ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM: JUNE 11 – JUNE 18, 2020

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Key Takeaways:

  • U.S. And Iraq To Resume Dialogue In July; Parliament Wants Comprehensive Reform Plan Before Authorizing Borrowing; Tension Rises With Turkey Over Anti-PKK Operations – On June 11, the U.S. and Iraq concluded the first round of strategic dialogue talks and agreed to resume discussions in Washington in July. On June 13, hundreds of Iraqis protested in Basra demanding the resignation of the governor and senior security officials. On June 14, Kuwait’s foreign minister visited Baghdad and met with PM Kadhimi and President Salih to discuss counter terrorism cooperation and economic relations, including connecting the Iraqi and Kuwaiti grids. On June 14, Parliament gave the cabinet of PM Kadhimi two months to submit a comprehensive economic reform plan before Parliament would consider granting it the authority to borrow money to address the financial crisis. On June 16-18 Iraq’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Turkish ambassador twice to condemn recent Turkish airstrikes and cross-border incursions. Iraq demanded that Ankara halts its operation and withdraws its forces. The ministry also summoned Iran’s ambassador to register its objection to Iran’s shelling of border areas. more…
  • ISIS Attacks Minorities In Diyala; New Rocket Attacks Target The Green Zone And Major Military Bases; Turkey Launches Large-Scale Operations Against The PKK Inside Iraq – On June 13, ISIS gunmen attacked villages of the Kakai minority community in Diyala province, killing six people and wounding six others. Between June 12-15, five improvised explosive devices (IEDs) killed one civilian and three ISF members, and wounded four civilians and six ISF members in Babylon, Ninewa, Salah ad-Din and Maysan provinces. On June 13, two Katyusha rockets struck Camp Taji, a major Iraqi military base that also hosts U.S. troops. On June 16, three more rockets struck near Baghdad International Airport. Two days later, four rockets struck the parade grounds in Baghdad’s Green Zone. There were no reports of casualties in either attack. On June 15, Turkey started a campaign of airstrikes and cross-border ground operations targeting the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in several areas in northern Iraq. The attacks coincided with Iranian shelling of border areas. The Turkish attacks, which continued into June 18, killed at least one person and led to the evacuation of eight villages. Turkey claimed to have destroyed 500 PKK targets. more…

  • UNITAD Urges Iraq To Pass Laws To Put ISIS Members On Trial; Baghdad Extends Curfew As Dozens Die From COVID-19 Each Day – On June 15, a new Human Rights Watch report described a spike in violations of the right to free expression in Iraq and urged the Baghdad and KRG parliaments to replace current laws with new ones that comply with international law. On June 16, the team of United Nations investigators looking into ISIS crimes in Iraq said it has identified 344 major suspects in connection with ISIS crimes and emphasized that Iraq must approve a law to provide the legal framework to put the suspected criminals on trial before Iraqi courts. On June 16, PUKmedia reported that medical and health personnel in Sulaimaniyah were on strike to protest the delay in getting paid. The local health director warned that the strike could cause health services in the province to collapse. On June 18, Iraq’s Ministry of Health reported that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increased to 25,717 representing a new record weekly increase. Deaths from confirmed cases of COVID-19 reached 856 while a total of 11,333 patients have recovered. To date, Iraq has tested 413,966 samples for COVID-19. Amid rising COVID-19 cases in Baghdad, authorities announced a new total curfew that will be in place until June 21. Meanwhile, the KRG extended the current travel ban between provinces until July 1. On June 18, USAID announced a $10 million contribution to help Iraq cope with the COVID-19 outbreak. more…

