ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM: APRIL 1 – APRIL 8, 2021

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Key Takeaways:

  • Militia Leader Threatens More Attacks On U.S. Targets; Baghdad And Washington Resume Strategic Dialogue; Investigation Identifies Officers Responsible For Killing Protesters – On April 2, Qais al-Khazali threatened continued attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq, singling out presence at two bases in Anbar and Erbil. On April 3, the Swiss Foreign Minister arrived in Baghdad to discuss economic, humanitarian, and security issues with PM Kadhimi. On April 7, Kadhimi selected Ahmed Ghani al-Khafaji as Dhi-Qar’s new governor. On April 7, Iraq and the U.S. launched the third round of strategic dialogue talks. A joint statement after the talks outlined steps for cooperation in security, economic, energy, humanitarian and cultural affairs. The two sides stressed that the shift in U.S. forces mission to training and assisting the ISF allows for the “redeployment of remaining [U.S.] combat troops outside Iraq” according to timetables the parties will set later. On April 7, the Iraqi military said that an investigations into the killing of protesters in Dhi-Qar in February identified five ISF personnel who opened fire despite orders restricting the use of lethal force. more…
  • New Wave Of Bombings Target Coalition Contractors; Rockets Strike Near Balad Air Base – Between April 5 – 8, eight IEDs targeted Coalition supply convoys along highways in southern and western Iraq. The attacks coincided with a threat by a group called Ashab al-Kahf to use more sophisticated methods to circumvent counter-IED measures. Between April 3 – 8, five other IED attacks killed one Iraqi and wounded at least six others. One of the attacks targeted a group of activists in Dhi-Qar. On April 4, two rockets landed outside the perimeter of Balad air base, north of Baghdad, without causing casualties. On April 3, ISIS militants kidnapped four fishermen in Salah ad-Din and executed two of them. more…

  • COVID-19 Surge Continues, Cases Surpass 900,000; Iraq And Lebanon To Exchange Fuel For Health Services – On April 8, Iraq’s Health Ministry said the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increased to 903,439. Deaths from confirmed COVID-19 cases reached 14,606 while hospitalizations increased to 89,506. To date, 799,327 patients have recovered from the virus, and Iraq has tested 8,380,401 samples for COVID-19. The daily average for new cases increased from 5,970/day over the 7-day period ending April 1 to 6,642/day during the last 7-day period. The total number of people who received the COVID-19 vaccine reached 126,791, including the 8,657 who received their shots on April 8. On April 7, Physicians for Human Rights published a report outlining the challenges facing Iraqi health institutions as they struggle to deal with the pandemic. The document warns that government statistics on infections and fatalities are “almost certainly lower than the actual” numbers. On April 2, Iraq and Lebanon signed an agreement to trade fuel for medical services. On April 6, the UN-Habitat said Japan provided it with $3.5 million to support creating favorable conditions for the return of IDPs to the Sinjar district of Ninewa. On April 6, UNHCR published the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (Iraq 3RP), which aims to address the needs of nearly a quarter million Syrian refugees who are currently in Iraq. more…

  • United Arab Emirates To Invest $3 Billion In Iraq; Construction On Major Dam Project To Begin In May; Government Agrees To Pay Lecturers After Week Of Protests – On April 4, Emirati officials announced $3 billion in investments in Iraq during a visit by PM Kadhimi. On April 5, Iraq’s Minister of Water Resources announced that Iraq plans to begin working on the Makhoul Dam project on May 1. On April 6, the Iraqi government authorized the Ministry of Education to contract and pay “free lecturers,” a group of thousands of educators and administrators who provide services as freelancers without regular pay. The Cabinet approved the IQD 250,000 ($171) monthly stipend following several days of sit-ins and protests that erupted in 11 provinces, including Baghdad. 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 Leader Threatens More Attacks On U.S. Targets; Baghdad And Washington Resume Strategic Dialogue; Investigation Identifies Officers Responsible For Killing Protesters

