ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM: FEBRUARY 11 – FEBRUARY 25, 2021

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Key Takeaways:

  • Militia Leaders Lash Out At Turkey, Oppose NATO Mission Expansion; New Rocket Attacks Challenge Kadhimi And Biden; Two Killed, Dozens Injured Amid New Protests – On February 14, Fatah Coalition leader Hadi al-Amiri claimed he had seen “confirmed intelligence” about Turkish plans to attack Sinjar, and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba threatened to attack “Turkish occupation forces.” On February 21, Saeroun Alliance and Fatah Coalition members criticized NATO’s plan to expand its Iraq training mission as a front for U.S. “occupation,” insisting that the expansion requires Parliament’s approval. On February 14, PM Kadhimi announced the arrest of four people accused of assassinating activists and journalists in Basra. On February 15 – 16, Iraqi courts sentenced two former governors to time in prison for corruption. On February 16, Kadhimi denounced a deadly February 15 rocket attack in Erbil as a “terrorist act” meant to halt his government’s progress. The U.S. State Department expressed “outrage” over the attack that used “Iranian-supplied” rockets and injured U.S. personnel, while the White House said it “reserves the right to respond…in the manner and at the time it chooses.” On February 23, Kadhimi dismissed subsequent attacks on Balad Air Base and the Green Zone as an “mischievous” attempt to embarrass his government. Kataeb Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq denied involvement, accusing ISIS, the U.S. and Gulf states of trying to frame them for the attacks. The State Department said the U.S. would not play into the culprits’ hands by lashing out militarily. On February 24, Kadhimi and President Biden discussed the need to protect diplomatic missions in Iraq, and plans to resume the bilateral strategic dialogue. On February 22, hundreds demonstrated in Basra and Nasiriyah to demand accountability for attacks on activists and journalists, and the sacking of Dhi-Qar’s governor. At least two protesters died and dozens were injured in clashes that continued for days. On February 25, Iraq’s Electoral Commission extended deadlines to register candidates and electoral coalitions. more…
  • Rocket Attacks Hit Erbil, Baghdad And Balad; New Attacks Target Coalition Contractors, Businesses, And Activists; NATO To Expand Its Iraq Mission; Turkey Intensifies Operations In Iraq – Between February 11 – 25, nine militant attacks killed at least nine Iraqis and wounded ten others. Between February 12 -22, operations by Iraqi security forces and the International Coalition killed at least 20 ISIS members, and left three dead and five injured among Iraqi forces. Between February 15 – 22, three attacks involving a total of 21 rockets struck areas in Erbil, the Balad Air Base, and the Green Zone. The Erbil attack, claimed by a group called Saraya Awliya al-Dam, originated from an area just outside Erbil City. It killed a foreign civilian contractor and injured several U.S. servicemembers and Iraqi civilians. Between February 12 – 25, the explosions of 20 IEDs and two remnants of war killed at least four Iraqis and wounded 15 others. Eleven of the bombings targeted local contractors working for the International Coalition, and businesses in Baghdad. Between February 13 – 20, at least five attacks, including small arms fire and an attempted bombing, targeted activists in Dhi-Qar and Wasit. Between February 12 – 24, escalating Turkish military operations in the Kurdistan region killed more than 50 PKK fighters and at least three Turkish soldiers. On February 18, NATO Defense Ministers voted to increase the number of NATO personnel in Iraq from 500 to 4,000 to support Iraqi forces in the fight against ISIS. more…

  • Iraq Imposes New Restrictions To Combat A Surge In COVID-19 Cases; KRG Criticized Over Imprisoned Journalists; Most Returning IDPs Didn’t Want To Leave Camps; New COVID-19 Strain Spreads – On February 13, Iraqi authorities announced new measures to control the spread of COVID-19, including curfews, a national mask mandate in public, and a suspension of in-person classes. On February 15, UN-Habitat said it received a €10 million from the EU to support resettlement projects for Ninewa IDPs, focusing on housing and livelihood. On February 16, the KRG sentenced seven people, including journalists to six years in prison after a court found them guilty of “endangering national security.” On February 21, a report by the UN OHCA indicated that more than 60% of the 46,998 people who had left IDP camps on government orders through January 2021 said their exit was involuntary. On February 25, Iraq’s Health Ministry said the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increased to 684,362. Deaths from confirmed cases of COVID-19 reached 13,351 while the number of patients currently in hospitals jumped to 43,293. To date, 627,718 patients have recovered from the virus, and Iraq has tested 6,728,075 samples for COVID-19. The daily average for new cases more than doubled, from 1,475/day during the 14-day period ending February 11 to 3,389/day over the last 14-day period. The Health Ministry said 50% of new infections involved the new UK strain. more…

