ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM: APRIL 15 – APRIL 22, 2021

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Key Takeaways:

  • Baghdad Mediates Between Regional Foes; Party Leader Arrested In Corruption Investigations; Protestor-Led Movements Mull Political Future – On April 18, sources said PM Kadhimi mediated direct talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran in Baghdad, where they discussed their involvements in regional conflicts. On April 19, the newly-formed Federal Supreme Court (FSC) held its first hearing, and reviewed a case appealing the Parliament resolution that dissolved the provincial councils. On April 22, Parliament failed to meet due to lack of quorum for the second time this week, ostensibly to prevent a potential vote to strip several members of their immunity. On April 19, the Supreme Judicial Council submitted a request to lift immunity from 20 members due to findings of investigations by the anti-corruption commission. On April 18, Iraqi security forces detained Jamal al-Karbouli, the head of al-Hal party, on corruption charges. On April 20, eight protestor-led political movements held a meeting in Babylon in which they agreed, in principle, to participate in the October elections. more…
  • Rockets Hit Balad Air Base; ISIS Leader In Fallujah Detained In Kurdistan; Militias Implicated In Last Week’s Deadly Car Bomb – On April 16, Iraqi security officials stated that the investigation into the April 15 car bomb in Sadr City revealed the cause of the explosion to be an “accidental discharge” of explosives being transported by a PMF militia group. On April 18, five rockets struck Balad air base, north of Baghdad, injuring two Iraqi soldiers. On April 18, rockets struck the positions of a tribal mobilization regiment in Daquq district of Kirkuk, killing an Iraqi army soldier and injuring two soldiers and three tribal militiamen. Between April 15 -21, the explosions of 15 IEDs and one remnant of war killed at least seven Iraqis and wounded nine more. Two of the IEDs targeted electrical towers and repair crews in Ninawa. Two other IEDs targeted oil wells in Kirkuk, while another three targeted civilian contractors working for the International Coalition. On April 20, KRG authorities captured 22 ISIS militants, including the ISIS leader in Fallujah, who were planning attacks in Kurdistan. more…

  • COVID-19 Cases In Iraq Reach One Million; Report Highlights Shrinking Press Freedoms And Threats Facing Journalists – On April 22, Iraq’s Health Ministry said the total number of COVID-19 infections has now reached 1,010,304. The average number of new cases remained steady at 7,633 per day during the last 7-day period. This grim milestone comes as the government began to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for employees of public-facing institutions and workers in the service and hospitality industries. On April 20, Reporters Without Borders lowered Iraq’s ranking in its 2021 World Press Freedom Index due to serious threats and tightened restrictions against journalists in Iraq, including the Kurdistan region. The watchdog cited an increase in violence, state censorship, and lack of accountability. more…

  • Appeals Put Federal Budget In Limbo; UK Removes Iraq From Financial High-Risk List; Sinopec To Develop The Mansouryia Gas Field – On April 18, the Central Bank of Iraq said the UK has removed Iraq from a list of high-risk countries for the financing of terrorism and money laundering. On April 20, the Ministry of Oil awarded a contract to develop al-Mansouriya natural gas field in Diyala province to the Chinese company Sinopec. On April 15, the Oil Ministry said it entered discussions with American companies to purchase ExxonMobil’s stake in the West Qurna 1 oil field. On April 22, a financial advisor to PM Kadhimi, said that the government plans to appeal more than ten articles of the 2021 budget after the Parliament amended articles in a way that “restricts and burdens” the executive branch. 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.


