ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM: MAY 19 – 26, 2022

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Key Takeaways:

  • Militias Threaten Kurdish Leaders; KDP, PUK Meet In An Attempt To Break Deadlock; Parliament Passes Bill Criminalizing Ties With Israel – On May 23, an umbrella group of Iran-backed Iraqi militias accused the KDP of collaborating with Israel and “training armed factions…that aim to spread chaos.” The message included a threat to the Kurdish leaders, saying that “the fire they try to start will turn on them and burn them first.” The security council of the Kurdistan region responded with a message of deterrence, warning that “any aggression on the Kurdistan region…would be very costly” for the aggressors. On May 25, the political bureaus of the KDP and PUK issued a joint statement after a meeting in Erbil that was chaired by the KDP’s Nechirvan Barzani and PUK’s Bafel Talabani. The statement said the Wednesday meeting, and an earlier meeting between Barzani and Talabani in Sulaymaniyah, “set the stage for…normalization between the two sides…and for restoring confidence between them.” On May 26, Iraq’s Parliament voted to approve a law for the “Criminalization of Normalization with the Zionist Entity.” The new law makes it illegal to travel to Israel or engage in any “diplomatic, political, military, economic, cultural, or any other relations” with Israel. The law, which threatens violators with harsh penalties, including death, was approved unanimously by 275 lawmakers who attended Thursday’s session. more…
  • Turkey-PKK Violence Escalates In Kurdistan; Deadly ISIS Attacks Kill 15 Iraqis; Drone Targets Baghdad Airport – On May 21, airstrikes by Turkish drones on two vehicle in Makhmour and Chemchemal killed seven people, including locals and members of the PKK. On the same day, an explosive drone struck a Turkish military base north of Mosul, killing a member of a local Iraqi militia that receives training from the Turkish military. Between May 24 – 26, the Turkish Defense Ministry said that six of its soldiers were killed and two were injured during clashes with PKK militants in the Kurdistan region. Between May 23 – 26, seven attacks by ISIS militants in Kirkuk, Diyala, Ninewa, and Salah ad-Din killed at least 15 Iraqis, wounded 12, and left two missing. The deadliest of these attacks struck the village of Islah, near Jalawla, and Taza in Kirkuk, and accounted for 12 of the fatalities. On May 24, air defense systems near Baghdad airport shot down a drone, which security sources said was an Iranian made, and was headed for the “diplomatic support area” at Baghdad airport, which hosts personnel from the U.S. and International Coalition nations. more…
  • New Sandstorms Blanket Iraq; Iraq Asks EU To Help Close Al-Hol Camp; Hemorrhagic Fever Outbreak Is “Not An Epidemic” Yet – On May 23, Iraq’s Health Ministry said that more than one thousand people received medical help for breathing problems amidst a new severe sandstorm that covered large parts of Iraq, as well as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. This is at least the third intense sandstorm to hit Iraq in May, and the eighth since April. On May 24, Iraq’s National Security Advisor called during a meeting with a delegation from the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Security and Defense for closing al-Hol, the massive camp for refugees and IDPs in Syria. The official called the camp a “real danger to the region and the world.” On May 24, a spokesman for Iraq’s Health Ministry said that the recent spread of hemorrhagic fever has not reached epidemic levels. Iraq has reported 98 cases to date, among which 18 were fatal. In other developments, on May 23, the World Bank said it decided to fund a $10 million project to develop teaching practices of 4,000 Arabic and math teachers, and enhance “literacy and numeracy skills” among 300,000 struggling primary school students. The Bank said recent student assessments indicate that, by 3rd grade, more than nine out of ten students were not comprehending what they were reading. On May 26, Iraq’s Health Ministry said the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases reached 2,327,665, an increase of just 700 from the 2,326,965 reported on May 19. Hospitalizations decreased from 1,238 to 1,025, and the daily average for new cases during the last 7-day period decreased to 100/day from 115/day during the 7-day period ending May 19. The number of people who received the COVID-19 vaccine reached 10,58,203 including 14,132 who received their shots on May 26. more…
  • Iraq Looks To Export More Oil Through Turkey; Foreign Currency Reserves Rise; Positive Developments In Major Deal With TotalEnergies- On May 22, Iraq’s Oil Minister met with Turkey’s ambassador to Baghdad and emphasized the need to “increase exports capacity through Turkey’s port of Ceyhan…through new projects and agreements.” On May 25, Iraq’s Finance Minister said the Central Bank of Iraq’s foreign currency reserves increased to $70 billion in April, an increase of nearly $16 billion compared to March of 2021. On May 26, Iraq’s Oil Minister met with the chief executive of TotalEnergies in Paris and agreed on a set of timelines for executing a package of energy projects, which had been facing obstacles due to disagreements over financial arrangements. The projects involve the development of an oil field, harnessing gas from five oil fields, building a 7.5 million bpd seawater reprocessing plant, and developing a 1,000 megawatt solar energy plant. In other developments, on May 24, new statistics released by Iraq’s Planning Ministry showed that there were a total of 2,282 hotels and other tourist lodging facilities across the country, an increase of 37% from 2018. 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.