On April 2, Asaib Ahl al-Haq leader Qais al-Khazali threatened continued “resistance operations” against U.S. forces in Iraq, as Baghdad and Washington prepared to resume strategic dialogue talks on April 7. Khazali denounced the presence of American military personnel in Iraqi bases as “occupation,” singling out Ain al-Assad in Anbar and Harir base in Erbil. Khazali said that “there is no room for the continued presence of American military bases,” and pressured the Iraqi government to “reflect the will of the people and Parliament’s decision.”  The next day, a member of Parliament affiliated with Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Hassan Salim echoed Khazali’s statements and urged Iraqi negotiators to demand a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq during the strategic dialogue talks.

On April 3, a Swiss delegation headed by Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis arrived in Baghdad to discuss economic, humanitarian, and security issues with Iraqi officials, including Prime minister Kadhimi and Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein. Hussein said the two sides discussed reopening the Swiss embassy in Baghdad, the situation of refugees and asylum seekers in Europe, and Iraqi frozen assets in Swiss banks, without providing further details. Cassis also met with young Iraqi entrepreneurs and start-ups to discuss “innovation and what prospects there are for young people in this still fragile country.”

On April 7, Prime Minister Kadhimi’s office director, Raed Jouhi, announced that Kadhimi selected Ahmed Ghani al-Khafaji as Dhi-Qar’s new governor. Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi had removed former governor Nadhum al-Waeli on February 26, amid complaints of increasing violence against protesters in Nasiriyah. On April 5, the Integrity Investigation Court in Dhi-Qar issued an arrest warrant for Waeli on charges of corruption and bribery.

On April 7, Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken launched the third round of strategic dialogue talks between Iraq and the United States via video teleconference. The two sides reiterated their support for joint counterrorism efforts and stressed that U.S. forces were stationed at Iraqi military bases with the invitation of the Iraqi government to help Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in the fight against ISIS. The mission shift to training and assisting the ISF allows for the “redeployment of remaining [U.S.] combat troops outside Iraq” according to timetables the parties will set later, a joint statement said. The Iraqi delegation, joined by members of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), pledged to protect diplomatic missions and U.S. and International Coalition forces stationed in Iraq. Both sides agreed to continue security related discussions through a joint military committee of American, ISF, and Peshmerga officials. The parties also decided to reciprocally make entry visas for diplomats and government personnel valid for up to two years. Economically, the U.S. delegation suggested that American companies were ready to help Iraq diversify, create jobs, and improve services. The talks also addressed American support for Iraq’s efforts to diversify its energy sources and advance electrical connection projects with neighbors. In the fields of culture and education, the discussions touched on enabling higher education reform in Iraq and strengthening university partnerships, particularly for universities in liberated areas through the Liberated Universities Initiative. The United States also promised to continue the return of looted cultural artifacts and historical documents to Iraq. Washington also pledged to increase its support for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraq, advise the government on the protection of political activists, and contribute funding and medical expertise to Iraqi hospitals struggling against increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases. The third round of strategic dialogue talks concluded with an agreement to hold additional discussions in the future. The first two rounds of talks took place in June and August of 2020.

On April 7, Iraq’s government postponed the upcoming tripartite summit with Egypt and Jordan indefinitely, after an alleged coup attempt in Jordan. Iraq had first delayed the proposed summit on March 29 due to a train collision in Egypt.

On April 7, the Joint Operations Command (JOC) announced the results of investigations into the killing of protesters by security forces in Dhi-Qar province in February. The investigations, ordered by the prime minister, identified five individuals responsible for opening fire on protesters with live ammunition despite orders from the prime minister’s office restricting the rules of engagement with demonstrators. The five individuals include a federal police lieutenant with the Special Tasks brigade, two sergeants from the same brigade, an officer in the 5th Emergency Police Regiment, and an officer in the Qalat Sukkar police department. The JOC statement said these five have confessed to opening fire and will be transferred to the appropriate courts. JOC also recommended trial for a colonel who failed to prevent subordinates from using live munition, and disciplinary action for other ISF personnel who disobeyed orders prohibiting the use of live ammunition, including a lieutenant colonel, a captain and a sergeant in the 2nd Company, 5th Emergency Police Regiment.  