  • Economy May Return To Pre-Pandemic Levels By 2024; Fiber-Optic Internet Service Launched In Baghdad; Iraq Eyes Seven Solar Farm Projects, Akkaz Gas Field Development – On February 11, the IMF outlined the long-term impact of the pandemic on Iraq’s struggling economy following recent discussions with Iraqi authorities. While expecting Iraq’s economy to “gradually recover,” the IMF said that GDP won’t return to its levels prior to the pandemic before at least 2014. On February 14, Reuters reported, citing Iraq’s Oil Minister, that Iraq was engaged in negotiations with companies in China to build new installations to store Iraqi crude there to support greater oil exports to Asia. On February 15, Iraq’s “National Internet Service Project” launched its inaugural fiber-optic internet service in Baghdad. On February 15, Iraq’s Ministry of Agriculture said it has approved plans to export 10,000 tons of tomatoes to Saudi Arabia via the Arar border crossing. On February 17, the head of Iraq’s national investment commission said the Cabinet approved a plan to offer seven solar power plant projects as investment opportunities. On February 19, S&P Global reported, citing Iraqi oil officials, that a transaction worth $2 billion with a Chinese company to purchase Iraqi oil in exchange for advance payments is facing delays. On February 21, Iraq’s Oil Minister said Iraq has initiated talks with “a major oil company” to invest in developing the Akkaz gas field in Anbar province. 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.


Militia Leaders Lash Out At Turkey, Oppose NATO Mission Expansion; New Rocket Attacks Challenge Kadhimi And Biden; Two Killed, Dozens Injured Amid New Protests

On February 12, the Advisor to the Prime Minister for Election Affairs, Abdul-Hussein al-Hindawi, announced new measures to support the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) in the leadup to elections in October. Hindawi stated that Kadhimi has expedited financial allocations to IHEC, directed ministries to cancel IHEC debt, and ordered all ministries to respond to IHEC inquiries and requests within a maximum of three days. According to Hindawi, Kadhimi established an election security committee, which coordinates efforts such as providing security for IHEC’s mobile registration teams through the Interior Ministry. Hindawi also said the government has prepared secure warehouses for IHEC’s use in several provinces, and hardened them against attacks and sabotage.

On February 14, Fatah Coalition leader Hadi al-Amiri claimed that he had seen “confirmed intelligence” about Turkish plans to launch a military operation into Sinjar. Amiri called upon Turkey to halt its “hostile practices,” and withdraw completely from Iraqi territory, including from “Bashiqa and the border strip it recently occupied,” in reference to the latest Turkish operations targeting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The same day, the Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba militia threatened Turkey over its recent anti-PKK operations in the Kurdistan region. The militia denounced Turkish incursions into Iraq while criticizing the Iraqi government for failing to stop Turkish military operations on Iraqi soil. The militia groups threatened to attack the “Turkish occupation forces” if the Iraqi government did not respond.

On February 14, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi announced the arrest of four individuals accused in the assassinations of activists and journalists in Basra. Kadhimi described the group as a “gang of death,” stating that they were the culprits behind the killings of Ahmed Abdul-Samad, a journalist killed in Basra for his work covering demonstrations, and Jinan Madhi, a paramedic and activist slain for treating protesters. According to al-Mada, the arrests targeted a network of ten individuals in northern Basra, some of whom were protected by political forces. The four detainees include an employee of the Basra Oil Company, a law student, a member of the police force, and the director of a contracting company.

On February 15, the al-Karkh Court sentenced former Diyala governor Omar al-Himyari to four years in prison in absentia on corruption charges. The court issued an arrest warrant for the former governor for fraudulently administering contracts for a soil treatment project on the Diyala River and inflating the value of the contract above the municipal estimate by two billion dinars. The next day, the Anti-Corruption Criminal Court sentenced former Ninewa governor, Nawfal al-Akoub, to five years in prison after finding him guilty on two counts of corruption involving profiting from fictitious construction projects in 2017 and 2019.

