ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM: DECEMBER 3 – DECEMBER 10, 2020

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Key Takeaways:

  • U.S. Diplomatic Drawdown “Temporary”; Iraqis Remember Nasiriyah’s Fallen Protesters; Militias Support Sadr’s Call To Fight “Deviant” Youths; Billions Unaccounted For In Electricity Contracts; Anti-Halbousi Group Crumbles – On December 3, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq called the planned reduction of U.S. diplomatic personnel “temporary.” On December 4, thousands of Iraqis took to the streets to commemorate protesters killed by followers of Moqtada al-Sadr in Nasiriyah a week earlier. On December 5, Iran’s ambassador to Iraq said that resistance factions” will “definitely respond,” should the U.S. attack them. On December 7, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis will visit Iraq in March. On December 7, Kataib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq expressed their support for remarks by Sadr calling on Iraqis to “restore the Shia home” and “confront deviancy.” On December 7, a parliamentary committee looking into prior contracts in Iraq’s electricity sector pointed to multiple alleged problems with spending totaling IQD96.6 trillion ($81.1 billion) between 2005 and 2019, including a discrepancy of IQD8.6 trillion between allocations and expenditure. On December 8, representative Ahmed al-Jubouri (Abu Mazin) withdref from the Iraqi Front, a political bloc he formed in October to unseat Speaker Halbousi. On December 8, Iraq’s prime minister, parliament speaker, and president met with the leaders of political blocs to discuss the 2021 budget and outstanding financial and budgetary issues between the KRG and the federal government. PM Kadhimi also presented an initiative for “comprehensive national dialogue” meant to prepare the environment for “free and fair early elections.” On December 9, Parliament discussed a IQD329 billion bill to fund election preparations by IHEC. Parliament’s Finance Committee said the bill was unjustified. more…
  • Several Killed As Security Forces Crack Down On Sulaymaniyah Protests; KRG Blames “Agitators” and Baghdad For The Unrest; KRG Shuts Down TV Network, Prohibits “Unauthorized” Demonstrations – On December 3, demonstrations began in Sulaymaniyah as hundreds of civil servants demanded their delayed salaries. The protests began peacefully, but clashes commenced after security forces used tear gas and live ammunition. Over the week, protesters burned the headquarters of Kurdish political parties and government buildings in multiple districts. Meanwhile, security forces stormed the headquarters of NRT News and forcibly stopped its broadcast. At least four people were killed during the clashes, prompting UNAMI to condemn the violence and urge KRG authorities to “safeguard the freedoms of assembly and expression.” On December 8, KRG PM Masrour Barzani blamed the unrest on “agitators that are attempting to incite unrest and use violence under the guise of defending the peoples’ rights.” Barzani later blamed Baghdad for the unrest, arguing that its failure to transfer funds necessary to pay public sector salaries created the conditions that ignited demonstrations. Meanwhile, the KRG finance minister said Erbil told Baghdad it was ready to abide by the controversial deficit financing law that Parliament approved on November 12. On December 9, KRG security authorities prohibited unauthorized demonstrations across the region, threatening violators with arrest. more…
  • Baghdad Reports Progress On Sinjar Deal; ISIS Ramps Up Attacks On ISF, Oil Fields; Militias Resume Attacks On Coalition Contractors; New Setback For Iraq’s F-16 – On December 3, Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said that all armed factions have left Sinjar based on the normalization agreement between Baghdad and Erbil. But KRG PM Masrour Barzani the KRG was still waiting for the federal side to “expel the remaining forces that are still based [in Sinjar].” Between December 3 – 10, the explosions of seven IEDs and one remnant on war killed at least seven Iraqis and wounded nine others. One of the attacks targeted an activist Dhi-Qar and another in Kirkuk set fire to oil wells. The deadliest killed four PMF fighters in Diyala. On December 9 – 10, three more IEDs targeted trucks transporting supplies for the International Coalition along a main highway south of Baghdad, the first such attacks in two months. Between December 3 – 9, five militant attacks in Diyala, Kirkuk and Anbar killed at least seven members of Iraq’s security forces and injured nine more. The deadliest killed four soldiers near Hit. On December 5, Coalition airstrikes killed at least 11 ISIS militants in Salah ad-Din and Kirkuk. On December 7, Iraq Oil Report said that the Coalition stopped including Iraqi F-16 jets in its airstrikes against ISIS. more…