  • Iraq Plans Deeper Oil Production Cuts; Government Authorizes Negotiations For $2 Billion In Loans To Finance Six Power and Health Projects – On June 14, Reuters reported that the Iraqi Oil Ministry agreed with BP, Lukoil and ExxonMobil to cut production by a total of 260,000 barrels per day (bpd) from three of the country’s largest oil fields operated by these companies. Iraq’s Oil Minister reiterated this week that the Kurdistan region must reduce their oil exports to no more than 370,000 bpd in order to help Iraq comply with its obligations to cut production by 1.06 million bpd unde the OPEC+ deal. On June 16, the Iraqi Cabinet authorized the Finance Ministry to negotiate and sign loans for six major energy and health projects totaling more than $2 billion. On June 17, General Electric said it has added 1,000 megawatts in power generation capacity to the Iraqi electric grid through upgrades at three power plants in Baghdad, al-Muthanna, and Dhi-Qar provinces. 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 Resume Dialogue In July; Parliament Wants Comprehensive Reform Plan Before Authorizing Borrowing; Tension Rises With Turkey Over Anti-PKK Operations

On June 11, the United States and Iraq concluded the first round of their strategic dialogue talks, which the two sides started earlier that day. A joint statement Washington and Baghdad issued after the brief talks mentioned that the U.S. will support Iraq’s efforts to carry out political reforms, hold free and fair elections, and return Iraqis displaced by war to their homes. With regard to security relations, the two sides agreed that the U.S. will reduce the size of its military presence in Iraq and engage in further talks to determine “the status of remaining forces.” In terms of economic relations, the U.S. pledged to provide Baghdad with economic advisers to help Iraq plan economic reforms and obtain support from international financial institutions. The discussions also covered expanding the role of American companies in Iraq’s energy sector. Finally, the discussions concerning cultural relations addressed capacity building for Iraq’s universities and the return of archives and artifacts taken from Iraq. The two sides agreed to resume their talks in Washington in July. In a follow up call on June 16, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Iraqi Foreign Minister Fouad Hussein discussed a possible visit by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to the American capital.   

On June 13, hundreds of Iraqis protested in Basra demanding the resignation of the governor and senior security officials in the province. The protesters particularly accuse governor Asad al-Idani of corruption, and police chief Rashid Fleih and “shock force” commander Ali Mshari of ordering the killing of protesters during anti-government demonstrations that started in October 2019. Several Iraqi provinces in the country’s south saw fresh protests last week in which demands focused on the resignation of governors and other senior local officials. Protests in Basra continued on June 16 with demands for the release of protesters security forces had detained earlier in the week. 

On June 14, the forign minister of Kuwait, Ahmed Nasir al-Sabah, visited Baghdad and met with Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi. A statement by the Iraqi prime minister’s office said Sabah and Kadhimi discussed counter terrorism cooperation, water security, and economic relations, including connecting Iraq’s grid with that of Kuwait and other Gulf Cooperation Council states. The visiting minister also met with Iraqi President Barham Salih, who called for implementing the pledges and agreements that donor states made during the Iraq reconstruction conference in Kuwait in 2018. 

On June 14, al-Mada reported that the parliamentary finance committee gave the cabinet of Prime Minister Kadhimi two months to submit a comprehensive economic reform plan before Parliament would consider granting it the authority to borrow money to address the current financial crisis. Last month, Kadhimi’s cabinet submitted a letter to Parliament asking the legislature to authorize borrowing from domestic and foreign lenders to compensate for the severe loss of revenue due to low oil prices but Parliament reportedly refused to put the request to a vote. The finance committee also insisted that any future authorization to borrow must have a ceiling of $5 billion in foreign debt and ID 15 trillion (approximately $12 billion) in local debt. A member of the finance committee said lawmakers expect the government reform plans to address a wide range of issues, including new regulations for taxes, customs, and electrical tariffs, as well as revisions to the technical service contracts Iraq had signed with foreign oil companies to develop its major oil fields. 

