- Khazali Attacks Sinjar Agreement; IHEC Extends Voter Registration; Parliament Approves 2021 Budget; Kadhimi Visits Saudi Arabia – On March 25, Asaib Ahl al-Haq leader Qais al-Khazali pushed for canceling the Sinjar normalization agreement, calling it a “treasonous” political deal. On March 29, the Foreign Ministers of Jordan and Egypt arrived in Baghdad for discussions with Iraqi officials. On March 29, the Supreme Judicial Council completed the process of nominating the future members of the Federal Supreme Court. On March 30, the U.S. State Department announced that Strategic Dialogue talks with Iraq will resume on April 7. On March 31, IHEC decided to extend the biometric voter registration period until April 15. On March 31, Iraq’s Parliament voted to pass the 2021 federal draft budget after weeks of contentious negotiations and delays. Lawmakers deleted several articles designed to control spending, raise taxes, and increase non-oil revenue. On March 31, PM Kadhimi arrived in Riyadh for bilateral talks with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. The two sides agreed to establish a joint Iraqi-Saudi fund with an initial contribution of $3 billion from Saudi Arabia. more…
- IED Attacks Haunt Coalition Supply Convoys; Rockets Target Peshmerga Forces; Controversial General Assumes Command In Ninewa – Between March 26 – April 1, the explosions of nine IEDs and one remnant of war killed two Iraqis and wounded at least seven more. Five of the IEDs targeted trucks transporting supplies for the International Coalition. On March 29, clashes with ISIS militants killed PMF fighters and a police officer, and wounded four other Iraqis in Kirkuk and Salah ad-Din. On March 29, six rockets landed near Peshmerga front lines in the Alton Kopri district, northwest of Kirkuk. On March 31, a Defense Ministry source said Major General Mahmoud al-Falahi will become the next Ninewa Operations commander. Falahi was removed from his previous command in Anbar in 2019 after PMF factions accused him of conspiring with the U.S. and Israel to target their positions. more…
- State Department Says Human Rights Abusers Enjoy Impunity In Iraq; Modest Rollout For COVID-19 Vaccine As Cases Continue To Rise – On March 26, UNHCR said it has secured only 12% of the funds needed to support its Iraq Situation Response for 2021. On March 26, the Kurdistan region said it received 43,800 doses of the AstraZeneca 19 vaccine from Baghdad. On March 30, a U.S. State Department annual report on human rights conditions in Iraq highlighted a long list of serious abuses, many of which were connected to actions by government and paramilitary forces to suppress popular protests. The report said authorities “rarely punished those responsible” for the abuses. On April 1, Iraq’s Health Ministry said the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increased to 856,939. Deaths from confirmed COVID-19 cases reached 14,360 while hospitalizations increased to 78,483. To date, 764,096 patients have recovered from the virus, and Iraq has tested 8,07,977 samples for COVID-19. The daily average for new cases increased from 5,164/day over the 7-day period ending March 25 to 5,970/day during the last 7-day period. The total number of people who received the COVID-19 vaccine reached 72,408, including the 16,408 who received their shots on April 1. more…
- Iraq, Total Pursue Major Energy Projects; Rampant Corruption Plagues Real Estate Transactions; Iraq Gets 120-Day Sanctions Waiver; March Oil Revenue Tops $5.7 Billion – On March 29, Iraq and Total signed preliminary agreements for several projects focusing on natural gas capture, solar power, and water supply for the oil industry. On March 29, the Integrity Commission revealed that almost a third of transactions processed by government real estate offices in Baghdad, and a half in Mosul, involved some form of bribery. On March 30, the U.S. extended a sanctions waiver that permits Iraq to continue purchasing gas and electricity from Iran for an additional 120 days. On April 1, Iraq’s Oil Ministry said March oil exports averaged 2.945 million bpd and generated $5.782 billion in revenue. 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 25, Asaib Ahl al-Haq leader Qais al-Khazali called for the cancellation of the Sinjar normalization agreement between the federal government and the Kurdistan Regional government (KRG), calling it a “treasonous” political deal. Khazali said the agreement betrays the people of Sinjar in the interest of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and insisted that the local Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) units take over the security of the district “before things get out of hand.” The militia leader’s comments come after a week of heightened tensions between a local militia affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in which the two sides nearly came to blows.
