- Electricity Blackouts, Salary Reforms Spark Protests; PM Seeks Closer Ties With Saudi Arabia; French Foreign Minister Visits Baghdad – Between July 10 and July 14, demonstrators took to the streets to protest poor electricity supplies in multiple provinces, prompting PM Kadhimi to offer private generator operators free fuel in exchange for lower prices and longer hours. Meanwhile, Parliament formed a committee to investigate alleged corruption in electricity projects since 2006. On July 12, groups of so-called Rafha pensioners protested a government decision that prevents the former residents of the Gulf War-era refugee camp from receiving pensions if they received another government salary. Unconfirmed reports of casualties invited political attacks on the PM from the Fatah Alliance and Dawa Party. On July 15, PM Kadhimi visited Basra and held a Cabinet meeting there in which the government gave the green light for contracts necessary for the stalled “Grand Basra Water Project.” On July 15, PM Kadhimi ordered the formation of the Iraqi-Saudi Council, a set of eight committees meant to enhance coordination between the two nations ahead of a visit to Saudi Arabia next week. On July 16, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian visited Baghdad and met with his Iraqi counterpart to discuss economic and security challenges facing Iraq. more…
- Turkish Operations Displace Civilians; Iraqi Forces Launch New Anti-ISIS Operations With Coalition Support; Gunmen Attack Convoy For U.S. Forces – On July 10, Turkish airstrikes forced residents of a village near Zakho to abandon their homes. Between July 10 – 13, six IEDs killed eight people and wounded 13 more, mostly members of Iraqi security forces (ISF) in Diyala and Babylon. On July 11, the ISF launched the fourth stage of Operation “Heroes of Iraq” to pursue ISIS militants in Diyala province up to the border with Iran and in the gaps between federal and Peshmerga forces in the disputed territories. On July 11, unknown gunmen intercepted and burned three trucks carrying equipment and supplies belonging to U.S. forces in Iraq. A new armed group named “Saraya Thawrat al-Ishreen al-Thania” claimed responsibility for the attack. Between July 12 – 15, the ISF and Coalition airstrikes killed at least 26 ISIS militants in Baghdad, Kirkuk, Diyala, and Makhmour, including a senior figure in the so-called Baghdad “Wilayat.” more…
- Iraq To Relax Travel Restrictions, Lift Curfew In August; Warnings About COVID-19 Outbreak In Prisons; Iraq Records 16,500 New COVID-19 Cases This Week – On July 9, the government said that Iraqi citizens will soon be allowed to travel abroad on the condition that they self-quarantine for 14 days upon returning to Iraq. On July 11, a spokesperson for the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights warned that the health situation in Dhi-Qar was deteriorating amid shortages of important medical supplies, including oxygen, PCR testing kits for COVID-19 and personal protective equipment. On July 13, the Euro-Mediterranean Observatory for Human Rights warned that conditions in Iraqi prisons were on the brink of humanitarian catastrophe, arguing that the COVID-19 outbreak threatens prisoners disproportionately as crowded prisons lack essential health care and access to proper hygiene. On July 16, the government reduced the country-wide curfew hours to be from 9:30pm to 6am, with a plan to completely lift the curfew after Eid al-Adha holiday, which begins in early August. On July 16, the Ministry of Health reported that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increased to 86,148 representing a new record weekly increase. More than 2,840 cases were reported on July 10, representing a new peak. Deaths from confirmed cases of COVID-19 reached 3,522 while a total of 54,316 patients have recovered. To date, Iraq has tested 744,847 samples for COVID-19. more…
- Government Asserts Control Over Border Crossings, Basra Ports; Iraq Vows Full Compliance With OPEC+ Cuts In August – On July 11, PM Kadhimi visited the Mandili border crossing, which partially reopened to trade with Iran last week, and he authorized Iraqi Armed Forces to shoot anyone who assaults the facility and its workers or commits customs violations. Kadhimi also visited the Safwan border crossing and the Umm Qasr ports in Basra, and instructed the military to provide protection for the sites and stop any armed groups that attempt to control them. On July 12, Oil Minister Oil Ihsan Abdul-Jabbar said Iraq will fully comply with its obligations under the OPEC+ agreement to reduce oil production in August, adding that Iraqi will also work between July and September to compensate for overproduction in May and June. 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.
