Takeaways for October 9-15, 2015
- An Iraqi airstrike reportedly hit a convoy carrying Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), injuring him. Several of his top advisors were reportedly killed in the airstrike too.
- Following expanded U.S. involvement in the fight to retake Ramadi, the provincial capital of al-Anbar, the Badr Brigades and several other Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) with ties to Iran have fallen back from Ramadi and turned their attention to retaking Baiji, a city in the neighboring province of Salah ad-Din and home to Iraq’s largest oil refinery. The PMUs have reportedly cleared ISIS from much of Baiji and its refinery.
- Meanwhile, in the city of Ramadi, Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and other PMUs focused on consolidating control of the neighborhoods and areas seized in last week’s offensive.
- The Ministry of Peshmerga (the military forces of the KRI) reported that 35 of its fighters were exposed to mustard gas while fighting to clear ISIS from the areas of Makhmour and al-Kwer southwest of Erbil. The exposures are believed to be connected to the use of artillery shells that contained the chemical agent. The Ministry did not report on the current health of the fighters who were exposed, nor provided a date when the exposures are believed to have occurred.
- Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s package of reforms continues to make slow progress. The Prime Minister, President Fuad Masum, and Speaker of the Council of Representatives Salim al-Jebouri agreed to the formation of a committee on national reconciliation. The committee’s agenda includes reforms related to both the executive and legislative branches of government. The Council of Ministers agreed to the Federal Supreme Court’s recommendations on reforming the country’s highly contested personnel salaries system. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s dismissal of police chiefs across several provinces met with protests and at least one outright rejection. The rejection occurred in Kirkuk, a province in northern Iraq under the de facto control of the Kurdistan Regional Government.
- The Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) is facing a deepening political and economic crisis. The ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of President Masoud Barzani is in a deadlock with the KRI’s other major political parties on setting a date for the region’s next Presidential election, while mass protests continue over unpaid wages and calls for economic reform. Several protesters have died in clashes with security forces, while numerous acts of arson have occurred against the offices of the KDP and other parties.
- The cholera outbreak in Iraq continued unabated, with poor access to sanitation and hygiene contributing to its spread.
Airstrike on Baghdadi’s convoy
On October 10, Iraqi Air Force struck a convoy that was carrying Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, as well as a number of his top lieutenants. According to Iraqi intelligence sources, al-Baghdadi “was on his way to attend a meeting with senior ISIS leaders in Krabanah in Western Anbar.” The site of the meeting was also hit, resulting in the deaths of even more ISIS leaders. Although Baghdadi’s death was later denied by official media, the head of the Anbar council, Mr. Fadahwi, alleged that he was injured in the strike and a number of top ISIS leaders were reportedly killed.
On October 14, Abu Mohamad al-Adnani, a spokesperson for ISIS, confirmed the death of Abi Mutaz al-Qirashi, aka “Abu Muslim al-Turkmani,” a top lieutenant in ISIS, and, by some accounts, the number 2 in the organization.
Fierce fighting to clear ISIS from Baiji
On October 11, ISF artillery units began heavily bombarding ISIS-held districts in the city of Baiji, in northern Salah ad-Din, in preparation for an upcoming attack by PMU forces. Sources reported a large number of ISF and PMU troops and equipment arriving in Baiji in preparation for the upcoming offensive there, particularly PMU troops arriving from Ramadi.
On October 12, sources reported that ISF units had advanced into the Presidential Palaces, to the south-west of Baiji city, and that ISIS units were currently burning large quantities of oil to hamper their progress and impede airstrikes.
On October 12, a security source revealed that Hadi al-Amiri, Secretary General for the Badr Brigades, a PMU force, is in Baiji leading the push to liberate the city and the refinery from ISIS
On October 13, ISF forces advanced into the al-Siniyah area of Baiji city, as part of an ongoing operation to clear the city. They also cleared the al-Rabee town to the west of the city.
On October 14, ISF and PMU joint forces announced a mass, three-pronged offensive aimed at clearing the northern areas of Salah ad-Din named “Labaika, ya Rasool Allah,” aimed primarily at Baiji. PMU and ISF troops, assisted by roughly five thousand Sunni tribal fighters, moved in to surround and secure Baiji city and the Baiji refinery, which is currently controlled by ISIS. The joint forces secured the K2 military base to the west of Baji, while Iraqi federal policeseized the connected K2 air base. Both were previously occupied by ISIS, and their capture cuts off the direct supply route between Baiji and Anbar province. The neighboring suburb, al-Siniyah, to the immediate north of the base, iswitnessing fierce fighting between the joint forces and ISIS troops, as it forms the southern perimeter of the Baiji Chemical Storage facility. There were also widespread claims of fighting in Baiji city itself, although which areas specifically were witnessing fighting is unclear. There is also widespread reporting of the joint forces]surrounding and in some cases entering, the Baiji refinery. The Badr Brigades in particular claim to have surrounded the refinery and the nearby thermal power plant, and some sources claim that they have seized large portions of it. The major battle for the refinery is expected tomorrow, according to Hadi al Amiri, Secretary General of the Badr organization, a hardline Shia PMU who is leading the battle.