On April 8, Iraqi President Barham Salih officially ratified the 2021 federal budget. In a statement, Salih highlighted the importance of continuing Iraq’s economic reform efforts, creating more jobs, and ensuring financial stability for Iraq’s poorest classes. Parliament passed the federal budget on March 31 after weeks of negotiations and delayed votes. 


New Wave Of Bombings Target Coalition Contractors; Rockets Strike Near Balad Air Base

On April 1, Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) fighters clashed with ISIS militants in the Khanaqin district of Diyala province. A PMF source said units from the PMF 28th Brigade bombed ISIS targets after repelling the attack, killing two ISIS members and wounding two others.

On April 2, International Coalition airstrikes targeted ISIS positions in Wadi al-Tharthar and the Mutaybija area in Salah ad-Din province. Defense Ministry spokesman Yahya Rasul said the strikes killed two ISIS militants and destroyed four caves and camps used by the group.

On April 3, gunmen attacked the vehicle of deputy director of Military Intelligence, Brigadier General Zaid al-Maksousi, near the Diyala Bridge south of Baghdad. A security source said the general exchanged fire with gunmen from a local tribe who mistook his vehicle for that of rival tribesmen. The ambush did not cause casualties.

On April 3, a PMF source said ISIS militants kidnapped four fishermen near a lake in the al-Zarka area, northeast of Tikrit in Salah ad-Din province. The militants later released two of the captives and executed the other two. The source said a force of Tribal Mobilization fighters  clashed with the group believed responsible for the executions, wounding three of them. To the north, ISIS militants on April 4 kidnapped a civilian from his home in the village of Dhabaa in al-Rashad subdistrict of Kirkuk province. 

On April 3, an improvised explosive device (IED) targeted a gathering of activists in Souk al-Shuyoukh district in Dhi-Qar province, commemorating the demonstrators killed during protests since October 2019. The attack seriously injured one of the attendees, and damaged three vehicles and the building hosting the event. 

On April 3, an IED explosion killed a farmer and injured his father in the village of Hawi al-Genitra in the Hammam al-Alil subdistrict in Ninewa province. 

On April 4, two rockets landed outside the perimeter of Balad air base, north of Baghdad. A security source said the rockets struck nearly a kilometer from the air base in the village of Al-Bu Asi, without causing casualties. Security forces said the attack originated in the Dujma area of western Diyala province.

On April 4, unidentified gunmen attacked the home of activist Dr. Durgham Majid, a local protest organizer in the western Hamza district of Babylon province, using small arms fire. The attack damaged the activist’s home but did not cause casualties. 

On April 5, three separate IED attacks targeted Coalition supply convoys in Yusufiyah south of Baghdad, and in Babylon and Diwaniyah provinces. The attacks did not cause casualties or damages. On April 7, two more IED explosions targeted an International Coalition supply convoy on the main highway in Babylon province. Security sources said the bombs, which exploded a short distance apart, did not cause casualties. The same day, a sixth roadside IED exploded on a contractor convoy in Balad district. A security source said the blast caused casualties but did not provide details. A seventh IED explosion struck another Coalition supply convoy along the international highway in Anbar province. On April 8, an eighth IED targeted a Coalition supply convoy on the highway in Babylon province, the third attack in that same area in the past 24 hours. An armed group thought to be aligned with Iran named “Ashab al-Kahf,” issued a statement on April 5, threatening U.S. and International Coalition troops with more IEDs and rocket attacks if they didn’t “exit” the country. The group claimed that it would deploy “new weapons and more complex methods” to evade IED countermeasures.