  • Iraq Wants All IDPs Out Of Kirkuk; COVID-19 Spread Slows Down But Concerns Remain About A Winter Spike Amid Weak Compliance And Government Measures – On December 9, Iraq’s Interior Minister Othman al-Ghanimi stressed form Kirkuk that Iraq must return IDPs residing in the province and close down all IDP camps as part of the government’s ongoing effort to deal with this issue. Human rights and aid organizations have criticized Baghdad’s policy of attempting to send IDPs to home districts that are often unsafe and lack basic services, with some organizations warning that the policy could leave 100,000 people homeless. On December 4, Iraq’s Health Ministry warned that compliance with health guidelines “has declined in recent weeks,” and expected the number of cases to rise during winter. On December 6, UNHCR reported that the rate of new reported COVID-19 infections in Iraq was slowing down but warned that the federal government and the KRG “continued to maintain a lax approach” in dealing with the pandemic. On December 10, Iraq’s Health Ministry reported that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increased to 571,253. Deaths from confirmed cases of COVID-19 reached 12,526 while the number of patients currently in hospitals decreased to 56,760. To date, 501,957 patients have recovered from the virus and Iraq has tested 3,803,674 samples for COVID-19. The daily average for new cases decreased from 2,110/day last week ending to 1,783/day this week. Iraq also reported a significant increase in testing capacity, with 34,443 tests performed during the previous 24 hours alone. more…

  • Iraq’s Oil Quota Increases In January; New Saudi Business Delegation In Baghdad; Iraq Signs Forward Oil Sale With China; New Joint Venture To Service Baghdad Airport – On December 4, a report by S&P Global Platts indicated that Iraq’s oil output quota will increase by 53,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 3.804 million bpd starting in January. On December 7, PM Kadhimi received a visiting Saudi economic delegation and discussed steps to strengthen economic cooperation between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The two sides signed two agreements worth $40 million to build grain silos in Diwaniyah and develop a hospital in Anbar. On December 8, Iraq’s national oil marketing company (SOMO) said it signed a contract with China’s ZhenHua that will see Iraq receive a “multi-billion dollar” forward payment in exchange for future oil shipments. On December 9, the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority awarded a contract to a joint venture between Iraqi Airlines, Menzies Aviation, and BP to provide ground management and fuel supply services to Baghdad International Airport. On December 9, Iraq Oil Report wrote that ongoing protests in parts of the Kurdistan region forced Gazprom to suspended oil trucking from its Sarqala field, which typically produces an average of 25,000 bpd. On December 9, Iraq’s Foreign Ministry said Iraq asked Belarus to return Iraqi money being held in Belarus. The ministry did not mention the amount in question nor the circumstances that led to the funds being in Belarus’s possession. 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. Diplomatic Drawdown “Temporary”; Iraqis Remember Nasiriyah’s Fallen Protesters; Militias Support Sadr’s Call To Fight “Deviant” Youths; Billions Unaccounted For In Electricity Contracts; Anti-Halbousi Group Crumbles

On December 3, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Matthew Tueller emphasized that the “temporary reduction” of U.S. diplomatic personnel from the embassy in Baghdad, which was announced last week, will not affect Washington’s commitment to the U.S.-Iraq relationship. Ambassador Tueller stated that he will remain in Baghdad “for the foreseeable future,” and that all elements of the U.S. diplomatic presence across Iraq will continue to facilitate U.S. government programs within the country.

On December 3, Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC) introduced a bill to the U.S. Congress that, if passed, would require the Secretary of State to inform lawmakers of the size and activities of the Badr Organization and provide justification for whether or not the group should be designated as a terrorist organization and subjected to sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Act. The proposed bill also requires Congress to officially recognize that Badr “has a history of targeting Americans and allies in Iraq,” of “committing human rights violations by killing civilians and summarily executing Sunni prisoners,” and that Badr maintains a close relationship with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. 