On March 25, the United States shut down several websites used by Kataeb Hezbollah, the militia group designated by the U.S. State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Raj Parekh, said the U.S. seized domain names “r-m-n.net” and “Almaalomah.com” for being a tool by Kataeb Hezbollah to “promote violent extremism and spread their hateful rhetoric.” According to the Department of Justice, the two websites were registered to a U.S. company based in Virginia and the militia group did not have a license to administer the domain names.
On March 25, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi criticized the militant group Rab’ Allah’s show of force in Baghdad earlier that day as an effort to “confuse” the security situation in Iraq and cause panic among the people. The prime minister said that armed groups have continually attempted to “threaten the state” and “obstruct Iraq’s return to the international community.” The Popular Mobilization Commission, which oversees all PMF units, denied any involvement in the military parade. Kataeb Hezbollah spokesperson Abu Ali al-Askari downplayed the Rab’ Allah movements as a routine transfer of PMF fighters that “did not require coordination with any other entities.” Askari’s defense of Rab’ Allah’s actions may suggest close ties between the group and Kataeb Hezbollah.
On March 29, the Foreign Ministers of Jordan and Egypt, Ayman Safadi and Sameh Shoukry, arrived in Baghdad for a trilateral ministerial meeting with Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein. The three ministers discussed regional tensions, including the crises in Syria, Libya, and Yemen, as well as increasing economic integration between their countries. Minister Hussein expressed condolences for a train collision in Egypt that also delayed a tripartite summit between the leaders of the three Arab states and determined that the meeting would be held in the near future.
On March 29, the Supreme Judicial Council completed the process of nominating the future members of the Federal Supreme Court, which began on March 24. In accordance with the new Court law, the Kurdistan Region named Abd al-Rahman al-Suleiman and Jassim Jazaa to join the Court’s active members and Taher Suleiman as a reserve member. The Council said in the statement that it sent the nominations to the President for his official approval.
On March 29, KRG President Nechirvan Barzani travelled to France for a scheduled meeting with President Emmanuel Macron to enhance relations between the KRG and France. During the meeting, the two presidents discussed the security situation in the Kurdistan Region, the status of internally displaced persons, the Sinjar Agreement, and the situation of the Yazidi and Christian minority communities living in the Kurdistan Region. President Macron also expressed interest to increase trade between France and the KRG with additional shipments of agricultural crops to the Kurdistan Region.
On March 30, the U.S. State Department announced that the third round of Strategic Dialogue talks between the United States and Iraq would take place via teleconference on April 7. The last round of negotiations took place in Washington on August 19.
On March 31, the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) decided to extend the biometric voter registration period for the upcoming elections in October until April 15. On March 9, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) pointed to the slow progress in updating biometric voter records, warning that IHEC was likely to complete less than two thirds of the process by the original March 31 deadline. Last week, IHEC announced the cancellation of voting abroad, citing electoral security and insufficient time for voter registration.
On March 31, Iraq’s Parliament voted to pass the 2021 federal draft budget, after weeks of contentious meetings and delayed votes. The vote approved the budget’s total expenditures at IQD129 trillion, with a deficit of IQD28.7 trillion. Parliament agreed to price oil at $45 per barrel with an expected export rate of 3.25 million barrels per day. The vote happened after Parliament came to an agreement on Article 11, which determines the KRG’s oil revenue sharing and over which negotiations had previously collapsed on March 19. KRG delegates agreed to send at least 250,000 barrels of oil per day to the federal government, in exchange for the settlement of past KRG dues and the payment of public employee salaries in the Kurdistan Region. Parliament members added two new articles to the budget: one that funds rehiring 30,000 dismissed PMF members, and another that requires parliamentary approval for political appointees. In a major setback for government efforts to control spending and increase revenue, Parliament deleted Article 20, which was to impose escalating income taxes on civil servants (with the highest rates affecting top government officials). Lawmakers also deleted other articles that would have allowed the government to invest in the private sector and sell government property to generate revenue. During the session, Parliament also agreed to dissolve itself on October 7, three days before elections, and to hold its next meeting on April 10. The vote was attended by 215 members of Parliament. Earlier in the week, unspecified disagreements delayed a Parliament voting session scheduled for March 27 to March 28, which in turn was delayed further. At that point, Second Deputy Parliament Speaker Bashir al-Haddad had confirmed that the parties had resolved the disagreements over Article 11. Finance Committee member Ahmad Mizhir al-Jubuori blamed the delay on party bloc leaders, and pointed to the rehiring of dismissed PMF fighters as a major stumbling block.
