- Parliament Funds Elections Amid Reports Of “Consensus” On Delay; Iraqi Leaders Condemn Embassy Attack; Cabinet Approves 2021 Budget – On December 17, Iraq’s Parliament voted to approve IQD329 billion in funds for the Electoral Commission to prepare for the next election, scheduled for June 2021. On December 21, a lawmaker from the Kurdistan Democratic Party said there was “consensus among most political blocs to postpone elections until October 30, 2021.” On December 20, Iraq’s president condemned a rocket attack that targeted the Green Zone in Baghdad, saying that such “criminal actions endanger the lives, security and property of citizens and represent an attack on the country’s sovereignty.” Moqtada al-Sadr and Hadi al-Amiri also condemned the attack. On December 21, the Iraqi Cabinet voted to approve a draft of the 2021 federal budget. PM Kadhimi assured the public that the budget, which awaits Parliament approval, will not reduce the salaries of low-income government employees. The budget includes $103 billion in spending with an estimated deficit of $43 billion. It imposes escalating taxes on employees receiving more than IQD50,000/month. more…
- Bombings Target Activists And Coalition Contractors; New Rocket Attack Targets U.S. Embassy, Inviting Stern U.S. Warnings – Between December 20 – 23, ten IEDs exploded in Baghdad, Ninewa, Dhi-Qar, Babylon and Diyala, killing one Iraqi and injuring at least eight others. Two of the IEDs targeted the homes of activists in Dhi-Qar while three targeted truck moving supplies for the International Coalition. On December 20, at least eight rockets targeted the U.S. Embassy in the Green Zone, injuring an Iraqi soldier and damaging several buildings. PM Kadhimi said his government arrested a number of suspects as well as security commanders in charge of parts of the capital. CENTCOM said it was “certain” that an Iran-backed “rogue” militia was responsible for the attack, and said the U.S. will hold Iran responsible if any Americans die as a result of future attacks, a warning echoed by President Trump. Between December 19 – 23, Iraqi Security Forces killed at least 20 ISIS militants in operations in Jurf al-Sakhr, Ninewa, Kirkuk and Diyala. more…
- Netherlands, Germany Fund Water And Job Creation Projects; WFP Says 1.7 Million In “Acute Need”; Camp Closures Impacted 32,000 In November; Iraq Closes Borders – On December 21, the UNDP and UNICEF said the Netherlands will provide more than $6 million to support programs to provide clean water to 960,000 people in Basra. The UNDP also said that Germany will invest nearly $36 million in job creation programs in five Iraqi provinces. On December 21, the World Food Program reported that 1.28 million people remain internally displaced across Iraq, and that 1.77 million are in acute need of assistance. On December 22, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that recent closures of IDP camps affected 32,000 IDPs in the six-week period ending November 30, with “shelter, livelihoods, and food” being the main concerns for returnees. On December 22, Iraq issued new orders to counter the spread of COVID-19, closing land borders, and banning travel between Iraq and eight other countries. On December 24, Iraq’s Health Ministry reported that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increased to 588,803. Deaths from confirmed cases of COVID-19 reached 12,744 while the number of patients currently in hospitals decreased to 48,718. To date, 527,341 patients have recovered from the virus and Iraq has tested 4,294,885 samples for COVID-19. The daily average for new cases decreased again from 1,313/day last week ending to 1,193/day this week. more…
- Central Bank Devalues The Dinar; Port Projects Get The Go-Ahead; Customs Revenue Up 40%; Court Permits Mobile License Renewals – On December 19, the Central Bank of Iraq said the government decided to change the official exchange rate of Iraq’s currency against the dollar, devaluing the dinar by more than 20%. On December 21, Iraq’s Oil Ministry announced that it will supply Lebanon with unspecified volumes of fuel oil starting in 2021. On December 22, the Iraqi Cabinet authorized the director general of Iraq’s Ports Company to execute agreements worth an estimated $2.6 billion with Korea’s Daewoo E&C concerning the first phase of infrastructure construction at Iraq’s planned Faw Port. On December 22, new government data showed that revenue from customs and taxes at seven of Iraq’s key ports of entry increased nearly 41% for the period between June and November 2020 compared with the same period of last year. On December 23, al-Mada reported, citing legal experts, that an Iraqi court has ruled to permit license renewals for Iraq’s three mobile network operators: Zain, Asiacell and Korek. more…
Attention readers! ISHM will take a break next week, but it will be back the week after, with comprehensive coverage of the week we missed. Happy holidays!
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.