On December 4, thousands of Iraqis took to the streets in Baghdad, Nasiriyah, and other cities to commemorate and express solidarity with victims of violence committed by followers of Moqtada al-Sadr who killed at least seven protesters in Nasiriyah last week. Thousands of demonstrators in Nasiriyah gathered in Haboubi square, the site of last week’s violence to show their determination to continue the protests. Smaller demonstrations of solidarity took place in Diwaniyah, where protesters gathered for “Nasiriyah Friday” and in Baghdad, where demonstrators briefly gathered in Tahrir square.

On December 5, Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, Iraj Masjedi confirmed that IRGC Quds Force commander Ismael Qaani visited Baghdad and met with Iraqi government and military officials last week. Masjedi claimed that Qaani visited Baghdad to strengthen the federal government while simultaneously emphasizing that Iran does not interfere in Iraq’s political system. Masjedi also appeared to qualify Qaani’s instructions for the militias to “stand down and cease attacks [on the U.S.]” that he delivered last week. The Iranian ambassador said that President Trump “ought to not threaten anyone or undertake provocative actions,” and gave “the resistance factions” the green light to “definitely respond,” should “they [Americans] make a move.”

On December 7, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis accepted President Barham Salih’s and the Chaldean Catholic Church’s invitation to visit Iraq in March 2021. Francis will be the first Pope to visit Iraq. The Vatican Press Office stated that the trip will include a visit to Baghdad, the site of Ur in Dhi-Qar province, Erbil, Mosul and Qaraqosh. Cardinal Louis Sako, the Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon said Francis’ visit will “bring us his support and also a word of hope” at a time when Iraqis face political, economic, and social crises. The Cardinal also noted that Francis’ visit will encourage Iraq’s dwindling Christian population to remain in their communities. 

On December 7, Kataib Hezbollah expressed its support for remarks by Moqtada al-Sadr he issued last week calling on Iraqis to “restore the Shia home” and “confront deviancy.” Kataib Hezbollah said that since “some suspicious parties have deliberately deceived [Iraqi] youth and pushed them towards transgressing Islamic values,” it would support Sadr’s efforts to “confront the enemies of God and establish the principles of His true religion.” The same day, a representative for Sadiqoun (Asaib Ahl al-Haq’s political wing) echoed Kataib Hezbollah’s support for Sadr, noting that the group considered Sadr’s call to “restore the Shia home” to be “an opportunity that should not be missed,” on the grounds that “the strength and unity of the Shia home reflects positively on the strength and unity of Iraq.” 

On December 7, a parliamentary committee looking into prior contracts concerning Iraq’s electricity sector released a summary of its findings. The findings pointed to multiple alleged problems with spending totaling IQD96.6 trillion ($81.1 billion) between 2005 and 2019. Specifically, the committees pointed to a discrepancy of IQD8.6 trillion between total annual allocations to the Ministry of Electricity and reported expenditure. The committees also pointed to a discrepancy between funds borrowed to finance certain projects and the amounts actually spent to the tune of $1.1 billion. The committee’s report also highlighted several other problems with a number of specific contracts: slow and disjointed contracts to install 56 turbines purchased from GE, wasteful ‘take or pay’ contracts in the case of the Basmaya power plant, the purchase of numerous gas-fired generation units then operating them on heavy fuel oil, and poor accountability in tracking fuel supplies in contracts with Kurdistan-based Kar Group and Qaiwan Global Energy. The committee referred all of these and other alleged irregularities to the Integrity Commission. 

On December 8, representative Ahmed al-Jubouri (alias Abu Mazen) announced his withdrawal from the Iraqi Front, a political bloc he formed in October with a number of Sunni political leaders, including former Ninewa governor Osama al-Nujaifi to unseat Parliament Speaker Mohammad al-Halbousi. Jubouri said his withdrawal was not for personal reasons, but based on “an objective reading” of the bloc’s progress. The same day, Khamis al-Khanjar, leader of the Arab Project bloc, which is part of the Front held an “amicable meeting” with Speaker Halbousi, suggesting that he had also abandoned the mission of the short-lived alliance. On December 8, five members of Jubouri’s National Masses party left the party in protest of the decision to leave the Iraqi Front. The five defectors said they will remain part of the Iraqi Front under Nujaifi’s leadership.

