Riyadh included talks with top Saudi trade and energy officials and focused on economic relations between the two countries. Specifically, the two sides discussed reopening the Arar border crossing, increasing Saudi investments in the Iraqi market, and reducing oil production to stabilize prices. After the meeting, the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia said that Saudi leaders have issued orders to send a new ambassador to Iraq to replace the former envoy whose mission ended in 2019. Kadhimi’s decision to dispatch Allawi to Riyadh invited angry reactions from politicians close to pro-Iran militia groups. Representative Hassan al-Salim, who’s affiliated with Asaib Ahl al-Haq called Kadhimi’s attitude towards Riyadh “shameful and humiliating,” accusing Saudi Arabia of sponsoring terrorist groups and suggesting Baghdad should demand “1,000 billion” in reparations. 

On May 23, Iraqi Finance Minister Ali Allawi arrived in Kuwait after completing a visit to Saudi Arabia. Allawi met with the Kuwaiti prime minister, presented a letter from Prime Minister Kadhimi, and discussed bilateral and regional developments. Allawi’s talks with Kuwaiti officials reportedly focused on the funds Kuwait had pledged to contribute to help Iraq rebuild during a 2018 Iraq reconstruction conference, as well as an agreement signed last year to link the Iraqi power grid with that of Kuwait and other Gulf Cooperation Council states. Allawi also asked Kuwait to forgive or reschedule $3 billion Iraq owes Kuwait in reparations associated with Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

On May 23, China’s ambassador to Iraq invited Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to visit Beijing. Kadhimi met with the Chinese ambassador at his office in Baghdad to discuss Chinese investments in Iraq and economic cooperation to help Iraq cope with the decline in oil prices. Kadhimi’s office also said the prime minister asked China to help Iraq develop agricultural projects on unused arable lands. 

On May 23, Prime Minister Kadhimi received a phone call from French President Emanuel Macron. The two leaders discussed counter terrorism cooperation within the framework of the International Coalition, as well as economic assistance and reforms, and the role of French companies in rebuilding Iraq’s war-damaged cities. Kadhimi also spoke this week with Russian President Vladimir Putin and discussed the OPEC+ oil production cuts agreement and security conditions in Iraq and Syria, where Russia has been supporting the regime of Bashar al-Assad. According to Kadhimi’s office, Putin expressed Moscow’s interest in greatly expanding Russia’s role in Iraq’s trade and energy sectors, especially with regard to electricity. Kadhimi and Putin invited each other to visit Baghdad and Moscow, respectively. 

On May 28, Arab politicians in Kirkuk accused the Iraqi High Electoral Commission (IHEC) of marginalizing their community, urging Parliament to intervene and “correct the work of the commission toward a fair and transparent election.” Specifically, the complaint argued that only one Kirkuk Arab was appointed in an important position out of 15 in IHEC’s Kirkuk office. The Arab politicians also accused IHEC of failing to update voter records and allowing “one constituency” to appoint the Kirkuk office director for 15 years.


ISIS Continues To Burn Farms While IED Activity Declines; Top ISIS Commander For Iraq Killed In Syria

On May 22, suspected ISIS militants attacked a privately owned small refinery in the Shwan subdistrict in northern Kirkuk. The attack killed one of the facility’s guards and injured three others. 

On May 22, ISIS militants attacked a security checkpoint in the Abbara subdistrict in Diyala province, wounding two Iraqi policemen who were present at the checkpoint. On the same day, an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded in a nearby village in the same subdistrict, wounding one civilian. 

On May 23, the Iraqi security forces (ISF) killed three ISIS militants in the Eith region of Salah ad-Din province. The local ISF commander said a group of ISIS militants had attempted to attack the ISF positions in the area and was forced to withdraw after the ISF repulsed the attack. 

On May 23, ISIS militants killed a civilian who intercepted the militants while they were attempting to set farms in his village on fire. The incident occurred in the village of Qashqaya, near Dibis west of Kirkuk. ISIS militants also burned farms in the area between Taza and Rashad south of Kirkuk, reportedly deploying IEDs along the route to the attacked farms to slow down first responders. To the south, there were reports that ISIS militants attacked and burned wheat farms near Qara Tappa northeast of Baquba in Diyala province.

On May 23, ISIS militants attacked two ISF checkpoints in different parts of Salah ad-Din province using small arms, resulting in three injuries among the ISF personnel.  

On May 25, ISF ground forces and army aviation helicopters engaged three armed trucks belonging to ISIS militants in the desert around Rutba in Anbar province. One of the trucks fired on the ISF helicopters from a heavy machine gun, causing light damage to one of them. The pilots were able to return safely to base. The ISF killed at least one ISIS militant and injured another, and seized or destroyed weapons, explosives and communications equipment during the operation.

On May 26, suspected ISIS militants kidnapped two young men from the village of Jorka near Daquq south of Kirkuk. Further south, suspected ISIS militants kidnapped two other civilians near Kifri in Diyala province. The victims came under attack around dawn on May 27 while preparing to harvest their wheat field. 

On May 26, Iraq’s counter terrorism service (CTS) said in a statement that an airstrike by the International Coaltion killed a senior ISIS commander named Noman Abid Nayif Najm al-Jubouri. The CTS said that Jubouri, who was killed in eastern Syria was the ISIS Wali, or commander, for Iraq, adding that the Coalition airstrike was made possible by intelligence the CTS had collected after tracking Jubouri over a “long” period of time.

On May 26, the ISF killed four ISIS militants during a security operation in the Anaz region southwest of Baghdad. Further north, the ISF later tracked and destroyed two vehicles transporting an unspecified number of militants who were attempting to attack ISF positions in Salah ad-Din province.

