ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM: DECEMBER 10 – DECEMBER 17, 2020

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Key Takeaways:

  • UNAMI Urges Parliament To Fund Elections; KRG “Ready” To Exchange Oil For Funds; Controversial Politician Barred From Elections; Dhi-Qar Protest Site Cleared; Kadhimi Visits Ankara – On December 11, UNAMI urged lawmakers to quickly approve a IQD329 billion bill, without which the Independent High Electoral Commission won’t be able to perform critical electoral preparations. UNAMI also projected that the distribution of biometric cards would reach only 2% of 11.3 million voters who still don’t have them by June. On December 12, PM Kadhimi and Speaker Halbousi chaired a meeting between the federal government and a KRG delegation led by Qubad Talabani to negotiate for funding under the deficit financing law Iraq’s Parliament passed in November. Talabani said the KRG was ready to hand over its oil and non-oil revenue. On December 14, an Iraqi court barred Salah ad-Din politician Ahmed Abdullah al-Jubouri (aka Aby Mazin) from competing in the next election. On December 15, Iraq’s Foreign Minister visited Ankara and met his Turkish counterpart for preliminary talks ahead of a visit by PM Kadhimi, which began two days later with a meeting between Kadhimi and Erdogan. The talks focused on water resources, economic cooperation and the PKK. On December 14, the governor of Dhi-Qar said authorities removed all protest tents at Haboubi Square and reopened adjacent streets to traffic after reaching an agreement with protesters. On December 16, a member of the parliamentary legal committee said that about 70 lawmakers have signed a request to amend up to seven points in the Elections Law. more…
  • Militias Escalate Attacks On Liquor Stores; Prominent Activist Assassinated; ISF Boost Presence In Sinjar; Khorasani Brigades Commander Arrested; PKK-Peshmerga Clash Kills Three – Between December 11 – 16, 13 explosions in Babylon, Ninewa, Kirkuk, Baghdad, Salah ad-Din and Maysan killed two Iraqis and wounded 14 others. At least four bombings targeted liquor stores in the capital. Between December 15 – 17, gunmen assassinated activist Salah al-Iraqi in Baghdad (the 19th assassination targeting activists since August), as well as professor Abdul-Basit Ayal in Maysan, and the owner of a liquor store near Baghdad. On December 13, Iraq’s Interior Minister visited Sinjar and instructed the Ninewa police command to boost forces available to police stations there. Iraq’s military also said it began overseeing services delivery in Sinjar. On December 13, the Iraqi military said the Counter-Terrorism Service killed 42 ISIS militants during two days of operations near Ain al-Jahsh south of Mosul. On December 13, the mayor of al-Qaim said that ISIS militants destroyed three high voltage electricity towers in the area. On December 14, a security source said that PMF internal security arrested Ali al-Yasiri, a commander of Saraya al-Khorasani along with several members of his militia. A subsequent statement said PMF security shut down six militia offices that “violated regulations.” On December 14, armed clashes between PKK and KRG Peshmerga forces near Amadiyah killed two PKK members and one Peshmerga fighter. more…

  • Iraq Struggles To Provide Housing For Returning IDPs; Ministry To Start Providing Identification Cards For IDPs On Site; COVID-19 Spread Continues To Slow Down – On December 15, the governor of Ninewa said authorities had there options to provide housing to IDPs returning to Sinjar, where 60-80% of homes were damaged: procuring a small number of mobile homes, allowing returnees to bring their tents with them, or relying on aid organizations to help rebuild destroyed homes. On December 15, Iraq’s Interior Minister said the civil affairs and residency department will begin offering identification documents to IDPs onsite in five provinces. On December 17, Iraq’s Health Ministry reported that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increased to 580,449. Deaths from confirmed cases of COVID-19 reached 12,650 while the number of patients currently in hospitals decreased to 52,478. To date, 515,321 patients have recovered from the virus and Iraq has tested 4,046,571 samples for COVID-19. The daily average for new cases decreased again from 1,783/day last week ending to 1,313/day this week, and testing capacity increased to over 40,000 samples/day. more…