Baghdad Mediates Between Regional Foes; Party Leader Arrested In Corruption Investigations; Protestor-Led Movements Mull Political Future

On April 18, sources told the Financial Times that Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi mediated direct talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the long-time regional foes. The meeting reportedly happened in Baghdad on April 9, and the two countries discussed their involvements in Yemen and Lebanon. Sources said that Washington and London were aware of the meeting before it took place. On April 20, Tehran’s Ambassador to Baghdad Iraj Mesjedi welcomed the Iraqi mediation and de-escalation efforts, but stopped short of confirming the meeting, while a high-ranking saudi official denied holding direct talks with the Iranians, calling the news “Iranian leaks to create the perception that Tehran was able to break its isolation.” However, an Iraqi official and a Western diplomat confirmed the details of the meeting to the AP. The diplomat suggested Baghdad may mediate similar meetings in the future. PM al-Kadhimi and his National Security Advisor Qasim al-Araji held several meetings with Saudi and Iranian officials separately in the last few weeks. On April 20, al-Araji met with Saudi Ambassador to Baghdad Abdel-Aziz al-Shammari, a week after holding talks with his Iranian counterpart Ali Shamkhani and Defense Minister Amir Hatami. While Iraqi lobbying efforts helped bring the two rivals to the table in Baghdad, other factors likely played a role, especially for Iran. An Iraqi official said that Tehran’s willingness to negotiate signals the power gains the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence has made over the Revolutionary Guard since the killing of General Qassem Soleimani in a U.S. drone strike in the early days of 2020.  

On April 18, Iraqi security forces in Baghdad detained Jamal al-Karbouli, the head of al-Hal political party, on corruption charges. The anti-corruption commission setup by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi requested Karbouli’s arrest following the “confession” of Baha al-Jorani, a businessman arrested in February on corruption charges related to a steel contract with the Ministry of Industry and Minerals, which is headed by Manhal al-Khabaz, a member of al-Hal party Security forces also arrested Karbouli’s in a separate operation. Sources said authorities may soon issue a warrant to arrest al-Karbouli’s brother, Mohamed, who is a sitting MP.

On April 19, the newly-formed Federal Supreme Court (FSC) held its first hearing. The court reviewed two cases, including one appealing the Parliament resolution that dissolved the provincial councils after the protests in 2019. The Court adjourned this case to May 4.

On April 19, The Federal Commission on Integrity said that it issued 58 warrants (8 arrests and 50 summons) in March, involving current and former government officials and members of Parliament. Among others, the warrants targeted two MPs (one current and one former), two governors (one current and one former), a former minister and 25 with the rank of director general.. On a related topic, member of the integrity committee in Parliament Karim Abu-Soda revealed that the committee has several large corruption dossiers involving current and former ministers.

On April 19, Iraqi President Barham Salih discussed the upcoming general elections with the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Salih stressed during the phone call the need for “serious work” and cooperation between the UN and the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) to ensure free and fair elections. Salih and Guterres  also discussed political and security developments in Iraq and the region. Guterres welcomed the “positive developments” in Iraq, and renewed the UN’s commitment to support Iraq’s efforts towards stability, security, and fighting the pandemic. 

On April 20, eight protestor-led political movements met in Hilla of Babylon province and agreed, in principle, to participate in the October elections. Participants from the National Home Party, al-Fao-Zakho Gathering, the Iraqi Union for Labor and Rights, Nazel Akhuth Haqi Democratic Movement, the Democratic Socialist Movement, Tishreen Front, al-Med al-Iraqi Movement, and Imtidad Movement, exchanged ideas and debated political prospects. President of the National Home Hussein al-Ghurabi said the group will hold more meetings, and agreed to make a final decision in September about participating in the elections. The movements issued a joint statement calling on the government to treat all political parties equally, and to implement the reforms promised in its agenda. They also appealed to the UN to monitor the elections for violations and ensure an impartial and honest process. The meeting concluded with a call for all Iraqis to actively participate in the elections.

On April 22, Parliament leadership postponed a session to vote on several resolutions due to lack of quorum for the second time this week. A source told Shafaq News that influential members are intentionally blocking the session from convening by exploiting the quorum requirement to prevent a potential vote to strip several members of their immunity, ahead of arrest warrants related to corruption cases. On April 19, the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) submitted a request to lift immunity from 20 members due to findings of investigations by the anti-corruption commission setup by PM al-Kadhimi. A source said President of the SJC Faiq Zidan and al-Kadhimi agreed during a meeting last week to “activate” arrest warrants issued by the anti-corruption commission.


