- Budget Vote Delayed; IHEC Cancels Voting Outside Iraq; New Supreme Court Members Nominated; Strategic Dialogue Resumes In April – On March 20, Parliament announced that it will vote on the 2021 federal budget on March 27. On March 20, Iraqi courts issued arrest warrants for two political commentators using a Baath-era law, sparking widespread criticism. On March 23, the Iraqi High Electoral Commission announced the cancellation of out-of-country voting for the upcoming October elections. On March 24, the Supreme Judicial Council announced the candidates for the new formation of the Federal Supreme Court, less than a week after Parliament passed an amendment to the 2005 Supreme Court Law. On March 23, the White House said that Baghdad and Washington will resume strategic dialogue discussions in April. On March 24, Qatar’s Foreign Minister arrived in Baghdad for talks with Iraqi leaders. more…
- Senior Intelligence Officer Assassinated; Militia Parade in Baghdad Challenges Kadhimi’s Government – Between March 19 – 24, 12 militant attacks killed six Iraqis, wounded several others, and left at least six others missing. One of the attacks targeted a senior Iraqi intelligence officer in the capital. Between March 19 – 25, nine IED explosions killed three people and wounded at least eight others. Two of the casualties were suspected attackers. Four of the bombings targeted trucks carrying supplies for the International Coalition forces. On March 24, the Iraqi military concluded a major operation backed by Coalition airstrikes in the Makmour area that killed 27 ISIS militants over two weeks. On March 25, Iraqi militant faction Rab’ Allah paraded through the streets of Baghdad, brandishing heavy weapons and rocket-propelled grenades. The group released a statement, which described the parade as “a threat to the American occupiers and their agents.” more…
- Iraq Keeps Curfew, Receives First Large Shipment Of Vaccines As Daily Infections Rise Above 6,500 – On March 18, a report by aid agencies showed that humanitarian groups reached only 1.4 million out of 1.8 million targeted in the 2020 humanitarian response plan in Iraq. On March 18, announced a new COVID-19 curfew that took effect on March 22. On March 23, a new report by international aid organizations found that small and medium enterprises in Iraq suffered a 50% decrease in production and an 11% decrease in the number of full-time staff due to the pandemic. On March 25, Iraq’s Ministry of Health received a shipment of 336,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. On March 25, the Health Ministry said the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increased to 815,605. Deaths from confirmed COVID-19 cases reached 14,128 while the number of patients currently in hospitals increased to 69,225. To date, 732,252 patients have recovered from the virus, and Iraq has tested 7,793,654 samples for COVID-19. The daily average for new cases continued to rise, from 4,830/day over the 7-day period ending March 18 to 5,164/day during the last 7-day period. On March 25, Iraq reported a new record in daily infections when it counted 6,513 cases. more…
- Lawmakers Push To Reverse Dinar Devaluation; Schlumberger Wins Drilling Contract; Iraq’s Default Rating Improves; Inflation Rises – On March 21, Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi agreed to forward a Sadrist proposal to establish an Iraqi sovereign fund to the Cabinet. On March 22, Fatah Coalition MPs said they were gathering support for a motion to compel the government to reverse the devaluation of the Iraqi dinar. On March 23, the Iraqi Cabinet approved a contract with oil services company Schlumberger to drill 96 wells at a cost of $480 million. On March 24, Fitch Ratings changed its assessment of Iraq’s “Long-Term Foreign-Currency Issuer Default Rating” from “negative” to “stable.” On March 25, Iraq’s Ministry of Planning reported that the inflation index was up by 4% in February compared with the same month last year, attributing the change to the devaluation of the dinar. 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 March 20, Iraq’s Parliament announced that it will vote on the 2021 federal budget on March 27. A day earlier, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) delegation alluded to a preliminary agreement with the Parliament Finance Committee over the KRG’s share of the budget and Article 11, which deals with the region’s oil obligations towards the federal government and reconciliation of accounts. According to Rudaw, the deal required the KRG to deliver 460,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd) to the federal government, but the KRG would recoup 30,000 bpd for local consumption, 180,000 bpd for production costs, and 20,000 bpd for petrodollar dues. The agreement collapsed after the parties disagreed again on the formula for reconciling the KRG’s expenses, allocations, and oil sales for 2014-2019. Parliament members also disagreed on whether to reverse the December 2020 decision to devalue the Iraqi dinar against the dollar from 1,190:1 to 1,450:1.
