ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM: MARCH 4 – MARCH 11, 2021

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Key Takeaways:

  • Lawmakers Vote On Supreme Court Law; Militias Defend “Right” To Attack U.S. Targets; Pope Francis Concludes Visit; Kadhimi Calls For National Dialogue; Biometric Voter Registration Falls Short – On March 4, Parliament began voting on a long-delayed law for the country’s Supreme Federal Court, but lingering disagreements postponed voting on three of the law’s 24 articles. On March 4, a group of “Iraqi resistance factions” issued a statement threatening more attacks on “all occupation forces and bases anywhere in Iraq,” and to use “all means” to prevent “treasonous” entities from “obstructing its strikes.” On March 5, Pope Francis arrived in Baghdad at the beginning on an anticipated four-day visit to Iraq. The Pope met with Ayatollah Sistani in Najaf, led mass in Erbil, and visited Mosul and the ancient city of Ur. PM Kadhimi marked the conclusion of Pope Francis’ visit with an address to the Iraqi people, in which he invited parties in “opposition” to his government to “an open and frank dialogue…based on the country’s interest, safety and sovereignty,” to discuss U.S. presence and disputes with the KRG. On March 9, UNAMI said it expects Iraq’s election commission to update the biometric records of only about 64% of eligible voters by the March 31 deadline set for the process. more…
  • Attack Targets Pilgrims In Baghdad; Militias Suspected In Assassination, Kidnapping Targeting The Relatives Of Activists – Between March 4 – 11, seven militant attacks killed at least three Iraqis and wounded 12 more. One of the attacks targeted pilgrims on their way to a religious ceremony in northern Baghdad. On March 9 – 10, suspected militiamen assassinated the father of forcibly disappeared activist Ali Jasib Hattab, and in another incident kidnapped the son of another activist. Between March 5 – 11, the explosions of six IEDs and one remnant of war killed two Iraqis and injured 11 others. On March 9, International Coalition airstrikes killed ten ISIS militants in Ninewa province. Iraqi forces later killed two more ISIS militants at the target site. more…

  • Vaccinations Begin In The KRI; Iraq Extends Curfew, Adjusts Travel Restrictions; Aid Agencies Report Fewer Access Restrictions; COVID-19 Cases Approach 750,000 – On March 4, the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine began in the Kurdistan region. On March 6, Iraq eased travel restrictions to Iraq, rescinding its previous ban on travelers from 19 countries due to COVID-19 concerns. Iraq, however, extended the COVID-19 curfew orders issued on February 13 for an additional two weeks. On March 7, aid organizations reported 31 access restrictions that affecting their work in February, down from an average of 52 per month during the previous 12 months. On March 11, Iraq’s Health Ministry said the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increased to 745,642. Deaths from confirmed cases of COVID-19 reached 13,671 while the number of patients currently in hospitals increased to 57,626. To date, 674,345 patients have recovered from the virus, and Iraq has tested 7,278,544 samples for COVID-19. The daily average for new cases continued to rise, from 4,233/day over the 7-day period ending March 4 to 4,521/day during the last 7-day period. more…

  • Parliament To Resume Budget Discussions March 15; Iraq Reopens Major Cement Factory In Anbar – On March 7, the Ministry of Water Resources announced the completion of the Shatt al-Basra regulator project, which aims to reduce salt concentrations in Basra waterways. On March 8, Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi agreed to include the 2021 budget bill on the legislature’s work agenda for its March 15 session after a group of 150 lawmakers reportedly signed a letter addressed to the Speaker demanding the measure. On March 8, the Ministry of Industry and Minerals announced the reopening of the Kubaisa cement plant in Anbar province, saying the plant has reached 95% of its production capacity at 142,000 tons per month. On March 8, the Ministry of Industry signed a memorandum of understanding with the KRG to standardize the laws governing industrial projects across Iraq. 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.


Lawmakers Vote On Supreme Court Law; Militias Defend “Right” To Attack U.S. Targets; Pope Francis Concludes Visit; Kadhimi Calls For National Dialogue; Biometric Voter Registration Falls Short

On March 4, Iraq’s Parliament began voting on a long-delayed law for the country’s Supreme Federal Court. Lawmakers reportedly approved 18 of the proposed law’s articles, with 242 representatives present, and postponed voting on six other articles due to lingering disagreements. A Parliament statement said Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi urged parliamentary bloc leaders and the legislature’s legal committee to resume discussions to resolve disputes over remaining articles, without specifying them. Parliament resumed voting on March 8, and succeeded in approving half of the remaining six articles. A parliamentary source told Shafaq that the Speaker, legal committee, and bloc leaders “agreed to postpone articles 2, 3 and 12 to future sessions.” The head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) bloc told al-Mada ahead of the March 8 session that the political leaders had agreed to expand the court to include 15 members instead of the current nine. These 15 members are to include nine judges, four Islamic Sharia experts, and two other legal experts. Iraq’s existing Supreme Federal Court continues to operate under a law passed in 2005, prior to the ratification of the country’s constitution. Finalizing the law is necessary for restoring the court’s quorum, which has been incomplete due to retirements and deaths since 2019. The court is responsible for ratifying election results.