On December 17, Iraq’s Parliament voted to approve a bill that allocates IQD329 billion in funds to enable Iraq’s High Electoral Commission (IHEC) to prepare for the next parliamentary election, scheduled for June 2021. The text of the bill shows that IQD133.3 billion will come from funds recycled from the 2019 budget, and it authorizes the Finance Minister to borrow the remaining IQD195.7 billion from foreign lenders.
On December 18, hundreds of Iraqis demonstrated in Karbala to protest the recent assassination of activist Salah al-Iraqi by unknown gunmen in Baghdad. The demonstrators called for establishing state monopoly over arms and demanded accountability for the recurring attacks against activists and protestors.
On December 19, Prime Minister Mustaf al-Kadhimi made a brief visit to the Jordanian capital, Amman where he had a meeting with King Abullah II. Kadhimi’s office said the two sides discussed efforts to mitigate the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Iraqi and Jordanian economies.
On December 20, IHEC said it has granted 231 political party registration licences to date and rejected the applications submitted by another 99 entities that missed the application deadline or provided incomplete documents. The electoral commission said it continues to process another 80 applications by entities seeking to participate in the next election, scheduled for June 2021. A spokeswoman for IHEC said another 17 entities have withdrawn applications they had previously submitted. IHEC said it will also be updating voter records to include new voters born in 2001 – 2003 during a 30-day period starting January 2, 2020.
On December 20, Iraq’s president condemned a rocket attack that targeted the Green Zone in Baghdad earlier, saying that such “criminal actions endanger the lives, security and property of citizens and represent an attack on the country’s sovereignty.” A spokesman for the Commander in Chief warned that Baghdad won’t tolerate attacks on diplomatic missions, vowing to pursue the perpetrators. Moqtada al-Sadr also condemned the attack, saying that “no one has the right to use arms outside state authority.” Sadr urged the government to “declare a state of emergency in Baghdad and use the Army exclusively to protect civilians and diplomatic missions.” Sadr also asked Parliament to negotiate with the U.S. Embassy to “end its occupation, control and interference,” while telling the Embassy to “leave the response to the Iraqi state.” Meanwhile, Badr Organization leader Hadi al-Amiri called the attack “unjustified” saying he “strongly condemns the targeting of diplomatic missions and the random fire that accompanied,” in reference to the activation of the Embassy’s C-RAM anti-rocket system. Asaib Ahl al-Haq leader Qais al-Khazali took a different approach, saying the “Iraqi resistance” was not responsible for the attack while asserting that “targeting the bases of American occupation is a protected right.”
On December 20, Prime Minister Kadhimi met Kuwait’s ambassador to Baghdad, Salim al-Zamanat to discuss the status of funds pledged by donors during the 2018 Iraq reconstruction conference in Kuwait. The two sides also discussed activating a joint ministerial committee and other aspects of bilateral cooperation. Kadhimi also extended an invitation to his Kuwaiti counterpart to visit Baghdad.
On December 21, a member of Parliament from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) said there was “consensus among most political blocs to postpone elections until October 30, 2021.” The representative, Mohammed Shakir, pointed out that Parliament has the power to set the date for elections and must also agree to dissolve itself before elections could take place. Shakir pointed to the difficulties facing IHEC in making the necessary preparations for elections. Earlier, a member of Parliament from the State of Law bloc argued that “the general attitude of the political power is that [elections] will be in early 2022, when the current electoral cycle ends,” adding that the major parties agree on preserving the political status quo.
On December 21, the Iraqi Cabinet voted to approve a draft of the 2021 federal budget during a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Kadhimi. The prime minister sought to assure the public that the budget, which now awaits approval in Parliament, will not reduce the salaries of government employees. Earlier, Kadhimi attacked the political class, of which he said “no one wants to be honest with the people and accept the responsibility of radical economic change that can lead us out of the crisis.” Kadhimi also said he rejected proposals to reduce fuel subsidies or reduce the salaries of low-income government employees. Parts of the budget bill, circulating in the local media indicate that the government will impose a 40% tax on the income of the president, prime minister, speaker of parliament, the head of the judiciary and their deputies. A 30% tax will also target ministers, members of parliament and officials at their level. The budget also includes escalating tax rates for other government employees, contract personnel and pensioners, as follows: the first IQD500,000 tax free; 10% on the next IQD500,00; 20% on the next IQD500,000, and 30% on anything beyond IQD1,500,000. The budget includes IQD150 trillion in spending (approximately $103 billion following the recent currency devaluation) with an estimated deficit of up to $43 billion. Iraq’s Planning Minister Khalid Battal said the budget includes IQD8 trillion in investment spending, with allocation for the Faw Port and a Baghdad monorail project.
