ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM: JULY 23 – JULY 30, 2020

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Key Takeaways:

  • Iraq Asks Neighbors To Release More Water; Protesters Killed In Violent Crackdown As Electricity Shortages Ignite New Demonstrations; Leading Kurdish Parties To Mend Fences – On July 24, the Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources said Iraqi and Syrian officials were coordinating to put pressure on Turkey for their countries respective share of water. The minister also asked Iran to release more water from the Karun river into the Shatt al-Arab waterway, where reduced flows caused salinity to spike. On July 26, PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi mandated the formation of a committee charged with tracking customs operations at borders and ports after security forces deployed to 14 ports of entry prevent militia interference and criminal activity. On July 27, security forces killed at least two demonstrators and wounded dozens in overnight clashes while attempting to contain spreading protests in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square. Eye witnesses said security forces fired tear gas and live ammunition at protesters. PM Kadhimi condemned the violence and ordered an investigation. He blamed corruption and poor planning by former governments for the electricity shortages that have sparked a new wave of protests across central and southern Iraq. On July 27, senior KDP and PUK leaders met in Erbil in an attempt to ease tension between their parties. The Kurdistan region’s parliament, in which the KDP and PUK are the largest parties, has not met since early May. more…
  • Kidnapped German Activist Freed In Iraq; Rocket Attacks And Mysterious Explosions Rock Military Bases – On July 24, Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) freed German arts curator and activist Hella Mewis in an operation outside Baghdad but failed to arrest the kidnappers. On July 24, four Katyusha rockets struck the Besmaya military base southeast of Baghdad, damaging a warehouse for armored vehicles the day before the International Coalition handed the base back to the ISF. On July 27, three more rockets struck Camp Taji north of Baghdad, which houses Iraqi and Coalition forces. One of the rockets damaged an Iraqi Army helicopter, and another damaged an ISF artillery workshop. On July 26, two explosions occurred at al-Saqr military base in southern Baghdad, which houses units of the Iraqi federal police and Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). The explosions destroyed a weapons depot and were attributed to extreme heat and poor storage. The following day, two explosions struck the Majid al-Tamimi Air Base in Salah ad-Din province. Between July 25 – 29, ISIS attacks and bombings in Salah ad-Din, Anbar, Baghdad and Diyala killed at least eight people (five civilians and three ISF memebrs) and injured twelve people (seven ISF members and five civilians). On July 26, Turkish airstrikes in Duhok killed one civilian and one Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighter. On July 28, the ISF concluded a new series of operations targeting ISIS presence in Diyala province. more…

  • Government Orders Total Curfew During The Eid Holiday; German Loan To Fund Four New Hospitals; COVID-19 Cases Exceed 121,000 – On July 26, the Iraqi government issued orders for a total curfew during the Eid al-Adha holiday (July 30 through August 8). The government is allowing private clinics to re-open, so long as they obey health and safety guidelines, and tasked the Ministry of Health to coordinate a study for establishing electronic portals for medical consultations. On July 27, the EU delivered 27 tons of humanitarian aid items for UNICEF in Iraq, including educational kits for children in need, and personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers. On July 28, the KFW Development Bank said it will provide €15 million on behalf of the German government to finance at least four new hospitals that to serve up to 7,000 patients in Baghdad, Basra, Sulaymaniyah and Ninewa. On July 30, the Ministry of Health reported that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increased to 121,263. More than 2,960 cases were reported on July 29, representing a new daily peak. Deaths from confirmed cases of COVID-19 reached 4,671 while a total of 85,546 patients have recovered. To date, Iraq has tested 983,335 samples for COVID-19. more…

  • Iranian Sets Up Company In Iraq To Handle Imports, Settle Debt; Iraq Achieves Self-Sufficiency In Wheat; Japan To Finance 55,000 BPD Refinery In Basra – On July 25, Iranian officials said their government created a company in Iraq to purchase food products as part of an arrangement to settle Iraq’s debt to Iran in connection with Iraq’s energy imports from Iran. On July 26, the Iraqi Ministry of Trade said Iraqi wheat farmers have so far delivered more than 4.9 million tons of grain this year, indicating Iraq will be self-sufficient in wheat for the second consecutive year. On July 28, the KRG Finance Minister told the KRG parliament that, during budget negotiations held last month, the federal government offered funds to pay for only half of the KRG’s public employees. On July 29, Iraq’s Oil Minister said the Iraq government agreed to enter into a contract with JGC, a Japanese engineering company, to build a 55,000 bpd refinery in Basra, to be financed through a loan provided by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). 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.