Consolidation in Anbar
On October 14, ISF troops continued to clear Albu Faraj neighborhood in northern Ramadi,seizing the Al-Etsam Square and raising the Iraqi flag over the Albu Faraj Bridge, which was destroyed earlier this year in an ISIS offensive. Al-Etsam square was the site of the protests in 2014 that signified the beginning of the current crisis. Ibrahim Said Fadhawi, head of the Anbar Security Committee, announcedthat 60% of the entrances and areas surrounding Ramadi had been secured by the joint forces.
Confirmed use of mustard gas by ISIS
On October 8, the Ministry of Peshmerga confirmed that ISIS had fired approximately 35 shells containing mustard gas on Peshmerga forces during the fighting for Makhmour and al-Kwer. Mustard gas is a chemical weapon prohibited by the Geneva Protocol of 1925 and the Chemical Weapons Convention, ratified in 1993. The Ministry did not disclose if there were any casualties from this incident, and requested that allies send them protective gear in the event of another attack.
Prime Minister Abadi’s reforms
On October 14, hundreds protested
the government’s decision to dismiss Babil’s police chief Maj. Gen. Riyadh Abdul Ameer and select officers in Hilla city, calling the decision “hasty.”
On October 8, President Fuad Masum, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and Speaker of the Council of Representatives Salim al-Jubouri agreed to form a preparatory committee on national reconciliation. Some issues on the agenda include: the implementation of government and parliamentary reforms; enhanced legislation; social services; security, fiscal, and monetary policy; and ISIS led crimes against civilians and intellectuals in Ninewa. President Fuad Masum also met with Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations in Iraq Jan Kubis at the Peace Palace to discuss recent developments in the national reconciliation project and the next phase of UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) projects to assist in reconstruction.
On October 13, the Council of Ministers agreed to the Federal Supreme Court’s recommendations to reform the personnel salaries system, a much contested portion of the financial budget.
On October 13, Kirkuk Provincial Council announced
its rejection of a decision made by the Interior Ministry to dismiss its provincial police direction and select Directorate officers. Head of the Supreme Security Committee and Governor of Kirkuk, Najm al-Deen Kareem stated, “any change in the leadership of the security forces in Kirkuk by the Ministry of Interior should be done in coordination and consultation with the administration of the province and its board.”
On October 12, the Muthanna Police Department confirmed
that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi dismissed police chiefs from the provinces of Muthanna, Basra, Karbala, and Kirkuk. The abolition of posts is seen as an implementation of Abadi’s reform package.
Continued instability in KRG negotiations
On October 8, five of Kurdistan’s political parties — Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Movement for Change (Goran), the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU), and the Kurdistan Islamic Group (Komal) met for the ninth time in Sulaimania to consult on the pressing issue of presidency. After the meeting, the PUK
announced a “failure” on the part of the five parties to come to a decision. Said Fred Assard, a member of the PUK, stated “the five parties have not set a date or venue for its next meeting” and pushed his party’s position on the need to “hold early elections.” Presidential elections in the region were originally set for 2013, however, the Kurdish parliment voted to extend his term in light of the then-recent fall of Mosul and the war with ISIS. In August, the KRG Shura Council, a top judicial body, extended Barzani’s term another two years. The other parties dispute the legality of this move. The decision that the five parties must come to is whether to agree with the council to further extend Barzani’s term or hold elections for a new president in the region. Barzani, who has reached his term limit, cannot run again.
On October 8, violence ensued between protesters and Kurdish Police as dozens of health and higher education staff demonstrated in front of the Grande Millennium Hotel in Sulaimania city center, the location of the five party meeting on the presidency crisis. According to Shafan Zankna, a regulatory affair official, demonstrators, who were joined with numerous civil society groups, are demanding the government address unpaid salaries, unemployment, economic reform, corruption, and accountability. Clashes began as security forces tried to prevent protesters from entering the venue.
On October 10, violence ensued once again between dozens of protesters and security forces in the Sayed Sadiq district leaving many wounded. The clash occurred as demonstrations for the payment of teachers’ salaries escalated to violence, with select protesters setting fire to nearby automobiles. This comes just a day after 1 protestor died and five were wounded by security forces in Qaladiza city after an unknown assailant set fire to KDP headquarters, killing 2 personnel and wounding 9. Hundreds also came out in Kalar district and Sulaimania city center to protest delayed teachers’ salaries, with many presenting flowers to police to symbolize the call for peaceful demonstrations.