On June 16, the Iraqi Foreign Affairs Ministry said it summoned the Turkish ambassador to Iraq and handed him a formal memorandum condemning recent Turkish airstrikes on Iraqi soil (details in the security section). The memorandum called on Ankara to halt “unilateral military operations,” which it decried as violations of Iraqi sovereignty, but expressed Baghdad’s willingness to work with Turkey “to secure the borders in a manner that serves the interests of both sides.” Meanwhile, the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, also condemned the Turkish operation as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and a threat to collective Arab security. Aboul-Gheit said Turkish military involvements in Iraq, Syria and Libya reflect “expansionist Turkish ambitions…that don’t belong in our time.” Commenting on the summons, the Turkish ambassador remarked on social media that his country will continue to target the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) inside Iraq “unless Iraq takes steps to end the PKK presence.”  The Foreign Ministry summoned the Turkish envoy again on June 18 to register its objection to the renewed Turkish operations. In a strongly-worded statement, Baghdad blamed Ankara’s past unilateral policies for the PKK’s presence on Iraqi soil, and demanded that Ankara halts its operations and withdraws the forces it sent into Iraq this week as well as those deployed to Bashiqa in 2015. Iraq’s Foreign Ministry also summoned Iran’s ambassador to register its objection to Iran’s shelling of the border area of Haj Omran.     

On June 16, an opinion poll by an independent research group showed that 64% of Iraqis had favorable views about the new prime minister’s ability to run the country. According to the poll, conducted by Gallop’s Iraqi affiliate, al-Mustakella, Mustafa al-Kadhimi now enjoys approval rates similar to those of former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi but nearly double the 36% approval rate of resigned Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi. The poll, which surveyed the opinions of a random sample of one thousand Iraqis also found that Iraqis trusted Iran less than the U.S., Turkey or Saudi Arabia, with only 13.5% viewing Iran as a “trusted partner.”


ISIS Attacks Minorities In Diyala; New Rocket Attacks Target The Green Zone And Major Military Bases; Turkey Launches Large-Scale Operations Against The PKK Inside Iraq

On June 12, Iraqi security sources said that seven mortar rounds hit the village of Umm al-Hunta near the Jalawla subdistrict in Diyala province. The sources added that ISIS militants later opened fire at Iraqi army forces that responded to the mortar attack. There were no reports of casualties in either incident. 

On June 12, Iraqi security sources said an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated against a vehicle transporting members of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in Jurf al-Sakhr in northwestern Babylon province. The explosion injured two PMF fighters. 

On June 13, Iraqi security sources said two Katyusha rockets struck Camp Taji, a major Iraqi military base north of Baghdad that also hosts U.S. troops. The security forces said the attack originated from the nearby Nasr facility, a military industrial installation located north of Baghdad. There were no reports of casualties. During subsequent search operations on the following day, Iraqi forces discovered a truck carrying missile launchers in Rashidiya, north of Baghdad. Two rockets reportedly launched from the vehicle, landing harmlessly in empty terrain before Iraqi forces seized the vehicle and diffused the remaining rockets. It’s unclear whether this was the same truck used in the June 13 attacks. 

On June 13, Iraqi security sources said ISIS militants attacked the home of Salah ad-Din deputy governor Ismail al-Halloub in the Ishaqi subdistrict in southeastern Salah ad-Din. Clashes between the ISIS attackers and Iraqi security forces (ISF) injured one ISF member and one other person. 

On June 13, ISIS gunmen attacked Kakai villages near Khanaqin in Diyala province, killing six people and wounding six others, including members of the Iraqi security forces. The Kakais are an ethnically Kurdish minority group that have been targeted by ISIS since 2014 for their religious beliefs. On June 15, the Ministry of Peshmerga condemned the attack and called on the Iraqi federal security forces to work with the Peshmerga to fill security gaps between their respective lines of control.

On June 14, Iraqi security sources said two IEDs exploded in the Shoura subdistrict, south of Mosul in Ninewa province. One of the explosives reportedly targeted a truck carrying harvested wheat without causing casualties. The second IED exploded near a local water facility, injuring one of its employees. 

On June 15, Iraqi security sources said an IED explosion in Tuzkhormatu killed three members of the Iraqi security forces (Quick Response Division) and injured four others. The incident occurred during a security operation in a village near Tuzkhormatu in northeast Salah ad-Din province. 

On June 15, an IED exploded next to a house in the district of al-Kahla in the Maysan province, killing one woman and injuring three others. 