On March 20, security forces arrested political analyst Ibrahim al-Sumaidai on charges of insulting public authorities. Iraqi courts also issued an arrest warrant for political writer Yahya al-Kubaisa on similar charges. In a statement, the Supreme Judicial Council said Sumaidai violated Article 226 of the Penal Code, which prevents the slander of state institutions. The use of this law, which the Baath Party regime enacted in 1969, invited strong criticism from the public and free speech advocates. The Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights criticized the arrest as a “flagrant violation of human rights” and a breach of Sumaidai’s constitutional right to free speech. The Supreme Judicial Council said the investigation court in charge released Sumaidai on bail on March 22, adding that he faces two additional charges, one filed by the Ministry of Defense, and another concerning a TV interview in which he described the alleged sale of ministerial positions for money. After his release, Sumaidai said he was detained in squalid conditions and had his phone searched and confiscated, adding that his arrest was a response to messages he sent to a WhatsApp group of analysts and journalists discussing the formation of the Federal Supreme Court.
On March 20, a large group of Parliament members submitted a request to dissolve the Parliament on October 9, a day before the parliamentary elections scheduled for October 10. Member of Parliament (MP) Nabil al-Tarfi, who leads the Saeroun bloc in Parliament, said in a press conference that 172 MPs signed the motion, which cites Article 64 of the Constitution requiring the dissolution of Parliament before elections.
On March 22, demonstrators in Dhi-Qar’s Rifai district blocked the highway between Nasiriyah and Baghdad with burning tires. The demonstrators called for the removal of new mayor Ammar Yasser and the return of former mayor Kadhim Musa after his dismissal by interim Dhi-Qar governor Abdul Ghani al-Asadi.
On March 23, the Iraqi High Electoral Commission (IHEC) announced the cancellation of out-of-country voting for the upcoming October elections. IHEC said in a statement that it encountered technical difficulties in the biometric registration process for Iraqis living abroad, and had only 40 days remaining to complete the process instead of the recommended 160 days. IHEC’s spokesman said another reason for the cancellation was that the commission did not have the authority to fully monitor out-of-country voting against voter fraud. Political reactions to the cancellation divided Parliament members, with Saeroun Alliance representative Riyadh al-Masoudi applauding the move, citing fear of fraudulent voting in other countries. Fatah Coalition representative Mohammad al-Bayati denounced the cancellation as “an unconstitutional, undemocratic decision,” and insinuated the reasoning had a “political dimension,” meant to silence certain voter groups. Meanwhile, Ammar al-Hakim urged IHEC to “reconsider” the decision, and Emmanuel Khoshaba, who represents the Christian community, criticized the decision as discrimination against minority communities, many of whom live abroad.
On March 23, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirmed that Baghdad and Washington will resume strategic dialogue discussions in April. Psaki said the discussions would “clarify” that the mission of U.S. forces in Iraq is strictly one “of training and advising Iraqi forces to ensure that ISIS cannot reconstitute.” The discussions would also highlight other areas of joint-cooperation related to security, culture, trade, and climate interests. On June 11, the Trump Administration began the first round of the strategic dialogue discussions with Baghdad, with the goal of bilateral relations and determining the future of American forces in Iraq.
On March 24, the Supreme Judicial Council announced the candidates for the new formation of the Federal Supreme Court, less than a week after Parliament passed an amendment to the 2005 Supreme Court Law. The Council, tasked with selecting the new Federal Supreme Court members, nominated Judicial Supervisory Authority chairman Jasim Mohammad Aboud as Court President and Anbar Criminal Court President Samir Abbas as Vice President. The Council designated judges Ghaleb Amer, Haider Jaber, Ayoub Abbas, Haider Ali Nuri, and Khalaf Ahmad as the remaining members of the Court. The Council also named judges Khaled Taha, Adel Abdul Razzaq, and Munther Ibrahim as reserve Court members. The Council also expects the Judicial Council in the Kurdistan Region to present three candidates: two for the bench, and one reserve. The Council will later send the nominations to President Salih to issue the appointment orders. The nominations came despite calls from over 100 members of Parliament, led by Haider al-Abadi’s Victory Coalition, for repeating the vote on the Federal Supreme Court Law, arguing that passing the law requires a two-thirds majority instead of the simple majority that voted on March 18.