On December 8, Iraqi President Barham Salih met with visiting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, David Schenker to discuss bilateral relations and ongoing U.S.-Iraq strategic dialogue. Discussions focused on the need to protect Iraq’s sovereignty and continue the international effort to combat terrorism in the region, and the prospects for cooperation to mitigate the economic and humanitarian effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in Iraq. Salih and Schenker also discussed regional tensions and the need for dialogue to avert conflicts.  

On December 8, Iraq’s prime minister, parliament speaker, and president met with the leaders of political blocs to discuss the 2021 budget and outstanding financial and budgetary issues between the KRG and the federal government. A statement issued after the meeting said the leaders agreed to “support government measures toward economic reform” in the 2021 budget “to include solutions that safeguard the economy from [future] crises.” The statement said the leaders also support continuing dialogue with representatives of the KRG to resolve remaining disputes “in accordance with the constitution.” During the meeting, Prime Minister Kadhimi presented an initiative for “comprehensive national dialogue” meant to prepare the “political, security and social” environment for “free and fair early elections.”

On December 9, Parliament conducted a first reading of a bill submitted by the Cabinet to fund election preparations by the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC). A report by  the Parliamentary Finance Committee said the Cabinet’s bill requested IQD329 billion for the next election, of which IQD133 billion would come from the balance of the 2019 budget and the remainder would be secured through government borrowing. The Finance Committee’s report argued  that the bill was not justified and that any requests for  funds related to IHEC should be included in the 2021 federal budget. Last week, Prime Minister Kadhimi stressed that Parliament must pass an election financing bill so that the IHEC can complete its preparations.


Several Killed As Security Forces Crack Down On Sulaymaniyah Protests; KRG Blames “Agitators” and Baghdad For The Unrest; KRG Shuts Down TV Network, Prohibits “Unauthorized” Demonstrations

On December 3, hundreds of public sector employees demonstrated in Sulaymaniyah demanding their October and November salaries. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) claims it has not been able to disburse the delayed salaries due to Baghdad’s refusal to send the KRG its share of the budget. Initially consisting of teachers, the protesters were joined by other civil servants in Saraa square in Sulaymaniyah. The protests began peacefully, but large clashes between demonstrators and security forces began after security forces fired tear gas and live ammunition into the air. Demonstrations continued to grow in size and intensity over the following day. On December 4, the Sulaymaniyah province emergency center reported that 25 protesters had been injured in the clashes. On December 6, protesters burned the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and Gorran in the Piramagrun district northwest of Sulaymaniyah. The same day, KRG internal security forces stormed the headquarters of NRT News (owned by New Generation party leader Shaswar Abdul-Wahid) in Sulaymaniyah and forcibly stopped the channel’s broadcast. The KRG Ministry of Culture said it had stopped NRT’s broadcasts due to the channel’s “failure to comply with press standards [by] describing Kurdish security forces as ‘militias and bandits.’” On December 7, eyewitnesses reported that security forces killed two protesters and wounded another eight during continued demonstrations outside in Chamchamal, east of Sulaymaniyah, and in Kafri to the south. Protesters reportedly also burned KDP, PUK, and Kurdistan Islamic Union headquarters in Said Sadiq, east of Sulaymaniyah. By December 8, renewed protests were taking place in Said Sadiq, Kafri, Dukan, Takiya, Khurmal, and Shahrazur. Netblocks reported that KRG authorities had restricted internet access and social media usage across Sulaymaniyah province for nearly eight hours the previous night. Authorities reportedly restored internet access the following morning. The same day, protesters attempted to burn the PUK headquarters in the Takiya subdistrict. The building’s security guards fired live ammunition into the air to disperse the protesters, leading to clashes during which two protesters and one security guard were killed. Renewed demonstrations in Piramagrun also saw protesters block the Sulaymaniyah-Dokan road, while protesters in the Khormal district burned the KDP’s offices. Elsewhere in Sulaymaniyah that day, protestors set fire to an education ministry building in Shahrazur district and a traffic department building in the Khormal district.