On June 15, Turkey launched multiple airstrikes targeting the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which Turkey considers a terrorist organization, in several areas in northern Iraq, including Qandil, Makhmour, Hakurk, and Zab in Erbil province, Avasin-Baysan in Duhok and Sinjar in Ninewa province. A news agency linked to the PKK, said the strikes targeted civilian areas, including the Makhmour refugee camp and a hospital. The Makhmour camp, which reportedly hosts more than 12,000 Turkish Kurdish refugees, suffered material damage. There were no reports of deaths from the first wave of airstrikes. Iraq’s Joint Operations Command condemned the Turkish airstrikes as a violation of sovereignty. Turkish bombardment continued the following day, and coincided with Iranian artillery shelling in Haj Omran, in northeastern Erbil near the border with Iran. Turkey also sent ground forces across the border into Iraq to pursue PKK militants. The attacks, which continued into June 18, killed one shepherd and led to the evacuation of eight villages in the Sidakan subdistrict. This area provides shelter to Iranian Kurdish opposition groups, targeted by Iran before but not by Turkey prior to this incident, according to the mayor of Haj Omran. The Turkish military claimed on June 18 that its ongoing operations have destroyed 500 PKK targets. 

On June 16, the Security Media Cell said three Katyusha rockets fired from the Makasib neighborhood in southwestern Baghdad landed near Baghdad International Airport. There were no reports of casualties. The ISF later discovered additional rockets and  “wooden rocket bases” used in the attack and defused the remaining missiles. 

On June 16, Iraqi security sources said ISIS militants attacked a security checkpoint in Mtaybeijah in eastern Salah ad-Din province. The attack killed a member of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).

On June 17, Iraqi security sources said unidentified gunmen used silenced weapons to kill a member of the ISF in the Ur neighborhood in northern Baghdad. 

On June 17, Iraqi security sources said that airstrikes killed three ISIS militants in  the Mtaybeijah area between Diyala and Salah ad-Din provinces. It was not clear whether the Iraqi military or International Coalition conducted the airstrikes.

On June 17, Iraqi security sources said a sound bomb exploded next to a liquor store in central Baghdad without causing casualties. In another incident, Iraqi security sources said a sound bomb exploded in Diwaniya province, injuring three civilians from the same family inside their vehicle. 

On June 18, Iraqi security sources said four Katyusha rockets struck the parade grounds in the Green Zone in Baghdad. The Security Media Cell said Iraqi security forces found launch pads that appear to be connected to the attack near the Rashid camp in southern Baghdad. There were no reports of casualties. Prime Minister al-Kadhimi condemned the attack, pledging to “not allow rogue factions to hijack Iraq to create chaos and find excuses to perpetuate their interests.”


UNITAD Urges Iraq To Pass Laws To Put ISIS Members On Trial; Baghdad Extends Curfew As Dozens Die From COVID-19 Each Day

On June 12, the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) announced that it would contribute 16 million SEK (approximately  $1.73 million) to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to support UNFPA’s programs in response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Iraq. Most of the funds will be allocated to activities  that ensure women and girls “especially pregnant women and survivors of gender-based violence” get access to health and protection services throughout the pandemic. The funds will also ensure that Iraqi health authorities receive adequate supplies of contraceptives, other medications and supplies, related to maternal health needs, and masks and other protective gear. 

On June 13, the Ministry of Migration and Displacement  announced that 211 internally displaced persons (IDPs) returned to their areas of origin in the Sinjar district in Ninewa province. A local ministry official said the IDPs included former residents of the Daoudia, Jum Mishku, and Bersfi IDP camps in Duhok province as well as out-of-camp IDPs residing elsewhere in Duhok. The official added that the ministry expects more similar returns in the near future. 