Rockets Hit Balad Air Base; ISIS Leader In Fallujah Detained In Kurdistan; Militias Implicated In Last Week’s Deadly Car Bomb

On April 15, Turkish warplanes carried out airstrikes in the Kani Masi subdistrict of Duhok province. The next day, Turkish aircraft bombed targets near the village of Membri in the Dinarta subdistrict, Duhok province. Four Turkish warplanes dropped six more bombs on April 17, targeting Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) sites in the villages of Korko and Banafi near the Gara and Matin mountains in Duhok province. KRG officials said none of the airstrikes caused casualties.

On April 15, a roadside improvised explosive device (IED) exploded by a contractor convoy transporting supplies for the International Coalition along a highway in Anbar province. On April 17, a second IED detonated near a Coalition contractor convoy passing through the Shahid Nizar checkpoint in western Dhi-Qar province. Neither attack caused injuries. On April 22, a third IED exploded near a Coalition contractor convoy travelling on the international highway in Babylon province. The blast injured an Iraqi contractor and damaged a vehicle. Spokesman for the U.S. Joint Task Force, Colonel Wayne Maruto, denounced these attacks and said they undermine Iraqi sovereignty. Maruto asserted that the attacks are not targeting American forces, but rather, innocent “Iraqi civilians who are trying to make a living and support their families.”

On April 16, Iraqi security officials in the Joint Operations Command stated that an investigation into the April 15 car bomb in Sadr City revealed the cause of the explosion to be an “accidental discharge” of explosives being transported by a militia group within the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in Baghdad. The revelation comes after ISIS claimed responsibility for the bombing, which killed four people and injured 16 others. 

On April 16, unidentified gunmen attacked the home of the former mayor of the Rifai district in Dhi-Qar province, Ammar al-Rikabi. A security source said the attack damaged Rikabi’s home but did not cause injuries. The next day, an IED exploded outside an administrative building in the district, destroying a vehicle.

On April 17, militants detonated two IEDs near oil wells at the Bai Hassan oilfield in northwestern Kirkuk province. The attack, claimed by ISIS, caused minor damage, and didn’t  impact production levels.

On April 17, Maysan police said that an IED exploded in the Awasha area of Amara city, without causing casualties. 

On April 18, five Katyusha rockets landed inside Balad air base, north of Baghdad. The attack injured two Iraqi soldiers. Officials said security forces found the projectile launcher in the Dujma area of Diyala province. 

On April 18, a roadside IED explosion injured a civilian driving through the Sidkan subdistrict in Erbil province. Peshmerga commander Bahram Arif Yassin accused the PKK of placing the bomb in the area.

On April 18, six Katyusha rockets struck the positions of a tribal mobilization regiment in the village of Albu Shihab in Daquq district, Kirkuk province. A source said that militants attacked the tribal fighters after the rockets struck, without mentioning the identity of the attackers. The attacks killed an Iraqi army soldier and injured two soldiers and three tribal militiamen. 

On April 18, KRG officials said that two Katyusha rockets landed in residential areas in the Garmian district in Sulaymaniyah province, without causing injuries. 

On April 18, an IED explosion killed a village mukhtar at his home in the town of Jlam in Samarra district, Salah ad-Din province. 

On April 18, a security source said two young men died in an explosion after tampering with a remnant of war in the Najaf desert. On the same day, an attacker using a suppressed firearm, shot and killed two people sitting in a car near the airport road in Najaf city.

On April 18, militants detonated an IED on an electrical transmission tower in the Tel al-Rumman area, disrupting the Mosul Dam-Qayyara power lines. A second IED seriously injured three technicians dispatched to repair the damage. The Ministry of Electricity said the explosion caused the tower to collapse, which resulted in the loss of 400 megawatts supplying Ninawa and Salah ad-Din provinces.