On December 7, the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR) expressed concern over the tactics KRG security forces used against demonstrators and the press in Sulaymaniyah. IHCHR rejected the use of “excessive force…and  closure of satellite channels,” as attacks on  “civil and political rights and freedom of expression and peaceful demonstration.” On December 8, President Salih said that the right to peaceably assemble and protest is an inviolable constitutional right of Iraqi citizens, and urged the “relevant authorities” to meet the people’s demands for their salaries. Salih also urged that security forces “act according to the law” and refrain from using violence against demonstrators, while emphasizing to demonstrators that violence “distorts the reputation of peaceful protestors and distorts their demands.” The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) also condemned the acts of violence committed by and against protestors in Sulaymaniyah, calling for calm and urging KRG authorities to “safeguard the freedoms of assembly and expression.” Commenting on the attack on NRT News offices, UNAMI said media outlets must be allowed to report on events free from violence and intimidation.

On December 8, KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani issued a statement about protests in the region in which he blamed the unrest on “agitators that are attempting to incite unrest and use violence under the guise of defending the peoples’ rights and demands.” Barzani defended his government’s position with regard to the financial crisis that sparked the protests, noting that “the [KRG] has consistently demonstrated its willingness to reach an agreement [with Baghdad] to protect peoples’ livelihoods.” Barzani called upon lawmakers and political parties to work together to overcome the challenges facing the KRG and urged the public “not to be swayed by those attempting to generate unrest” and foment the destruction of the KRG. On December 9, Barzani blamed Baghdad for the unrest in the KRG, arguing that the federal government’s failure to fulfill its obligations under the borrowing law by transferring funds necessary to pay public sector salaries created the conditions that inspired the demonstrations. Barzani said that “for many months now, [the KRG] has worked hard to reach a fair constitutional settlement with the federal government,” and that “we have not left any excuses for Baghdad to fail to deliver its obligations to Kurdistan.” 

On December 8, representatives of the KDP, PUK, and Gorran decided during a tripartite meeting to send a delegation to Baghdad to negotiate outstanding disputes over the region’s financial dues and the KRG’s financial allotment for the 2021 federal budget. Addressing the ongoing demonstrations in Sulaymaniyah, the party representatives agreed to take “all steps necessary” to secure public sector salaries and fulfill the KRG’s financial obligations to its people. The representatives emphasized that demonstrations must remain peaceful and reiterated their joint commitment to protecting the people’s interests. 

On December 8, KRG finance minister, Awat Sheikh Janab said the KRG has told the federal government it is ready to abide by the borrowing law that Parliament approved on November 12. Janab stated the KRG, despite its reservations about how Iraq’s Parliament passed the law, will fulfill its commitments to the federal government as stipulated in the law, and that the federal government must in turn fulfill its obligations to disburse the funds the law allocated to the KRG. Janab argued that “the ball is now in the court of the federal government, Kurdish representatives in Baghdad and the Iraqi Parliament,” without elaborating on the next steps expected from them.

On December 9, KRG security authorities prohibited unauthorized demonstrations across the region, threatening violators with arrest. The “Supreme Security Committee” also called upon political parties and the media in the KRG to “deal with these events responsibly.” KRG authorities have used preemptive threats of arrest to curtail public assembly in the past. In May, KRG security forces moved to prevent teachers in Duhok province from taking part in a planned protest to demand their delayed salaries. Security forces arrested dozens of teachers who had turned out on the day of the protest, and also arrested at least eight journalists. Per a December 5 report from Peregraf, KRG and provincial authorities arrested more than one hundred journalists, activists, and teachers from the KDP-ruled Bahdinan region – where Duhok is located – between August and early November this year. Peregraf found that security forces in Duhok have directly and indirectly threatened activists and probable protest participants in order to suppress dissent, especially those who criticize authorities and call for a demonstration on social media. For many of those imprisoned, authorities have revealed little to no information on their indictment or place of imprisonment. According to EPIC’s sources, nearly fifty teachers, journalists, and protest supporters remain imprisoned in Duhok and Erbil.