On March 24, Qatari Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammad bin Abdul Rahman al-Thani visited Baghdad for bilateral talks with Iraqi leaders. Al-Thani and Iraqi counterpart Fuad Hussein discussed plans by the Iraqi-Qatari joint committee to strengthen investment ties between the two countries, and Iraq’s role in ensuring regional stability. Foreign Minister Abdul Rahman al-Thani also met with Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and President Barham Salih for talks about diplomatic efforts to reduce regional tensions.
On March 19, ISIS militants attacked Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) fighters near Samarra in Salah ad-Din province. The clash killed one fighter from Saraya al-Salam (the Sadrist faction within the PMF) and wounded several others.
On March 19, an ISIS sniper killed a police officer at a checkpoint in the village of Um al-Khanazir in the Abu Saida subdistrict of Diyala province. On March 21, a second ISIS sniper attack wounded an Army soldier in Basateen Albu Abdo in the Tarmiyah district north of Baghdad.
On March 19, unidentified gunmen assassinated a police officer in al-Abbara sub district of Diyala district.
On March 19, an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded near a farm in al-Abbara district in Diyala province. The explosion wounded one civilian.
On March 19, gunmen attacked the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) headquarters in a drive-by shooting in Halabja. A security source said the attack did not cause any injuries.
On March 20, an IED targeted a contractor convoy transporting supplies for the International Coalition in Salah ad-Din province. The next day, a second IED exploded on another contractor supply convoy along Nile road in Babylon province. On March 25, another IED targeted a similar convoy near Yusufiyah, south of Baghdad, damaging three of its trucks. A fourth IED struck a Coalition supply convoy on the highway in Diwaniyah province. None of the attacks caused casualties.
On March 20, an IED explosion killed a farmer near an orchard near al-Dawalib village in al-Mansuriyah subdistrict of Diyala province.
On March 20, an IED targeted officers from the 13th Federal Police Regiment in al-Battar area of the Yathrib subdistrict of Salah ad-Din province. A security source said the explosion killed an elderly civilian bystander and injured two tribal mobilization fighters travelling with the police force.
On March 21, unknown attackers threw a hand grenade at an unoccupied house belonging to Parliament member Mohammed al-Karbouli in the Doura area of southern Baghdad. The next day, attackers targeted the home of a lieutenant colonel in the Defense Ministry with a hand grenade in al-Jawadin neighborhood of western Baghdad. Neither attack caused injuries.
On March 21, a gunman armed with a silenced handgun assassinated a lieutenant colonel in the Iraqi National Intelligence Service (INIS) in the Mansour area of central Baghdad. A security source said the intelligence officer worked in the Anti-Espionage unit of INIS.
On March 21, ISIS militants wearing military uniforms kidnapped four poultry farmers in al-Abara subdistrict of Diyala province. A security source said the ISIS members forced the farm’s security guards to lure the owner by reporting a false fire, and then kidnapped him when he arrived. The militants released one farmer and escaped with three hostages. The same day ISIS militants kidnapped three more farmers from the village of Hilaiwi in the Tuzkhormatu district in Salah ad-Din province.
On March 22, the Security Media Cell said the International Coalition conducted 18 airstrikes that destroyed 39 ISIS positions in the Qara Chogh mountain range in Ninewa province. A Joint Operations Command source said intelligence indicated that ISIS was amassing fighters in this area and established training camps after recent security operations pushed the militants out of Salah ad-Din, Diyala, and Kirkuk into this rough terrain area between federal forces and Peshmerga lines.