  • Dinar Exchange Rate Drops; Most Of Iraq’s Customs Revenue Is Stolen; Iraqi Airways Resumes Flights To Europe; $125 Billion Draft Budget Shows $40 Billion Deficit – On December 14, the exchange rate for the Iraqi dinar against the dollar saw a 5.5% drop, settling around IQD1,320 to $1. On December 14, a member of the parliamentary economic committee said that up to 70% of the revenue Iraq’s border crossings are supposed to generate “is stolen through fake [import] bills.” On December 15, Iraq’s Transport Ministry announced that the Iraqi Airways have resumed flights to European destinations, starting with a flight headed from Baghdad to Germany’s Dusseldorf via Erbil. On December 15, Iraq’s Planning Minister said the 2021 draft budget will include up to IQD50 trillion (approximately $40 billion) for public sector salaries. A copy of the draft budget leaked to the media, showing a budget of IQD150 trillion (approximately $125 billion) relying on 3.25 million bpd in oil exports, including 250,000 bpd from the Kurdistan region. The document indicated a deficit of IQD58 trillion (approximately $48 billion). 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.


UNAMI Urges Parliament To Fund Elections; KRG “Ready” To Exchange Oil For Funds; Controversial Politician Barred From Elections; Dhi-Qar Protest Site Cleared; Kadhimi Visits Ankara

On December 11, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) issued a new update on Iraq’s preparations for the next parliamentary elections, which the Iraqi government wants to hold in  June 2021. UNAMI urged Iraq’s lawmakers to quickly approve a IQD329 billion bill to fund the Independent High ELectoral Commission (IHEC), without which IHEC won’t be able to perform critical electoral preparations. The update also noted that progress on voter information collection and the distribution of biometric cards was slow with “a weekly average of only 7,200 voters coming for biometric registration and about 44,000 cards distributed weekly,” indicating that IHEC would only be able to deliver biometric card to 2% of the 11.3 million voters who still don’t have them within the next six months. The update also mentioned that 19 international entities and the embassies for 53 countries have received invitations to send election observers and that Iraq is also awaiting a response from the UN Security Council to observe the June elections. UNAMI also said it was assisting IHEC in preparing its “electoral operational plan and timeline” by creating a “guidance document” that “defines major tasks, a schedule of activities, and implementation and coordination mechanisms.” As of reporting, UNAMI noted that HEC had registered 20 alliances and 240 political parties that want to participate in the next election with 76 other parties whose documents were being processed. In an effort to speed up voter registration and deliver the biometric cards on time, the Iraqi government said IHEC deployed 750 mobile voter registration teams across the country that would augment the 1,079 fixed registration centers currently operating. 

On December 12, Shafaq reported that officials affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) established a new unit comprising Iraqi Kurdish recruits to operate in the disputed province of Kirkuk. The person allegedly in charge of the new unit, Adham Juma, said the unit includes 120 Kurdish fighters and will deploy in southwestern Kirkuk. Officials with the PMF northern sector denied any role for the PMF in establishing a “Kurdish Hashed” in Kirkuk, while the Badr Organization (the PMF’s largest faction) called the reports “lies,” insisting that Badr “has no connections” to this new formation.  