On March 31, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi arrived in Riyadh for bilateral talks with Saudi officials on security cooperation and regional ventures. Kadhimi met with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and discussed joint economic interests, including the activation of plans by the Iraqi-Saudi Coordination Council to cooperate on renewable energy projects and coordinate their petroleum policies. The two sides agreed to establish a joint Iraqi-Saudi fund with an initial contribution of $3 billion from Saudi Arabia, with the aim of increasing Saudi investment in the Iraqi private sector and funding reconstruction efforts throughout Iraq. Kadhimi and Crown Prince bin Salman also talked about completing the electrical grid interconnection project between Iraq and the Gulf states, and increasing cooperation in multilateral regional diplomatic efforts. The Iraqi delegation signed several memorandums of understanding with Saudi Arabia on economic matters to prevent the double taxation of dual Iraqi-Saudi citizens, diversify and grow the private sectors in both countries, and increase trade.
On March 25, unidentified attackers threw a stun grenade at the home of the Nasiriyah municipal director, Kadhim al-Safi, in Dhi-Qar province. The attack caused material damage to the building.
On March 26, the Security Media Cell said Iraqi F-16 warplanes carried out 19 airstrikes on ISIS positions in the Himrin mountain range in Salah ad-Din province. The strikes destroyed several ISIS caves and hideouts.
On March 26, a remnant of war explosion killed a 12-year-old shepherd in the village of Tawlah Bash in al-Ayadiyah subdistrict of Ninewa province.
On March 26, a roadside improvised explosive device (IED) detonated near a security checkpoint in the Jarbouya area of Samawah in Muthanna province. The explosion injured two civilians.
On March 27, an IED exploded on a Ninewa police vehicle in the district of Shoura south of Mosul, injuring one police officer.
On March 27, unidentified gunmen on a motorcycle targeted a group of civilians in a drive-by shooting in al-Rifai district in Dhi-Qar province. A security source said the targeted group are political supporters of new al-Rifai mayor Ammar al-Rikabi. The attack injured a bystander. Rifai saw new protests this week, as supporters of former mayor Kadhim Musa al-Fayyad continued to call for Rikabi’s removal and Fayyad’s reinstatement.
On March 27, Turkish warplanes bombed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) targets in the villages of Batifa and Upper and Lower Banki in the Zakho district of Duhok province. The airstrikes followed PKK attacks on a Turkish military base in the Kurdistan Region.
On March 27, an IED exploded outside the home of tribal leader Sheikh Saeed al-Jassim in the Tarmiyah suburbs north of Baghdad. The explosion damaged a vehicle in front of the home but did not cause injuries.
On March 28, an IED struck a PMF patrol, identified as Kataeb Aimat al-Baqi, in the Himrin district of Diyala province, killing one PMF fighter and wounding three others.
On March 29, an IED targeted a contractor convoy transporting supplies for the International Coalition on the highway outside Hilla in Babylon province. The explosion set one truck on fire and injured its Iraqi driver. On March 30, attackers detonated a “sticky bomb” IED they had planted on another contractor convoy on the highway near Nasiriyah in Dhi-Qar province. The bomb damaged a Land Cruiser pickup truck destined for the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). The Security Media Cell said another IED struck the same convoy in Babylon province, damaging more vehicles and their cargo. The same day, a fourth IED struck an International Coalition supply convoy in the Dujail area of Salah ad-Din province, without causing injuries. On April 1, a fifth IED targeted a Coalition supply convoy on the Abu Ghraib highway west of Baghdad. The blast did not cause casualties or damage.
On March 29, the Popular Mobilization Commission said two PMF fighters died during an anti-ISIS operation in the Samarra district of Salah ad-Din province. The fallen fighters were a regimental commander in the 314th Brigade and a fighter in the 315th Brigade.
On March 29, ISIS militants attacked Federal Police officers in the Daquq district of Kirkuk province. The attack killed a member of the 3rd Regiment, 20th Brigade, 5th Division Federal Police and wounded four other officers.