Between July 10 and July 14, demonstrators took to the streets to protest poor electricity supplies in multiple provinces, including Wasit, Diwaniya, Karbala, Dhi-Qar and Basra. On July 11, the Ministry of Electricity said that a drop in voltage impacting Basra brought down two high voltage lines (Amara – Wasit and Rumaila – Nasiriya) leading to a complete blackout in the southern provinces. Frustrated with lack of electricity while temperatures soared above 50 degrees celsius, protestors cut off roads, burned tires and demanded the resignation of electricity officials. Electricity officials in Maysan claimed that saboteurs fired bullets at a number of power stations and assaulted crews attempting to repair them. In response to the electricity crisis, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi ordered the Ministry of Oil to provide the owners of private generators with free fuel in exchange for lower electricity prices and longer operating hours. Kadhimi also instructed his government to expedite the implementation of stalled electricity projects, including those involving Siemens. Meanwhile Parliament formed a committee to investigate alleged corruption in electricity projects since 2006. The committee will include the heads of four parliamentary committees, the head of the Financial Oversight Directorate, and the president and head of investigations in the Integrity Commission.
On July 12, groups of so-called Rafha pensioners traveled to Baghdad from southern provinces to protest a government decision that prevents the former residents of the Gulf War-era refugee camp from receiving the pensions–now capped at ID one million ($800) per month–if they received another government salary. Protesters claimed government forces killed two demonstrators and wounded 20 others at a Daira bridge checkpoint south of Baghdad, a claim that was disputed by a spokesman for the prime minister who said government forces didn’t use live bullets and there were no casualties. Hundreds of other beneficiaries of the Rafha pensions, reported to be mostly Dawa Party members, attempted to enter the Green Zone to protest the reduction of their payments, but were stopped by Iraqi security forces without incident. Qais al-Khazali, leader of Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, called on the government to “not resort to violence” and “listen to demands of the protesters.” Fatah Alliance spokesman Ahmed al-Asadi called on the prime minister to “respect the constitutional rights of citizens” and demanded an investigation of the alleged assault on Rafha demonstrators. Al-Hikma Movement leader, Ammar al-Hakim also demanded an investigation of the events and defended the Rafha pensioners’ right to protest.
On July 15, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi visited Basra and held a Cabinet meeting there that produced multiple decisions concerning the province. The government gave the green light to proceed with contracting works for the stalled “Grand Basra Water Project” and tasked the ministries of Water Resources and Construction with preparing plans for the al-Bada channel to be performed under the 2021 budget. Both projects are seen as critical for resolving the chronic water crises in the province.
On July 15, Prime Minister al-Kadhimi ordered the formation of the Iraqi-Saudi Council, a set of eight committees meant to enhance coordination between the two nations. The Council, which will be led by Finance Minister Ali Allawi from the Iraqi side, will include committees dealing with politics and security affairs, education and sports, culture and religious affairs, and agriculture, among others. According to local news reports, the prime minister plans to visit Saudi Arabia next week.
On July 16, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian visited Baghdad and met with his Iraqi counterpart Fouad Hussein to discuss economic and security challenges facing Iraq. Hussein said at a joint press conference with the visiting minister that they discussed the role of French corporations in Iraq’s economy, security cooperation, and the issues of foreign ISIS prisoners held in Iraq. The French foreign minister affirmed his country’s support for Iraq in fighting terrorism and described Iraq’s quest to asserting its sovereignty as an “indispensible matter.” A spokesman for Iraq’s Foreign Ministry said the French minister offered to provide more support for Iraq to deal with COVID-19 as well as economic support to stabilize areas liberated from ISIS. The spokesman said the two sides agreed that France will soon undertake projects in transportation, energy, e-governance and water.
