ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM: May 13 – May 20, 2021

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Key Takeaways:

  • Three Million Won’t Be Able To Vote; Diplomats Push KRG To Address Press Freedom Concerns; PM Eyes Cabinet Reshuffle; Activists Brace For More Assassinations – On May 13, Iraqi PM al-Kadhimi said his government will not spare an effort to hold fair and honest elections in October, as several political parties casted doubt on its integrity. On May 18, IHEC said three million eligible voters who missed the registration deadline won’t be able to vote. On May 15, thousands took part in demonstrations across Iraq to express support for the Palestinians in the Israel-Hamas conflict. On May 16, U.S. officials discussed press freedom conditions in Kurdistan with regional PM Barzani. On May 16, a lawmaker said that Kadhimi was negotiating a cabinet reshuffle with major blocs in the Parliament. On May 16, activists in Karbala began implementing self-protecting measures, fearing lethal militia retaliation. On May 19, KRG officials said they will begin drafting an inclusive regional constitution. UNAMI’s Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, voiced her support for a regional constitution, but said it must be about the people, and complement the federal constitution. On May 19, Fatah Coalition leader Hadi al-Amiri called on the government to take control of Iraqi airspace, and take back Ain al-Assad and al-Harir air bases. more…
  • Kadhimi Removes Senior Commander From His Post; IEDs Target Coalition Convoys In Southern Provinces; ISF And Peshmerga Join Forces – On May 13, Kadhimi appointed General Ali al-Majedi as Basra Operations Commander, replacing General Akram Saddam. On May 14 and 18, three IEDs targeted International Coalition supply convoys in Dhi-Qar and Diwaniya, without causing casualties or damage. On May 14 and 16, four IEDs planted by ISIS damaged four power supply towers in Kirkuk and Diyala. On May 16, a grenade killed three children and injured two others near Tikrit. On May 17, Iraqi F-16 warplanes struck ISIS hideouts in Hamam al-Alil, south east of Mosul. The strike killed eight militants. On May 19, a legacy IED explosion in the Atshana mountain range of Ninewa injured a senior officer in the Iraqi army and his orderly. On May 20, KRG and federal security officials commissioned a joint command center in Khanaqin as part of a joint effort to quell ISIS resurgence in disputed areas in Ninewa, Kirkuk, Salah ad-Din, and Diyala. more…

  • Only 2% Of Iraqis Have Been Vaccinated; COVID-19 Cases Continue Downward Trend – On May 15, UAE launched the first phase of a medical assistance program to provide COVID-19 vaccines for 15,000 Iraqi IDPs and Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region. On May 18, the Health Ministry said that only 2% of Iraq’s population has received a COVID-19 vaccine, and that achieving herd immunity against the virus will require vaccinating 60-70% of the population. On May 20, government data showed that the rate of COVID-19 infections continued to decline, with an average of 3,435 cases per day during the last 7-day period, compared to an average of 4,843 per day during the 7-day period ending May 13. The Health Ministry also reported a decrease of 14,934 in hospitalizations. The total number of people who received the COVID-19 vaccine reached 512,164. more…

  • Government Says Dried Tigris River Bed Is Intentional; Iraq’s GDP Per Capita Plunged 30% In 2020 – On May 16, the Transportation Ministry said it expects the construction of al-Faw port project south of Basra to generate 10,000 – 15,000 job opportunities. On May 16, Iraqi officials said the talks with Iran regarding a railroad project that would connect the two countries are in final stages. The line, the first between the two neighboring countries, would run for only 18 miles and cost around $150 million. On May 16, the Water Resources ministry said concerns about a water crisis after images showed significant drop in the Tigris River levels, are unfounded. On May 18, officials in the Kurdistan Region inaugurated a steel factory in Erbil with the capacity to produce 350,000 tons of metal annually. On May 19, the Ministry of Planning said that Iraq’s GDP per capita plunged 30.3% last year. 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.


Three Million Won’t Be Able To Vote; Diplomats Push KRG To Address Press Freedom Concerns; PM Eyes Cabinet Reshuffle; Activists Brace For More Assassinations

On May 13, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi said during a speech marking Eid al-Fitr, and one year since he took office, that his government will not spare an effort to hold a fair and honest election on October 10, and called on political parties to protect the integrity of the electoral process and “avoid the mistakes of the past.” Kadhimi warned that those “trying to bully” the government by threatening civil war, continue plotting, but said that the government’s legal institutions will eventually prevail, and those malign actors will pay the price, sooner or later. The Prime Minister also recounted his government’s efforts to fight corruption, return Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to their hometowns, and implement economic reform.    