On March 29, six rockets landed near Peshmerga front lines in the Alton Kopri district, northwest of Kirkuk. Peshmerga official Nuri Hama Ali said the rocket attack did not result in injuries. The same day, Iraqi Army soldiers from the 8th Infantry Division discovered the rocket launch site in the Nabi Awa area near Okasha Mountain north of Kirkuk. The soldiers recovered six launchers outfitted to launch Grad type rockets.
On March 31, a Defense Ministry source said Major General Mahmoud al-Falahi will replace Major General Ismail al-Mahalawi as Ninewa Operations commander. Falahi had previously served as the Operations Commander in Anbar, and was removed from that post in 2019 after PMF factions accused him of conspiring with the U.S. and Israel to target PMF positions.
On April 1, International Coalition warplanes carried out an airstrike in Wadi al-Tharthar in Anbar province. The strike killed one ISIS militant and destroyed an ISIS hideout.
On April 1, unidentified attackers briefly kidnapped activist Haider Khashan in front of his home in al-Hakam neighborhood in the city of Samawah in Muthanna province. Khashan said the kidnappers threatened to kill him if he continued to participate in protests, and eventually released him.
On March 26, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provided an update on the status of funding available to support its Iraq Situation Response for 2021. The document shows that donor nations and other supporters provided a total of $46.2 million of the $401.6 million needed in 2021, pointing to a funding gap of 88%. The majority of funds, approximately $31 million, come from the United States and Japan.
On March 26, the Kurdistan region said it has received 43,800 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine from the federal government. The region’s prime minister, Masrour Barzani said health authorities will distribute the vaccine based on a “group-based rollout plan.” Meanwhile, regional health authorities issued new movement restrictions to address a resurgence in new cases. On March 30, the KRG Health Minister said schools and universities will remain closed until April 10, except for scheduled university exams. The minister added that government offices and transit checkpoints on the roads between the region’s provinces and other Iraqi cities will also be closed Thursday-Saturday for the time being. The minister stressed that businesses and the public in general have a responsibility to “wear masks, wash their hands, and avoid crowded places,” to address the “mounting danger” of death from the virus.
On March 30, the Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Bureau of the United States State Department released its annual report on human rights conditions in Iraq. The report highlighted a long list of serious human rights abuses in Iraq, many of which were connected to actions by government and paramilitary forces aiming to suppress the popular protests that emerged in October 2019.
“Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearances; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention center conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence against journalists, threats of violence, unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists, censorship, site blocking, and existence of criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly; legal restrictions on freedom of movement of women; forced returns of internally displaced persons to locations where they faced threats to their lives and freedom; threats of violence against internally displaced persons and returnee populations perceived to have been affiliated with ISIS; widespread official corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; crimes involving violence targeting members of ethnic minority groups; violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and restrictions on worker rights, including restrictions on formation of independent unions; discrimination in employment of migrants, women, and those with disabilities; and the worst forms of child labor.”
The report criticized the Iraqi government’s failure to stop the abuses and establish accountability, pointing out that authorities “rarely punished those responsible for perpetrating or authorizing human rights abuses.” The document describes a level of impunity that “effectively existed for government officials and security force personnel, including the Iraqi Security Forces, Federal Police, Popular Mobilization Forces, and certain units of Kurdistan Regional Government Asayish internal security services.”
On April 1, the Iraqi Ministry of Health said the total number of COVID-19 infections reached 856,939. This is an increase of 41,792 from the 815,605 reported on March 25. Of these cases, 78,483 are currently in Iraqi hospitals, including 471 currently being treated in the intensive care unit (ICU). These numbers represent an increase of 9,258 in hospitalizations and an decrease of 13 in ICU admissions since March 25. Ministry data indicated that there were 232 new COVID-19 deaths since March 25, bringing the total from 14,128 to 14,360. The total number of recoveries increased from 732,252 to 764,096. The average number of new cases increased to 5,970 per day during the last 7-day period, compared to an average of 5,164 per day during the 7-day period ending March 25. In the past 24 hours, the areas with the highest case counts were Baghdad with 2,151 cases, Basra with 825 cases, Wasit with 392, Maysan with 389 cases, and Duhok with 322 cases. To date, Iraq has tested a total of 8,07,977 samples for COVID 19. The total number of people who received the COVID-19 vaccine reached 72,408, including the 16,408 who received their shots on April 1.