On March 4, a coordination committee for so-called “Iraqi resistance factions” issued a statement threatening that “the arm of the resistance” will target “all occupation forces and bases anywhere in Iraq,” in an apparent reference to militia rocket attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq. The statement also affirmed that “resistance” is a “religious and national right” that enjoys the public’s support. The statement continued to declare that “any entity that forms an obstacle in the path of resistance…is treasonous,” and threatened to use “all means” to prevent such entities from “obstructing its strikes against the occupier.” The militia statement followed a March 3 threat by Prime Minister Kadhimi to punish groups responsible for rocket attacks against military bases and diplomatic missions. Lloyd Austin, the U.S. Defense Secretary said during a televised interview on March 7 that Washington’s response to rocket attacks, such as the March 3 barrage targeting Ain al-Asad air base, will be “thoughtful.” Austin explained that the U.S. military will “strike, if that’s what we think we need to do,” to defend American forces and interests “at a time and place of our own choosing.”

On March 5, Pope Francis arrived in Baghdad at the beginning on an anticipated four-day visit to Iraq. On his way to Iraq, the pontiff described his trip as “a duty to a land martyred for many years.” Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi was the first Iraqi official to greet the Pope at Baghdad Airport, where the Iraqi hosts prepared a celebratory reception. The Pope made several stops in Iraq, including a visit to a Baghdad church that was the scene of mass-casualty bombing in 2010. On March 6 he traveled to Najaf, where he met with top Shia cleric Ali al-Sistani at his home in Najaf’s old city. Sistani’s office said the meeting emphasized “unity of efforts to establish the values of harmony, peaceful coexistence and human solidarity in all communities.” For his part, Francis said Sistani was “very respectful,” noting that Sistani, who’s 90 years old, stood up to welcome him into his office. “He never stands up for the greeting. He stood up to greet me — twice,” adding that “this meeting was good for my soul. He is a luminary.” Pope Francis also visited the site of the ancient town of Ur in modern day Dhi-Qar province, where Abraham was supposedly born. The Pope later made a stop in Mosul, the provincial capital of Ninewa, the major center for Christianity in Iraq. Addressing a crowd of Iraqis amid the ruins of war-damaged buildings, Francis delivered a message reminding people that “fraternity is more durable than fratricide, that hope is more powerful than death, that peace more powerful than war.” He added that “this conviction speaks with greater eloquence than the passing voices of hatred and violence.” In his last stop in Iraq, the Pope visited Erbil, home to thousands of Iraqi Christians, where he led mass at a sports field. The trip, which took place amid tight security measures, ended without incidents. 

On March 6, Prime Minister Kadhimi spoke on the phone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The two leaders discussed regional tensions, and agreed to call on all stakeholders to work towards de-escalation, a statement by Kadhimi’s office said. The statement said Rouhani added that he rejects any “activities undertaken by some groups” that undermine Iraq’s security and don’t serve the interests of either country. 

On March 8, Prime Minister Kadhimi marked the conclusion of Pope Francis’ visit to Iraq with an address to the Iraqi people, in which he invited parties in “opposition” to his government to “an open and frank dialogue…based on the country’s interest, safety and sovereignty.” In particular, Kadhimi alluded to the need for consensus on relations with the U.S. and International Coalition, saying that his government had initiated “strategic dialogue” in search for appropriate “timelines and conditions for the departure of all military forces from Iraq.” Kadhimi also called for “official, political and popular” dialogue with the Kurdistan region to reach a “framework for a final agreement” on relations between the central government and the Kurdistan region, in a manner that “preserves the unity of Iraq’s territory and treats the roots of accumulated problems.” Nechirvan Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) said he supports Kadhimi’s call for dialogue, while KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani said he welcomed the call for dialogue and hopes that other Iraqi parties do the same.

On March 9, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) released a progress report on the Independent High Electoral Commission’s (IHEC) preparations for elections, currently scheduled for October 10. The report noted marginal progress in updating the biometric data of voters, up to 62% from the nearly 60% reported a month earlier. IHEC plans to continue to update biometric voter data through March 31, by which date, UNAMI expects IHEC to update the biometric records of about 64% of eligible voters. The report said IHEC has distributed a total of 13.22 million of the new biometric voter cards, up from the 12.7 million mentioned in the previous update. The report also noted the low number of individual candidates who had submitted their applications to IHEC, a total of 86 as of the 25th of February, of whom 12 were women and three affiliated with electoral coalitions. The low figures prompted IHEC on February 25 to extend the deadline for candidate and coalition registration to April 17 and May 1, respectively. On March 11, an IHEC spokesperson said the commission has completed the registration of 249 parties, while another 60 have registration paperwork in progress.


