- U.S. Sanctions Senior Militia Figures; Deadly Clashes Erupt During Nasiriyah Protests; New Kurdish Faction Formed In Parliament – On January 8, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Popular Mobilization Committee Chairman Falih al-Fayyadh over human rights violations. Then on January 13, the U.S. State Department added Kataib Hezbollah commander Abdulaziz al-Mohammedawi (aka Abu Fadak) to its list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. On January 8, Demonstrators gathered at Haboubi Square in Nasiriyah to demand the release of detained civil society activists. Subsequent clashes killed one police officer and injured 111 people, amid reports that Army soldiers intervened to defend the protesters. Moqtada al-Sadr blamed protesters and sympathetic Army personnel for the violence. On January 9, the Iraqi Parliament finished the first reading of the draft budget bill for 2021. On January 11, a group of 15 Kurdish members of Iraq’s Parliament announced the formation of a new group they named the Kurdistan Hope Alliance. On January 12, Iraq’s top leaders met the country’s Election Commission and UNAMI chief to discuss preparations for the upcoming elections. The officials emphasized the need to expand biometric registration, and the need to finalize the law of the Supreme Federal Court. On January 14, a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in the Kurdistan region’s Parliament accused “influential” parties in Sulaymaniyah of siphoning the revenue of border crossings in the province. more…
- Gunmen Target Dhi-Qar Lawyers And Academics; IED Attacks On Liquor Stores Increase; Army Plans To Transfer Security To Interior Ministry Forces – On January 8, PM Khadhimi appointed Lieutenant General Ali al-Fraiji as the new Commander of Baghdad Operations, replacing Major General Qais al-Mohammadawi. Between January 8 – 12, gunmen killed a prominent lawyer and activist in Dhi-Qar, and conducted two failed attempts on another lawyer and a university professor. Between January 8 – 13, the explosions of seven IEDs and one remnant of war killed at least five Iraqis and wounded three other. Four of the bombings targeted liquor stores in Baghdad. Between January 8 – 13, eleven other security incidents left 12 Iraqis dead, three wounded and two others missing. On January 8, Joint Operations Command spokesman, Major General Tahsin al-Khafaji announced plans to withdraw Iraqi Army forces from cities across the country, handing over internal security duties to the Ministry of Interior. The plan aims to complete the withdrawal of the Army from five provinces, Babylon, Wasit, Diyala, Diwaniyah, and Muthanna in under two months. more…
- Authorities Move Another 5,000 IDPs Out Of Ninewa Camps; Iraq’s Population Tops 40 Million; Iraq Expands Travel Ban In Response To New Virus Strain – Between January 9 – 12, the Ministry of Migration and Displacement announced that more than 5,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the Salamiyya camps in Ninewa returned to their original home districts in Ninewa, saying the “voluntary” return was part of an “emergency plan” to resettle IDPs. On January 11, the Deputy Speaker of Parliament said he tasked the Human Rights and Labor committees to evaluate the “conditions and problems” facing IDPs and look into reports of an increased suicide rate in IDP camps. On January 12, Iraq’s Planning Ministry announced that Iraq’s population grew to an estimated 40 million and 150 thousand people in 2020. On January 13, The Iraqi government expanded a travel ban from countries that have detected the new, more infectious strain of the coronavirus to include a total of 20 countries. On January 14, Iraq’s Health Ministry reported that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increased to 606,186. Deaths from confirmed cases of COVID-19 reached 12,922 while the number of patients currently in hospitals decreased to 28,905. To date, 564,359 patients have recovered from the virus and Iraq has tested 5,010,080 samples for COVID-19. The daily average for new cases decreased to 773/day over the last 7-day period. more…
- COVID-19 Delays GCC Electricity Link; Baiji Refinery Capacity Reaches 140,000 BPD; Iran And Iraq Discuss Boosting Trade To More Than $20 Billion/Year – On January 10, Iraq’s Ministry of Planning said that the Central Bureau of Statistics’ Job Information Bank has registered the information of two million state employees as part of a program to verify the information of all government employees. On January 11, a Ministry of Electricity spokesman said a pause in construction due to COVID-19 is delaying an electricity deal with the Gulf Cooperation Council. On January 11, the Ministry of Oil announced that the capacity of the al-Sumood refinery at Baiji increased from 70,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 140,000 bpd. On January 12, Iraq’s Trade Minister led a delegation to Tehran to attend the fourth Iraqi-Iranian Joint Economic Committee meeting. The two sides discussed creating a joint investment fund, expanding shipping and air travel, and exchanging technical and engineering expertise. Iran’s Energy Minister said Iran wants to increase annual trade to more than $20 billion by removing customs barriers and tariffs. 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.