On May 15, thousands participated in large-scale demonstrations in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities to express support for the Palestinians amid the rising toll on civilians because of the Israel-Hamas armed conflict. Iraqi security forces blocked roads leading to Tahrir Square in Baghdad and secured the area for politicians, tribal leaders, Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) groups, and ordinary citizens to demonstrate. Muqtada al-Sadr called for the demonstrations in a statement on Twitter. Some users on social media were quick to remind Sadr that his Mahdi Army and other allied militias were responsible for killing, kidnapping and displacing hundreds of Palestinian refugees in Baghdad 15 years ago. On May 19, a three-bus convoy carrying about 150 protestors, left Dhi-Qar province in an attempt to reach Israel via Jordan. Abbas Attia, one of the organizers, said the convoy will attempt to enter Jordan “by force” and travel across until it reaches the border with Israel. 

On May 16, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Joey Hood, met with Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Masrour Barzani, and discussed press freedom conditions in the Kurdistan Region following an appeals court ruling to uphold prison sentences for five journalists and activists in Duhok province. Authorities charged the men with several “crimes,’ including meeting U.S. and Germans diplomats. Barzani, who previously described the five men as “spies,” told Hood that the trial was a legal matter, and that they committed “illegal acts.” He said that the KRG “values” the work of diplomatic missions in the region, but insisted that the men misused their contact with foreign diplomats for nefarious motives. On May 17, the U.S. Consulate in Erbil welcomed the KRG’s “reaffirmation of its unequivocal support for press freedoms,” and the clarification that meetings with diplomats do not constitute a crime.

On May 16, Parliament Member Rahim al-Aboudi said Prime Minister Kadhimi was negotiating a cabinet reshuffle with major blocs in the Parliament. He added that Kadhimi wants to appoint a successor for his resigned Health Minister, and replace the ministers for Finance, Industry, Trade, and Agriculture. The Prime Minister indicated last month that he could replace cabinet members due to poor performance. According to article 78 of the Iraqi constitution, sacking or replacing a minister requires the support of an absolute majority in Parliament. 

On May 16, al-Mada reported that political activists in Karbala province began changing their phone numbers, travel routes, and even residences as armed groups escalate their threats, especially after the assassination of Ehab al-Wazni. Ahmed Sa’ad, an activist in Karbala city,  said several prominent activists received threats via social media platforms or verbally. Sources said last week that armed groups plan to retaliate against activists they blame for the attempted storming of the Iranian Consulate in Karbala last week. 

On May 17, the head of Gorran bloc in Parliament, Yousif Mohammed, expressed doubts about the integrity of the upcoming elections, and said that there are nearly a “million fake electronic voter cards that were used in the previous elections and could be used” again. Mohammed added that he didn’t see a point in holding an early election if it was going to “reproduce the current political equation.” On May 16, Parliament Member Hoshyar Abdallah of Gorran, struck a similar tone and casted doubts on the electoral process. He said the current election law is designed to fit the needs of major political parties, and called to amend the law and address the concerns about voting cards. At least six political parties have so far declared elections boycott for various reasons, chief among them the assassination of activist Ehab al-Wazni last week.  

On May 18, the Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) said that 22 million voters have updated their records either biometrically or by obtaining an electronic card (17 million and five million respectively). IHEC’s spokesperson Jumana al-Ghalai said that three million eligible voters have missed the deadline of April 15 to update their records, and therefore, they won’t be able to vote in the October elections. According to al-Ghalai, most of those who missed the deadline are between the ages of 18 to 21 years old. 

On May 18, dozens of protestors in eastern Nasiriyah blocked a major highway linking Dhi-Qar with other provinces, to demand better public services. A local source said protesters torched tires to block the road that leads to Baghdad. In Diwaniya, dozens of postgraduate degree holders gathered in front of the local government building to protest unemployment. Participants said they plan to continue their protest until the government provides job opportunities. 

On May 18, Iraqi Prime Minister Kadhimi met with Assistant Secretary General of NATO, John Manza, in Baghdad and discussed the military alliance’s role in combating terrorism, and upgrading Iraq’s military capabilities within the framework of training, advising, and developing institutional infrastructure. Kadhimi said that his government wants to strengthen non-combat bilateral relations in a capacity that respects the sovereignty of Iraq.