On December 9, in spite of restrictions on demonstrations issued by the KRG and the KDP-controlled provincial government, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in front of a local government building in the Shiladze district, Duhok province to demand their delayed salaries. Protesters threatened to escalate their actions to include all of Duhok province if the government did not meet their demands.


Baghdad Reports Progress On Sinjar Deal; ISIS Ramps Up Attacks On ISF, Oil Fields; Militias Resume Attacks On Coalition Contractors; New Setback For Iraq’s F-16

On December 3, a spokesman for Iraq’s Joint Operations Command (JOC) said that “all displays of armed [factions] presence have left Sinjar” based on the agreement between the federal government and the KRG for normalization in the disputed district. Major General Tahsin al-Khafaji affirmed that local police was now in charge of security in the district’s interior while the Border Guards and Federal Police will deploy outside the district to secure the border with Syria. Khafaji added that the Iraqi government and JOC have had discussions with “groups affiliated with the PKK” to prepare for implementing the normalization agreement, pointing that JOC and the Peshmerga are coordinating their efforts to provide security in the area. But on December 9, KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani asserted that “only some” federal Iraqi forces have moved into Sinjar adding that his government was still waiting for the federal side to implement all the points under the deal and “and expel the remaining forces that are still based [in Sinjar].”

On December 3, an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded against a vehicle transporting members of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in the Zumar subdistrict north of Mosul. The explosion wounded two Iraqi soldiers. 

On December 3, an IED exploded next to a checkpoint for the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in the village of Harouniya, near Muqdadiyah in Diyala province. Initial reporting indicated the explosion killed one PMF fighter and wounded five others. A security source later reported that three of the injured PMF fighters subsequently died in the hospital, adding that total casualties from the attack increased to four killed and four injured. 

On December 3, a security source said ISIS militants attacked a security checkpoint in the Abu Khanazir village near Abu Saida subdistrict in Diyala province. The ensuing clash injured one policeman. To the northeast, ISIS militants attacked another checkpoint in the village of Qalat near Khanaqin on December 5. The attack killed an Iraqi army lieutenant and injured two soldiers. The attackers also destroyed an ISF thermal surveillance camera. 

On December 5, the Security Media Cell reported that International Coalition aircraft killed five ISIS militants in an airstrike targeting their hideout in Tel al-Thahab near the Yathrib subdistrict of Salah ad-Din province. To the west, another Coalition airstrike killed six more ISIS militants at a cave in the Sarjwan area of the Dibis district of Kirkuk province. A third airstrike destroyed five hideouts used by ISIS militants in the Makhoul mountains but it was unclear whether any militants were also killed in the operation. 

On December 5, local officials in the Deraluk subdistrict of Duhok province said that two Turkish military aircraft attacked areas in the villages of Karkash and Sbendari. The airstrikes did not cause casualties among civilians.  

On December 5, a security source said a roadside IED exploded against a civilian vehicle in Yusufiyah, south of Baghdad. The explosion killed the vehicle’s driver. 

On December 7, ISIS militants attacked a checkpoint for the Iraqi Federal Police near the Rashad subdistrict west of Kirkuk. The attack killed one policeman and injured two others. 

On December 7, Iraq Oil Report stated that Iraqi F-16 fighter jets have stopped performing airstrikes against ISIS targets within the framework of operations carried out by the International Coalition. The same outlet reported in August that the jets, the most sophisticated in Iraq’s arsenal, have been suffering from the effects of corrupt management and poor maintenance, which have significantly reduced their operational availability for combat.

On December 7, activists in Nasiriyah said that militia members attacked the residence of activist Kamal al-A’idi in al-Nasr district with an explosive device. The attack caused property damages but no casualties. 

On December 8, a security source in Ninewa province said that two children died and two more were injured in an incident involving unexploded remnants of war in the Qabousiyah village near Sinjar. 