On January 8, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Popular Mobilization Committee (PMC) Chairman Falih al-Fayyadh over human rights violations against Iraqi protesters. The Treasury Department’s announcement states that Iranian-backed militias under PMC command killed Iraqis who took to the streets in 2019 to demand jobs, better services, and an end to government corruption, unemployment, and Iranian influence in their country. The announcement points out that Fayyadh had a leadership role in orchestrating the militias’ violent suppression of the protests. Iraq’s Foreign Ministry condemned the sanctions as “an unacceptable surprise,” saying it will challenge them with the new administration. The Fatah Coalition, to which Fayyadh belongs, said that the move was an attack on the Iraqi state and security forces. On January 13, the U.S. State Department added Kataib Hezbollah commander Abdulaziz al-Mohammedawi (aka Abu Fadak) to its list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. The designation cited Mohammedawi’s leadership role within Kataib Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force. The US State Department holds these Iranian-backed militias responsible for the erosion of Iraqi state sovereignty, stealing public resources and other malign activity, such as the detainment and torture of peaceful protesters.
On January 8, Demonstrators gathered at Haboubi Square in the city of Nasiriyah to demand the release of civil society activist Ihsan al-Hilali whom security forces had detained earlier. The protests continued throughout the weekend, and violence erupted when protesters began to throw rocks at security forces, who retaliated by firing tear gas and beat protesters with batons. Footage from the protest site in Nasiriyah, taken on January 10, showed heavy gunfire and protesters cheering on Iraqi Army soldiers who appeared to have intervened to defend the protesters from the riot police. Although unconfirmed by official sources, many Iraqis on social media praised the alleged Army interference on the protesters behalf. The violence killed one police officer and injured 111 among protesters and security personnel, according to Iraq’s High Commission for Human Rights. These protests also spread to Babylon and Najaf where demonstrators expressed solidarity with those in Nasiriyah. Eventually, some of those detained in Nasiriyah were released by security forces. On January 12, protesters gathered again in Nasiriyah to demand the release of Iraqi soldiers whom authorities detained for siding with the protesters.
On January 9, the Iraqi Parliament finished the first reading of the draft budget bill for 2021. Parliament speaker Mohammad al-Halbousi confirmed that the talks are ongoing and will continue into the next two sessions.
On January 11, Moqtada al-Sadr blamed protesters and sympathetic Army personnel who defended them for the deadly violence during clashes between protesters and police forces in Nasiriyah. Sadr said he “condemned the barbaric and terrorist assault” by what he called infiltrators among protesters on security forces. Sadr also said that security forces need to take charge and punish anyone who infiltrated was sympathetic to the actions of the “Jokers,” a derogatory term used to associate protesters with anarchy.
On January 11, a group of Kurdish members of Iraq’s Parliament announced the formation of a new alliance they named the Kurdistan Hope Alliance. The new group includes fifteen representatives, who reportedly come from several parties, excluding the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). During a press conference, a member of the new faction said the Hope Alliance will “protect the rights of Kurdistan’s people… prevent other powers from exerting monopoly over the representation of Kurdistan’s people…and protect the people’s livelihoods from the failures and infighting of the corrupt [parties].”
On January 11, Iraq’s Defense Minister, Jumaa Anad visited the UAE for meetings with his Emirati counterpart, Mohammad bin Ahmed al-Bowardi. The two sides discussed strengthening military relations and counter-terrorism cooperation.
On January 11, thousands of young Iraqis demonstrated outside the Green Zone, where Iraq’s Parliament and key government buildings are located. The demonstrators gathered to protest the poor economic conditions in the country and lack of jobs. They also demanded an end to government corruption, and the continuing assassinations and arrests of political activists, protesters, and journalists.
On January 12, Iraq’s top leaders met the country’s Election Commission (IHEC) and the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert met to discuss Iraq’s preparations for the upcoming elections. Iraq’s president, prime minister, speaker of Parliament, and chief of the judicial authority all attended the meeting. Officials at the meeting stressed the need for creating the proper conditions to ensure a fair election that represents the will of the Iraqi people, free from pressure by armed factions. The officials, according to a statement from the president’s office, emphasized the need to expand biometric registration and adopt biometric cards exclusively for voter identification. The discussions also addressed the need to finalize the law of the Supreme Federal Court, provide financial resources for IHEC, and to international observers to monitor the upcoming elections.