Militias Threaten Kurdish Leaders; KDP, PUK Meet In An Attempt To Break Deadlock; Parliament Passes Bill Criminalizing Ties With Israel

On May 23, the so-called “Iraqi Resistance Tanseeqiyah,” an umbrella group of Iran-backed Iraqi militias, accused the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of “training armed factions” and facilitating “suspect movements by the agents of foreign powers that aim to spread chaos, discord and destruction.” The accusations, which were directed at regional prime minister Masrour Barzani, claimed these activities had “obvious Zionist fingerprints.” The Tanseeqiyah included a threat to the Kurdish leaders, saying that “the fire they try to start will turn on them and burn them first.” The security council of the Kurdistan region responded with a statement on May 24 in which it dismissed the accusations “made by an illegitimate group” as “baseless.” The regional security council continued to warn that “any aggression on the Kurdistan region…would be very costly [for the aggressors],” adding that the Iraqi army and Peshmerga are working together “against terrorism and these groups involved in conspiracies, chaos, and destruction.”

On May 24, Iraqi President Barham Salih met with a visiting European delegation led by Nathalie Loiseau, from the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Security and Defense. During the meeting, which focused on Europe’s support for Iraq’s military against terrorist threats, Salih highlighted the interconnection between terrorism and corruption, calling for more concerted efforts to fight the latter, which he said represented the “political economy for violence and terrorism.”. The Iraqi president said the international community should consider creating an anti-corruption coalition along the lines of the global coalition to defeat ISIS.  

On May 24, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi received a phone call from his Bulgarian counterpart, Kiril Petkov. According to a statement by Kadhimi’s office, the call discussed expanding bilateral relations, specifically with regard to defense and security cooperation, and the potential for “transferring Bulgarian expertise in weapons manufacturing technology” to Iraq.  

On May 25, the political bureaus of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) issued a joint statement after a meeting in Erbil that was chaired by the KDP’s Nechirvan Barzani and PUK’s Bafel Talabani. The statement pointed to very little tangible outcomes. It said the Wednesday meeting, and an earlier meeting between Barzani and Talabani in Sulaymaniyah, “set the stage for dialogue and normalization between the two sides…and for restoring confidence between them.” It added that the two parties, which have been deadlocked in a struggle over naming the next president of Iraq, have agreed to hold more meetings, and to form a joint committee to discuss another point of contention: the upcoming elections in the Kurdistan region. Ahead of the May 25 meeting, the spokesperson of the KDP reiterated that the party was “steadfast in its position regarding the presidency and its candidate, Mr. Reber Ahmed.”  

On May 26, Iraq’s Parliament voted to approve a law for the “Criminalization of Normalization with the Zionist Entity.” The new law makes it illegal to travel to Israel or engage in any “diplomatic, political, military, economic, cultural, or any other relations” with the state of Israel. The law also makes it a crime to “promote any Zionist or Masonic ideas, principles, or behaviors by any means.” Penalties for these violations include prison, confiscation of property, and in some case the death penalty. The law, which was presented by the trilateral alliance of Muqtada al-Sadr and his allies in Speaker Halbousi’s Siyada coalition and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), was approved unanimously by the 275 lawmakers who attended Thursday’s session. The text of the bill’s final draft as prepared by Parliament’s legal committee can be found here.


Turkey-PKK Violence Escalates In Kurdistan; Deadly ISIS Attacks Kill 15 Iraqis; Drone Targets Baghdad Airport

On May 20, local officials in Tuzkhormatu in Salah ad-Din province said that two rockets struck open areas near the villages of Brojli and Bankaja without causing casualties or damages. Security forces later discovered a vehicle that was used to launch the rockets near the adjacent district of Amerli. 

On May 21, local officials in the Chemchemal district of Sulaymaniyah province said that Turkish armed drones killed five people in an attack on a vehicle in the district. According to the mayor of the Aghchelar subdistrict of Chemchemal, two of those killed were local residents of the Kurdistan region, while the identity of the other three remains unknown, adding that they were probably members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). On the same day, Turkish armed drones struck a vehicle near the Makhmour refugee camp in Ninewa province, killing its two occupants, according to the mayor of Makhmour. Turkish news agencies said the target was Mehmet Erdogan, an alleged senior figure in the PKK. 