On December 9, the Iraqi Oil Ministry said that militants detonated two IEDs at two oil wells within the Khabbaz oil field in Kirkuk. The explosions struck wells number 33 and 44, which produce a combined 2,000 barrels per day between 1:30 and 2:00am local time, according to the ministry. The Ministry said security forces and firefighters rushed to the scene to secure the field and control the fires, which continued to burn into the next day.

On December 9, security sources in Anbar said that ISIS militants attacked an Iraqi Army checkpoint in Wadi al-Marj near Hit. The attack killed four soldiers from the 7th Division 29th brigade and wounded at least four others. 

On December 9, a security source said a sniper opened fire on an Iraqi Army unit in the village of Tobzawa near Daquq, south of Kirkuk. The attack killed one Iraqi soldier. 

On December 10, a roadside IED exploded near the Buhruz subdistrict in Diyala province. The explosion wounded a farmer.  

On December 10, two IEDs exploded targeting trucks belonging to contractors transporting supplies for the International Coalition forces in Iraq. The attack took place on the main highway passing through al-Muthanna province in southern Iraq and damaged one truck without causing casualties. Security sources said this was the second attack within 24 hours. Late on December 9, another IED exploded targeting a similar logistical convoy near Mahmoudiyah, south of Baghdad without causing injuries. Attack data compiled by EPIC indicate the last attack on Coalition logistical convoys happened two months ago on October 10. An obscure group called Qasim al-Jabbarin claimed responsibility for both attacks.


Iraq Wants All IDPs Out Of Kirkuk; COVID-19 Spread Slows Down But Concerns Remain About A Winter Spike Amid Weak Compliance And Government Measures

On December 4, Iraq’s Health Ministry warned that the public’s compliance with health guidelines “has declined in recent weeks.” Ministry spokesman Saif al-Badr cautioned that the seriousness of the COVID-19 threat has not decreased “particularly with the beginning of winter.” The spokesman said the ministry expects the number of cases to rise due to this poor compliance with preventive measures.

On December 6, UNHCR reported that the rate of new reported COVID-19 infections in Iraq was slowing down over the last several weeks, noting that the average in November was 2,500 cases per day. This is down from over 4,000 cases per day two months earlier. The international organization, however, warned that the federal government and the KRG “continued to maintain a lax approach” in dealing with the pandemic. UNHCR explained that neither government has issued any major initiatives or guidelines to manage the public health crisis in more than two months, since curfews and other strict movement restrictions were relaxed. 

On December 9, Interior Minister Othman al-Ghanimi stressed form Kirkuk that Iraq must return internally displaced persons (IDPs) residing in Kirkuk and close down all IDP camps as part of the government’s ongoing effort to deal with this issue. Speaking alongside governor Rakan al-Jubouri, Ghanimi said that he discussed the subject with the governor and agreed that Kirkuk “must be empty of displaced persons like all other provinces.” Various international human rights and aid organizations have criticized Baghdad’s policy of attempting to send IDPs to their home districts that are often unsafe and lack basic services and livelihood opportunities, with some organizations warning that the policy could leave 100,000 people homeless. 

On December 10, the Iraqi Ministry of Health reported that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Iraq rose to 571,253, representing a biweekly increase of 12,486 cases from the 558,767 cases reported on December 3. Of these cases, 56,760 patients are currently in Iraqi hospitals, including 218 in the intensive care unit (ICU). This represents a decrease of 1,783 patients in Iraqi hospitals from December 3, and a 52 patient decrease in ICU patients. Ministry data indicated that there were a total of 165 new COVID-related deaths since December 3, bringing the total from 12,361 to 12,526. The total number of recoveries increased from 439,228 to 501,957. The daily average for new cases decreased slightly, with an average of 1,783 new cases per day this week, down from 2,110 average new cases per day last week. In the past 24 hours, the areas with the highest case counts were Baghdad with 360 cases, Ninewa with 227, Kirkuk with 159, Duhok with 130, and Diyala with 100. To date, Iraq has tested a total of 3,803,674 samples for COVID-19. December 10 marked a significant increase in Iraq’s testing capacity. The Health Ministry said an increase in the number of operational labs allowed Iraq to perform 34,443 tests during the previous 24 hours alone. Data shows that Iraq tested an average of 20,745 samples per day in November. 