Attack Targets Pilgrims In Baghdad; Militias Suspected In Assassination, Kidnapping Targeting The Relatives Of Activists

On March 4, unidentified gunmen attacked the customs director of the al-Munthiriya border crossing, Habib Abed, in a drive-by shooting on road between al-Munthiriya and Khanaqin in Diyala province. The attack damaged Abed’s car but did not cause injuries.

On March 5, a roadside improvised explosive device (IED) targeted an intelligence officer on patrol southwest of Kirkuk. A security source said the explosion wounded the officer and a member of his security detail.

On March 7, an ISIS sniper killed an Iraqi army intelligence officer with the 54th Brigade’s 3rd Regiment in the Tarmiyah district north of Baghdad.

On March 7, an IED exploded outside the home of a civilian in the Sadr City area of Baghdad. A second IED targeted the home of another civilian in al-Zafaraniyah in southeastern Baghdad. Neither explosion caused any injuries. 

On March 8, an IED detonated on a Federal Police vehicle in Wadi Abu Khanager in the Riyadh subdistrict, west of Kirkuk. The blast injured seven police officers.

On March 8, a remnant of war exploded along al-Hawali road, east of Kirkuk. The explosion killed a child who attempted to play with the device.

On March 8, a hand grenade exploded among pilgrims travelling across the A’imma Bridge in northern Baghdad to visit the religious shrine of Imam al-Kadhim. The Security Media Cell said that the attack killed one woman and injured seven others, including three who required emergency surgery.

On March 9, International Coalition airstrikes killed ten ISIS militants near Mount Adaya in Ninewa province. A security source said forces from the Iraqi Army’s 75th and 92nd Infantry Brigades later searched the target site, killing two more ISIS fighters wearing suicide vests.

On March 9, unidentified gunmen attacked the home of a member of the Counterterrorism Service with a grenade and small arms fire in the Souk al-Shuyoukh district in southern Dhi-Qar province. The attack damaged the building but did not cause injuries. 

On March 9, an ISIS attack killed one PMF fighter and wounded three others in the Ruwaia area of Jurf al-Sakhar in northern Babylon province.

On March 9, gunmen seriously wounded a taxi driver in a drive-by shooting in the al-Maqal area of Basra.

On March 9, activist Ayoub al-Khazraji said that an unidentified group kidnapped his ten year old son over his criticism of militias in Iraq. Khazraji said he received a message from the kidnappers demanding his return to Baghdad from Erbil in exchange for his son’s release. The next day, Khazraji confirmed that his son was found alone in Baghdad and accused the Interior Ministry of covering up the abduction. 

On March 10, gunmen assassinated the father of kidnapped activist and lawyer Ali Jaseb Hattab in the city of Amara in Maysan province. Suspected militiamen had kidnapped Ali in October 2019 in Baghdad, and he remains missing. Activists told al-Hurra that the father, Ahmed al-Hiliji, attended a memorial service for another slain activist, Abdul Quddus, hours before his assassination. The same day, Maysan police said they arrested the individual responsible for the killing.

On March 11, an IED exploded while members of the security forces attempted to defuse it along the main highway in Diwaniyah. The explosion killed one bomb squad member and wounded another. 

On March 11, an IED targeted a contractor convoy transporting supplies for the International Coalition along the main highway in Anbar province. A security source said the explosion injured a civilian passing through the area.

On March 11, militants attacked a civilian residence with a hand grenade in the village of Zuhairat in the Abu Saida subdistrict of Diyala province. The grenade attack wounded a young girl.


Vaccinations Begin In The KRI; Iraq Extends Curfew, Adjusts Travel Restrictions; Aid Agencies Report Fewer Access Restrictions; COVID-19 Cases Approach 750,000

On March 4, the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine began in the Kurdistan region. The Ministry of Health in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) received 5,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, and sent half of them to Erbil and Dohuk provinces and the other half to Sulaymaniyah, Garmian, and Halabja. Intensive care health workers were the first to get their doses at the Rojava Hospital of Erbil. Health care workers in Dohuk province also received priority, while officials designated citizens over 50 for the next round of vaccines. Iraq had received its first batch of vaccines on March 2, and inoculations immediately commenced in Baghdad that day. The Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, confirmed to Iraqi officials that the next batch of 568,000 doses would arrive in Iraq by March 15, with an additional 1 million doses arriving a month later.