On February 15, NINA reported, citing three unnamed government employees in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), that hundreds of state employees have gone on strike over unpaid salaries. The strikers, employees in the nationality, passports and ID card branches of the Sulaymaniyah provincial government, claim that salaries for nearly 4,000 employees have been frozen for two months due to the 2021 budget disputes between the federal government and the KRG over the region’s allotment. 

On February 16, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi denounced a deadly February 15 rocket attack in Erbil as a “terrorist act” meant to halt the progress of the Iraqi government and keep Iraq in a state of chaos. U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken expressed American “outrage” over the rocket attack that injured several U.S. personnel and pledged full support for investigations in a phone call with Kadhimi. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki added that the U.S. “reserves the right to respond to the attack in the manner and at the time it chooses.” A U.S. State Department spokesman stated that the rockets used in the attack were “Iranian-made and Iranian-supplied” and that the U.S. would “hold Iran responsible for the actions of its proxies that attack Americans.” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said that Iran “rejects any act that undermines security and peace” in Iraq and denied Iranian involvement. In the Kurdistan Region, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) expressed its concern that the Erbil attack was carried out by a “dysfunctional” faction within the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), calling on the federal government to hold the group responsible. KRG Interior Minister Reber Ahmed claimed that the KRG had identified the individuals responsible for the attack and was “waiting for Baghdad to arrest them.”

On February 17, mall workers and store owners in Baghdad gathered to protest the lack of government assistance during new business shutdowns over the COVID-19 pandemic. The protesters expressed frustration with the new curfew and the closure of their shops, saying that the government was taking away their livelihoods without offering assistance that could allow them to stay home. The demonstrators also criticized the Ministry of Health for its slow rollout of COVID vaccines.

On February 21, Saeroun Alliance representative Riyadh al-Masoudi criticized the decision by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to expand its training mission in Iraq as a front for U.S. occupation forces. Masoudi condemned the planned expansion, which would increase NATO forces to 4,000 personnel, as an “ugly project” of Washington’s to make up for its own troop reductions in Iraq and maintain a permanent presence in the country. Fatah Coalition representative Abbas al-Zamili echoed Masoudi’s sentiment, saying that Baghdad needed to focus on building up its own security forces and avoid “further escalation” that comes with more foreign forces. Zamili argued that stationing more foreign forces in Iraq would require a new agreement with the Iraqi government that must also be ratified by Parliament. 

On February 22, Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein met in Riyadh with Saudi Prince Faisal bin Fahad al-Saud to discuss strengthening bilateral relations. The meeting touched on increasing entry visas for Iraqi businessmen and investors into Saudi Arabia and King Salman’s intentions to build an economic hub city in Iraq. Hussein also visited with the Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Dr. Nayef al-Hajraf, to discuss regional security concerns and expanding cooperation between Iraq and GCC states. Hajraf highlighted the importance of dialogue and communication with Iraq in order to ensure the completion of joint projects and praised growing economic relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The two sides also discussed the recent meeting of the Arab League and the potential for readmitting Syria into the League.

On February 22, families of protesters killed in October 2019 gathered in front of the Basra police headquarters to demand justice for protesters, journalists, and activists killed in the province. The same day, hundreds of protesters demonstrated in Nasiriyah, calling for the dismissal of Dhi-Qar’s governor over the continued targeting of activists by militia groups. Dhi-Qar Health Directorate spokesman Ammar al-Zamili reported that two protesters were killed and five others were injured during clashes with security forces, adding that 12 security officers suffered injuries too. According to NRT, security forces imposed a curfew after the violent clashes. On February 24, clashes continued between protesters and the security forces, leading to sixty injuries, including 32 among protesters. A medical source said bullet wounds caused seven of the injuries among protesters while 28 members of security forces were hit by rocks.

On February 23, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi derided the February 20 – 22 rocket attacks on Balad Air Base and the Green Zone as an “mischievous” attempt to embarrass the government. A day earlier, Muqtada al-Sadr railed against the Green Zone attack for endangering civilian lives and undermining the reputation of the “resistance” movement, but also called upon the Iraqi government to act, and “not stand idly by.” Hikma Movement leader Ammar al-Hakim also denounced the Green Zone attack as a dangerous escalation that could lead to “dire consequences” if the government could not protect diplomatic missions. Officials from Kataeb Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq, both Iran-backed militias known for targeting U.S. forces, denied involvement, claiming that ISIS militants and American and Gulf media outlets attempted to frame them for the attacks. In response to the Green Zone attack, State Department spokesman Ned Price said that the U.S. would not play into the hands of destabilizing actors in Iraq by lashing out militarily, but would “respond in a way that is calculated.”