Iraq Asks Neighbors To Release More Water; Protesters Killed In Violent Crackdown As Electricity Shortages Ignite New Demonstrations; Leading Kurdish Parties To Mend Fences

On July 24, the Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources said Iraqi and Syrian officials were coordinating to put pressure on Turkey for their countries respective share of water. The ministry also said Syrian officials responded positively to an Iraqi request, made during a phone call between the Iraqi Water Resources Minister and his Syrian counterpart to release more water through the Euphrates river from the Tabqa Dam to assist Iraq in managing its impending water crisis. Iraqi Water Minister Mahdi Rashid al-Hamdani also asked Iran’s ambassador to Baghdad to help release more water from the Karun river into the Shatt al-Arab waterway, where reduced flows caused salinity to spike. The Iranian ambassador reportedly offered to facilitate a meeting between water authorities in Iran and Iraq to address Iraq’s concerns. 

On July 26, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi mandated the formation of a committee charged with tracking customs procedures and ensuring that unofficial forces, including militias and tribes, do not exploit border crossings or otherwise interfere in the work of customs officials. As part of the prime minister’s campaign of border crossing security, the Iraqi Joint Operation Command deployed security forces to 14 ports of entry (ten border crossings and four seaports). These new forces are now stationed at the Khor al-Zubair and Umm Qasr North, South and Central seaports, as well as the Shalamcheh, Badra, Munthiriya, Safwan, Qaim, Traibeel, al-Sheeb, Zurbatyah, Abu Flus, and Arar border crossings. These units are charged with border crossing protection and are authorized to shoot anyone who commits customs violations or assaults customs employees. 

On July 27, Iraqi security forces (ISF) killed two demonstrators in overnight clashes while attempting to contain spreading protests in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square. Eye witnesses, including a member of Iraq’s High Commission For Human Rights (IHCHR) said security forces fired tear gas and live ammunition at protesters, who responded with stones and molotov cocktails, according to police sources. Both victims died from injuries caused by tear gas canisters that struck them in the head and neck. At least 26 other protesters and several members of the ISF were injured as a result. A third protester died on Tuesday from injuries he sustained two days earlier. A lack of electricity amid temperatures exceeding 50 degrees celsius triggered anti-government protests earlier this month and has been at the center of the latest wave of anti-government demonstrations in Baghdad and several provinces, including Babylon, Najaf, Karbala, and Dhi-Qar. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) condemned the Iraqi government’s use of violence against protestors.  Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi responded to the events by affirming citizens’ right to protest and condemning ISF use of violence against protestors. The prime minister met with his top security aides to discuss the situation and directed them to investigate the violence within 72 hours. Kadhimi blamed the corruption and poor planning of former governments for the failures of Iraq’s power grid. He specifically expressed frustration that former governments installed gas-operated power plants but failed to invest in gas-capturing projects. Ministry of Electricity officials met with the prime minister that day to discuss the electricity crisis. The Minister of Electricity said the government will start importing 450 megawatts from the Kurdistan region and 200 megawatts from Turkey within two days to alleviate power shortages in parts of southern Iraq. 