On December 12, Prime Minister Kadhimi and Speaker Halbousi chaired a meeting between the federal government and a delegation from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to negotiate financial allocations for the Kurdistan region under the deficit financing law that Iraq’s Parliament passed in November. The meeting included Parliament’s finance committee, which had warned that any agreement with the Kurdistan region that isn’t approved by Parliament and isn’t based on the KRG handing over its oil and non-oil revenue would be “null and void.” The KRG delegation had several other meetings with Iraqi politicians and federal government entities. On December 13, the delegation, led by KRG deputy prime minister Qubad Talabani met the ministers of oil and finance, along with Iraq’s oil marketing company (SOMO) to determine the value of the KRG’s oil and non-oil revenue, which Baghdad wants the KRG to hand over, in order to calculate the KRG’s share of federal funds. Deputy Speaker of Parliament Bashir al-Haddad said the two sides were “close to a fair agreement,” adding that the Kurdistan region was “ready to meet all its constitutional obligations…in exchange, Baghdad should adhere to [its commitments] under the constitution.” Speaking to reporters on December 14, Talabani confirmed that the KRG was ready to hand over its oil and non-oil revenue to Baghdad, saying that “this [deficit financing] law requires Kurdistan to deliver its oil and non-oil revenue, and we are ready to do so…we now await the Iraqi government’s response concerning the payment it will send in return.” Talabani added that the talks were still ongoing. There are indications that the oil issue is more problematic despite the assertions by Talabani and other Kurdish representatives. Jamal Kojar, a Kurdish member of the parliamentary finance committee said the KRG negotiators told Baghadad that Kurdistan wouldn’t be able to deliver all its oil to Baghdad and at the same time meet its obligations to the foreign oil companies that produce that oil. 

On December 14, a judiciary source reported that an Iraqi court barred Salah ad-Din politician Ahmed Abdullah al-Jubouri (aka Aby Mazin) from competing in Iraq’s next parliamentary elections. The source said the verdict cited Jubouri’s involvement in corruption charges, without elaborating. 

On December 15, Iraq’s Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein visited Ankara for preliminary talks with Turkish officials ahead of an anticipated visit by the Iraqi prime minister planned for December 17. A spokesman for Iraq’s Foreign Ministry said Hussein met with his Turkish counterpart for talks that focused on water resources, economic cooperation and security. Hussein also discussed reviving a 2009 deal that had allowed Iraqis to enter Turkey without an entry visa. Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu offered  during a joint press conference with Hussein to help Iraq “fight terrorism” and end the presence of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) on Iraqi territory. Iraq’s ambassador to Turkey said the prime minister will discuss border security, water sharing, trade, oil exports, investment opportunities and anti-money laundering cooperation in his talks with Turkish officials. 

On December 14, Dhi-Qar governor Nadhum al-Waili announced that authorities have removed all protest tents in Nasiriyah’s Haboubi Square and reopened the site and adjacent streets to traffic. Waili said the local government reached an agreement with the protesters to reopen the square, which had been the epicenter of protests in the province since October 2019 and more recently the site of deadly attacks on protesters. Waili citi a said tribal leaders and other notables helped convey a message to the protesters that “their voices will be heard and legitimate demands will be met while preserving the province’s security.” Abdul-Ghani al-Asadi, the chief of Iraq’s National Security Service offered a different version of events, claiming that it was the protesters who asked for tents to be removed “to expose infiltrators” and provocateurs who embedded themselves among protesters.

On December 16, Moqtada al-Sadr accused unnamed militias and Iraqi and foreign actors of “clamoring” to interfere in Iraq’s delayed Grand Fao Port project. Sadr said the government must “uproot the clear and obvious corruption and extortion” in the multi-billion dollar project, warning that he would intervene “in my own way” should the government fail to take action. Sadr also called on Baghdad to reach an agreement with neighboring Kuwait on the project, without specifying what the agreement should entail. 

On December 16, a member of the parliamentary legal committee said that about 70 lawmakers have signed a request to amend up to seven points in the Elections Law. Representative Salim Hamza said the proposals focus on biometric voter identification and other ideas designed to prevent fraud and increase the credibility of the electoral process. Hamza claimed that political parties that expect to benefit from “shortcomings” in the existing law oppose these amendments. 

On December 17, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi began a visit to Turkey, where he met with President Receb Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara. According to Kadhimi’s office, the two leaders discussed bilateral relations, with a focus on economic cooperation and facilitating Turkish investments in Iraq. In October, Erdogan had extended an invitation to Kadhimi to visit Ankara.