On February 24, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi spoke with President Biden during a phone call to discuss security conditions in Iraq and bilateral relations under the new U.S. administration. The two sides spoke about the need to protect diplomatic missions in Iraq in light of the recent rocket attacks on the U.S. embassy, and measures to counter attempts to destabilize the security situation in the country. The call also touched on continuing the strategic dialogue between the countries, in order to determine the future of U.S. forces in Iraq while respecting Iraqi sovereignty and achieving common interests of combatting terrorism and building up the Iraqi state.

On February 25, the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) announced an extension to the registration periods for political coalitions and candidates for the upcoming elections, currently scheduled for October. IHEC extended the deadline for candidate registration to April 17, 2021 and the deadline for registering political alliances to May 1, 2021.


Rocket Attacks Hit Erbil, Baghdad And Balad; New Attacks Target Coalition Contractors, Businesses, And Activists; NATO To Expand Its Iraq Mission; Turkey Intensifies Operations In Iraq

On February 11, ISIS militants attacked Federal Police forces in the Daquq district of Kirkuk province. A security source said that the attack killed three police personnel and wounded two others.

On February 12, an improvised explosive device (IED) targeted an Iraqi army patrol in the Telul al-Baj area of the Sharqat district, in northern Salah ad-Din province. A security source said the blast severely injured an army captain and four soldiers.

On February 12, Turkish forces clashed with PKK fighters in Duhok province of the Kurdistan region, as part of Turkey’s Operation Claw-Eagle 2, which Ankara launched on February 10. The operation reportedly targeted PKK elements holding 13 kidnapped Turkish citizens, including military personnel, in a cave in the Gara region. Turkish officials said that PKK fighters executed the 13 hostages amidst the rescue operation. The Turkish military claimed to have killed 48 PKK members while suffering three fatalities and three wounded. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised further military action in Iraq.

On February 12, unknown gunmen attacked a member of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) with small arms fire on the outskirts of al-Khalis, north of Baquba. The attack did not cause injuries.

On February 12, Iraqi Army mortar strikes killed two ISIS members in the Zour area of Khanaqin district, northeast of Baquba. A military source said that the operation involved the 5th Division’s 20th Infantry Brigade.

On February 13, civil activist Ihsan al-Hilali thwarted a bomb attack at his home in Dhi-Qar province. According to Shafaq News, Hilali detained and disarmed two men attempting to plant an IED outside of his home, a week after his home was graffitied with the phrase “wanted for blood.” A day later, two activists survived a drive-by shooting in al-Kut in central Wasit province.

On February 14, gunmen attacked a checkpoint in the village of Yenigja in the Tuzkhormatu district, south of Kirkuk. The attack killed one police officer. 

On February 14, an IED detonated outside the home of a local electoral candidate in al-Nimrud district, southeast of Mosul. The explosion caused no injuries. 

On February 14, an Iraqi military source stated that U.S. forces at Ain al-Assad base in Anbar replaced Iraqi contractors working with Kuwaiti companies, in response to increasing attacks and threats targeting Iraqis working with U.S. forces by Iranian-backed militias. The source said that the replacement aimed to prevent a security breach, as armed groups attempted to gather information on U.S. positions by bribing local contractors or threatening reprisals.

On February 15, an IED targeted soldiers of the Iraqi Army 45th Brigade in western Daquq district, south of Kirkuk. The explosion killed one soldier and wounded two others.

On February 15, the Security Media Cell said that the Iraqi Army helicopters launched five airstrikes against ISIS positions in the Lake Himrin area of Diyala province. The same day, Iraqi F-16 fighter jets carried out two more airstrikes in the Himrin mountain range, destroying several ISIS hideouts.

On February 15, an IED targeted a contractor convoy transporting supplies for the International Coalition in the Rashid district of Yusufiya, south of Baghdad. The attack injured an Iraqi lieutenant providing security for the convoy. On February 17, a second IED detonated near a Coalition supply convoy along the main highway in Dhi-Qar province, without causing injuries. On February 18, a third IED struck a contractor convoy working for the Coalition on the main highway in Diwaniyah province. A security source said that the explosion injured one contractor and damaged a truck. The same day, a fourth IED targeted a similar convoy travelling on a Basra highway, without causing injuries. Two more IEDs hit a supply convoy in a double explosion near the Subba oil field without causing damage or injury. On February 25, a seventh IED struck a Coalition supply convoy along the main highway across Babylon province, damaging a truck.