On April 18, a mortar round targeted the barracks of the Iraqi Army’s 38th brigade in the Salijiyah area near Hit in Anbar province. There were no reports of casualties. 

On April 19, an IED targeted an Iraqi Army patrol in the Kanaan subdistrict of Diyala province. The blast killed one soldier and injured two others. 

On April 19, ISIS militants killed a policeman in his home in the al-Mutasim subdistrict in Salah ad-Din province. A member of the victim’s family said the militants, wearing military uniforms, executed the man in front of his family. 

On April 19, ISIS militants attacked an Iraqi military outpost in the al-Udheim subdistrict in Diyala province. The attack injured an officer and a soldier. 

On April 19, a roadside IED explosion killed a PMF fighter on patrol in the village of Kobiba near the Dibis district in Kirkuk province. 

On April 20, a security source said an IED targeted the convoy of the director of the National Security Service in Salah ad-Din province near Mount Himrin. The blast killed two members of the security service. 

On April 20, authorities in Kurdisan said the Asayish Agency conducted a large-scale security operation that captured 22 members of an ISIS cell Asayish officials stated that the militants, captured in Sulaymaniyah, Garmian, Chamchamal, Bashdar and Sayed Sadiq, were planning a number of attacks in Kurdistan. Officials said one of the captured militants was Abu Ali al-Jumaili, the ISIS leader in Fallujah.

On April 21, a civilian man suffered serious injuries after an IED exploded near him in al-Batisha village west of Mosul in Ninewa province.

On April 21, an IED detonated near an Iraqi Army patrol in the Jalawla subdistrict in Diyala province. A source said the explosion injured a soldier.

On April 21, unidentified attackers threw a hand grenade at the home of a police officer in the al-Wahda area of eastern Baghdad. There were no reports of casualties. 


COVID-19 Cases In Iraq Reach One Million; Report Highlights Shrinking Press Freedoms And Threats Facing Journalists

On April 15, 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 March, there were 28 reports of access restrictions, down from an average of 52 per month for the previous 12 months. OCHA reported that 74% of March’s access incidents constituted administrative restrictions and 25% involved COVID-19 related restrictions. The report points out that the access issues last month impacted the timely delivery of aid to 69,000 recipients in Kirkuk, Ninewa, Diyala, Anbar and Baghdad. 

On April 15, Japan announced a contribution of $4.2 million to fund the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) work to assist vulnerable populations in Iraq. The IOM project, “Promoting Location-Specific Inclusion in Iraq,” aims to repair social cohesion in communities in Ninewa and Anbar provinces by rehabilitating former ISIS members and providing opportunities for those ostracized by communities for perceived affiliation with the militant group. The funding also helps IOM’s collaboration with the Iraqi government’s National Strategy to Prevent Violent Extremism, which emphasizes outreach to at-risk Iraqi youth. IOM Iraq Chief of Mission, Gerard Waite, said the project hopes to “promote stabilization, reduce the risk of renewed violence, and address post-conflict dynamics in fragile communities.” 

On April 18, Iraq’s Minister of Health Hassan al-Timimi said the government is considering issuing special passports for travelers who received the COVID-19 vaccine. This comes as the government began to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for employees of certain institutions and workers of public and services sectors. The Ministry of Health said that workers in restaurants, malls and hotels must take the vaccine before resuming work due to the high-contact nature of their work.  An Interior Ministry spokesman  said that effective April 20, employees of public-facing divisions within the ministry will not be allowed to return to work until they receive the vaccine. 

On April 19, the United Kingdom donated $4.1 million to the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) COVID-19 relief work in Iraq. The funding aims to assist in the construction of new COVID-19 isolation wards for patients in Diwaniyah, Muthanna, Erbil and Wasit, adding to the 12 wards already built in Anbar, Baylon, Basra, Dhi-Qar, Diyala, Duhok, Karbala, Kirkuk, Maysan, Najaf, Ninewa and Salah ad-Din provinces. 