On December 17, large crowds of college graduates held a large demonstration in central Baghdad, demanding allocations for jobs in the 2021 budget. In Basra, dozens of engineers Contracted by the oil Ministry held a protest near the Shoayba refinery to demand payment of their delayed salaries, which they reportedly have not received in nine months. Security forces used batons to disperse the protesters.


Militias Escalate Attacks On Liquor Stores; Prominent Activist Assassinated; ISF Boost Presence In Sinjar; Khorasani Brigades Commander Arrested; PKK-Peshmerga Clash Kills Three

On December 11, an improvised explosive device (IED) thought to be leftover from the war with ISIS detonated next to a Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) checkpoint near Jurf al-Sakhr in northern Babylon province. The explosion wounded one PMF fighter. 

On December 11, a security source said an IED exploded against an Iraqi Army patrol in the village of Thibaniya, near Nimrud south of Mosul. The explosion wounded three Army personnel, including an officer. Nearby, two successive IEDs exploded wounding three civilians in the Dbaja village near Hammam al-Alil. 

On December 12, security sources in Kirkuk said an explosion killed an Iraqi Army officer and wounded another officer and a soldier near Dibis, northwest of Kirkuk. The explosion reportedly occurred as Iraqi Army soldiers attempted to assault a tunnel suspected of being a militant hideout. 

On December 12, a security source said a small homemade explosive detonated near a training school for the Quick Reaction Force adjacent to the perimeter of Baghdad Airport. The explosion wounded a child who lives in a residence adjacent to the airport. Other reports indicated the explosion was caused by a mortar round.  

On December 13, Interior Minister Othman al-Ghanimi visited Sinjar to oversee the implementation of an agreement between the federal government and the KRG for normalization in the disputed district. Ghanimi instructed the Ninewa police command to boost the security and administrative assets available to police stations in Sinjar and reopen offices for the traffic police, emergency police and anti-crime units. According to a report by Rudaw, at least 100 Yazidi women who survived ISIS captivity will be among the 2,500 locals who will join the Sinjar police force under the normalization agreement. On December 15, a spokesman for Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said the West Ninewa Operations Command had begun to oversee services in Sinjar, delivering aid to IDPs and assessing the needs of the local community.

On December 13, Iraqi military spokesman Yahya Rasoul said that the Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) killed 42 ISIS militants during two days of operations near Ain al-Jahsh south of Mosul. Rasoul described intense, close-quarters fighting in which CTS troops engaged the militants with hand grenades inside tunnels to which they retreated after a long pursuit. Rasoul added that the Iraqi Army aviation and International Coalition provided aerial support for the operations. Among those killed were senior ISIS militants, including the so-called Dijla Sector Wali. 

On December 13, the mayor of al-Qaim in Anbar province said that ISIS militants destroyed three high voltage electricity towers in the area between al-Qaim and Rawa to the east. The mayor, Ahmed al-Dulaimi said the militants brought the towers down using construction machines. 

On December 14, a security source said that PMF internal security arrested Ali al-Yasiri, a commander of Saraya al-Khorasani (Khorasani Brigades) along with several relatives and members of his militia. The PMF security reportedly secured the headquarters of the militia in Baghdad’s Jadriyah district and placed a checkpoint at the entrance to the compound. The militia is headed by Hamid al-Jazairi, who is accused of human rights violations, including killing peaceful protesters in 2019. Jazairi was reportedly sacked in May and placed under arrest earlier this week. A subsequent statement by the PMF security department said its forces shut down six offices that “violated regulations” in Baghdad’s Karrada and Jadriyah districts.

On December 14, a roadside IED exploded near the Alam district east of Tikrit in Salah ad-Din province. The explosion killed one local farmer. 

On December 14, a Peshmerga source reported that armed clashes erupted between members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the KRG Peshmerga forces near the Amadiyah district of Duhok province. The clashes killed two PKK members and one Peshmerga fighter, according to the source. The incident reportedly started when an armed group refused to stop at a security checkpoint and two sides exchanged fire as the argument escalated.

On December 14, a security source said that ISIS militants attacked a PMF outpost north of Muqdadiyah in Diyala province. The attack wounded two PMF fighters. 