On February 15, militants launched a rocket attack on the city of Erbil in the Kurdistan region, targeting U.S. forces at Erbil International Airport and residential areas in the nearby Ankawa area. An International Coalition source said that 14 rockets were fired towards the airport, with three rockets landing at an air base used by the Coalition and eleven rockets landing throughout the residential areas surrounding the complex. The strikes against the U.S. base killed one Filipino civilian contractor and injured nine others including a U.S. soldier. The rockets striking throughout the city damaged the Chinese consulate and the Naz city apartment complex, injuring three civilians. A group calling itself Saraya Awliya al-Dam claimed responsibility for the attack, criticizing the “American occupation” of Iraq and blaming the damage done outside of the airport on American defensive measures. Late in the night, Kurdish Counterterrorism Services discovered the rocket attack launch site on a road between Erbil and al-Gwer, recovering a damaged Kia outfitted with missile launcher tubes and several 107mm rockets still loaded. Kurdish authorities noted that the methods of the rocket strike matched those of a previous missile attack on Erbil Airport in September.

On February 15, an ISIS sniper attacked a police station in Abu Saida district, northeast of Baquba. The attack wounded one police officer. 

On February 16, gunmen killed Mohammed Rahim, a leader in the ranks of the 42nd Popular PMF Brigade (Asaib Ahl al-Haq) in al-Shaab area, northeast of Baghdad.

On February 16, an IED targeted the home of a civilian who runs a currency exchange business in the Ur district of Dhi-Qar province.

On February 17, the Security Media Cell said that International Coalition airstrikes killed two ISIS militants in Salah ad-Din province.

On February 17, an ISIS attack killed three PMF fighters and wounded five others in the Khanaqin district of Diyala province. A PMF source said that the 28th PMF Brigade clashed with the militants while responding to an ISIS attack on a checkpoint north of Khanaqin.

On February 18, an IED exploded near an Iraqi military vehicle escorting seismic teams from the Ministry of Oil near the village of al-Athba in the Hammam al-Alil area, south of Mosul. The explosion damaged the vehicle but caused no injuries. 

On February 18, a land mine exploded in the Jerishan area of al-Zubair district near Basra, seriously injuring a shepherd. Another land mine exploded two days later in the Badia desert in Muthanna province, killing two children and seriously injuring a third. 

On February 18, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Defense Ministers voted to increase the number of NATO personnel in Iraq from 500 to 4,000. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated that the NATO training mission to support the ISF in the fight against ISIS would expand to include more ISF institutions and increase its area of operation outside of Baghdad. Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi recently highlighted the importance of NATO’s contributions to the ISF mission of defeating the remnants of ISIS. Pentagon spokesperson Commander Jessica L. McNulty signaled that the United States could increase its role in training the ISF, saying that Washington would “contribute its fair share” to the NATO mission, but clarifying that there was no existing plan to increase U.S. troop levels in Iraq.

On February 18, two mortar rounds landed near the Jalawla Court building northeast of Baquba. A security source said the attack damaged the building but did not cause injuries.

On February 18, a security source said that Federal Police officers killed an ISIS militant wearing a suicide vest in Daquq, south of Kirkuk.

On February 18, ISIS gunmen killed a civilian in a drive-by shooting in Daquq district in Kirkuk province.

On February 20, a security source said that attacks targeted three activists throughout Dhi-Qar province. Attackers threw a grenade at the home of activist Raed Karim in al-Tar subdistrict in southern Dhi-Qar, damaging the building. The source said gunmen attacked the home of a second activist, Sajjad Talib, in the Salihiya area of central Nasiriyah, without mentioning the outcome of the attack. A third attack involving small arms fire targeted the home of activist Imad Jasim in the Rifai district in northern Dhi-Qar. The attack did not cause casualties. 

On February 20, four Katyusha rockets struck the Balad Air Base in Salah ad-Din province, north of Baghdad. The rockets landed in the empty perimeter area of the air base, which houses Iraq’s fleet of F-16 fighter jets and American contractors who service the planes. According to security sources, an International Coalition drone deployed after the attack and bombed the missile launch site. 

On February 20, an IED targeted a PMF patrol in Jurf al-Sakhr in northern Babylon province, killing one militiaman and wounding another. Kataeb Hezbollah said the killed PMF member was the group’s special forces commander, Ammar Abdul Hussein Hadi al-Aboudi (Abu Yasser al-Muallem). 