On April 5, unidentified attackers threw a grenade at a civilian home in al-Tahrir neighborhood outside Baquba in Diyala province. The attack injured three members of the family that lives there.

On April 5, gunmen killed Ali al-Zirejawi, a prominent figure in the Sadrist Movement in Dhi-Qar province. Alsumaria said al-Zirejawi was in charge of tribal affairs within the Sadr Movement in the province.

On April 6, the Ministry of Interior appointed Major General Muayad Farhan Mohammad Hussein as the new police chief in Dhi-Qar province. Former police chief Odeh al-Jabri resigned  on March 14 under pressure from protests against the targeting of activists in Nasiriyah.

On April 6, an IED detonated on a PMF checkpoint in Jurf al-Sakhr in Babylon province. The blast injured two PMF fighters.

On April 7, a security source said Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) fighters clashed with members of the PMF internal security force in the city of Mosul. The source said that PMF security personnel attempted to arrest the AAH fighters who had threatened the employees of a government agency charged with distributing compensations for war damages. The AAH fighters resisted arrest and drew their weapons. The ensuing firefight injured three militiamen and two civilians. 

On April 7, Iraqi military spokesman, Major General Yayha Rasoul, revealed that Iraqi airstrikes that targeted ISIS hideouts in the Himrim mountains on March 25 had killed 33 militants. Rasoul said the militants sought refuge in Himrin after Operation Eager Lion, which killed 27 ISIS militants, displaced them from the Qara Chogh mountain area. Rasoul said counterterrorism service warriors tracked the fleeing militants and provided targeting data for the strikes.

On April 7, a security source said a legacy IED exploded in the village of Qazlaja in northern Muqdadiyah district in Diyala province. The explosion injured two civilians riding a motorcycle.

On April 8, an IED targeted the home of a civilian in al-Rifai district in Dhi-Qar province. The attack damaged the home but did not cause injuries. 


COVID-19 Surge Continues, Cases Surpass 900,000; Iraq And Lebanon To Exchange Fuel For Health Services

On April 2, Iraq and Lebanon signed an agreement to trade fuel for medical services. According to Lebanese Energy Minister Raymond Ghagar, Iraq will supply Lebanon with 500,000 tons of fuel oil, worth approximately $200 million. In exchange, Lebanon will provide medical teams and experts to help Iraq manage new medical centers and train Iraqi crews. 

On April 5, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with swisspeace aimed at establishing a framework for cooperation over two years that will focus on humanitarian initiatives in Iraq. According to a UNDP statement, the collaboration between the two agencies will support “building capacities… for conflict mediation and peace building at the grassroots level” in areas affected by conflict.

On April 6, the UN Human Settlements Program said the Japanese government provided it with $3.5 million to fund its activities in support of creating favorable conditions for the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to their home districts. Specifically, Japan’s contribution would help repair homes ruined by the war with ISIS, improve water infrastructure and related services, and support the creation of job opportunities and related training programs. The activities will target the Sinjar district of Ninewa province. 

On April 6, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) published the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (Iraq 3RP), which aims to address the needs of nearly a quarter million Syrian refugees who are currently in Iraq. Working with the Planning Ministry of the Kurdistan Region, the agencies involved in the plan will seek government support for “an effective legal refugee protection framework in Iraq” while continuing to deliver essential humanitarian aid to those in need, especially families identified as “most vulnerable” and newly arriving refugees who lack support from the community. The plan will also work towards “the graduation of refugees from dependency on humanitarian assistance to self-reliance” and creating the conditions for refugee “inclusion in public services and national systems.”

On April 7, Physicians for Human Rights published a report outlining the challenges facing Iraqi health institutions as they struggle to deal with the pandemic. The document mentions low spending, corruption, lack of guidelines, mismanagement, and the absence of a private health insurance system among the key factors that contribute to the deterioration of health care services available to Iraqis. The organization warns that government statistics on COVID-19 infections and fatalities are “almost certainly lower than the actual” numbers, attributing that to “limited testing and poor data systems.”