On January 14, a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in the Kurdistan regional Parliament accused “influential” parties in Sulaymaniyah of abuses at border crossings in the province. The representative, Rebwar Babaki said the violations include the entry of expired goods as well as the siphoning of customs fees, which he claimed “go into the pockets of influential people.” Babaki said the prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Masrour Barzani ordered a joint commission of the Interior Ministry and Peshmerga forces to investigate the matter.
On January 8, gunmen killed Ali al-Hamami, a prominent lawyer inside his home in al-Shatrah, north of Nasiriyah in Dhi-Qar province. On January 10, unidentified gunmen critically wounded Haider Jabir al-Aboudi, another lawyer from al-Shatrah district. On January 12, a third attack unsuccessfully targeted Sattar al-Itabi, a Dhi-Qar University professor in the Ur neighborhood of Nasiriyah. The string of attacks come amidst heightened tensions between activists and security forces in the city of Nasiriyah.
On January 8, Joint Operations Command spokesman, Major General Tahsin al-Khafaji announced plans to withdraw Iraqi Army forces from cities across the country, handing over internal security duties to the Ministry of Interior. The plan aims to complete the withdrawal of the Army from five provinces, Babylon, Wasit, Diyala, Diwaniyah, and Muthanna in under two months. Interior Minister Othman al-Ghanimi confirmed the security handover, stating that his security forces have already taken control in the provinces of Babylon, Diwaniyah, and Wasit. Al-Ghanimi added that the planned security shift from the Ministry of Defense to the Ministry of Interior will be completed after the next elections, currently scheduled for June 2021.
On January 8, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Khadhimi appointed Lieutenant General Ali al-Fraiji as the new Commander of Baghdad Operations, replacing Major General Qais al-Mohammadawi.
On January 8, security forces discovered the body of a border officer stabbed to death in his home in al-Mishraq district of Basra. The officer, whose body showed signs of torture, worked as lieutenant colonel in the Fourth District Borders Directorate.
On January 8, an improvised explosive device (IED) targeted a convoy transporting supplies for the International Coalition traveling along a highway near Yusufiya, southwest of Baghdad. The explosion caused no casualties. On January 9, members of the Explosives Control Office dismantled an IED on the international highway between Dhi-Qar and Muthanna provinces. A security source said that the IED was defused and secured without incident.
On January 9, a bullet struck and killed a member of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) on the outskirts of al-Muqdadiyah district, in northeastern Diyala province. Security sources stated that the origin of the gunshot was unknown.
On January 9, suspected ISIS gunmen kidnapped two civilians near the Allas oil fields in Salah al-Din province.
On January 10, police uncovered the body of an unidentified elderly citizen in the village of al-Haila, west of Mosul. The body showed signs of torture. On January 11, tribal mobilization forces discovered the body of a shepherd executed by gunshot north of al-Udheim district in Diyala province. Security sources said ISIS militants kidnapped and killed the shepherd for his affiliation with the PMF. On January 13, security forces recovered the body of a civilian from the sewer system under Diyala bridge, southeast of Baghdad. The body displayed signs of torture and was bound at the wrists with handcuffs.
On January 10, an ISIS sniper wounded a policeman from the 9th Emergency Regiment of Diyala Police in the village of Chalabi, northeast of Baquba. On January 11, a second sniper attack killed two soldiers at a military post south of Baquba, in Diyala province.
On January 11, an IED exploded outside of a liquor store in the Karrada area in central Baghdad, causing only material damage. A second IED detonated near another liquor store in the Bab al-Moadham district of Baghdad, wounding one civilian. On January 12, another IED targeted a liquor store on al-Nidhal street, killing one worker and wounding another, while an under-vehicle explosive (UVIED) targeted the store owner’s vehicle. A group calling itself Ahl al-Marouf (People of Virtue) claimed responsibility for two of the bombings, but security sources said they were likely responsible for all three recent attacks. According to al-Hurra, the latest bombings at liquor stores throughout Baghdad raise the number of such incidents to 14 in the last two months.
On January 11, a roadside IED exploded against a PMF patrol north of Muqdadiyah in Diyala province. A security source said the explosion killed the commander of 5th battalion in the PMF’s A’immat al-Baqee’ brigade and his deputy.
