ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM: OCTOBER 1 – OCTOBER 8, 2020

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Key Takeaways:

  • Iraqis Mark Anniversary Of 2019 Protests; Kadhimi Underlines Determination To Protect Diplomatic Missions; Sadr Threatens Protesters Following Clashes In Karbala – On October 1, thousands of Iraqis gathered in Tahrir Square to commemorate the anniversary of the 2019 protests which forced the resignation of PM Adil Abdul-Mahdi and in which hundreds died. On October 1, PM Kadhimi denounced attacks on diplomatic mission, stressing that “war and peace decisions belong to the state alone.” On October 2, UNAMI chief Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert met with a Kataib Hezbollah leader, drawing strong criticism from the Iraqi public. On October 6, FM Fuad Hussein spoke of diplomatic efforts to dissuade the U.S. from closing its embassy, adding that Iraq continues to engage with Iran on the matter of diplomatic missions security. On October 6, PM Kadhimi a committee to investigate recent security incidents in and around Baghdad and develop a plan for containing militant activity. On October 6, security forces violently dispersed demonstrators in Karbala. Footage showed security personnel beat demonstrators with batons after they chanted anti-Iran and anti-U.S. slogans. Muqtada al-Sadr later attacked the protesters, saying that some have “ISIS or Baathist tendencies” and threatened to mobilize his followers to prevent future demonstrations. On October 6, a UNAMI report on Iraq’s preparations for elections pointed that the government has not allocated the necessary funding, that IHEC is understaffed and unable to distribute biometric voter registration cards, and that disagreements over the borders of electoral districts continue to delay voting on the election law. more…
  • Government Pushes PMF Out Of Airport, Away From Internal Borders With KRG; IED And Rocket Attacks On U.S. Interests Dwindle – On October 1, a committee comprising senior security, border and aviation officials discussed closing the offices of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and other unauthorized entities in Baghdad Airport. On October 2, Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) began an operation to clear 15 villages near al-Udheim between Diyala and Salah ad-Din. The operations killed six ISIS members and struck at least 17 ISIS positions. On October 4, the Iraqi Joint Operations Command ordered the PMF Brigade 30 to pull back their lines by 5km (3 miles) from the line of contact with the Peshmerga in eastern Ninewa after a September 30 rocket attack targeting Erbil Airport originated from the Brigade’s area of responsibility. On October 4, unknown assailants attacked the home of former Muqtada al-Sadr aide Assad al-Nasiri in Najaf using explosive and molotov cocktails, causing significant damage but no injuries. Between October 5 – 8, four ISIS mortar attacks in Kirkuk and Diyala killed four Iraqis and wounded five more. Two IEDs killed an Iraqi and wounded two others during the same period in Baghdad and Fallujah. On October 5, unknown militants fired two rockets at the Green Zone from the al-Jihad neighborhood of west Baghdad. The rockets missed their target and did not cause casualties. more…

  • UN Experts Demand Investigation Into Attacks On Female Activists; 2020 Iraq Humanitarian Response Funding Gap At 40%; COVID-19 Cases Approach 400,000 – On October 2, experts from the UN Human Rights Council called on the Iraqi government to investigate the killing and attempted killing of activists Riham Yaqoub and Lodya Remon al-Barti, condemning the “impunity that allows these crimes to continue.” On October 4, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that donors provided $450.5 million of the $662.2 million funding requirement for Iraq’s 2020 Humanitarian Relief Plan and COVID-19 response, representing only 60% of funding required to address the needs of just 44% of Iraq’s total population in need. On October 8, the Ministry of Health reported that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increased to 394,566. Deaths from confirmed cases of COVID-19 reached 9,683 while the number of patients currently in hospitals increased to 61,068. To date, 323,815 patients have recovered from the virus and Iraq has tested 2,439,828 samples for COVID-19. more…