On July 10, residents of the Avla village, in the Batifa subdistrict in Zakho abandoned their homes due to Turkish airstrikes against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Turkish warplanes dropped 26 bombs near the village since Thursday, July 9, causing damage to five houses, according to the local mayor. The following day, local officials said a Turkish airstrike targeted the Bedihe village in Duhok province, causing property damages. Neither incident involved civilian casualties, but the Turkish Defense Ministry said it killed eight PKK members in an airstrike in northern Iraq. On July 13, Turkey also said a Turkish soldier and three PKK militants died in a ground attack in the Haftain area. On July 14, Turkish artillery targeted the Kani Masi border area in Kurdistan, with shells landing 100 meters from the district center, according to a local official. There were no casualties in the attack.
On July 10, an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded near a Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) checkpoint in the neighborhood of al-Bahbahan in Jurf al-Sakhr, north of al-Hilla. The explosion wounded one PMF fighter.
On July 11, Iraqi security forces (ISF) launched the fourth stage of Operation “Heroes of Iraq” to pursue ISIS militants in Diyala province up to the border with Iran and in the gaps between federal and Peshmerga forces in the disputed territories. An ISF statement said the operation will cover 17,685 sq km and include units from the the Ground Forces Command, Counter-Terrorism Forces (CTS), Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), Federal Police, the Diyala, Samarra and Salah ad-Din Operations Commands, and Border Guards, with support from Iraq’s Air Force and the International Coalition. Importantly, the operation also involves an anti-terrorism force from Sulaymaniyah. Reporting initial results, the Security Media Cell said the ISF killed three militants, arrested one militant, destroyed 15 hideouts, and seized or destroyed IEDs and mortar rounds. On July 12, a spokesman for PMF said the PMF killed eight ISIS militants and seized multiple weapons caches, vehicles, and other military equipment. The ISF concluded the operation on July 13.
On July 11, local sources in southern Iraq said unknown gunmen intercepted and burned three trucks carrying equipment and supplies belonging to U.S. forces in Iraq. The incident occurred on a main highway between Diwaniya and Samawah. The convoy was traveling from Basra to a camp for American forces when they were attacked. Militants forced the drivers to get out of their vehicles and set the trucks and cargo on fire. This attack is the first to target American interests in southern Iraq in this manner in several years. The next day, a new armed group named “Saraya Thawrat al-Ishreen al-Thania” claimed responsibility for the attack while a prominent Kataib Hezbollah commander said on social media that it was necessary to maintain “readiness for broad military action” to compel U.S. forces in Iraq to leave. Kataib Hezbollah also shared footage of the convoy attack through its social media accounts, but stopped short of taking credit for the operation.
On July 11, the Security Media Cell said that two IEDs exploded targeting ISF patrols in Diyala. The first bomb struck a PMF patrol west of Himrin Lake, killing three fighters from the PMF brigade 16, wounding five more and damaging two vehicles. The other explosion happened near an area known as Sheikh Baba, near Jalawla, wounding two members of the Counter-Terrorism Service and damaging one military vehicle.
On July 11, Iraqi security forces (ISF) in Baghdad said that ISF members found and defused a Katyusha rocket near al-Qanat street in eastern Baghdad. The ISF said the rocket was targeting the Green Zone in central Baghdad. No suspects have been identified, but similar attacks this year have been blamed on militant groups close to Iran, such as Kataib Hezbollah.
On July 11, an IED exploded in the countryside of Khanaqin, northeast of Baquba in Diyala province. The explosion wounded two PMF fighters, including one who was described as a local commander.
On July 12, an IED exploded targeting Iraqi forces conducting search operations in the Tawakul and Bablan villages, north of Muqdadiyah in Diyala province. The explosion killed two PMF members and injured two others.
On July 12, the Security Media Cell said security forces killed five suicide bombers southwest of Baghdad. The ISF, guided by a drone from the International Coalition tracked the militants and surrounded their hideout in the village of al-Maamira al-Zaidan. One militant died after detonating an explosive vest, while the ISF killed the other four. A Lt. Colonel from the army’s Brigade 54 and a member of the tactical team of the “Falcon Cell” also died in the operation.
On July 13, an IED exploded near the Khreisan River, in the Abbara subdistrict in Diyala province, killing three policemen and wounding a civilian government official. The IED detonated after water resource technicians discovered it, and security forces attempted to disable it.