On December 22, the chief of Iraq’s National Security Service, Abdul-Ghani al-Asadi visited Erbil for meetings with Masrour Barzani, the prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) concerning the normalization agreement in Sinjar. A KRG statement said the meeting focused on “the importance of implementing the agreement…including the expulsion of militias and illegal armed groups from Iraq,” a reference to PKK affiliated militias in the district.
On December 22, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke by phone with KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani. The conversation reportedly focused on the financial disputes between the KRG and Baghdad, and Barzani asked Pompeo to “play an active role” in mediating an agreement with Baghdad. According to a report by al-Monitor, Barzani also asked the International Coalition through Pompeo to monitor the border between the Kurdistan region and Syria to restrict the movement of weapons and fighters by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its affiliates in Syria across the border. The report comes amid rising tensions and friction between the KRG and PKK. On December 14, a deadly clash at a checkpoint north of Duhok killed two PKK members and one Peshmerga fighter. Two days later the KRG Peshmerga Ministry said its forces clashed with forces from the YPG, the PKK Syrian affiliate, who were trying to cross the border into the Kurdistan region from Syria.
On December 22, U.S. President Donald Trump pardoned four former security guards who worked for private security company Blackwater and who had been convicted in a case involving the shooting and killing of 14 Iraqis in 2007 in Baghdad. Iraq’s Foreign Affairs Ministry condemned Trump’s decision, which it said “did not take into consideration the seriousness of the crime and contradicted the American administration’s public commitment to human rights, justice and rule of law.” The ministry added that the pardon “regrettably ignores the dignity of the victims and the feelings and rights of their families.”
On December 18, a security source said that a group of ISIS militants killed a civilian in his vehicle and set it on fire in the village of Kbeiba, west of Kirkuk.
On December 19, Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said Iraqi Security Forces killed five ISIS members in the Iwisat area near Jurf al-Sakhr in Babylon province.
On December 19, Turkish warplanes bombarded Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) positions in several areas near Zakho, north of Duhok. The Turkish military claimed its airstrikes killed three PKK militants.
On December 20, police sources said a roadside improvised explosive device (IED) exploded against a civilian vehicle in Bazwaya east of Mosul. The explosion wounded three civilians.
On December 20, security sources said two IEDs exploded in different parts of Baghdad. The first explosion struck a civilian vehicle near Mahmoudiyah, south of the capital, while the other targeted a liquor store in the Alawi area in central Baghdad, and killed a street cleaning employee of Baghdad municipality. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry said the ministry launched a “campaign to shut down unlicensed” liquor stores in Baghdad’s Karrada district.
On December 20, a security source said ISIS militants attacked a transport vehicle belonging to the Iraqi Federal Police near the village of Sadouniyah, near Riyadh, west of Kirkuk. The attack killed one policeman. Other sources attributed the fatality to a sniper attack.
On December 20, an IED exploded on a main highway near Nasiriyah targeting a convoy operated by local contractors transporting supplies for the International Coalition. The explosion wounded a security guard traveling with the convoy and damaged two trucks. A second bombing targeted another similar convoy the following day on the main highway through Babylon province, south of Baghdad, without causing casualties or damage. On December 23, another IED exploded targeting another Coalition supply convoy on the highway between Baghdad and Babylon provinces. The explosion disable a vehicle without causing casualties.
On December 20, the Iraqi military said that eight rockets targeting the Green Zone in Baghdad struck residential buildings in al-Qadisiyah neighborhood, injuring an Iraqi soldier and causing property damages to civilian homes and vehicles. The Security Media Cell later said “an outlaw group” fired the rockets from an area near al-Rashid Camp in southern Baghdad, where Iraqi forces discovered the launchers used in the attack. Footage showed that the barrage activated the C-RAM defensive systems of the U.S. Embassy, but it was unclear if the system intercepted any projectiles. The following day, Prime Minister Kadhimi said his government arrested a number of suspects as well as security commanders in charge of parts of the capital. Unnamed government sources also said the PMF opened a rare investigation into the attack following a meeting between Kadhimi and PMF Committee chairman Falih al-Fayadh. On December 23, CENTCOM said it was “certain” that an Iran-backed “rogue” militia was responsible for the attack, and said the U.S. will hold Iran responsible if any Americans die as a result of future attacks, a warning echoed by President Trump.