  • Customs Revenue Drops; Daewoo Wins Port Contracts; Iraq Gains Membership Of The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development; Finance Ministry To Begin Paying Delayed Salaries – On October 2, Iraq’s Border Ports Authority reported IQD100 billion ($83.8 million) in revenue in September, down IQD7 billion from August. On October 6, the Iraqi Minister of Transportation said his ministry will sign a contract with South Korea’s Daewoo to begin construction on the first phase of the “Grand Faw Port” project. On October 7, the governors of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) accepted Iraq’s membership request. On October 7, Iraq’s Ministry of Finance announced it will begin disbursing the delayed public servants September salaries the following day, after days of uncertainty about the government’s ability to pay salaries. 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.


Iraqis Mark Anniversary Of 2019 Protests; Kadhimi Underlines Determination To Protect Diplomatic Missions; Sadr Threatens Protesters Following Clashes In Karbala

On October 1, thousands of Iraqis gathered in Tahrir Square in Baghdad to commemorate the one year anniversary of the October protests which forced the resignation of Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi and saw the deaths of at least 543 demonstrators between October 2019 and January 2020. Protestors’ demands remain consistent: an end to corruption in Iraq’s political and economic systems, a fair election law that ensures adequate representation in Parliament, an end to the militias’ independent military activities, and accountability for the deaths and kidnappings of hundreds of protestors last year. Protestors reiterated that the demonstrations would continue until their demands are met, with some indicating that the next major protest will take place on October 25 in Baghdad. The same day, Prime Minister Kadhimi issued a statement commemorating the anniversary of the October protests, reaffirming his government’s loyalty to the demonstrators and their demands and calling on the protestors to continue to “defend [Iraq’s] independence” from “foreign parties’ interference” and to preserve its unity and capabilities. On October 5, Kadhimi called on security forces to engage professionally with and show restraint towards protestors [further detail below]. Kadhimi also met with the families of protestors killed during last year’s demonstrations in Dhi-Qar province. The prime minister stressed that the “martyrs of October are the pride of Iraq,” and that his government is working to hold their killers accountable.

On October 1, Prime Minister Kadhimi described the rocket attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and other diplomatic facilities as “absurd” and “impermissible” and confirmed that his government had informed the U.S. Embassy and government of its seriousness in preventing future harm to diplomatic facilities. Kadhimi said there were groups determined to undermine Iraq’s relationship with the U.S., which he said must be protected, stressing that “war and peace decisions belong to the state alone.” Kadhimi, who made the remarks during an hour-long interview with the state-run television network al-Iraqiya, also denied that the U.S. had delivered a threat to shutter its embassy in Baghdad, saying instead that the U.S. was “upset about the troublesome rockets [that endanger] the security of their mission.”  

On October 2, the foremost spiritual leader of the worldwide Yezidi community, “Baba Sheikh” Khartu Hajji Ishmael, died at the age of 87 while receiving medical treatment at a hospital in Erbil. Baba Sheikh is remembered for his resolute leadership of the Yezidi people at a time when Iraqi Yezidis faced the threat of destruction at ISIS’ hands.

On October 2, the leader of the United Nations Mission Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert met with Abdulaziz al-Mohammadawi (alias Abu Fadak), the acting chief of staff of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and senior Kataib Hezbollah leader, to discuss Iraq’s security situation. The meeting drew considerable criticism from the Iraqi public, who allege that Plasschaert’s meeting with Abu Fadak contradicts the UN’s stated position of impartiality and legitimizes the militias’ killing of Iraqi protestors over the past year. Following the outpour of public anger directed at Hennis-Plasschaert, UNAMI released a statement reaffirming its commitment to neutrality and its belief in the necessity of dialogue among all stakeholders in Iraq.