On July 15, the Security Media Cell said an airstrike carried out by the International Coalition killed seven ISIS militants in the Qaraj mountain range south of Tuzkhormatu. Meanwhile, the CTS, backed by airstrikes by the International Coalition carried out an operation in Wadi al-Shai, in southern Kirkuk. The operation resulted in the death of six ISIS militants. On July 16, the International Coalition carried out another airstrike in the Qarachogh mountains, south of Makhmour district. The airstrike killed three ISIS militants.
On July 15, tribal mobilization forces killed two ISIS militants during an operation in the Sansal Basin, north of Muqdadiya in Diyala province. The same day, ISIS militants attacked the Umm al-Hinta village in Jalawla, northeast of Baquba. The attack killed one civilian and wounded four others.
On July 15, a spokesman for the Iraqi Commander in Chief said that the National Intelligence Service killed the ISIS leader for the Baghdad “Wilayat”, a militant named Omar Shallal Obeid and two of his senior aides. The spokesman did not specify the location of the operation.
On July 9, the Higher Committee for Health and National Safety in Iraq announced that Iraqi citizens will soon be allowed to travel to other countries on the condition that travelers agree to self-quarantine for 14 days upon their return to Iraq. Travelers who test positive negative for COVID-19 upon their return to Iraq will be required to self-quarantine at home for two weeks and their local health directorate would be informed to monitor their status. On July 13, officials in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region extended the suspension of commercial flights until July 22 to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Exemptions to this ban include: cargo, military and medical flights, as well as special flights organized to repatriate Iraqis stranded abroad.
On July 9, authorities in the Kurdistan region shut down the partially-open Bashmakh border crossing in Sulaymaniyah for 24 hours after thousands of Iranians entered the Kurdistan Region to participate in the burial of a religious figure. A spokesman for the region’s Health Ministry urged the Interior Ministry to intervene to return the Iranian to their country because of the risk they pose to public health as potential spreaders of COVID-19.
On July 10, the Ministry of Migration and Displacement said that 154 internally displaced persons (IDPs) returned to their places of origin in the Ninewa province from the al-Khazir and Hassan Sham camps east of Mosul. A ministry spokesman said 57 IDPs departed from the Al-Khazir camp, 45 from the Hassan Sham U2 camp and 52 from the Hassan Sham U3 camp. Ninewa governor Najm al-Jabouri said that additional IDPs will return home as well once they receive security clearance, and the camp east of Mosul will be closed. Parts of Ninewa, including Mosul city and Sinjar to its west have not seen major reconstruction after they were severely damaged during the war with ISIS. Over 1,200 Yazidi families have returned to Sinjar from IDP camps in June, but are facing very difficult conditions, including the lack of electricity, water and opportunities to make a living. A spokesman for the Ministry of Migration said that 20-30 Yazidi families are trying to return to Sinjar each day to escape poor conditions at IDP camps. The spokesman said approximately $1.8 million in funding for programs to assist these returnees has not materialized due to the financial crisis. Meanwhile, a Yazidi journalist claims that recent Turkish airstrikes targeting the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in areas close to the IDP camps have prompted an estimated 11,000 Yazidis to go back to Sinjar. According to the journalist, most returnees headed for Sinjar’s center and surrounding villages, but avoided southern villages due to residual ISIS presence.
On July 11, a spokesperson for the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR) warned that the health situation in Dhi-Qar province was deteriorating due to weak infrastructure and a lack of government support for hospitals in the province. The official said that IHCHR teams reported shortages of important medical supplies, including PCR testing kits for COVID-19 and personal protective equipment. The official also pointed out that the oxygen system at al-Hussein Teaching Hospital was repeatedly going out of order, leading to an oxygen shortage as the province deals with more COVID-19 patients. The IHCHR official urged the Ministry of Health to provide more oxygen and “intensify its efforts to support health institutions” in Dhi-Qar.