On April 8, the Iraqi Ministry of Health said the total number of COVID-19 infections reached 903,439. This is an increase of 46,500 from the 856,939 reported on April 1. Of these cases, 89,506 are currently in Iraqi hospitals, including 454 currently being treated in the intensive care unit (ICU). These numbers represent an increase of 11,023 in hospitalizations and an decrease of 17 in ICU admissions since April 1. Ministry data indicated that there were 246 new COVID-19 deaths since April 1, bringing the total from 14,360 to 14,606. The total number of recoveries increased from 764,096 to 799,327. The average number of new cases increased to 6,642 per day during the last 7-day period, compared to an average of 5,970 per day during the 7-day period ending April 1. In the past 24 hours, the areas with the highest case counts were Baghdad with 3,156 cases, Basra with 876 cases, Wasit with 538, Maysan with 445 cases, Duhok with 425 cases, and Sulaymaniyah with 404 cases. Infections reached a new daily high on April 7, when Iraq reported 8,331 new cases. To date, Iraq has tested a total of 8,380,401 samples for COVID 19. The total number of people who received the COVID-19 vaccine reached 126,791, including the 8,657 who received their shots on April 8.


United Arab Emirates To Invest $3 Billion In Iraq; Construction On Major Dam Project To Begin In May; Government Agrees To Pay Lecturers After Week Of Protests

On April 4, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi visited the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and met with UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid al-Maktoum and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed al-Nahyan for bilateral talks. The two sides discussed regional developments and cooperation in combating the spread of COVID-19. Kadhimi expressed gratitude for Emirati contributions to the reconstruction for al-Nuri mosque and a number of churches in Ninewa province. Emirati officials announced $3 billion in investments in Iraq that aim to strengthen partnership and economic ties between the two countries. The UAE’s investment matches the $3 billion contribution Saudi Arabia announced during Kadhimi’s visit to Riyadh on March 31. Kadhimi also met with a group of Emirati businessmen to highlight Iraq’s efforts to reform its economy and facilitate private sector reform. Kadhimi invited UAE companies to invest in Iraq, stressing his government’s interest in developing clean energy sources.

On April 5, Iraq’s Minister of Water Resources, Mahdi Rashid al-Hamdani announced that Iraq would begin working on the Makhoul Dam project on May 1. Hamdani described the dam as the most important water project in Iraq since 2003. On April 7, Hamdani also said that work on the Samawah water project in Muthanna province would begin on May 10.

On April 6, the Iraqi government authorized the Ministry of Education to contract and pay “free lecturers,” a group of thousands of educators and administrators who provide services as freelancers without regular pay. The Cabinet approved the IQD 250,000 ($171) monthly stipend following several days of sit-ins and protests that erupted in 11 provinces, including Baghdad, demanding amendments to article 12 of the recently approved 2021 budget. Protestors complained that the budget overlooked their rights. A government official told al-Mada newspaper that the Ministry of Education anticipated having enough teachers and support staff to cover schools needs this year (a teacher for each 19 students), and therefore saw no need to contract additional personnel. According to a government estimate, there are about 200,000 freelance lecturers within the education sector.


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

Casualties Due To IEDs from April 1, 2021 - April 8, 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
04/03/21Souk al-Shuyoukh, Dhi-Qar province01
04/03/21Hammam al-Alil, Ninewa province11
04/05/21Yusufiyah, south of Baghdad00
04/05/21Babylon province00
04/05/21Diwaniyah province00
04/06/21Jurf al-Sakhr, Babylon province02
04/07/21Babylon province00
04/07/21Babylon province00
04/07/21Balad, Salah ad-Din province0Unknown
04/07/21Anbar province00
04/07/21Muqdadiyah, Diyala province02
04/08/21Rifai, Dhi-Qar province00
04/08/21Babylon province00

 

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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