On January 11, a friendly fire incident killed three Iraqi Army soldiers, when security forces mistakenly opened fire on their vehicle in Anbar province. A security source confirmed the accident occurred as an army officer and two soldiers travelled off duty to their homes in a civilian vehicle past curfew.
On January 11, a remnant of war exploded near a lake in al-Batha district, in western Dhi-Qar province. The explosion killed one civilian and prompted the closure of the area to search for more remnants of war.
On January 11, International Coalition air strikes targeted ISIS positions in Kirkuk province, killing three militants near Tal Eid, west of Daquq. The following day, two more strikes in the area killed seven ISIS militants and destroyed a tunnel they used as a hideout. Security forces recovered explosive vests while inspecting the aftermath of the strikes.
On January 11, unknown assailants killed two members of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Peace Brigades militia and wounded a third. The incident happened on the road between Mijar and Amara, in Maysan province.
On January 13, an IED explosion killed a shepherd and wounded another, at the Kifri-Tuzkhormatu border between Diyala and Salah ad-Din provinces.
On January 13, soldiers from the Iraqi Army’s 3rd Commando Regiment clashed with gunmen in the Jurf al-Sakhr subdistrict, northwest of Hilla. The skirmish wounded two army soldiers.
On January 9, the Ministry of Migration and Displacement announced that more than 3,261 internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the Salamiyya camps in Ninewa province returned to their original home districts in Ninewa. The ministry said the “voluntary” return is part of an “emergency plan” to resettle IDPs in their places of origin. Ministry official Ali Abbas Jahakir said the 3,261 returnees represented 694 households who went back to Mosul City, as well as “Baaj, Rabia, Tal Abta, Tal Afar, Zummar, and Qayrawan.” On January 12, the ministry said an additional 1,766 IDPs have returned to Mosul, Baaj, Tal Afar and Qayrawan. In late December, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned that rushed closures of IDP camps were affecting tens of thousands of people as they returned to areas suffering war damage and lack of services. OCHA found that “shelter, livelihoods, and food” were the main concerns for IDPs who had to leave camps without adequate notice.
On January 10, Iraq’s High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR) condemned the recent violence between security forces and protesters in Dhi-Qar, and urged the Prime Minister to regain control of the security situation in the province. The commission said the violence killed a member of Iraq’s security forces and injured 111 among protesters and security personnel, and warned that failure to establish security would lead to more violence and death.
On January 11, the Deputy Speaker of Parliament said he tasked the Human Rights and Labor committees to evaluate the “conditions and problems” facing IDPs and look into reports of an increased suicide rate in IDP camps. Deputy Speaker Bashir al-Haddad, speaking at a press conference alongside Iraq’s Migration Minister, said the two committees’ findings will help inform government action, including more funding for the Migration Ministry in the 2021 budget. According to UNAMI, over 590 people, mostly women, died from suicide in Iraq in 2019. The UNAMI report called on authorities to look into the conditions that could have lead to high rates of suicide, including living conditions, and the availability of psycological and social support. The report added that many families struggle with mental health issues due to years of war and economic instability, warning that the COVID-19 pandemic and the social isolation, stress, and anxiety have exacerbated these problems for many Iraqis.
On January 12, Iraq’s Planning Ministry announced that Iraq’s population grew to an estimated 40 million and 150 thousand people. The ministry added that Iraq’s population is growing at an estimated rate of 2.6% annually. People 15-64 represented the largest age group, making up 56.5% of the population, followed by children aged 0-14, who represented 40.4% of the population. Elderly people 65 and older make up the remaining 3.1%.
On January 13, The Iraqi government expanded a travel ban from countries that have detected the new, more infectious strain of the coronavirus to include a total of 20 countries. The ban provides an exception for Iraqi citizens, who may enter Iraq but must be isolated for 14 days upon arrival. The government also decided to impose fines of up to IQD5 million on public establishments such as malls, restaurants, and cafes that do not adhere to proper COVID-19 prevention measures.
On January 14, the Iraqi Ministry of Health announced the total number of COVID-19 infections to be 606,186. This is an increase of 5,411 cases from last week’s number of 600,775, reported on January 7. Of these cases, 28,905 are currently in Iraqi hospitals. This includes 125 currently being treated in the intensive care unit (ICU). This represents a decrease of 7,854 in the number of patients in Iraqi hospitals and a decrease of 16 patients in the ICU since January 7. Ministry data indicated that there were 53 new COVID-19 deaths since January 7, bringing the total from 12,869 to 12,922. The total number of recoveries increased from 551,127 to 564,359. The daily average number of new cases showed another drop, with an average of 773 new cases per day during the last seven days, compared to an average of 790 cases during the week ending January 7. In the past 24 hours, the areas with the highest case counts were Baghdad with 335 cases, Kirkuk with 105, Ninewa with 61, Duhok with 33, and Basra with 31. To date, Iraq has tested a total of 5,010,080 samples for COVID-19.