On July 13, the Euro-Mediterranean Observatory for Human Rights warned that conditions in Iraqi prisons are on the brink of humanitarian catastrophe. The outbreak of COVID-19 in Iraq threatens the lives of prisoners disproportionately as crowded prisons lack essential health care and access to proper hygiene. According to the Observatory, more than 60,000 inmates are detained in Iraq’s 13 government-run prisons, including 1,000 women, while militias and other armed factions run dozens of secret prisons. A spokesperson for the Observatory also reported that authorities in these prisons withhold data regarding the number of detainees, their health conditions, and deaths and injuries that happen in custody. In May, Human Rights Watch (HRW) had asked the Iraqi parliament to take action to mitigate crowding at Iraqi prisons to protect inmates from the COVID-19 outbreak. On July 5, 31 cases of COVID-19 were reported at al-Karkh juvenile prison in Baghdad days after the director of al-Karkh health department Jasb al-Hajjami called on authorities to release prisoners who do not pose a threat to society on bail to contain COVID-19 outbreaks in prisons. The facility at the time held more than 600 inmates, despite having a maximum capacity of 250 persons. On July 2, the IHCHR asked Iraqi prison authorities to release all prisoners who do not present a security threat to Iraq.
On July 14, while attending the opening of a new, 492-bed hospital in Karbala, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi pledged that all health care projects currently under construction would be completed soon. The newly opened hospital is one of five under contract with a Turkish firm since 2008. Iraq’s Health Minister, who accompanied Kadhimi said that other hospital projects would soon see the light, including new facilities in Najaf, Dhi-Qar, Maysan and Basra. The minister added that Australian companies will start building three 400-bed additional hospitals in Baghdad, Diwaniyah and Diyala. Iraq has been struggling to provide enough hospitals to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. Last week, Iraq opened the first of four field hospitals designed to accommodate the rising numbers of COVID-19 patients.
On July 14, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Health Minister, Saman Barzanji said he expected COVID-19 cases in the Kurdistan region to reach around 120,000 cases by February 2021. Of those, the Barzanji expects around 95,600 to have minor symptoms and more than 7,900 patients to experience severe symptoms, with almost 6,000 requiring admission to the ICU. If these figures hold true, the Kurdistan region will need 6,039 hospital beds and 716,920 personal protective equipment (PPE) items to care for those patients in hospitals. The estimates, which the minister did not explain how they were produced, imply that cases would increase nearly 30 times from the current total of 4,031 active COVID-19 cases.
On July 16, the Higher Committee for Health and Safety reduced the country-wide curfew hours to be from 9:30pm to 6am, with a plan to completely lift the curfew after Eid al-Adha holiday, which begins in early August. The Committee has also allowed malls to reopen, as long as safety guidelines were followed. Throughout the week, provinces have been relaxing their own curfew policies. On July 11, authorities in Maysan decided to extend the partial curfew between 6pm and 6am indefinitely, with exceptions for security personnel, medical staff and institutions that provide basic services. Private medical clinics are allowed to operate on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays from 2pm until 5 pm, while following health and safety guidelines. Authorities in Dhi-Qar and Basra announced more relaxed curfew measures, allowing movement between 6am and 7pm. Government institutions in Dhi-Qar will also operate at 25% capacity. Large cafes and gathering places will remain closed, with the exception of delivery restaurants. Officials in Kirkuk also relaxed their curfew policy, allowing movement from 5am until 7pm but maintaining a total curfew Thursday, Friday and Saturday. On July 12, officials in Diwaniyah decided to impose a curfew between 6pm and 5 am, giving government offices power to decide their own hours and attendance. Authorities in Najaf decided to relax curfew measures, prohibiting movement between 10pm and 6am. Travel between provinces remains restricted for those without special permits. Despite relaxed curfew measures, protesters in Najaf demanded greater freedom of movement this week, to alleviate the economic impact of curfews.
On July 16, the Iraqi Ministry of Health reported that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country has risen to 86,148, representing a new record weekly increase of 16,536 cases from the 69,612 reported a week earlier. Of these cases, 28,310 are in the hospital and 382 are in the intensive care unit (ICU). According to the ministry’s data, there were 640 new deaths during the same period, bringing total fatalities from 2,882 to 3,522. Meanwhile the total number of recoveries has increased from 39,502 to 54,316. This week saw continued growth in new cases in Iraq, with a new peak of 2,848 new cases reported on July 10. The areas reporting the most new cases during the last 24 hours were Baghdad with 664 cases, followed by Basra with 215 cases, and Babylon, which reported 179 cases. To date, Iraq has tested a total of 744,847 samples for COVID-19.