On March 23, a motorcycle borne IED improvised explosive device exploded along al-Qanat street in Baghdad, killing the bomber and injuring his accomplice. A security source said the individuals were planning to attack liquor stores in the area when their motorcycle collided with another vehicle and prematurely detonated the IED.
On March 24, a security source said that unidentified gunmen with silenced weapons assassinated a civilian in the al-Shaab area of Baghdad.
On March 24, ISIS militants attacked Iraqi army units in the village of Bir Ahmad in the Tuzkhormatu district of Salah ad-Din province. The attack killed one army soldier and wounded three others.
On March 24, spokesman for the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Major General Yahya Rasoul announced the conclusion of Operation Eager Lion, a joint security operation that began on March 9. Rasoul said the operation involved up to 312 International Coalition airstrikes, Counterterrorism Service snipers, and Peshmerga fighters, and killed 27 ISIS members in the Makhmour mountain range in Ninewa province.
On March 25, Iraqi militant faction Rab’ Allah paraded through the streets of Baghdad, brandishing heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. The group released a statement, which described the parade as “a threat to the American occupiers and their agents.” The statement demanded swift approval of the 2021 budget, and warned against delay due to disagreements over the KRG budget. The militant group voiced support for parliamentary calls to reverse the devaluation of the dinar, and citing the needs of the poorer Shia regions in southern Iraq. In response, security forces closed off a major bridge in central Baghdad, cutting off a road to the Green Zone.
On March 25, an IED explosion wounded four Iraqi Army soldiers and PMF fighters in the village of Nazira in western Anbar province.
On March 18, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Iraq Inter-Cluster Coordination Group (ICCG) released a report detailing gaps in the UN’s 2020 humanitarian response plan in Iraq. The report showed that humanitarian groups reached 81% of their target populations, providing health care, food, shelter, water, and hygiene support to 1.4 million out of 1.8 million the plan had targeted. ICCG said aid reached only 68% of out-of-camp internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 74% of returnees. The report cited the low number of humanitarian groups present and COVID-19 restrictions as the main reason for the gaps in aid provision. According to the report, funding issues significantly affected out-of-camp IDPs and returnees across several districts in Diyala, Salah ad-Din, Kirkuk, and Ninewa province.
On March 18, the Supreme Committee for National Health and Safety announced a new COVID-19 curfew from Thursday 9:00pm to Sunday 5:00am. Health officials said the total curfew would take effect on March 22 and would be followed by a partial curfew Monday through Wednesday from 9:00pm to 5:00am every night. The Ministry of Health also imposed a total curfew on March 20 to coincide with Nowruz holiday celebrations. KRG officials extended the closure of schools for the Nowruz holiday in the Kurdistan Region indefinitely until further assessment of the COVID situation.
On March 22, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) announced the launch of a project to assist small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and promote Iraqi cultural heritage in Mosul and Basra. The “Reviving Mosul and Basra Old Cities” project, funded by a grant from the European Union, aims to fund 120 SMEs and help create up to 850 jobs while promoting the revitalization of culture-related businesses. The project plans to prioritize job creation and SME grants for IDPs, returnees, and communities in the old cities of Mosul and Basra most affected during the campaign against ISIS.
On March 23, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the International Trade Centre (ITC), and the UN FAO released updated statistics in a report they originally published in December on COVID-19’s impact on SMEs in Iraq. The report found that SMEs recorded a 50% decrease in production and an 11% decrease in the number of full-time staff employed due to COVID-19. According to the statistics, 42% of SMEs surveyed had incurred some form of debt, and 32% witnessed reduced investment in their businesses. The joint report also showed that 29% of SMEs faced the risk of permanent closure due to COVID-19, with 12% facing closure in the next month or less, 13% facing shutdown in the next three months, and 16% facing closure in the next 6 months or more.