On October 3, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the U.S. government’s recent threat to close its embassy in Baghdad if attacks on diplomatic facilities continued. Hussein told Pompeo that closing the embassy was a “sovereign decision that belongs to the American side,” but warned that it would harm Iraqi political and security interests, and sought to reassure his counterpart that the Iraqi government has since taken “security, organizational, political and diplomatic” steps to reduce the threat of rocket attacks to the Green Zone and Baghdad International Airport. The two sides agreed to maintain an open dialogue regarding the embassy’s status. On October 6, Hussein said there were diplomatic efforts underway to dissuade the U.S. from closing its Baghdad embassy. At the same time, Hussein downplayed the U.S. threat to close its embassy in Baghdad, arguing it was an indication of Washington’s opinion of Iraq’s security situation. The minister also stated that Baghdad will continue to engage diplomatically with Iran on the issue of threats to diplomatic missions, emphasizing that dialogue with Iran “must be brought from under the table to on the table.”

On October 5, Prime Minister Kadhimi visited Dhi-Qar province and met with local tribal sheikhs to discuss local economic and security issues. Kadhimi later met with local security commanders where he stressed the need to depoliticize the security forces’ work and uphold political and human rights. Security forces in Dhi-Qar have previously used extreme force in dispersing protestors, having killed 29 protestors in Nasiriyah last November in one of the worst episodes of violence during last year’s protests. While in Dhi-Qar, Kadhimi chaired an extraordinary Cabinet meeting focused on implementing economic and redevelopment plans in the province. The Cabinet said it will allocate funds to modernize the province’s transportation, health, and sanitation infrastructure, support affordable housing, and improve technical and collegiate education programs.

On October 6, Prime Minister Kadhimi chaired the first meeting of a committee he created to investigate recent security incidents in and around Baghdad and stated the committee would release a plan for containing militant activity and restoring the security forces’ military primacy within thirty days. The prime minister concluded that “only the state possesses the ability [to make] war and peace.” A leaked government document revealed that the committee is headed by National Security Advisor Qassem al-Araji, and includes PMF Commission chairman Falih Fayyadh, the Iraqi armed forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Yarallah, the personal secretary of the Commander in Chief, Mohammad Hamid Kazim, and other high-level security personnel.

On October 6, security forces violently dispersed a large crowd of demonstrators in the city of Karbala. The demonstrators were commemorating the anniversary of last year’s October protests as the city hosted the annual Arbaeen pilgrimage, in which Shia pilgrims from around the world travel to Karbala to visit the Imam Hussein and al-Abbas shrines. Footage appears to show security personnel preventing demonstrators from entering the holy sites and beating them with batons after they chanted anti-Iran and anti-U.S. slogans. Security officials reported that 30 demonstrators, around a dozen pilgrims, and several shrine security personnel were injured in the clash. The shrines’ security personnel stated that the demonstrators didn’t obtain permits from the city’s security and government officials, and were ordered to leave but refused to do so. The security personnel stated that any procession without permits will be denied entry and dispersed in a similar manner. Security Media Cell confirmed the security forces’ account of the incident and warned that security forces will prevent any future attempts to enter the shrines illegally.

On October 6, Saeroun Alliance leader Muqtada al-Sadr released a statement concerning the clashes between protesters and security forces in Karbala. Sadr attacked the protesters, whom he blamed them for the unrest, stating that some protestors are demonstrating “ISIS or Baathist tendencies” and are exploiting the occasion of Arbaeen in Karbala to advance their “narrow interests and deviant ideas” with the aid of “suspicious external supporters.” Sadr demanded that the broader “Tishreen” movement (a reference to the protest movement that started in October 2019) disavow these elements and threatened to intervene and order his followers to prevent demonstrators from assembling and demonstrating unless they meet his demands.  Asaib Ahl al-Haq leader, Qais al-Khazali also condemned the demonstrations in Karbala as “extremely unfortunate and sad” distractions from the occasion of Arbaeen and stated his and his organization’s support for the security forces’ efforts in “confronting [the demonstrators’] deviant, destructive behavior.” Later, the Islamic Dawa Party (led by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki)condemned the demonstrations too as attempts to “sabotage the Arbaeen ceremonies,” calling on “wise and influential people” to stand against the demonstrators and praised the security forces’ actions.