On July 27, Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Nechirvan Barzani met with Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) co-president Bafel Talabani in Erbil in an attempt to resolve tension between their parties. The Kurdistan region’s parliament, in which the KDP and PUK are the largest parties, has not met since early May following a KDP-led vote to remove immunity from Representative Soran Omar, after he accused the KRG prime minister and senior KDP figure Masrour Marzani of corruption. The financial crisis further elevated the tensions last month, when Lahur Talabani, the other PUK co-president said the party will boycott parliament if the KRG did not reach an agreement with Baghdad to secure the region’s portion of the national budget. In mid July, PUK officials reiterated the threat to boycott KRG parliament. In their recent meeting, KDP and PUK leaders discussed the need for political unity to address the financial and pandemic crises facing the Kurdistan region. In a statement issued after the meeting, Talabani affirmed his party’s support for the KRG, saying that “disputes between political parties must not affect the government.”

On July 27, the Iraqiyoon parliamentary coalition, which was formed in June and reportedly comprises 40 members of Parliament, elected Ammar al-Hakim, the leader of al-Hikma Movement, as its leader. The group also elected representative Abdul-Hussein al-Mousawi as Hakim’s deputy. 


Kidnapped German Activist Freed In Iraq; Rocket Attacks And Mysterious Explosions Rock Military Bases

On July 24, Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) freed German arts curator and activist Hella Mewis in an operation outside of Baghdad. According to a security official, ISF raided a location based on an anonymous tip regarding Mewis’ whereabouts. The ISF has not made any arrests in connection with the kidnapping. Unidentified gunmen kidnapped Mewis near the Beit Tarkib Arts Institute in central Baghdad on July 21. During her time in Iraq, Mewis organized opportunities for local artists to develop their artistic skills and was also involved in recent protests against the government. A source close to Mewis indicated that her captors did not harm her, and she was leaving Iraq immediately. 

On July 24, the Security Media Cell reported that four Katyusha rockets fired from the al-Dainiyah region in Diyala province struck the Besmaya military base, a major Iraqi military base southeast of Baghdad. There were no reports of casualties, but one of the rockets damaged a warehouse for armored vehicles and another damaged trailers used by the base guards. The other rockets struck an empty area and did not cause any damage. Besmaya housed a Spanish contingent as part of the U.S.-led International Coalition against ISIS. A day after the attack, the Coalition handed the base back to the ISF as previously planned, making it the seventh base transferred back to ISF this year. 

On July 28, the Iraqi military said it concluded a new series of operations as a part of the fourth phase of the “Heroes of Iraq” operation in Diyala province. The mission targeted ISIS cells in the province in order to create a safe environment for the return of displaced residents of the towns of Abu Saida and Muqdadiyah. The forces involved in the mission included the Iraqi Army, Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the Diyala Operations Command, the Diyala and federal police and the Rapid Reaction Force. Initial reports indicated that the ISF arrested four militants, located ten hideouts, and seized or destroyed IEDs, mortar rounds and other weapons and explosives. The ISF searched 66 villages during the operations, which lasted from July 26 to July 28.

On July 25, ISIS militants attacked the village of Sumoum, located northwest of Samarra in Salah ad-Din province. The attack killed five civilians, including the village mukhtar, and wounded a fifth civilian. 

On July 25, a bomb attached to a motorcycle exploded near the town of Kubaisa in western Anbar province. The attack killed one Iraqi soldier and wounded another soldier.

On July 26, two explosions occurred at the al-Saqr military base in southern Baghdad’s Dora district. The base houses units of the Iraqi federal police and Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). There were no reports of casualties and Security Media Cell attributed the explosions, which destroyed a weapons depot, to extreme heat and poor storage. A similar incident happened last year, killing one individual and injuring 29 others. The following day, Security Media Cell reported two explosions around midnight at the Majid al-Tamimi Air Base in Salah ad-Din province, also known as Camp Speicher. The explosion did not cause any casualties. In August 2019, U.S. officials had confirmed that Israeli airstrikes were responsible for a series of airstrikes on PMF weapons depots last year, but there is no indication of Israeli involvement in the latest explosions.

On July 26, PMF fighters killed three ISIS militants who attacked PMF positions near al-Mayta in the Hawi al-Udhaim region between Diyala and Salah ad-Din provinces. The clashes also injured one PMF fighter.