On May 21, the Ninewa police said that a drone laden with explosives struck the Turkish military base at Zelikan, north of Mosul. Local sources said the attack killed a member of the Ninewa Guards, a local Iraqi militia that receives training from the Turkish military. A previously unknown group called “Ahrar Sinjar” claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was a response to the “Turkish Occupation” and “its recent aggression near Kirkuk and Duhok,” in possible reference to the same day’s Turkish drone strikes mentioned above. 

On May 22, the Security Media Cell said that an airstrike by Iraqi Cessna Caravan aircraft targeted a group of ISIS militants north of lake Tharthar, killing three militants. After the airstrike, ground troops moved in to inspect the area, and clashed with two other militants, killing both. 

On May 23, security sources in Diyala province said that ISIS militants attacked the village of Islah, north of the Jalawla subdistrict, using sniper fire and mortars. Initial reports said the attack killed two civilians and injured a civilian and an Iraqi soldier. Subsequent reports raised the death toll to six, and the number of those injured to eight. During the attack, the militants reportedly infiltrated the village and occupied one of its houses, killing four more civilians, whose bodies were discovered by security forces after the militants withdrew from the area.  

On May 23, security sources said that ISIS militants attacked Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) fighters in the al-Hadhar district south of Mosul. The attack killed one PMF fighter and wounded two, all from the PMF 44th brigade.  

On May 23, security sources in Salah ad-Din province said that ISIS militants attacked an Iraqi army checkpoint near Tuzkhormatu, and another checkpoint manned by tribal mobilization fighters near Tlul al-Baj. The two attacks injured one Iraqi soldier and one tribal mobilization fighter, respectively. 

On May 23, the Security Media Cell reported that ISIS militants attacked farmers in the Taza district of Kirkuk province while they were harvesting their wheat crops. The attack, which happened under the cover of sandstorms, killed six of the farmers and set fire to agricultural equipment and parts of the victims’ farms. 

On May 24, the Turkish Defense Ministry said that five of its soldiers were killed and two were injured during clashes with militants from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Another soldier was killed in further clashes in the Kurdistan region on May 26, raising Turkey’s casualties in the past 48 hours to six. 

On May 24, the Security Media Cell reported that air defense systems intercepted and shot down a drone that was approaching the Mohammed Ala’ air base west of Baghdad. The statement, which did not mention the origin of the drone, said the aircraft did not have permission to fly in that sector of airspace. Unnamed security sources said the aircraft was an Iranian made KAS 04 type drone, and was headed for the “diplomatic support area” at Baghdad Airport, which hosts personnel from the U.S. and International Coalition nations. 

On May 25, the PMF said that ISIS militants attacked PMF fighters in the village of Sheik Najm near the Mansouriyah subdistrict, northeast of Baquba. The attack killed two PMF fighters. To the northwest, PMF fighters clashed with ISIS militants attempting to infiltrate a village in the Wana subdistrict, north of Mosul, killing one of the militants. 

On May 25, security sources in Baghdad said that unidentified gunmen wearing military uniforms kidnapped three individuals (two civilian government employees and a former member of the security forces) while they were fishing in the Abayachi area north of Baghdad. The gunmen later released one of the captives and took the other two to an unknown destination.  

On May 26, a security source in Basra said that the detonation of an unexploded remnant of war injured a municipal worker in the Siba subdistrict, south of Basra City, taking the victim’s left leg. 


New Sandstorms Blanket Iraq; Iraq Asks EU To Help Close Al-Hol Camp; Hemorrhagic Fever Outbreak Is “Not An Epidemic” Yet

On May 23, Iraq’s Ministry of Health said that more than one thousand people received medical help for breathing problems amidst a new severe sandstorm that engulfed large parts of Iraq, as well as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. The storm created low visibility and dangerous traffic conditions, temporarily shutting down work at government offices and operations at multiple airports. This is at least the third intense sandstorm to hit Iraq in May, and the eighth since April.

On May 23, the World Bank said it has decided to finance a project at a cost of $10 million to support “innovations towards learning” in three of Iraq’s poorest provinces where education is considered to be lagging. The project will focus on developing the teaching practices of “more than 4,000” Arabic and math teachers, and enhance “literacy and numeracy skills” among some 300,000 struggling primary school students in those provinces, which the Bank’s press release did not specify. The statement noted that, due to poor education outcomes, Iraq’s human capital represents less than 1/6th of the nation’s total wealth, which is one of the lowest levels among other countries in the region. Recent assessments of reading and math skills indicate that, by 3rd grade, more than nine out of ten students were not comprehending what they were reading, and more than four out of ten could not “answer a single subtraction problem question correctly.”