On October 6, UNAMI issued a new report on the state of preparations for Iraq’s upcoming early elections next June. UNAMI noted that the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) has submitted its budget request to the Cabinet, but the latter has not allocated the necessary funding for election preparations yet amid ongoing disagreements over the 2020 budget between the Cabinet and Parliament. As a result, the IHEC remains understaffed and unable to distribute biometric voter registration cards. Of additional concern to UNAMI are parliamentary disagreements over the borders of electoral districts, which have postponed voting on the law until October 10. UNAMI believes these issues jeopardize the established time frame for the election’s proceedings, and it reiterated its willingness to support their resolution through technical advisory.


Government Pushes PMF Out Of Airport, Away From Internal Borders With KRG; IED And Rocket Attacks On U.S. Interests Dwindle

On October 1, Interior Minister Othman al-Ghanimi met with Border Ports Authority Chief Omar al-Waeli, National Security Advisor Qassim al-Araji, and two officials representing Prime Minister Kadhimi and the Civil Aviation Authority to discuss closing the offices of unauthorized entities within Baghdad International Airport. The order was issued on September 24 by a committee that Prime Minister Kadhimi authorized for this purpose on June 22. The order reportedly called on the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and all other government agencies except for the official protocol offices of the Presidency, Parliament and Cabinet, to close their offices by September 27. 

On October 2, Prime Minister Kahdimi’s military spokesperson, Yahya Rasool, announced that the Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) arrested two alleged suicide bombers north of Baghdad. Rasool said the two attackers planned to conduct a suicide attack targeting Arbaeen pilgrims en route to the Imam Hussein shrine in Karbala.

On October 2, the Iraqi Security Forces began an operation to clear 15 villages near al-Udheim on the border of Diyala and Salah ad-Din. A local commander of tribal fighters, Mohammad Deifan, said the operations aim to clear ISIS fighters from depopulated villages to pave the way for the return of displaced villagers. The CTS, backed by airstrikes, killed  six ISIS members and struck 17 “targets in the area,” on October 3, according to the same source. On October 8, Deifan said that Iraqi Security Forces began to fortify the banks of the Udheim river separating Diyala and Salah ad-Din provinces with obstacles and mines to restrict the movement of ISIS militants.  

On October 4, the Iraqi Joint Operations Command (JOC) ordered the 30th Brigade of the PMF to pull back their lines by 5km (3 miles) from the line of contact with the Peshmerga forces in the eastern parts of Ninewa province. JOC subsequently placed the Iraqi Army in control of the resulting buffer zone. JOC’s order is a response to a September 30 rocket attack targeting Erbil International Airport that originated from the 30th Brigade’s area of responsibility. On October 1, the 30th PMF Brigade commander denied PMF involvement in the rocket attack and claimed the rockets came from a “no man’s land” between the PMF and Peshmerga.  

On October 4, the mayor of the Zab subdistrict near Hawija in western Kirkuk claimed that the 51st Iraqi Army Brigade (14th Division) is conducting dozens of daily “unjustified” arrests and raids. The official claimed the Army troops were arresting up to forty individuals daily for short periods of time even though the subdistrict is allegedly not experiencing security incidents. The official said the Army’s behavior undermines cooperation between the locals and security forces. 

On October 4, unknown assailants attacked the home of former Muqtada al-Sadr aide Assad al-Nasiri in Najaf using explosive devices that were described as “sound bombs” and molotov cocktails, causing significant damage but no injuries. Nasiri broke from the Sadrist Trend in January after Sadr withdrew his support for the protest movement and continued to criticize the Sadrist Trend. Nasiri blamed Sadrists for the attack on his home. 