On July 26, Turkish airstrikes targeted two vehicles on the road between Hasnprika and Shirte in the Bamarne subdistrict of Duhok province. The attack killed one civilian and one Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighter. Turkish airstrikes against PKK targets in the Kurdistan region escalated in mid-June and have killed at least six civilians. On July 27, additional Turkish airstrikes bombarded the Bradost area in Erbil province, causing material damages but no casualties. 

On July 27, the Security Media Cell reported that three Katyusha rockets fired from the Saba al-Bour area struck Camp Taji, a major Iraqi base north of Baghdad that houses Iraqi and U.S. led-coalition forces. There were no reports of casualties, but one of the rockets damaged an Iraqi Army helicopter, and another damaged an artillery and weapons workshop for the ISF. A third rocket struck near facilities for the Iraqi Army Aviation but failed to detonate. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. 

On July 28, Iraqi security sources said that ISIS militants ambushed a patrol of the Iraqi border guards near the Iraqi-Saudi border in Anbar province, 450 km west of Ramadi. The ambush killed one border guards officer and wounded four others.

On July 28, a spokesman for the Iraqi military said the commander of Brigade 29 of the Iraqi Army’s 7th division, Staff Brigadier General Ahmed Abdul-Wahid al-Lami was killed without providing more details. According to Rudaw, ISIS claimed responsibility for the officer’s death, which happened during an ISIS attack on a checkpoint in the town of Hit in Anbar province. The attack also injured one Iraqi soldier.  

On July 29, a bomb attached to a minibus exploded near the al-Kilani fuel station in central Baghdad. The explosion wounded five civilians and caused other material damages. 


Government Orders Total Curfew During The Eid Holiday; German Loan To Fund Four New Hospitals; COVID-19 Cases Exceed 121,000

On July 25, a spokesman for the Erbil COVID-19 crisis cell announced that people coming from provinces outside of the KRI are now allowed to travel to Erbil for business or if they are KRI residents. Tourism in the province is still prohibited, and authorities will grant exceptions to the travel ban only for specific cases. Travelers to Erbil will be required to pay $42 to take a COVID-19 test at the main entry checkpoint or present a negative test taken within the last 48 hours prior to entry.

On July 26, the High Health and Safety Committee issued new orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Committee issued orders for a total curfew during the Eid al-Adha holiday from July 30 to August 8, and will consider reducing the curfew after the holiday concludes. The Committee also decided to re-open private clinics so long as they obey health and safety guidelines. To address recent oxygen shortages at hospitals, the government said it will offer unspecified incentives to investors who wish to establish medical oxygen plants, and assigned the Secretary General of the Council of Ministers to coordinate with Kuwait for the import of oxygen tanks through the Safwan border crossing. The new instructions tasked the Ministry of Health to coordinate a study regarding establishing electronic portals for medical consultations. The Committee approved recommendations to prepare additional preventative measures for the COVID-19 pandemic in Iraqi airports, implemented the decisions of the committee regarding the use of PPE and associated fines, and intensified educational awareness programs on the prevention of COVID-19. 

On July 27, the European Union delivered 27 tons of humanitarian aid items for UNICEF in Iraq. Relief items included educational kits for children in need, and personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers. Additionally, the EU dedicated €1 million to support UNICEF’s work in Iraq, including projects to provide better sanitation, clean water, waste disposal and to encourage better hygiene for about 50,000 internally displaced persons (IDP’s) living in IDP camps. On the same day, Canada presented $1.85 million in aid to support COVID-19 relief efforts in Iraq through the UN Development Program (UNDP). The funds will help expand the capacity for COVID-19 testing, supply more PPE for medical staff, create more quarantine facilities, and develop plans for post-pandemic recovery. On July 28, the KFW Development Bank said it will be providing €15 million on behalf of the German government to finance at least four new hospitals in Iraq. Each hospital will contain 40 intensive care unit (ICU) beds and 100 regular beds, enabling the facilities to serve up to 7,000 patients in Baghdad, Basra, Sulaymaniyah and Ninewa. 