On May 19, Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani said that executive and legislative branches of the KRG will begin “practical steps” to draft a regional constitution that is inclusive politically, ethnically and religiously. Addressing attendees of a political conference in Erbil, Barzani added that the document should organize the political system of the region, enforce the rule of law, and “make all the groups in Kurdistan feel safe.” Earlier in the day, KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani expressed support for  drafting a regional constitution. In her speech at the conference, the head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, called on political parties in Kurdistan to end their division, and voiced her support for drafting a regional constitution that is about the people. She added “if you do this – do it right.” Hennis-Plasschaert also stressed that the draft “will have to fit hand-in-glove” with Iraq’s federal constitution. Efforts to draft a Kurdistan constitution are not new. In 2009, political parties in the region drafted a constitution, but they tabled the document due to disputes over certain articles. Parties resumed the work on a new document In 2019, but suspended their efforts once again due to political infighting.

On May 19, Fatah Coalition leader Hadi al-Amiri called on the government to impose its “full control” over Iraqi airspace, and “end continued violations by drones.” Amiri also demanded that Iraqi security forces take back control of Ain al-Assad air base in Anbar and al-Harir air base in Erbil. He said that the strategic talk should produce “positive tangible outcomes” that includes withdrawal of foriegn combat forces “as soon as possible and according to a predefined timetable.” Iraqi and U.S. officials stressed during the latest round of strategic dialogue on April 7, that U.S. forces presence in the country was at the invitation of the Iraqi government, and agreed to hold future talks regarding a timetable to redeploy remaining U.S. “combat troops” outside Iraq.


Kadhimi Removes Senior Commander From His Post; IEDs Target Coalition Convoys In Southern Provinces; ISF And Peshmerga Join Forces

On May 13, Prime Minister Kadhimi appointed General Ali al-Majedi as Commander of Basra Operations Command, relieving General Akram Saddam from the post. A security source said Kadhimi made the decision after armed groups attacked a security force that traveled from Baghdad to Basra City to execute arrest warrants against militia leaders.

On May 14, a security source said an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) exploded near an International Coalition supply convoy on the road to Nasiriyah in Dhi-Qar province. The source said the convoy was transporting equipment provided by the Coalition to the Iraqi government. On May 18, a second IED attack of similar nature targeted another supply convoy on the same highway. On the same day, a security source said that an IED exploded near an International Coalition supply convoy in Diwaniya province. None of these attacks caused casualties or damage.

On May 14, an ISIS attack with two IEDs damaged power transfer towers in Riyadh subdistrict, west of Kirkuk province. On May 16, another ISIS attack heavily damaged two towers of the Mirsad-Diyala power transfer line in the Khanaqin district of Diyala province. A local source said the attack caused a major power disruption in the entire province.

On May 16, an Explosive Remnant of War (ERW) killed three children and injured two others in the village of al-Malha near Tikrit in Salah ad-Din province. A security source identified the ERW as a grenade.

On May 16, a police source said that a legacy IED explosion injured a civilian in the village of Bazwaiya, east of Mosul in Ninewa province.

On May 17, sources said Turkish warplanes bombarded the villages of Kista, Harur and Jalki in Duhok province. The following day, witnesses told Shafaq that five Turkish airstrikes targeted the village of Disheesh in the Kani Masi subdistrict of Duhok. Since late April, Turkish forces have been waging a large-scale operation against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighters in northern Iraq.

On May 17, Iraqi F-16 warplanes struck ISIS militants’ hideouts in Hamam al-Alil, south east of Mosul in Ninewa province. The Defense Ministry said the operation killed eight militants who used the area to launch attacks on security forces.

On May 18, clashes erupted between Peshmerga fighters and PKK fighters in the Bradost area in Soran district of Erbil province. A Peshmerga source said that the clashes, which lasted two hours, didn’t cause casualties, and that the fighting started when the Peshmerga attempted to establish observation posts in the area.

On May 19, a legacy IED exploded near an Iraqi army vehicle in the Atshana mountain range, south west of Mosul in Ninewa province. A security source said the blast injured a senior officer and his orderly.

On May 19, a security source said that ISIS militants attacked a checkpoint for tribal fighters in the Buhruz subdistrict of Diyala province. The attack killed a member of the tribal force.

On May 20, KRG and federal security officials began implementing a previous agreement to establish four joint command centers in Ninewa, Kirkuk, Salah ad-Din, and Diyala provinces, set up joint checkpoints, and launch joint operations against ISIS. Military officials commissioned the first joint command center in Khanaqin, north east of Diyala. Officials expect to commission the other centers in the coming days. The new framework aims to prevent ISIS militants from exploiting buffer zones between Iraqi forces and Peshmerga in disputed areas. A Peshmerga source said that the International Coalition would provide technical and aerial support for the joint operations. Prime Minister Kadhimi ordered military commanders to coordinate with Peshmerga after ISIS launched a series of deadly attacks in April.