On June 14, health officials in Duhok announced the opening of a 100-bed hospital in the town of Sumeil that will be dedicated solely to COVID-19 patients. A local businessman reportedly donated the funds to establish the hospital, which took only 33 days to build. While the Duhok has some of the lowest numbers of COVID-19 cases in Iraq, this facility creates spare capacity to accommodate the rising numbers in the Kurdistan region and the rest of Iraq. Additionally, the Health Minister in the Kurdistan regional government (KRG), Saman Barzinji said Duhok recently acquired its own Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), located in the town of Akre, which adds local capacity to test for several viral diseases, including COVID-19. 

On June 15, a new Human Rights Watch (HRW) report described a spike in violations of the right to free expression during widespread protests that began last fall in Iraq. The report says Iraqi authorities, including in the Kurdistan region have exploited the legal code to target and persecute dissenters. The new HRW report, which examines different legal actions by authorities  against critics, journalists, and other voices of dissent, urges the Baghdad and KRG parliaments to replace current laws with new ones that will comply with international law regarding human rights. HRW examined over 30 cases involving the prosecution of multiple activists and journalists who survived different verbal and physical attacks because they tried to expose government corruption on social media. In one case, an activist in southern Iraq was arrested, beaten, and coerced into making a false admission that the United States had backed his protest of the governor of al-Muthanna and his failure to investigate allegations of corruption when purchasing COVID-19 supplies.

On June 16, the team of United Nations investigators  looking into ISIS crimes in Iraq, known as UNITAD, reported making “real progress” in the work to identify the culprits responsible for the terrorist group’s major crimes against civilians. The team’s leader, Karim Ahmad Khan informed the UN Security Council that investigations have produced 344 major suspects in connection with ISIS crimes, which include the 2014 slaughter and enslavement of thousands of Iraqi Yazidis in. in Sinjar. In May, UNITAD said it had looked into data from two million calls, collecting evidence that will strengthen the cases against members of the terrorism group. Khan emphasized that Iraq must approve a law that would provide the legal framework to put the suspected criminals on trial before Iraqi courts, describing the law, which has been delayed by political turmoil and change in government as a “key piece in the jigsaw.” 

On June 16, PUKmedia reported that medical and health personnel in Sulaimaniyah were on strike  for a second day to protest the delay in getting paid. A spokesman for the KRG Ministry of Health said the strike comes at a difficult time because of the worsening COVID-19 pandemic. According to PUKmedia, up to 200 doctors and other medical staff have tested positive for COVID-19. The strike will likely continue for some time, as the spokesman pointed out that the KRG Ministry of Finance has not set a date for paying medical workers. Meanwhile, the health director of Sulaimaniyah warned that the COVID-19 outbreak has entered an alarming second wave in the province as a result of the premature relaxation of the lockdown. This adds to the current hardship placed on the medical community in lieu of the region wide health personnel strike due to the KRG not paying them this month. Originally, the KRG attempted to extend the curfew beyond the Eid holiday, but was met with opposition from shop owners and private sector workers who were concerned with their ability to provide for their families. Kurdistan has now seen almost 2,000 new cases of COVID-19 along with 42 deaths in the past month. The health director, Sabah Hawrami added a grim warning about the state of the health system. “Our hospitals are about to be full and not much space has been left. Our employees have left the hospitals because they have not been paid…we are about to collapse.” 

On June 18, the Iraqi Ministry of Health reported that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country has risen to 25,717, representing a sharp increase of 9,042 cases from the 16,675 reported a week earlier. Of these cases, 13,528 are in the hospital and 212 are in the intensive care unit (ICU). According to the ministry’s data there were 399 new deaths during the same period, raising total fatalities from 457 to 856. Meanwhile, the total number of recoveries has increased from 6,568 to 11,333. This week saw further acceleration in new cases in Iraq, with 1,463 new cases reported on June 18 alone. The last 24 hours also saw 83 new fatalities. The areas reporting the most new cases were Baghdad with 515 cases, followed by  Sulaymaniyah with 136 cases, and Maysan province, which reported 134 cases in the last 24 hours. To date, Iraq has tested a total of 413,966 samples for COVID-19. Amid rising COVID-19 cases in Baghdad, authorities announced  a new total curfew that will be in place from Thursday, June 18 at 6 am until 5 am on Sunday June  21. On June 6, the Iraqi government planned to switch from a total to a partial curfew after June 13. However, the government has reconsidered that plan in an apparent response to the worsening COVID-19 outbreak. Health personnel, the media and municipal workers  continue to  be exempt from the curfew. On June 16, the KRG Interior Ministry extended the current travel ban between provinces until July 1 and decided to extend the ban on movement to other Iraqi provinces during the same period.