On February 20, Iraqi security forces launched an operation targeting ISIS militants in the Taymiyah suburbs north of Baghdad. The joint operation, which involved the Iraqi Army’s 6th Division and tribal mobilization units supported by Iraqi F-16 airstrikes, killed five ISIS members in the Basateen al-Tabi area of Tarmiyah district. A security source said two tribal mobilization fighters and an Iraqi army soldier were injured. Earlier in the day, PMF fighters ambushed ISIS militants in Tarmiyah, killing three suspected terrorists including the ISIS governor of Tarmiyah. The clash also killed three PMF fighters and wounded two others. 

On February 20, the ISF killed an ISIS suicide bomber during a raid on an ISIS hideout in Zour Khanaqin, in eastern Diyala province. The ISF arrested three other ISIS militants during the raid. 

On February 21, an IED detonated in the city of Amara in Maysan province, targeting the home of the Director of the Integrity Investigation Office. A security source said the explosion damaged the director’s home and vehicle but did not cause injuries. 

On February 22, three Katyusha rockets targeted the U.S. Embassy in the Green Zone in Baghdad, with two landing within the consulate area and one striking in the nearby Harithiya neighborhood. The rocket attack damaged the Iraqi National Security Agency headquarters, and several cars in the area. Security forces discovered the missile launch pad in al-Salam area of Baghdad.

On February 22, International Coalition airstrikes targeted ISIS positions in the Shabija area of Wadi al-Shay in Kirkuk province. The Security Media Cell said that the airstrikes killed seven ISIS militants and destroyed a series of caves used by the group.

On February 22, an IED targeted the home of an intelligence agent in the al-Tadhia neighborhood of Nasiriyah city. The attack injured a child and severely damaged the officer’s house.

On February 24, an IED detonated against a tractor on a farm in al-Udheim subdistrict north of Baquba. A security source said that the explosion injured one farmer. 

On February 24, Turkish defense officials stated that airstrikes in the Gara region in Iraq’s Kurdistan region killed eight PKK fighters. Turkish warplanes also bombed the slopes of Mount Qandil in the Kurdistan region.

On February 24, two IEDs exploded near liquor stores in the al-Kam area of central Baghdad. A third IED targeted a liquor store in the Karrada area of Baghdad. A fourth IED detonated outside of a liquor store in the Bismayah area south of Baghdad. Security sources said none of the explosions caused injuries.

On February 25, two PMF fighters suffered injuries during an ISIS ambush in Kirkuk province. A security source said that the ISIS attack occurred as the PMF soldiers were bulldozing trenches in the Qara Tappah sector in southwestern Kirkuk province. 


Iraq Imposes New Restrictions To Combat A Surge In COVID-19 Cases; KRG Criticized Over Imprisoned Journalists; Most Returning IDPs Didn’t Want To Leave Camps; New COVID-19 Strain Spreads

On February 12, the Federal Ministry of Health and Environment and the KRG Ministry of Health released a report on the impact of COVID-19 on women’s healthcare throughout Iraq. The report, supported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), analyzed women’s access to reproductive healthcare at 107 health centers and 10 hospitals in Erbil, Baghdad, Salah ad-Din, Najaf, and Basra provinces. The report identified a decline in reproductive health services provided to women in several areas, including pregnancy care, family planning, sonograms and child care. The study also showed a lack of awareness and compliance with COVID-19 preventative measures among visiting patients, with 68% of patients adhering to social distancing measures and 65% wearing face masks. Hospitals and women’s health centers also recorded an increase of 111.7% in domestic violence cases, from 1,713 cases in 2019 to 3,626 cases in 2020 during the pandemic.

On February 13, the Supreme Committee for National Health and Safety announced new restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19. The committee banned unessential travel between provinces, and ordered a total curfew Friday-Sunday starting February 18, along with partial curfews from 8pm to 5am Monday-Thursday. Those working in healthcare, security forces, and service departments are exempt. The new restrictions also impose a national mask mandate in public and a IQD25,000 fine for violations, and orders all educational institutions to switch to online learning for two months. The government also reimposed restrictions on a wide range of social and business activities, including funerals, conferences, sports events, restaurants and houses of worship. On February 22, KRG health officials announced that there would be no curfew in the Kurdistan region and that in-person schooling would continue. The KRG, however, decided to curtail tourism from other provinces, and allow only official delegations to enter the Kurdistan region.