On October 11, hundreds of demonstrators came out again in Sulaimania and Halabja to protest delayed salaries and the standoff over the presidency, emphasizing the need for the parties to meet their demands through peaceful means. Facebook has been temporarily closed by the regional government in reaction to the influx of protests, likely to hamper activists ability to organize further protests.
On October 11, demonstrators in protest of delayed salaries stormed “the headquarters of political parties” across Sulaimania and Halabja, particularly in the “Rania, Qaladaza, Halabja city, Bengwin, Kalar and Kefrin areas,” pulling down party flags and raising the Kurdistan regional flag. While protesters demanded the release of their salaries, they also demanded the end to political differences between the parties. This comes days after KDP headquarters were overtaken by protesters on October 9 and marks the burning of six KDP buildings. According to KDP reports, the leader of the Movement for Change (Gorran), Nawshirwan Mustafa, is responsible for the violence seen during the demonstrations, allegedly carried out by student political blocs, and has deemed the acts reminiscent of the “internal war” of the nineties, stating that Gorran is “seeking to eliminate the political project in the region.”
On October 13, a number of meetings were held between select Kurdish parties to discuss recent political conflicts. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) held a meeting in Sulaimania with the Movement for Change (Gorran) and held a subsequent meeting with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) to discuss renewed tensions between the two actors as a result of the dismissal of ministers belonging to Gorran, who the KDP alleged “violated political agreements.” Also discussed was the KDP’s subsequent attempt to prevent Speaker of Parliament Mohammed Yusuf and Gorran MPs from entering Erbil. Yusuf called these effort an attempted coup against the legitimacy of the Kurdistan region. A meeting of three of the five parties in Erbil, led by Ali Baber of the Islamic Group of Kurdistan, was also held to discuss party tensions and violence seen in recent demonstrations. Deputy Secretary General of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan Rasool Ali, Secretary General of the Islamic Union of Kurdistan, and Amir Muhammad Faraj of the Islamic Group of Kurdistan were also in attendance. Mullah Bakhtiar of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan has called the dismissal of Gorran ministers “illegal” and noted that “the government should include all parties” and rejects the formation of a new government without Gorran.
On October 14, the PUK announced the arrest of 400 people allegedly involved in the burning of party headquarters throughout Sulaimania.
Cholera outbreak continues
On October 12, the Cholera Crisis Committee in Babil announced that it will submit a proposal to the provincial council to demand the Ministry of Education postpone primary school for 10 days to reduce the spread of cholera.
On October 12, the Department of Health in Kirkuk registered nine new cases of cholera within the last week, stressing that all of the patients entered Kirkuk from other provinces to receive treatment. All of the patients have recovered and left the hospital, stressing that none of the patients are from Kirkuk and that the province is free from cholera. According to the anonymous source, “Most of the patients were from the people of Basra, Nasiriyah, Hilla, Baghdad, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah, who came to the province for the purpose of transit and travel to other provinces.” This has prompted the province of Kirkuk, to take precautionary measures such as: awareness campaigns and seminars and the distribution of more than 25 million chlorine tablets sterile.
On October 13, Kurdistan recorded 2 confirmed cases and 21 unconfirmed cases of cholera in Dahuk.On October 12, the ministry of Health announced
the registration of 106 new cases of cholera across Iraq, therefore putting the total number of cases at 1438. Department Director Hassan Hadi Baqir stated that “eight cholera cases were recorded in the province of Dhi Qar, today, while two of the cases were recorded in the province of Najaf, and the capital, Baghdad, witnessed 56 injuries” (51 cases on the Rusafa side and 5 cases on the Karkh side.) Additionally, 31 cases were recorded in the province of Karbala and nine cases in the province of Diwaniya.” This comes on top of another four new cases announced two days before.
On October 14, the Ministry of Health established a Cholera Command and Control Center to search and monitor cases within each province.To date 15 provinces have reported cases of cholera, most have been reported in Babylon, Baghdad, Qadisiyyah and Muthanna. WHO announced that preparedness activities will focus on IDP camps. These activities include distribution of bottled water, hygiene kits, bleaching powder and chlorine tablets; disinfecting septic tanks at healthcare facilities; sanitizing the water treatment plant; and disseminating information on cholera prevention through social media, radio stations and door-to-door campaigns. From October 4- 11, a nationwide campaign was conducted by the Federal Ministry of Health, WHO, and UNICEF; it reached approximately 1.5 million households. While focus was placed on vaccinating children against polio, information was distributed on how to detect, prevent and treat cholera.
Erik Gustafson is EPIC’s Executive Director, Taif Jany is it’s Program Manager, and Brian Nichols is the Research Intern. They would like to thank Alexsandra Canedo and Tanesha Singletary for their research support. ISHM’s research methodology was developed by Ahmed Ali.