On March 25, the Ministry of Agriculture extended a ban on 23 imported products to protect Iraqi farmers and prevent smuggled goods from entering the markets. The ban, which includes imported eggplants, potatoes, dates, poultry products, and fish, continues the efforts of a national task force the Iraqi government had formed in February to protect domestic products against competition.
On March 29, the Ministry of Oil signed a principles agreement with French company Total for a multi-project deal focusing on natural gas and renewable energy. Oil Minister Ihsan Abdul Jabbar said negotiations for the projects began in October 2020 and will require billions of dollars in investment. The largest project in the proposed deal involves the construction of a Central Gas Complex to harness natural gas at the Ratawi ,West Qurna 2, Majnoon, Tuba, and Luhais oil fields and produce 600 million cubic feet of gas per day in two stages. The agreement also envisions increasing oil production at Ratawi from 60,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd) to 200,000 bpd. The third project is to build a seawater reprocessing plant that has been delayed for nearly a decade. The seawater treatment plant would process 2.5 million bpd of seawater to increase production at several oil fields in southern Iraq. Electricity Minister Majeed Mahdi Hantoush also signed an agreement with Total to develop a 1,000 megawatt solar energy plant.
On March 29, the Federal Integrity Commission released statistics measuring the levels of bribery and corruption in the real estate registration departments across Iraq. According to the Commission, investigative teams conducted 120 field visits to 44 real estate departments in Baghdad and 14 other provinces, and monitored over 11,000 real estate auditors to determine the level of extortion and bribery affecting real estate transactions. The surveys revealed that 31.77% of all transactions in Baghdad involved some form of bribery. Elsewhere, Ninewa province registered the highest levels of bribery, with corruption affecting 51.9% of transactions in eastern Mosul, followed by 50.6% in Maysan province and 48.7% in Diwaniyah province. Muthanna province registered the lowest levels of extortion, with Khidhir district at 1.2% and Rumaitha at 0.6%. Integrity Commission surveyors also found that 70.7% of Iraqis experienced malfeasance by real estate officials in Diwaniyah province, 55.7% reported obstruction in eastern Mosul, 46% claimed wrongdoing in Maysan province, and 18.33% reported delays in Baghdad. The lowest levels of obstruction and malfeasance were reported in Diyala’s al-Khalis district at 4%, Karbala’s al-Awal district at 5.6%, Karbala’s al-Husseiniyah district, and western Mosul, both at 5.9%.
On March 30, the Central Bank of Iraq’s (CBI) General Manager of Accounting, Ihssan Shamran, said the CBI would not endorse a decision to reverse the devaluation of the dinar, denouncing calls for returning to the previous exchange rate as a potential “economic massacre.” Shamran, addressing the current Parliamentary debate to return the dinar’s value to 1,180 per 1 U.S. dollar, said the political debates jeopardize the economic situation further by destabilizing Iraqi markets. Shamran defended the CBI’s decision in December to devalue the dinar, saying that it helped eliminate money laundering operations, and helped the Finance Ministry generate IDQ10 trillion in funds.
On March 30, the United States extended its sanctions waiver for Iraq that permits the country to continue purchasing natural gas and electricity from Iran for an additional 120 days, its first such act under the Biden administration. The previous sanctions waiver Washington had issued on January 4 was for 90 days.
On April 1, the Iraqi Ministry of Oil announced that crude oil exports during March totaled 91.311 million barrels, for an average of 2.945 million bpd, which is 14,000 bpd lower than February’s average of 2.960 million bpd. The March exports generated $5.782 billion in revenue, significantly higher than February’s $5 billion. Iraq sold its crude oil at an average price of $63.32 per barrel, approximately $3 up from February’s average of $60.33 per barrel. Shipped exports from fields in southern and central Iraq averaged 2.846 million bpd in March, while average exports from the northern fields in Kirkuk, which were exported through the Turkish port of Ceyhan, stood at 99,000 bpd.
IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties
Casualties Due To IEDs from March 25, 2021 - April 1, 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.
|03/26/21||Ayadiyah subdistrict, Ninewa||1||0|
|03/27/21||Shoura district, south of Mosul||0||1|
|03/27/21||Tarmiyah, north of Baghdad||0||0|
|03/27/21||Himrin district, Diyala||1||3|
|03/29/21||Hilla highway, Babylon||0||1|
|03/30/21||Dujail, Salah ad-Din||0||0|
|04/01/21||Abu Ghraib, west 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.