On May 26, an IED explosion wounded one member of the popular mobilization forces in Jurf al-Sakhr in northern Babylon province. The next day, another IED explosion wounded two members of the tribal mobilization forces in Sinsil, north of Muqdadiyah in Diyala province.

On May 27, a Turkish airstrike targeted a vehicle transporting members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) near the Mawat district in Sulaymaniyah province. The airstrike killed five PKK members and caused physical damage to a nearby hospital and civilian homes.

On May 27, ISIS militants attacked an Iraqi army checkpoint in Yusufiyah south of Baghdad. The attack killed one Iraqi soldier and wounded another one. 


UNAMI Report Says 490 Activists Killed Since October, Presses Baghdad To Investigate; COVID-19 Outbreak Worsens

On May 23, the UN assistance mission for Iraq (UNAMI) published an update on violence against Iraqi protesters since October of last year. The report counted 123 cases of missing persons between October 1 and March 21, of whom 25 remain unaccounted for. In addition to disappearances, the report lists several other forms of violence and abuses to which activists were subjected “including deliberate killings, shooting and knife attacks, threats and intimidation, and excessive and unlawful use of force at demonstration sites.” The report also provides new figures for deaths and injuries among activists and protesters during the same period, putting the toll at 490 activists killed and 7,783 others injured. UNAMI welcomed the formation of an investigation committee by the new government and provided a number of recommendations for the Iraqi authorities. These include locating the missing activists, investigating all cases of kidnapping and torture, protecting protesters from new similar abuses, and exposing the identity of those behind the kidnappings. The Iraqi government responded with a statement on May 26 saying it has reviewed the findings of the UNAMI report “and reiterates its commitment to an independent and transparent investigation into all incidents mentioned in the report.” 

On May 24, Iraq’s prime minister instructed security forces to be more strict in enforcing the curfew designed to contain the spread of COVID-19. Prime Minister Kadhimi’s office made the announcement after he toured a number of hospitals in Baghdad with the Health Minister to survey the condition of patients and the services provided at these facilities.

On May 28, the KRG issued orders to extend the ban on travel between the provinces of the Kurdistan region of Iraq (KRI) through June 15. The orders also extend the closure of the region’s airports until mid June. Earlier this week, the governor of Erbil said the authorities in the region, which has seen few new COVID-19 recently, were not considering plans to order new curfews after the temporary curfew imposed for 72 hours during the Eid al-Fitr holiday expired on May 27. 

On May 28, the Iraqi Ministry of Health reported that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country has risen to 5,457 representing an increase of 1,580 cases from the 3,877  reported a week earlier. According to the ministry’s data there were 39 new deaths during the same period, bringing total fatalities to 179. Meanwhile the total number of recoveries has increased from 2,483 to 2,971. This week saw more acceleration in new cases in Iraq, with a new record 322 new cases reported on May 28 alone. The last 24 hours also saw four new fatalities. The areas with the most active cases are Baghdad’s Rusafa district, where more than half of the new cases for May 28 were reported, followed by Basra, Baghdad’s Karkh district, and Najaf. To date, Iraq has tested a total of 211,485 samples for COVID-19. Last 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.


Baghdad Borrowed To Pay May Salaries; Erbil And Baghdad To Negotiate Budget Settlement In 30 Days; Saudi Companies To Invest In Iraqi Gas Field

On May 23, a financial advisor to the Iraqi government said the latter had to borrow ID 3 trillion (~$2.5 billion) from local banks to secure enough funds to pay salaries and pensions for the month of May because of the financial crisis resulting from the collapse of oil prices. These loans have an interest rate of 5%, according to the adviser, Mudhar Mohammed Salih, who added that up to ID 5.5 trillion of Baghdad’s monthly expenses of ID 7 trillion goes to salaries, pensions and social security benefits. Salih also pointed out that the government will face serious challenges in paying salaries in June, since Baghdad expects to generate less than IS two trillion in revenue during May.  

On May 23, Iraqi Planning Minister Khalid al-Battal said he met with the World Bank representative in Iraq to discuss implementing development projects financed by the Bank that were agreed to before the current financial crisis. Battal said the talks focused on finding ways to advance these projects amid the delays in approving Iraq’s budget for 2020. The minister stressed that Iraq did not seek new loans for the Bank. 

On May 23, the KRG agreed to a proposal prepared by the Iraqi government including a set of principles to settle their budgetary disputes. According to documents made public by the finance ministries in the federal and regional governments, federal authorities will pay the region ID 400 billion (~$333 million) in connections with the KRG’s entitlements for April. The two sides would then enter into intensive meetings to agree on a final settlement within 30 days. Meanwhile, the federal Supreme Audit Council is supposed to work with the Finance Ministry and its counterpart in the KRG to calculate and verify the region’s non-oil revenue.

On May 23, Iraqi Finance Minister Ali Allawi said that Iraq has reached an agreement with Suadi firms to invest in the Akkaz gas field, which is believed to hold significant reserves of natural gas. Iraq’s Oil Ministry had awarded the development of Akkaz, located in the western part of Anbar province, to Korean energy company Kogas in 2011, but the conflict with ISIS in 2014 forced the company to abandon the project. 

On May 23, the director of the Basra Oil Company said Iraq has begun drilling the first new production well in the Majnoon oil field since former operator Royal Dutch Shell withdrew from the field in 2018.


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

Casualties Due To IEDs from May 21 - May 28, 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
05/22/20Abbara, Diayla01
05/26/20Jurf al-Sakhr, Babylon01
05/27/20Muqdadiyah, 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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