On July 11, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi visited the Mandili border crossing in Diyala province, which partially reopened to trade with Iran last week. Kadhimi said his government is launching a campaign to fight corruption and revenue loss at border crossings, which he described as a priority in the diversification of national revenue. The prime minister said the government is authorizing Iraqi Armed Forces to shoot anyone who assaults the facility and its workers or commits customs violations. Kadhimi also said he issued instructions to automate customs operations to reduce corruption and protect the public interest. On July 15, Kadhimi also visited the Safwan border crossing with Kuwait and the Umm Qasr ports on the Persian Gulf. The prime minister instructed the Iraqi military to provide protection for the sites and stop any armed groups that attempt to enter or control them. Kadhimi also ordered the port authorities to rotate personnel to reduce opportunities for corruption. The day after Kadhimi’s visit, the Customs Directorate sacked eight senior officials at Umm Qasr, namely the directors of the port’s north, central, southern and Basra Gate customs centers and their deputies.
On July 12, hundreds of members of the Oil Police force in Dhi-Qar province demonstrated to demand changing their status from temporary contractors to permanent employee jobs in Dhi-Qar oil refineries. The demonstrators reportedly shut down entrances to several sites including a refinery and production and storage facilities.
On July 12, Iraqi Oil Minister Oil Ihsan Abdul-Jabbar said Iraq will fully comply with its obligations under the OPEC+ agreement to reduce oil production in August. The minister added that Iraqi will also work between July and September to compensate for its overproduction in May and June. Abdul-Jabar made his remarks during talks with his Saudi counterpart, in which the two ministers affirmed the two nations’ commitment to the OPEC+ agreement. According to a statement by Iraq’s Oil Ministry, the Saudi minister praised Iraq for approaching 90% compliance in June.
On July 13, Unaoil’s former Iraq territory managers, Ziad Akle and Stephen Whiteley were found guilty of paying bribes between 2005 and 2010 to secure oil contracts in Iraq. UK prosecutors said Akle and Whiteley bribed public officials in the South Oil Company and Oil Ministry more than half a million dollars to gain a $55 million contract concerning offshore oil export installations for the company. This case is part of a larger investigation by the UK Serious Fraud Office focused on two members of the Ahsani family, brothers Cyrus and Saman Ahsani, who formerly ran Unaoil and pleaded guilty in the U.S. last year to bribing officials in nine countries, including Iraq, Iran, Kazakhstan, and Syria. Another Unaoil manager in Iraq, Basil al Jarah, also pleaded guilty in 2019. He admitted to paying $6 million in bribes in exchange for $800 million oil pipeline and mooring buoy contracts. All three Iraq Unaoil managers will be sentenced later this month.
On July 14, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) added a new 300 megawatt power plant that will increase electricity in the Kurdistan region by 10%. Work on the Khabat Thermal Power Plant began in 2012 and was halted for several years because of the war with ISIS and financial difficulties. The power plant, which will utilize fuel oil and other refinery byproducts cost $564 million and was completed by two South Korean oil and steel companies.
IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties
|07/10/20||Jurf al-Sakhr, north of al-Hilla, Babylon||0||1|
|07/12/20||Tawakul and Bablan villages, north Muqdadiyah, Diyala||2||2|
|07/11/20||Khanaqin, northeast of Baquba, Diyala||0||2|
|07/13/20||Khreisan River, Abbara subdistrict, Diyala||3||1|
|07/11/20||Sheikh Baba, Diyala||0||2|
|07/11/20||West of Lake Himrin, Diyala||3||5|
Please note: some geographic locations represented are approximations and this map may not represent all incidents.
Derived from firsthand accounts and Iraq-based Arabic and Kurdish news sources, the Iraq Security and Humanitarian Monitor is a free publication of the Enabling Peace in Iraq Center.