On July 30, the Iraqi Ministry of Health reported that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country has risen to 121,263, representing a new record weekly increase of 19,037 cases from the 102,226 reported a week earlier. Of these cases, 31,046 are in the hospital and 446 are in the intensive care unit (ICU). According to the ministry’s data, there were 549 new deaths during the same period, bringing total fatalities from 4,122 to 4,671. Meanwhile the total number of recoveries has increased from 69,405 to 85,546. This week saw continued growth in new cases in Iraq, with a new peak of 2,968 new cases reported on July 29. The areas reporting the most new cases during the last 24 hours were Baghdad with 875 cases, followed by Basra with 478 cases, and Karbala, which reported 250 cases. To date, Iraq has tested a total of 983,335 samples for COVID-19. 


Iranian Sets Up Company In Iraq To Handle Imports, Settle Debt; Iraq Achieves Self-Sufficiency In Wheat; Japan To Finance 55,000 BPD Refinery In Basra

On July 25, the Iranian Secretary General of the Iranian-Iraqi Chamber of Commerce Hamid Hosseini said the Iranian government created a company in Iraq to help settle Baghdad’s debt to Iran. Hosseini said the company will purchase food products using the funds held in the Trade Bank of Iraq to settle the debt. The two nations recently agreed to settle the $2 billion debt owed to Iran for energy imports through food and medicine provisions from Iraq due to the sanctions the U.S. has placed on Iran. Since 2018, the U.S. has provided Iraq with sanction waivers to purchase natural gas and electricity from Iran on the condition that Iraq did not pay Iran in U.S. dollars.

On July 26, the Iraqi Ministry of Trade said Iraqi wheat farmers have so far delivered more than 4.9 million tons of grain out of the six million tons the country expects to harvest this year. According to the director of the ministry’s grain trade company, Iraq will be self-sufficient in wheat for the second consecutive year.  According to the ministry, Iraq’s last wheat imports were 450,000 tons purchased from the U.S. and Canada 18 months ago. 

On July 27, the Iraqi Stock Exchange released a report on market activity for the first half of this year. During this period, the market reported 6,290 trades involving more than 14.7 billion shares with a value of ID 17.8 billion. Foreign traders accounted for 14% of the shares traded during this period. The stock exchange, whose index dropped 9.5% operated only 20 sessions between March and June. 

On July 28, Iraqi electricity officials in Basra said the Najibiya power plant lost 100 megawatts of its output due to low gas pressure supplies from the Ministry of Oil’s Southern Gas Company. The company said this loss of power has negatively affected the stability of Basra’s power grid. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, most of Iraq’s natural gas is associated gas held in Iraq’s major southern fields. This means that significant reductions in oil production, like those Iraq is implementing to comply with output quotas mandated by OPEC+ are likely to also impact natural gas production in the country.

On July 28, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Finance Minister, Awat Janab briefed the KRG parliament on the state of budget negotiations held with the federal government last month. The minister said the federal government offered funds to pay for only 680,000 of the KRG’s public employees, which is less than the total number of people employed by the KRG, which the KRG claimed was 1.29 million people in 2017. Janab added that officials in Baghdad told him during negotiations that the federal government could not pay the Kurdistan region’s full share of the budget even if it recognized the numbers claimed by the KRG because of Baghdad’s own economic crisis. The economic crisis in the region triggered by low oil prices and the federal government’s decision to suspend monthly budget payments in April has prevented the KRG from paying its employees and caused protests across the KRI. 

On July 29, Iraq’s Oil Minister Ihsan Ismael said the Iraq government agreed to enter into a contract with JGC, a Japanese engineering company, to build a refinery in Basra with a capacity to process 55,000 barrels per day (bpd) into refined fuels, including high-octane gasoline, liquified petroleum gas, and gasoil. The minister’s deputy for refining affairs, Hamid Younis said the project would be financed through a loan provided by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The director of the South Refineries Company said the project is expected to cost $4 billion over four years. 


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

DateLocationDeathsInjuries
07/25/20Kubaisa, Anbar province11
07/29/20Central Baghdad05

 

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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