Iraq’s Oil Quota Increases In January; New Saudi Business Delegation In Baghdad; Iraq Signs Forward Oil Sale With China; New Joint Venture To Service Baghdad Airport

On December 4, a report by S&P Global Platts showed that Iraq’s oil output quota will increase by 53,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 3.804 million bpd starting in January. The increase is the result of an agreement between OPEC and other major procedures to reduce production caps by 500,000 bpd. On December 6, Iraqi Oil Minister Ihsan Abdul-Jabbar stated that Iraq expects to increase its oil exports in December while remaining compliant with OPEC+’s decisions on oil production. Jabbar said Iraq will export 2.8 million bpd in December – a 100,000 bpd increase from November – and will start shipping its new Basrah Medium crude in January to maximize its output of light crude. 

On December 7, Prime Minister Kadhimi received a Saudi economic delegation and discussed steps to strengthen economic cooperation between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Kadhimi welcomed the increase in cross-border trade after the two countries reopened the Arar border crossing port last month. Later, the Iraqi Ministry of Planning announced that Iraq and Saudi Arabia signed two agreements that will see Saudi Arabia invest $25 million to construct grain silos in Diwaniyah province and invest $15 million to redevelop Saqlawiyah hospital in Anbar. In October, Saudi Arabia and Iraq expressed interest in reviving Abadi-era plans for Saudi Arabia to invest in Iraqi agricultural land in Anbar and Muthanna province. The Saudi delegation’s visit to Baghdad ended that day with the opening of a Saudi commercial attaché office  in Baghdad.

On December 8, Iraq’s national oil marketing company (SOMO) announced that it signed a contract with China’s ZhenHua Oil Company that will see Iraq receive a “multi-billion dollar” forward payment in exchange for future oil shipments. SOMO announced last week that it intends to seek a $2 billion prepayment for a “five-year supply of 130,000 bpd” – 48 million barrels of crude in total – to be shipped between July 2021 and June 2022. The following day, a member of Parliament from the Saeroun bloc expressed his opposition to the deal, noting that the constantly-fluctuating price of crude makes the deal, which would see barrels sold at a fixed price for a definite period, a “very dangerous matter,” adding that Kadhimi’s interim government does not have the authority to be signing deals of this size and scope.

On December 9, the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority awarded a contract to the United Iraqi Company for Airports Services and Ground Handling Ltd. (MASIL) to provide ground management and fuel supply services to Baghdad International Airport. MASIL is a joint venture between Iraqi Airlines, Menzies Aviation, and BP. The contract grants MASIL license to provide passenger services, flight operations, baggage handling, fueling services, and equipment management at Baghdad International Airport.

On December 9, Iraq Oil Report wrote that ongoing protests in parts of Iraq’s Kurdistan region were causing disruptions to the region’s oil operations. Specifically, Russian oil company Gazprom suspended oil trucking from its Sarqala field, which typically produces an average of 25,000 barrels per day due to concerns about potential attacks by protesters on the more than 100 trucks that lift crude from the facility each day. 

On December 9, Iraq asked Belarus to return an unspecified amount of Iraqi money allegedly being held in Belarus, a statement by Iraq’s Foreign Ministry said. While accepting the credentials of the new ambassador of Belarus, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein told the incoming diplomat that “Iraq has money that is in Belarusian custody and this issue must be addressed because Iraq is going through extraordinary economic conditions.” The ministry statement did not mention the amount of funds in question nor the circumstances that led to the funds being in Belarus’s possession.  


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

DateLocationDeathsInjuries
12/3/20Zumar, north of Mosul02
12/3/20Near Muqdadiyah, Diyala44
12/5/20Yusufiyah, south of Baghdad10
12/7/20Al-Nasr, Dhi-Qar00
12/9/20Khabbaz oil field, Kirkuk00
12/9/20Mahmoudiyah, south of Baghdad00
12/10/20Main highway through Al-Muthanna00
12/10/20Buhruz, Diyala01

 

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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