Only 2% Of Iraqis Have Been Vaccinated; COVID-19 Cases Continue Downward Trend

On May 15, the United Arab Emirates launched the first phase of a medical assistance program to provide COVID-19 vaccines for 15,000 Iraqi IDPs and Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region. The vaccination program, which also includes inoculating 12,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, will prioritize the elderly and those with chronic conditions. The Emirates Red Crescent will oversee the program in coordination with the Health Ministries in Iraq and Jordan, as well as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

On May 17, 308 Iraqis arrived at Baghdad International Airport from India, in the second airlift operation of its kind to bring citizens who were stranded there following the suspension of air travel in April amid a massive spike in infections with the B.1.617 mutation (Indian variant) of coronavirus. Evacuees were tested upon arrival and are currently in a 14-day isolation.

On May 18, the Health Ministry said that only 2% of Iraq’s population has received a COVID-19 vaccine, and that achieving herd immunity against the virus will require vaccinating 60-70% of the population.

On May 20, the Iraqi Ministry of Health said the total number of COVID-19 infections reached 1,156,137. This is an increase of 24,045 cases from the 1,132,092 reported on May 13. Of these cases, 72,648 are currently in hospitals, including 464 being treated in ICUs. These numbers represent a significant decrease of 14,934 in hospitalizations and seven in ICU admissions since May 13. Ministry data indicated that there were 219 new COVID-19 deaths since May 13, bringing the total from 15,883 to 16,102. The total number of recoveries increased from 1,028,627 to 1,067,387. The average number of new cases was 3,435 per day during the last 7-day period, compared to an average of 4,843 per day during the 7-day period ending May 13. In the past 24 hours, the areas with the highest case counts were Baghdad with 1,278 cases, Basra with 535 cases, Ninewa with 316 cases, Sulaymaniyah with 307 cases, Najaf with 293 cases, and Diyala with 243 cases. To date, Iraq has tested a total of 10,014,057 samples for COVID 19. The total number of people who received the COVID-19 vaccine reached 512,164, including 14,221 who received their shots on May 20.


Government Says Dried Tigris River Bed Is Intentional; Iraq’s GDP Per Capita Plunged 30% In 2020

On May 16, the Transportation Ministry said it expects the construction of al-Faw port project south of Basra province to generate 10,000 – 15,000 job opportunities. The Iraqi Ports Authority said that it expects Daewoo E&C, the South Korean company the government contracted to build the port, to hire 700 employment opportunities once the initial phase of construction begins.  

On May 16, Iraqi officials said the talks with Iran regarding a railroad project that would connect the two countries are in final stages. Talib al-Husseini, Director of the General Company for Iraqi Railways, said that he expects the construction of the Basra- Shalamchah railroad to begin “in the coming days.” According to Global Construction Review, the line would run for only 18 miles and cost around $150 million, and that it would be the only rail connection between the two countries. 

On May 16, the Water Resources ministry attempted to ease concerns about a new water crisis after social media users shared images showing significant drop in the Tigris River levels. The Ministry said the drop was an intentional operational measure that meets the current needs of water treatment facilities. Ministry spokesperson, Awni Dhiab, added that water levels at Mosul Dam were good and can be used to increase water levels if necessary.   

On May 18, officials in the Kurdistan Region inaugurated a steel factory in Erbil province with the capacity to produce 350,000 tons of metal and steel annually. The $100 million private investment Med Steel factory generates its own power supply, and is expected to provide more than a 1,000 job opportunities. 

On May 19, the Ministry of Planning said that Iraq’s GDP per capita plunged 30.3% last year. According to government data, GDP per capita in local currency went from IDQ7.102 million ($4,856) in 2019 to IQD 4.95 million ($3,385) in 2020. On May 13, Iraq’s rating in Global Finance’s index for the richest countries dropped 33 places (from 82 to 115) from 2020 to 2021. Data from the International Monetary Fund puts Iraq’s GDP per capita adjusted for Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) at $10,003 this year, compared to $18,025 in 2020.


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

Casualties Due To IEDs from May 13, 2021 - May 20, 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
05/14/21Nasiriyah, Dhi-Qar province00
05/14/21Riyadh subdistrict, Kirkuk province00
05/14/21Riyadh subdistrict, Kirkuk province00
05/16/21Khanaqin, Diyala province00
05/16/21Khanaqin, Diyala province00
05/16/21Bazwaiya, Ninewa province01
05/18/21Nasiriyah, Dhi-Qar province00
05/18/21Diwaniya province00
05/19/21Atshana mountain range, Ninewa province02

 

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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