On April 19, the Minister of Health of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Saman Barzanji said the region received additional COVID-19 vaccine doses after experiencing increased demand for vaccinations. Ministry spokesperson Aso Hawizi added that due to high demand, citizens must now pre-register for vaccination appointments. The KRG has received 55,820 doses of COVID-19 vaccines to date.

On April 19, Minister of Migration and Displacement (MoMD) Evan Faek Jabro said the government plans to close the only two camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Ninewa and Anbar provinces as soon as possible. Faeq said the plan involves providing basic services to IDPs and the rehabilitation of infrastructure and housing in returnee communities, adding that collaboration with IOM Iraq would facilitate the reconstruction of homes in affected areas and the construction of new, low-income housing for IDPs unable to return to their home communities. The MoMD also announced plans to begin COVID-19 vaccinations in the remaining IDP camps, with an initial target of administering vaccines for 500,000 people.

On April 20, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said that journalism continues to be a dangerous profession in Iraq, where “threats come from all quarters and are designed to deter journalists from investigating or publishing the fruits of their research.” The watchdog’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index, ranked Iraq as the 163rd country in the world for press freedoms – a rank lower than where it was in 2020. The index cited an increase in harassments, abductions, killings of journalists by militia groups, and the lack of substantial criminal investigations, as major reasons for the reduction of journalistic freedoms in Iraq. The report added “The state’s powerlessness increases the dangers and makes it impossible to determine whether what the many militias are doing suits the government… or whether it has no control over the situation.” The organization also denounced Baghdad’s censorship of journalists, through bans on live coverage of protests, Internet blockages, and a proposed cyber-crime bill that broadly targets any individual perceived to threaten national unity through online posts. The index also highlighted the complete lack of transparency and freedoms in the KRG, citing the arrest, torture, and death of journalists as a serious violation of press freedoms in Iraq. 

On April 22, the Iraqi Ministry of Health said the total number of COVID-19 infections reached 1,010,304. This is an increase of 53,444 from the 956,860 reported on April 15. Of these cases, 110,995 are currently in hospitals, including 525 currently being treated in intensive care units (ICU). These numbers represent an increase of 6,356 in hospitalizations and an increase of 24 in ICU admissions since April 15. Ministry data indicated that there were 243 new COVID-19 deaths since April 15, bringing the total from 14,885 to 15,128. The total number of recoveries increased from 837,336 to 884,181. The average number of new cases was 7,633 per day during the last 7-day period, compared to an average of 7,631 per day during the 7-day period ending April 15. In the past 24 hours, the areas with the highest case counts were Baghdad with 3,240 cases, Basra with 1,013 cases, Wasit with 547 cases, Diyala with 487 cases, Maysan with 427 cases, and Duhok with 424 cases. To date, Iraq has tested a total of 8,989,021 samples for COVID 19. The total number of people who received the COVID-19 vaccine reached 286,866, including the 12,868 who received their shots on April 22.


Appeals Put Federal Budget In Limbo; UK Removes Iraq From Financial High-Risk List; Sinopec To Develop The Mansouryia Gas Field 

On April 15, the Ministry of Planning convened a meeting of business leaders to discuss the development of Iraq’s private sector and the integration of private and public economic policies. The meeting, which gathered trade unions and federations representatives, business leaders, and government officials, discussed the formation of a permanent board of directors to oversee investment and growth outside of government institutions. Planning Minister Khaled Battal al-Najm said the board’s mission is to increase financing opportunities for Iraqi companies, strengthen supervisory authorities in the private sector, and increase protections for small and medium enterprises. Najm also encouraged cooperation between private sector leaders and the Ministerial Economic Council to integrate the work of state-owned and private sector companies. Earlier this week, the Prime Minister’s Advisor for Financial Affairs, revealed on April 17 that the vast majority of 173 state-owned companies do not make a profit. Saleh explained that 72% of these companies cost the government money to run, with the only profitable companies coming from the oil sector. 