On January 10, the Iraq Stock Exchange (ISX) released its annual performance report for 2020, noting a 3% rise in its index from the final closing in 2019. ISX Executive Director, Taha Ahmed Abdul-Salam, stated that the market traded 403 billion shares during 2020, for a total value of IQD330 billion. The Iraqi market’s index, the ISX60 traded at 508 points during its last session of 2020, up 3% from 2019’s closing of 493 points. Abdul-Salam added that the increased performance of the market, which includes 104 registered joint-stock companies, came even as the ISX missed 58 sessions due to the COVID-19 enforced lockdown.
On January 10, Iraq’s Ministry of Planning said that the Central Bureau of Statistics’ Job Information Bank has registered the information of two million state employees. Planning Minister Khaled Battal al-Najm made the announcement after the first meeting of the “Diwani Order 55 Committee”, charged with collating accurate figures on state employment in Iraq. The committee’s plan includes surveying the employee data of all Iraqi state institutions within four months, as well as developing an application for employees to upload their employment data directly into the Central Bureau of Statistics information bank.
On January 11, Ministry of Electricity spokesman Ahmed Musa announced a delay in an electricity deal with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The deal, initially negotiated in 2019, would connect Iraq’s electricity grid with that of the GCC through the installation of towers and transmission stations via Kuwait. In June of last year, the Ministry of Electricity announced that it completed 80% of the project’s infrastructure. Musa clarified that the recent delays stem from halted construction in the Gulf, which has been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Musa added that the connectivity project would not involve Iraq importing electricity from the GCC but rather promote mutually beneficial energy transmission. A political source stated that Iranian-backed actors have pressured Prime Minister Mustafa al-Khadhimi to end the deal, warning of potential attacks on electricity infrastructure, as the project endangers Iraq’s $2 billion annual import of electricity and gas from Iran. On average, Iraq imports around 28 million cubic feet of natural gas per day to make up for its electricity shortage.
On January 11, the Ministry of Oil announced that the capacity of the al-Sumood refinery at Baiji increased from 70,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 140,000 bpd. The ministry said the project to reconstruct Salah al-Din unit / 2 at the refinery marks step one of a plan to restore the refinery’s original processing capacity of 280,000 bpd after it was destroyed during the campaign against ISIS. Oil Minister Ihsan Abdul-Jabbar stated that restoring the original capacity of the Baiji refinery would allow Iraq to rely on local production rather than imports, adding that the recent upgrade raised Baiji’s daily gasoline, diesel and kerosene production to 1.2 million liters, 3.3 million liters, and 2.3 million liters, respectively.
On January 11, the Central Bank of Iraq reported a 52% decrease in its hard currency sales this week. During auction this week, the bank’s sales dropped to $11,625,000, down from last week’s sales of $23,450,000. The bank covered the sale at an exchange rate of IQD1,460 per dollar.
On January 12, Iraqi Trade Minister Alaa Ahmed al-Jubouri led a delegation of trade officials to Tehran to attend the fourth Iraqi-Iranian Joint Economic Committee meeting. Jubouri said the meetings highlight the seriousness of the economic relationship between Iraq and Iran, and will explore new avenues for trade and growth in the Iraqi economy. Jubouri added that the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated economic issues in both countries, increasing the need for reviewing trade agreements and practices. Iranian Energy Minister Reza Ardakanian highlighted Iran’s desire to expand ties between their private sectors in Iran and Iraq, and to increase annual trade to more than $20 billion by removing customs barriers and tariffs. The two sides discussed creating a joint investment fund, expanding shipping and air travel, and exchanging technical and engineering expertise in the fields of water and energy. The Chairman of the Federation of Iraqi Chambers of Commerce, Abdul Razzak al-Zouhairy, also cited ample opportunities for investment in the agricultural and industrial sectors.
IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties
|01/08/21||Yusufiyah, southwest of Baghdad||0||0|
|01/11/21||Bab al-Moadham, Baghdad||0||1|
|01/13/21||Kifri-Tuzkhormatu border, between Diyala and Salah ad-Din||1||1|
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.