On October 5, ISIS indirect fire killed four Federal Police officers and wounded three more in the Hawija district of Kirkuk province. In the adjacent Diyala province, ISIS fighters fired six mortar rounds at the Islah village near the Jalawla subdistrict, wounding two civilians. ISIS militants also fired mortars at the 110th PMF Brigade in al-Mi’dan, near the Sadiyah subdistrict to the southwest of Jalawla. Previously, on October 1, an ISIS sniper wounded a PMF fighter at a checkpoint near the Muqdadiyah district. 

On October 5, unknown militants fired two rockets targeting the Green Zone from the al-Jihad neighborhood of west Baghdad. The rockets missed their target, landing across the Tigris River to the south of the U.S. Embassy in the al-Jadriya district. One rocket landed behind the Babylon Hotel, and the second landed near an Iraqi Airways Office, destroying a civilian vehicle without causing casualties. 

On October 5, an ISIS bomb placed in a parked motorcycle wounded a police officer in Fallujah, Anbar province. Parliamentary Speaker Mohammad al-Halbousi condemned the bombing, calling it “clear and intentional political terrorism.” 

On October 6, Pentagon Spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Jessica McNulty suggested the implementation of U.S. plans announced on September 9 to reduce its force level in Iraq by more than 2,000 personnel was still ongoing. The announcement appears to contradict an earlier statement by Operation Inherent Resolve Spokesperson, Col. Wayne Marotto, who said on September 30 that the U.S. presence had already dropped from 5,200 to “fewer than 3,000.” 

On October 7, three mortar rounds struck the village of Zaghniya near al-Abbara subdistrict in Diyala province. The attack caused no injuries.

On October 8, an under-vehicle IED (UVIED) planted on a civilian vehicle exploded in the Kasra Wa-Atash district of Sadr City east Baghdad, killing one civilian and wounding another. 


UN Experts Demand Investigation Into Attacks On Female Activists; 2020 Iraq Humanitarian Response Funding Gap At 40%; COVID-19 Cases Approach 400,000

On October 2, human rights experts from the UN Human Rights Council called on the Iraqi government to investigate the killing and attempted killing of activists Riham Yaqoub and Lodya Remon al-Barti. The experts condemned the “impunity that allows these crimes to continue,” and demanded  a “prompt, independent, and impartial investigation on the attacks against these human rights defenders.” Riham Yaqoub was killed on August 19 by two unknown gunmen in central Basra City, while Lodya Remon al-Barti was wounded in a failed assassination two days prior. Al-Barti is a protest activist, while Yaqoub was an outspoken activist as well as doctor and advocate for women’s health and exercise in Basra. 

On October 4, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that international donors have provided $450.5 million of the $662.2 million funding requirement for Iraq’s 2020 Humanitarian Relief Plan (HRP) and COVID-19 response, representing 60% of funding needs. The COVID-19 response funds represent $264.8 million of the total required funds. Of this amount, $117.3 million has been funded, leaving a gap of $147.5 million. Combined with the deficit in HRP funding, the total funding gap for 2020 stands at $211.7 million, or just over 30% of all needed funds. Even if fully funded by year’s end, the aid would reach only 44% of Iraq’s total population in need. In January, the UN OCHA reported that 4.1 million Iraqis were in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. OCHA’s 2020 Humanitarian Relief Plan (HRP) for Iraq, however, seeks to assist only 1.8 million of those in need.

On October 5, the Mayor of Muqdadiyah said  that the International Organization for Migration (IOM) started a humanitarian program to support liberated areas north of Muqdadiyah, Diyala province. The program will seek to improve the living conditions for displaced families by distributing financial aid to businesses in order to increase employment. IOM will also create development programs for the area’s youth to give them practical knowledge that will allow them to enter the workforce. 