On May 24, Iraq’s National Security Advisor, Qassim al-Araji, met with a delegation from the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Security and Defense. During the meeting, Araji called for closing al-Hol, the massive camp for refugees and internally displaced persons (IDP) located in northeastern Syria. Araji said the camp, which is home to thousands of people with perceived ties to ISIS, posed “real danger to the region and the world,” and called on governments that have citizens in the camp to repatriate them. 

On May 24, a spokesman for Iraq’s Health Ministry said that the recent spread of hemorrhagic fever in the country has not reached epidemic levels. According to the spokesman, Iraq has recorded 98 cases to date, among which 18 were fatal. That’s 43 cases and six fatalities more than the country reported as of May 10. 

On May 26, the Iraqi Ministry of Health reported the total number of COVID-19 infections reached 2,327,665, an increase of just 700 in cases from the 2,326,965 reported on May 19. Of these cases, 1,025 are currently under treatment, including eight being treated in ICUs. These numbers represent a decrease of 213 in hospitalizations and a decrease of three in ICU admissions since May 19. Ministry data indicated that there were two new COVID-19 deaths since May 19, bringing the total to 25,218. The average number of new cases during the last 7-day period slightly decreased to 100 per day from 115 per day during the 7-day period ending May 19. In the past 24 hours, the areas with the highest case counts were Baghdad with 37 cases and Sulaymaniyah with 16 cases. To date, Iraq has tested a total of 18,573,748 samples for COVID-19. The number of people who received the COVID-19 vaccine reached 10,58,203 including 14,132 who received their shots on May 26.


Iraq Looks To Export More Oil Through Turkey; Foreign Currency Reserves Rise; Positive Developments In Major Deal With TotalEnergies

On May 22, Iraq’s Oil Minister Ihsan Esmail met with Turkey’s ambassador to Baghdad, Ali Riza Guney, and discussed the role of Turkish companies in “developing production operations and new projects by the Ministry and Iraqi National Oil Company.” A statement by the Oil Ministry added that Esmail emphasized the need to develop relations with Turkey and “increase exports capacity through Turkey’s port of Ceyhan…through new projects and agreements.” The statement added that the two sides discussed “developments regarding the implementation” of the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court’s decision in February regarding the legality of oil operations in the Kurdistan region. 

On May 24, new statistics released by Iraq’s Planning Ministry about the hotels sector showed that there were a total of 2,282 hotels and other tourist lodging facilities across the country. This figure, according to the ministry, represents an increase of 37% compared to 2018, when there were 1,666 establishments. Karbala province had the most hotels, accounting for 29% of the total, followed by Erbil, with 20.9%, and Baghdad with 16.3%. Five star hotels represented only 1.6% of the 2,282 establishments. Most of the five star hotels are concentrated in Erbil (11), Sulaymaniyah (9), Baghdad (7), and Duhok (4). 

On May 25, Iraq’s Finance Minister, Ali Allawi, said the foreign currency reserves of the country’s central bank had increased to $70 billion in April. This represents an increase of nearly $16 billion compared to March of 2021. Allawi attributed the increase to the recovery of oil prices and “sound fiscal management,” adding that the foreign currency reserves could reach $90 billion by the end of 2022, should oil prices preserve their gains. 

On May 26, Iraq’s Oil Minister, Ihsan Esmail, met with the chief executive of BP in London to discuss increasing oil production from the BP-operated Rumaila oil field in Basra to reach a target peak of 1.7 million barrels per day (bpd). According to a ministry statement, Esmail and BP also discussed the company’s plans for capturing associated gas from the giant field, which currently produces about 1.35 million bpd. On the same day, Esmail met with the chief executive of TotalEnergies in Paris to discuss a package of energy projects that Baghdad and Total had agreed to pursue last year. According to a ministry statement, Esmail and the TotalEnergies chief executive agreed on a set of timelines for executing those projects, which reportedly had been facing obstacles due to lacking approvals from other Iraqi ministries for important financial aspects of the deal. The deal involves projects to develop an oil field, harness gas at five oil fields, build a 7.5 million bpd seawater reprocessing plant, and develop a 1,000 megawatt solar energy plant. The statement did not provide details about the newly agreed upon timelines. 


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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