On April 18, the Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) announced that the United Kingdom has removed Iraq from a list of high-risk countries for the financing of terrorism and money laundering. CBI said reform efforts in the business sector and the efforts of the Office of Combatting Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing enabled Iraq’s compliance with international standards. The bank also said that Iraq’s exclusion from the list will further facilitate business dealings and banking transactions between the two countries. 

On April 20, the Ministry of Oil awarded a contract to develop al-Mansouriya natural gas field in Diyala province to the Chinese company Sinopec. Oil Minister Ihsan Abdul Jabbar Ismail said Mansouriya would add 300 million cubic feet of gas per day to Iraq’s gas production, and supply power plants throughout the country with fuel. Director General of the Contracts and Licensing Department, Ali Maarij, said that Sinopec won the contract after submitting the most favorable bid out of eight during the ministry’s search for an international partner in developing the field. Midland Oil Company, representing the Iraqi government, will hold a 51% stake, while Sinopec will hold 49%. The contract sets a 25 year agreement with Sinopec to develop the field, provide technical support, and bring two gas wells online with the possibility to extend the contract for an additional five years. In 2014, Iraq’s government cancelled a previous deal to develop the gas field with Turkish state oil company TPAO after security conditions deteriorated during the campaign against ISIS. Earlier on April 15, the Ministry of Oil also announced the beginning of discussions with American companies to purchase the stake of Exxon Mobil in the West Qurna 1 oil field. 

On April 22, Iraqi Prime Minister’s Advisor for Financial Affairs, Mudhar Mohammad Saleh, said that the government plans to appeal more than ten articles of the 2021 budget. He added that the Parliament amended articles in a way that “restricts and burdens” the executive branch by increasing spending and the deficit. On April 20, the Iraqi Cabinet authorized PM al-Kadhimi to appeal articles of the new budget before the Federal Supreme Court (FSC). Government spokesperson Hassan Nazim said that the Parliament resolution included changes that don’t align with government policies. Nazim stated that the government would be challenging budget discrepancies related to the imposition of income taxes, the auditing and monitoring of provincial funds, and the transfer of ministerial personnel to the Federal Service Council. The budget disagreement comes after the Ministry of Finance indicated that it had discovered numerical errors in the budget’s contents, which miscalculated the government’s revenues by IQD7 trillion and expenditures by more than IQD3 trillion. 

On April 21, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi issued new directives aimed at eliminating corrupt practices in awarding project contracts. Kadhimi ordered the National Investment Commission to cancel licenses for projects that have exceeded their time tables while showing project completion levels of 0-35%. Kadhimi also directed the Commission to adhere to Article 28 of the Iraqi Investment Law and send written warnings to companies and state-enterprises with unfinished projects. President of the Iraqi Investment Authority, Suha al-Najjar, said the directives to cancel lagging projects would free up around 400,000 dunams of land, valued at around IQD90 trillion, for re-investment. On March 14, the National Investment Commission revealed statistics that showed nearly 1,770 projects in Iraq were stalled or completely fictitious, highlighting the need for reform in the investment sector.


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

Casualties Due To IEDs from April 15, 2021 - April 22, 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
04/15/21Anbar province00
04/17/21Dhi-Qar province00
04/17/21Al-Rifai, Dhi-Qar province00
04/17/21Kirkuk00
04/17/21Amara, Maysan province00
04/18/21Sidkan, Erbil province01
04/18/21Samarra, Salah ad-Din10
04/18/21Tel al-Rumman00
04/18/21Tel al-Rumman03
04/19/21Kanaan, Diyala province12
04/19/21Kobiba, Kirkuk province10
04/20/21Mount Himrin, Salah ad-Din province20
04/21/21Al-Batisha, Ninewa province01
04/21/21Jalawla, Diyala province01
04/22/21Babylon 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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