On October 8, the Iraqi Ministry of Health reported that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Iraq rose to 394,566, representing a weekly increase of 27,092 cases from the 367,474 cases reported on October 1. Of these cases, 61,068 patients are currently in Iraqi hospitals, including 524 in the intensive care unit (ICU). This represents a decrease of 1,293 patients in Iraqi hospitals from last week, and a 13 patient decrease in ICU patients. Ministry data indicated that there were a total of 452 new COVID-related deaths this week, bringing the total from 9,231 to 9,683. The total number of recoveries increased from 295,882 to 323,815. The daily average for new cases dropped from last week, with a daily average of 3,870 cases, down from 4,338 cases. In the past 24 hours, the areas with the highest case counts were Baghdad with 1,424 cases, Erbil with 281 cases, Duhok with 265 cases, Sulaymaniyah with 247 cases, and Wasit with 234 cases. To date, Iraq has tested a total of 2,439,828 samples for COVID-19. On October 4, the Iraqi Ministry of Health announced that the COVID-19 mortality rate in Iraq has decreased to 2.5%, interpreting that to mean that the quality of treatment for COVID-19 has improved in Iraq. In their statement, the Ministry of Health urged Arbaeen pilgrims to wear masks, socially distance, and wash their hands during the pilgrimage.


Customs Revenue Drops; Daewoo Wins Port Contracts; Iraq Gains Membership Of The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development; Finance Ministry To Begin Paying Delayed Salaries

On October 2, Iraq’s Border Ports Authority reported the state had taken in IQD100 billion ($83.8 million) in taxes and tariffs revenue on goods moving across Iraq’s borders in September. The revenues are down IQD7 billion from the figure reported for the month of August. 

On October 6, the Iraqi Minister of Transportation Nasser al-Shibili announced that the ministry will sign a contract with South Korean industrial conglomerate Daewoo to begin construction on the first phase of the “Grand Faw Port” project in coming days. While the exact value of the contract the ministry and Daewoo signed this week is unknown as of now. Last month, Iraq’s state-owned ports company announced plans to award $2 billion in contracts for infrastructure and berth construction as part of the “Grand Faw Port” project.

On October 5, The Central Bank of Iraq announced it had completed the first steps of reform to Iraq’s banking sector through the formal classification of private commercial and Islamic banks. The classification of banks operating in Iraq enables centralized regulation of each type of bank according to standards set both internationally and by the Central Bank, and will ensure greater efficiency and transparency in services offered to customers. The central bank indicated that the reforms taken to this point are pursuant to the standards established by the Central Bank Law No. 56 of 2004 and the Iraqi Banking Law No. 94 of 2004, and that the next stage of reforms will focus on government-owned banks.

On October 7, the governors of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) accepted Iraq’s request to become a shareholder in the bank, over two weeks after Iraq submitted its membership request to the international investment bank. Now a member, Iraq could receive significant financial support for private sector development from the bank.

On October 7, Iraq’s Ministry of Finance announced it will begin disbursing the delayed September salaries the following day. The announcement followed days of uncertainty about the government’s ability to pay salaries. On October 4, the parliamentary financial committee criticized the finance ministry for what it described as the unjustified tying of public servants salaries to the approval of a new borrowing law, which the Cabinet had submitted to Parliament on September 29. In its statement, the committee strongly opposed the idea of further borrowing, arguing it would render Iraq bankrupt “within six months.” Amid an ongoing financial crisis, public sector employees have been complaining that they have not received their salaries since September. The Ministry did not explain how it planned to provide sufficient funds to pay the salaries. An anonymous source within the finance ministry said earlier that the government had only IQD2 trillion ($1.6 billion) and needs an additional IQD3 trillion ($2.5 billion) to pay the September salaries, and suggested the ministry could borrow the balance from the Central Bank, a move the Parliamentary Finance Committee opposes.


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

DateLocationDeathsInjuries
10/04/20Najaf, Iraq00
10/05/20Fallujah, Anbar, Iraq01
10/08/20Sadr City, Baghdad, Iraq11

 

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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