On December 21, an IED exploded near a checkpoint for Popular Mobilization Fighters (PMF) in the Abd Weis village near Jurf al-Sakhr in Babylon province. The explosion wounded two PMF fighters.
On December 21, the police in Ninewa said they discovered the bodies of two individuals who were kidnapped days earlier from the village of Shamiyah near Baaj, west of Mosul. The police did not provide details about the perpetrators or the circumstances of the incident.
On December 22, the Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) said its troops killed 12 ISIS members in an operation near the Badush mountains west of Mosul. The CTS mentioned that operations included its Diwaniyah battalion “to develop its combat proficiency,” adding that aircraft from the International Coalition and Iraqi Army aviation supported the operation.
On December 22, an IED exploded targeting a police patrol near the village of Mukheisa northeast of Baquba. The explosion wounded at least two Iraqi policemen. Another source said the explosion injured nine policemen. Earlier in the week, ISIS militants attacked a police checkpoint in the same area, wounding one police lieutenant.
On December 22, security sources in Dhi-Qar said two IEDs targeted the homes of Iraqi activists in the province. One bomb exploded near the home of activist Karrar al-Izerjawi in the Sharqiya neighborhood of Nasiriyah, the provincial capital. The second bomb exploded near the home of a local activist Wali al-Siaedi in the Dawayah district, northeast of Nasiriyah. Writing after the attack, Siaedi said that he had not been to his home or seen his family for six months because of militia threats. He accused followers of Moqtada al-Sadr of setting the bomb just a day after he made a brief visit to see his mother.
On December 23, an Iraqi military spokesman said the CTS, backed by helicopters killed two ISIS members wearing suicide vests after engaging them at a hideout near Wadi Shai south of Kirkuk. The spokesman said one of the dead ISIS members was the first deputy of the so-called Wali of Iraq (alias Abu Shalan). In Diyala, a force from the National Security Service killed an ISIS member after he attempted to detonate his suicide vest as Iraqi troops surrounded him. The National Security Service said the militant is believed to be the administrator for the Diyala sector.
On December 21, the UNDP and UNICEF reported that the government of the Netherlands will provide them with more than $6 million to support programs that will provide clean water to more than 950,000 people in Basra province. Basra faces chronic water problems affecting the quality and quantity of available water resources. Currently, the UN organizations estimate that only one in ten basra residents can get clean water where they live and that more than three in four households only receive intermittent water supplies at home. The funds will help supply the water department in Basra with “smart devices to measure water consumption, track leakages, and put a stop to any waste,” and will support programs to “ensure that more children in at least 100 schools have safe water.”
On December 21, the UNDP reported that Germany will invest nearly $36 million in programs that will support job creation to benefit Iraqi communities in need. The initiative will focus on returnees in districts with particularly difficult conditions in five provinces: Anbar, Diyala, Kirkuk, Ninewa and Salah ad-Din. According to the UNDP, the initiative will generate jobs for “more than 16,000 Iraqis” and help equip them with skills suitable for “economically promising sectors of construction and agriculture.”
On December 21, the World Food Program (WFP) released a new humanitarian dashboard update for Iraq, which pointed out that 1.28 million people remain internally displaced across Iraq, that 1.77 million people are in a state of acute need of assistance, and that 4.74 million former IDPs have returned to their home districts. The document also showed that 241,700 Syrian refugees were residing in Iraq. The WFP also assisted 357,400 of 381,600 people identified in its strategic plan for Iraq. As part of the COVID-19 response WFP added 4,000 IDPs and 35,000 returnees to its general food assistance program, which helps IDPs get food through cash transfers or food distribution. The document notes that the food security cluster was only 42% funded, with $25.7 million secured against $61.9 million required.
On December 22, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) provided an update on the impact of ongoing plans by Iraqi authorities to close camps sheltering a quarter million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraq. The update noted that the rushed closures affected 32,000 IDPs in the six-week period ending November 30, pointing to ambiguous messages from government officials about the fate of the remaining 30 camps. Because many camp residents had to return to home districts that continue to suffer war damage and lack basic services, OCHA found that “shelter, livelihoods, and food” were the main concerns for IDPs who had to leave camps without adequate notice. About one in three of surveyed returnees said they didn’t have enough clean water and four in ten had “at least one family member” who required medical help. With regard to livelihood, the report pointed out that for many returnees, the “primary source of income since leaving a camp is borrowing money, selling household items, or daily labor.”