On June 18, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced a $10 million contribution to help Iraq cope with the  COVID-19 outbreak. These funds will allow the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to upgrade  hospitals and clinics in nine provinces and support them with equipment and  supplies, allowing them to be better prepared to handle the health crisis. The benefiting provinces are  Basra, Duhok, Karbala, Kirkuk, Najaf, Babylon, Dhi-Qar, Maysan and Ninewa. Additionally, the contribution will allow Iraq to to repair the East Mosul Medical Fluid Factory, which used to supply many Iraqi hospitals with critical medical supplies before after it was damaged during the war with ISIS. The UNDP representative in Iraq, Zena Ali Ahmad, stated that “USAID’s contribution comes at exactly the right time” in light of the worsening COVID-19 pandemic in Iraq.


Iraq Plans Deeper Oil Production Cuts; Government Authorizes Negotiations For $2 Billion In Loans To Finance Six Power and Health Projects

On June 14, Reuters reported that the Iraqi Oil Ministry agreed with foreign companies operating three of the country’s largest oil fields to cut production by a total of 260,000 barrels per day (bpd). The new cuts follow earlier reductions announced in May and aim to help Iraq comply with its obligations to reduce output by 1.06 million bpd under the OPEC+ agreement made in April. Specifically, Iraq will lower production at the Rumaila, West Qurna-1 and West Qurna-2 oil fields by 140,000, 70,000 and 50,000 bpd, respectively. The three fields are operated by BP, Lukoil and ExxonMobil, respectively. The new cuts will take effect immediately. Iraqi oil exports from southern fields, which account for the bulk of exports, have dropped  8% during the first half of June to an average of 2.93 million bpd. Last week, Oil Minister Ihsan Abdul Jabbar underlined Iraq’s commitment to fully comply with its obligations to reduce output under the OPEC+ deal. Abdul-Jabbar reiterated this week that the Kurdistan region must reduce their oil exports to no more than 370,000 bpd in order to help Iraq comply with production cuts. The KRG has not provided data on its plans to reduce oil production and exports. 

On June 16, the Iraqi Cabinet authorized the Finance Ministry to negotiate and sign six loans for major energy and health projects. The authorization covers loans for five electricity projects, including the purchase and/or installation of 40 turbine cooling units from Siemens for €708 million, the purchase of nine gas turbines from Siemens for €362 million, an unspecified infrastructure repair project costing €400 million, another maintenance contract with GE for $120 million, and repairs on a high voltage power station for €38 million. Additionally, the government authorized a €185 million loan to finance healthcare infrastructure repairs and upgrades. 

On June 17, General Electric (GE)  said it has added 1,000 megawatts in power generation capacity to the Iraqi electric grid. GE said half of the added power will be coming from the Basmayah power plant south of Baghdad, while the rest will come from newly installed turbines at power plants in al-Muthanna and Dhi-Qar provinces. According to GE, its turbines now produce 60% of all electricity produced in Iraq. The company’s regional director added that the company’s crews are doing maintenance at six major Iraqi plants to sustain the production of 3,700 megawatts essential to meeting Iraq’s energy seeds during the summer months.


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

DateLocationDeathsInjuries
06/15/20al-Kahla, Maysan province13
06/15/20Tuzkhormatu, Salah ad-Din province34
06/14/20Shoura subdistrict, Mosul, Ninewa province01
06/14/20Shoura subdistrict, Mosul, Ninewa province00
06/12/20Jurf al-Sakhr, Babylon province02

 

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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