On December 14, police sources in Ninewa said a roadside IED exploded against civilian vehicles in the village of Athba near the Shoura subdistrict south of Mosul. The explosion wounded four civilians. 

On December 15, the Security Media Cell reported that at least four explosions struck different parts of Baghdad, most of which targeted liquor stores. Three IEDs exploded near liquor stores near Nafaq al-Shorta and Amiriyah in west Baghdad, and near Dora in south Baghdad. A fourth explosive, an under-vehicle IED damaged the car of a private company employee in Hay al-Adil while security forces defused a fifth device. An obscure group calling itself Ahl al-Marouf reportedly threatened to target Baghdad liquor stores on Monday. Militant groups like Rab’ Allah have recently escalated their attacks on liquor stores and nightclubs in the Iraqi capital. The attacks turned deadly later, when gunmen used silenced weapons to assassinate a liquor store owner in Jurf al-Naddaf, southeast of Baghdad, according to security sources. A fifth IED detonated next to a liquor store in Baghdad’s Karrada district in the early morning hours of December 16, leaving only property damages. 

On December 15, eyewitnesses in Baghdad said that two militants opened fire on civil society activist Salah al-Iraqi in the Baghdad al-Jadida district of southeast Baghdad. The victim was declared dead at the hospital after he sustained several bullet wounds. An unnamed security source reported that the area where the assassination happened was very close to Federal Police checkpoints. Salih al-Iraq was known as a prominent leader of protests in Baghdad and an outspoken critic of political parties and militias. According to reports tracking attacks on activists, Iraqi was the 19th activist to be assassinated since August. There have been also 29 unsuccessful attacks on other activists and at least seven kidnappings. 

On April 16, the KRG Peshmerga Ministry said its forces clashed with YPG forces trying to cross the border into the Kurdistan region from Syria, forcing them to retreat. The YPG, a PKK affiliate, said the report about clashes were inaccurate and exaggerated what actually happened. The group said it “respected the sovereignty” of the Kurdistan region and that the incident was a “coordination issue,” and called for “an end to the policy of accusations and blackmail.” 

On December 17, the Anbar Operations Command said an airborne Iraqi force pursued ISIS militants deep in the Rutba desert in western Anbar. The force killed two militants, destroyed their vehicle and hideout used by the militants.

On December 17, gunmen assassinated Dr. Ahmed al-Sharifi, a college professor in Amara, Maysan province. Earlier on December 16, a small explosive device detonated next to the residence of Dr. Abdul-Basit Ayal, the president of Maysan University, causing only property damages.


Iraq Struggles To Provide Housing For Returning IDPs; Ministry To Start Providing Identification Cards For IDPs On Site; COVID-19 Spread Continues To Slow Down

On December 14, NRT reported that Iraqi Army forces detained four journalists in the village of Pulkhana in Kirkuk who were covering the developments of property disputes. Tensions increased in the area after security forces in Kirkuk reportedly ordered a number of Kurdish residents to evacuate farms and houses claimed by former Arab residents who had settled the area decades earlier and were evicted after 2003. 

On December 15, Ninewa governor Najm al-Jubouri said there were three options to provide housing to internally displaced persons (IDPs) returning to the Sinjar district. According to the governor, these include having the Ministry of Migration bring 250 mobile homes into Sinjar, allowing returnees to bring their tents with them into their home areas, or relying on aid organizations to help rebuild the homes of some returnees. Jubouri said the damage from fighting in Sinjar affected “60-80%” of residences. The statement reflects lack of proper planning by authorities for the safe return of IDPs and comes amid reports that rushed camp closures have forced more than 34,000 thousand IDPs to return to war-damaged home districts with no basic services. Last month, the Norwegian refugee Council (NRC) warned that the policy that the policy could leave 100,000 people homeless. 

On December 15, Interior Minister Othman al-Ghanimi said he instructed his ministry’s civil affairs and residency department to begin offering identification documents to IDPs onsite in five provinces: Kirkuk, Salah ad-Din, Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Duhok. 