On March 25, Iraq’s Ministry of Health received a shipment of 336,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Iraq initially expected the vaccines, provided by the COVAX Facility, to arrive in February, but global production issues and vaccine shortages delayed the shipment, according to Health Minister Hassam Mohammad al-Tamimi. Iraq plans to receive 1.1 million more vaccine doses through the COVAX partnership, with a plan to vaccinate 20% of the population by the end of the year. Earlier in the week, the Ministry of Health announced that only 68,000 Iraqis had registered for appointments to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
On March 25, the Iraqi Ministry of Health said the total number of COVID-19 infections reached 815,605. This is an increase of 36,147 from the 779,458 reported on March 18. Of these cases, 69,225 are currently in Iraqi hospitals, including 484 currently being treated in the intensive care unit (ICU). These numbers represent an increase of 6,330 in hospitalizations and an increase of 27 in ICU admissions since March 18. Ministry data indicated that there were 232 new COVID-19 deaths since March 18, bringing the total from 13,896 to 14,128. The Ministry said that half of these deaths occurred within 48 hours of hospitalization. The total number of recoveries increased from 702,667 to 732,252. The average number of new cases increased to 5,164 per day during the last 7-day period, compared to an average of 4,830 per day during the 7-day period ending March 18. In the past 24 hours, the areas with the highest case counts were Baghdad with 2,401 cases, Basra with 853 cases, Najaf with 455, Maysan with 440 cases, Wasit with 414 cases, and Karbala with 309 cases. To date, Iraq has tested a total of 7,793,654 samples for COVID 19. Iraq reported a new record in daily infections when it counted 6,513 cases on March 25 alone.
On March 21, documents circulating on local news showed that Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi agreed to forward a proposal to establish an Iraqi sovereign fund to the Cabinet. The document shows that two lawmakers from the Saeroun Alliance, Inam Khzaie and Naji al-Siaidi presented the proposal, which appears to include a provision for creating the fund using an unspecified percentage of Iraq’s “mineral revenues,” a term that often means oil revenue.
On March 22, Fatah Coalition members in Parliament said they were gathering support for a motion to compel the government to reverse the devaluation of the Iraqi dinar. Fatah representative Mohammed al-Baldawi expected his colleagues to present the motion to the Speaker to put it to a vote before lawmakers gather to vote on the 2021 budget bill. Ammar To’ma, a Fadheela party representative who wants to reverse the devaluation, argued that the recent improvement in oil prices nullifies the justification the government used to devalue the dinar. To’ma suggested that oil revenue increased by IQD4 trillion in January and February alone, which the representative said outweighed the savings devaluation would achieve in six months. But the parliamentary finance committee appears to disagree. Committee member Ahmed Haji Rasheed said the legislature doesn’t have the power to change the exchange rate, which he warned would raise expenses and deficit, requiring fundamental changes in the budget bill.
On March 23, the Iraqi Cabinet approved a contract with oil services company Schlumberger to drill 96 wells at a cost of $480 million. The government statement says the contract involves the Basra Oil Company and ExxonMobil on the Iraqi side, which indicates the drilling will take place at the West Qurna-1 oil field in Basra.
On March 24, economic rating company, Fitch Ratings, changed its assessment of Iraq’s “Long-Term Foreign-Currency Issuer Default Rating” or IDR, from “negative” to “stable.” Fitch cited the rebound in oil prices and slower depletion in Baghdad’s foreign currency reserves than expected a year earlier as the main reasons for the upward revision. The assessment cautions that Iraq’s IDR is limited by the economy’s dependence on oil, as well as “weak governance, high political risk, and an undeveloped banking sector.” Fitch added that it expects the deficit in Iraq’s 2021 budget to be less than a third of the figure estimated a year ago: at approximately 5% of gross domestic product (GDP), down from more than 16%. The report also said the devaluation of the dinar, and the government’s economic “white paper” suggest Baghdad may be moving in the direction of better financial sustainability.
On March 25, Iraq’s Ministry of Planning reported that the inflation index in Iraq increased by 0.7% in February compared with January. The ministry added that inflation in February was also up by 4% compared with the same month last year, attributing the change to the devaluation of the dinar, which took effect in December 2020.
IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties
Casualties Due To IEDs from March 18, 2021 - March 25, 2021The 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.
|03/20/21||Yathrib, Salah ad-Din||1||2|
|03/21/21||Nile road, Babylon||0||0|
|03/23/21||Al-Qanat street, Baghdad||1||1|
|03/25/21||Yusufiyah, south of Baghdad||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.