On December 22, the Iraqi Cabinet issued a set of new orders to counter the spread of COVID-19, including the closure of land borders, except for trade, and a ban on travel between Iraq and eight other countries. The government also ordered all restaurants and shopping malls to close for two weeks stating December 24. Iraq is also allocating $4.5 million to purchase the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer. According to Rudaw, Iraq’s Health Ministry had also proposed imposing a partial lock-down during the new year’s holiday in response to the emergence of a new strain of the coronavirus.
On December 24, the Iraqi Ministry of Health reported the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Iraq to be 588,803, representing an increase of 8,354 cases from the 580,449 cases reported on December 17. Of these cases, 48,718 patients are currently in Iraqi hospitals, including 191 in the intensive care unit (ICU). This represents a decrease of 3,760 patients in Iraqi hospitals from December 10, and a five patient decrease in ICU patients. Ministry data indicated that there were 94 new COVID-related deaths since December 17, bringing the total from 12,650 to 12,744. The total number of recoveries increased from 515,321 to 527,341. The daily average for new cases showed another drop, with an average of 1,193 new cases per day this week, down from 1,313 average new cases per day last week. In the past 24 hours, the areas with the highest case counts were Baghdad with 398 cases, Kirkuk with 214, Ninewa with 92, Duhok with 83, and Diyala with 82. To date, Iraq has tested a total of 4,294,885 samples for COVID-19.
On December 19, the Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) announced that the government decided to change the official exchange rate of Iraq’s currency against the dollar, devaluing the former by more than 20%. For several years, the official exchange rate has been 1:1,182 but under the new exchange rate, the CBI will buy each $1 for IQD1,450, offer each dollar to the banks at a price of IQD1,460, and sell it to the public for IQD1,470. The CBI explained in a statement that the devaluation is meant to generate financial liquidity during a crushing economic crisis and “prevent the depletion of [Iraq’s foreign currency reserves,” adding that this measure will happen “once only and will not be repeated.” The exchange rate saw significant fluctuation ahead of the news, settling around IQD1,320 to $1 on December 14. The economy and investment committee in Iraq’s parliament criticized the CBI decision calling it “an attack on the poor” and promising parliamentary action to reverse the devaluation plan. Meanwhile, the deputy speaker of parliament called for an “emergency session” to discuss the impact of the devaluation announcement.
On December 21, Iraq’s Oil Ministry announced that Iraq will supply Lebanon with unspecified volumes of fuel oil starting in 2021. The oil ministers of the two countries signed the agreement during a meeting in Baghdad. Oil Minister Ihsan Abdul-Jabbar said the trade will help Lebanon secure fuel for its power plants and provide a new revenue stream for Baghdad, adding that the sale price will follow international market prices.
On December 22, the Iraqi Cabinet authorized the director general of Iraq’s Ports Company to execute agreements worth an estimated $2.6 billion with Korea’s Daewoo E&C concerning the first phase of infrastructure construction at Iraq’s planned Faw Port. According to a government statement, Italian advisory firm Technital will supervise the works. Iraq’s Transport Minister Nasir al-Shibli said later the contracts will be signed on December 27, adding that construction on the delayed and controversial project will take three and a half years from signing. News of the imminent signaling invited criticism and objections from political parties, including the powerful Fatah Coalition, which have expressed preference for contracting Chinese companies to undertake the project.
On December 22, new government data showed that revenue from customs and taxes at seven of Iraq’s key ports of entry increased nearly 41% for the period between June and November 2020 compared with the same period of last year. According to the document, revenue increased by IQD168 billion from IQD407 billion in 2019 to IQD578 billion this year. Last week, a member of parliament suggested that up to 70% of revenue at ports of entry still gets stolen using fake import bills.
On December 23, al-Mada reported, citing legal experts, that an Iraqi court has ruled to permit license renewals for Iraq’s three mobile network operators: Zain, Asiacell and Korek. The new ruling reverses a November 15 order issued by a Baghdad court that nullified the controversial license renewal, which at the time cited the operators’ failure to meet certain financial obligations towards the government and poor services.
IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties
|12/20/20||Bazwaya, east of Mosul||0||3|
|12/20/20||Mahmoudiyah, south of Baghdad||0||0|
|12/20/20||al-Alawi, central Baghdad||1||0|
|12/20/20||Main highway through Dhi-Qar||0||1|
|12/21/20||Main highway through Babylon||0||0|
|12/21/20||Jurf al-Sakhr, Babylon province||0||2|
|12/22/20||Mukheisa, northeast of Baquba||0||2|
|12/23/20||Highway between Baghdad and Babylon||0||0|
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.