On March 6, the Supreme Committee for National Health and Safety eased travel restrictions on visitors coming to Iraq, rescinding its previous ban on travelers from 19 countries due to COVID-19 concerns. Health authorities said visitors would be allowed to enter Iraq after passing a PCR test for COVID-19 and a mandatory quarantine period of 14 days after arrival. In the Kurdistan region, the KRG Interior Ministry announced that visitors, whether foreign or from other Iraqi provinces, would be allowed to enter after taking a PCR test 72 hours before arrival. Erbil’s Deputy Governor, Hayman Qadir, said however that the province remains closed to tourist groups. On March 10, KRG authorities also decided to suspend in-person classes for grades 1-11 for two weeks. 

On March 7, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported a decrease in the number of access restrictions affecting the work of aid organizations in Iraq. In February, there were 31 reports of access restrictions, down from an average of 52 per month during the previous 12 months. OCHA reported that 94% of February’s access incidents involved delays at checkpoints for security purposes or COVID related restrictions. The report points out that the access issues in February impacted the timely delivery of aid to more than 24,000 recipients in Baghdad, Anbar, Kirkuk, Diyala, and Ninewa province. 

On March 8, the Supreme Committee for National Health and Safety extended the COVID-19 curfew orders issued on February 13 for an additional two weeks on the recommendations of the Health Ministry. Health officials said the curfew, restricting movement between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, would continue until March 22. The same day, Health Ministry spokesman Saif al-Badr said during a press conference that the ministry has not ruled out implementing a long-term curfew if new COVID-19 cases continue to increase and the public continues to ignore preventative measures.

On March 9, the Ministry of Health announced a plan to distribute monetary compensation to the families of Iraqi health workers who died due to COVID-19. Ministry officials said the Council of Ministers voted to approve the release of IQD10 million to each one of the families of these COVID victims. 

On March 11, the Iraqi Ministry of Health said the total number of COVID-19 infections reached 745,642. This is an increase of 31,648 from the 713,994 reported on March 4. Of these cases, 57,626 are currently in Iraqi hospitals, including 426 currently being treated in the intensive care unit (ICU). These numbers represent an increase of 7,154 in hospitalizations and an increase of 39 in ICU admissions since March 4. Ministry data indicated that there were 164 new COVID-19 deaths since March 4, bringing the total from 13,507 to 13,671. The total number of recoveries increased from 650,015 to 674,345. The average number of new cases increased to 4,521 per day during the last 7-day period, compared to an average of 4,233 per day during the 7 day period ending March 4. In the past 24 hours, the areas with the highest case counts were Baghdad with 1,642 cases, Basra with 920 cases, Najaf with 615 cases, Karbala with 393 cases, and Wasit with 202 cases. To date, Iraq has tested a total of 7,278,544 samples for COVID 19.


Parliament To Resume Budget Discussions March 15; Iraq Reopens Major Cement Factory In Anbar

On March 7, the Ministry of Water Resources announced the completion of the Shatt al-Basra regulator project, which aims to reduce salt concentrations in public water. Water Minister Mahdi Rashid al-Hamdani said the project, which cost IQD18 billion and involved the construction of five additional gates on the regulator, would reduce the salt concentration from 40,000 parts per million to 4,000 parts per million. Water Resources officials said the project channels irrigation drainage water through Khor al-Zubayr to the Persian Gulf and prevents salt water from rising into the Basra water table during high tides. In August 2018, the Iraqi government faced widespread protests over the lack of clean drinking water in Basra province, where contaminated water caused 18,000 hospitalizations.

On March 8, Shafaq reported that Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi agreed to include the 2021 budget bill on the legislature’s work agenda for its March 15 session. A group of 150 members of Parliament representing multiple blocs reportedly signed a letter addressed to the Speaker demanding the measure. Parliament had received the draft 2021 budget bill from the Cabinet on December 29.  

On March 8, the Ministry of Industry and Minerals announced the rehabilitation of the Kubaisa cement plant in Anbar province. Ministry advisor Ammar al-Janabi said the plant has reached 95% of its production capacity at 142,000 tons per month. Janabi added that the plant’s rehabilitation is part of a medium-term plan to restart idle factories.

On March 8, the Ministry of Industry announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding with the KRG to standardize the laws governing industrial projects across Iraq. The Ministry of Trade also signed a memorandum of understanding with the KRG to establish commercial factories and obtain import and export licenses.


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

Casualties Due To IEDs from March 4, 2021 - March 11, 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
03/05/21Kirkuk02
03/07/21Sadr City, Baghdad00
03/07/21Al-Zafaraniyah, Baghdad00
03/08/21Al-Hawali, east of Kirkuk10
03/08/21Riyadh subdistrict, west of Kirkuk07
03/11/21Diwaniyah highway11
03/11/21Anbar highway01

 

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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