On December 17, the Iraqi Ministry of Health reported the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Iraq to be 580,449, representing an increase of 9,191 cases from the 571,253 cases reported on December 10. Of these cases, 52,478 patients are currently in Iraqi hospitals, including 196 in the intensive care unit (ICU). This represents a decrease of 4,282 patients in Iraqi hospitals from December 10, and a 22 patient decrease in ICU patients. Ministry data indicated that there were a total of 124 new COVID-related deaths since December 10, bringing the total from 12,526 to 12,650. The total number of recoveries increased from 501,957 to 515,321. The daily average for new cases decreased slightly, with an average of 1,313 new cases per day this week, down from 1,783 average new cases per day last week. In the past 24 hours, the areas with the highest case counts were Baghdad with 427 cases, Kirkuk with 324, Ninewa with 225, Duhok with 115, and Diyala with 95. To date, Iraq has tested a total of 4,046,571 samples for COVID-19. Iraq continued to show increased testing capacity this week, with more than 40,400 samples tested on December 17 alone. 


Dinar Exchange Rate Drops; Most Of Iraq’s Customs Revenue Is Stolen; Iraqi Airways Resumes Flights To Europe; $125 Billion Draft Budget Shows $40 Billion Deficit

On December 14, the exchange rate for the Iraqi dinar against the dollar saw a significant drop in the market, settling around IQD1,320 to $1 compared with IQD1,250 to $1 in late November. The change translates to more than 5.5% drop in the Iraqi dinar’s value against the dollar. 

On December 14, a member of the parliamentary economic committee said that up to 70% of the revenue Iraq’s border crossings are supposed to generate “is stolen through fake [import] bills.” Representative Riyadh al-Tamimi argued that the only way for the government to control the border crossings and prevent the theft of resources is through automation in customs procedures.

On December 14, the director of Iraq’s general ports company said that the company has recently switched operations at the Khor al-Zubeir port from general trade to oil exports in an effort to maximize operational revenue generated for the Transport Ministry. The official said the port is generating more than IQD8 billion a month (approximately $6.5 million), adding that the port will add six new berths next year. 

On December 15, Iraq’s Transport Ministry announced that the Iraqi Airways have resumed flights to European destinations that had been paused for several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A ministry statement said the first flight to Europe headed from Baghdad to Dusseldorf in Germany via Erbil, adding that regular flights to several other destinations, including London, Berlin, Frankfurt and Copenhagen will resume soon. 

On December 15, Planning Minister Khalid Battal said that Iraq’s 2021 draft budget will likely include up to IQD50 trillion (approximately $40 billion) in allocations for public sector salaries, calling the bill “a sick man.” Battal added that the government will set the price of oil exports in the budget to $42/barrel. A copy of the draft budget leaked to the media on December 17. The document showed a budget of IQD150 trillion (approximately $125 billion) relying on 3.25 million bpd in oil exports, including 250,000 bpd from the Kurdistan region. The oil is calculated to generate IQD73 trillion and non-oil revenues are expected to provide IQD18.7 trillion. The document thus indicated a deficit of IQD58 trillion (approximately $48 billion) and a funding gap of IQD35 trillion after excluding debt and loan payments. Earlier, a member of Parliament’s finance committee said the committee wants to add 250,000 new public sector jobs in next year’s budget, without explaining how the government would secure enough resources to pay for what would be a significant expansion of a bloated public payroll. 


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

DateLocationDeathsInjuries
12/11/20Jurf al-Sakhr, Babylon01
12/11/20Nimrud, south of Mosul03
12/11/20Hammam al-Alil, south of Mosul03
12/7/20Dibis, west of Kirkuk12
12/12/20Near Baghdad Airport01
12/14/20Al-Alam, Salah ad-Din 10
12/14/20Shoura, south of Mosul04
12/15/20Various districts, Baghdad00
12/16/20Karrada, Baghdad00
12/16/20Amara, Maysan00

 

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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