On February 15, the United Nations Human Resettlements Programme (UN-Habitat) said it received a €10 million donation from the European Union to resettlement projects aimed at helping internally displaced peoples (IDPs) in Ninewa. The contribution benefits the UN-Habitat initiative “Support for Urban Recovery and Peacebuilding in Western Ninewa, Iraq,” and will enable projects that will concentrate on “housing, basic services, livelihoods and housing, land and property rights.” Since November 2020, aid agencies have raised the alarm about the difficult conditions facing IDPs and returnees amid rushed closures of IDP camps in Iraq, noting that thousands of returnees face economic hardship, food insecurity, and limited healthcare opportunities. 

On February 16, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) sentenced seven people, including journalists Sherwan Sherwani and Guhdar Zebari, to six years in prison after a court found them guilty of  “endangering the national security of the Kurdistan region.” The Committee to Protect Journalists denounced the sentence as “unfair and disproportionate,” criticizing the KRG’s attacks on press freedoms and calling for the journalists’ immediate release. The journalists and other activists were arrested in October 2020 after anti-government protests. Days later, 31 KRG parliament members drafted a statement imploring the Kurdistan Court of Cassation to reverse its sentencing of the detained journalists, writing that the decision did not “comply with constitutional principles” and that the trials did not allow the defendants proper legal defense.

On February 21, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OHCA) released an update on internally displaced persons (IDPs) and IDP camps overseen by Iraq’s federal government. The report stated that more than 60% of the 46,998 people who had left IDP camps on government orders through January 2021, said their exit was involuntary. The report also added that 29% of IDPs experienced secondary displacement after their exit from the camps, with 1,800 families returning to areas lacking the conditions and security necessary to safely resettle. Addressing other problems, 63% of the IDPs reported insufficient access to clean drinking water and 54% reported that they did not have enough food. Among IDPs surveyed, 41% also reported having no income to support their families upon resettlement, and 38% described finding shelter and adequate sources of income as their primary concerns after leaving IDP camps. The OCHA report also highlighted that many of the subdistricts in Ninewa, Anbar, Diyala and Salah ad-Din provinces designated for IDP resettlement have not witnessed substantial reconstruction efforts after their devastation during the fight against ISIS.

On February 25, the Iraqi Ministry of Health said the total number of COVID-19 infections reached 684,362. This is an increase of 47,454 from the 636,908 reported on February 11. Of these cases, 43,293 are currently in Iraqi hospitals, including 379 currently being treated in the intensive care unit (ICU). These numbers represent a drastic increase of 23,343 in hospitalizations and an increase of 146 in ICU admissions since February 11. Ministry data indicated that there were 207 new COVID-19 deaths since February 11, bringing the total from 13,144 to 13,351. The total number of recoveries increased from 603,814 to 627,718. The average number of new cases increased to 3,389 per day during the last 14 days, compared to an average of 1,475 per day during the 14 day period ending February 11. In the past 24 hours, the areas with the highest case counts were Baghdad with 1,216 cases, Basra with 629 cases, Najaf with 586 cases, Karbala with 266 cases, and Babylon with 250 cases. To date, Iraq has tested a total of 6,728,075 samples for COVID 19. In an earlier statement on February 15, the Health Ministry confirmed the arrival of the more transmissible new UK strain of COVID-19 in Iraq (B.1.1.7), stating that 50% of new COVID infections involved the new strain. 


Economy May Return To Pre-Pandemic Levels By 2024; Fiber-Optic Internet Service Launched In Baghdad; Iraq Eyes Seven Solar Farm Projects, Akkaz Gas Field Development

On February 11, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) outlined the long-term impact of the pandemic on Iraq’s struggling economy in an update it published on recents discussions it held with Iraqi authorities. The report pointed out that the economy shrank by more than 10% last year on the back of declining economic activity in sectors other than oil as a complication of the decline in oil exports and revenue. The IMF welcomed steps by the Iraqi government to support “macroeconomic stability,” including devaluing the dinar to prevent the depletion of dollar reserves, reducing spending in the 2021 budget, and seeking more contributions from sources other than oil. While expecting Iraq’s economy to “gradually recover,” the IMF said that GDP won’t return to its levels prior to the pandemic before at least 2024, stressing that recovery is vulnerable and “hinges on strong implementation of reforms.”

On February 14, Reuters reported, citing Iraq’s Oil Minister Ihsan Abdul-Jabbar, that Iraq was engaged in negotiations with companies in China to build new installations to store Iraqi crude oil there to support greater oil exports to the major Asian economy.  Abdul-Jabbar said Iraq was exploring similar plans in other countries, including some “proposed by Pakistan” to “serve Iraq’s interests in marketing its oil.”

On February 15, a spokesman for the “National Internet Service Project” said the project has launched its inaugural fiber-optic internet service in the Zayouna district of Baghdad. Spokesman Mustafa Sadoun said the project expects to deliver service to 800,000 homes across Iraq (except the Kurdistan region) by the end of 2021 and a total of 4,000,000 homes within three years. According to the statement, there will be four grades of subscriptions, ranging in bandwidth from 15 megabit per second to  “unprecedented speeds” of 150 megabit per second, with price tags starting at IQD35,000 (approximately $24) per month.

On February 15, Iraq’s Ministry of Agriculture said it has approved plans to export 10,000 tons of tomatoes to Saudi Arabia via the Arar border crossing. The ministry said the export of surplus produce aims to bring in extra revenue for the state. In January, the ministry reported that Iraq had begun exporting “limited volumes” of crops to Saudi Arabia after the two neighbors reopened the Arar border crossing to commercial traffic on November 18. Iraqi farmers have been struggling to protect their products against the influx of cheap, often illegal imports from Iran, a problem that sparked protests in Basra earlier this month. 

On February 17, the head of Iraq’s national investment commission, Suha al-Najjar, said the Cabinet approved a plan to offer seven solar power plant projects as opportunities for investors. Najjar said Iraq hopes to generate 755 megawatts from the seven power plants  and wants to build them in al-Muthanna, Wasit, Karbala and Babylon provinces. 

On February 19, S&P Global reported, citing Iraqi oil officials, that a transaction worth $2 billion with a Chinese company to purchase Iraqi oil in exchange for advance payments is facing delays, awaiting the approval of “higher authorities.” The transaction, agreed in December, was to include upfront payment of $2 billion from Zenhua, the Chinese company, in exchange for an average 130,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil and flexibility in where the buyer wishes to ship the oil. The director general of Iraq’s oil marketing company (SOMO) said the deal was waiting for a greenlight from the Ministries of Oil and Finance, as well as the Cabinet, to issue a “guarantee letter” to Zenhua. 

On February 20, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi instructed the mayor of Baghdad to invite international consultants and organize an international conference to discuss development plans for the Iraqi capital. 

On February 21, Oil Minister Ihsan Abdul-Jabbar said Iraq has recently initiated talks with “a major oil company” to invest in developing the Akkaz gas field in western Anbar province. Abdul-Jabbar said his ministry was approaching an agreement with this unnamed company to produce “around 300 million cubic feet” per day of gas from the field, where previous development works led by Kogas were disrupted in 2014 by the conflict with ISIS. The Iraq minister added that Baghdad hopes to generate up to 500 million cubic feet per day from Akkaz and Mansouriyah–another gas prospect in Diyala province–within three years. In May of 2020, Iraqi officials said that Saudi companies had expressed interest in Akkaz, but no actual deals emerged from those talks. 


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

Casualties Due To IEDs from February 11, 2021 - February 25, 2021

The following table includes both civilian and security forces who were either injured or killed due to improvised explosive devices (IEDs), vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), or suicide attacks.
DateLocationDeathsInjuries
02/12/21Sharqat, Salah ad-Din05
02/14/21al-Nimrud, southeast of Mosul00
02/15/21Daquq, south of Kirkuk12
02/15/21Yusufiya, south of Baghdad01
02/16/21Ur district, Dhi-Qar00
02/17/21Nasiriyah highway, Dhi-Qar province00
02/18/21Diwaniyah highway01
02/18/21Hamam al-Ali, south of Mosul00
02/18/21Basra highway00
02/18/21Nasiriyah highway00
02/18/21Nasiriyah highway00
02/20/21Jurf al-Sakhr, Babylon province11
02/21/21Amara, Maysan province00
02/22/21Al-Tadhia, Nasiriyah01
02/24/21Al-Udheim, north of Baquba01
02/24/21Al-Kam, central Baghdad00
02/24/21Al-Kam, central Baghdad00
02/24/21Karrada, Baghdad00
02/24/21Bismayah, south of Baghdad00
02/25/21Babylon highway00

 

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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