- Objections Delay Election Law Discussions Again; UNSG Raises Controversy During Rare Iraq Visit – On February 27, Iraq’s parliament voted to postpone discussions of proposed amendments to the local elections law until March 4. The proposals to reduce the number of electoral districts and return to proportional representation have sparked objections from small parties and independents, and now followers of Muqtada al-Sadr, who consider them undemocratic. Meanwhile, allies of Nouri al-Maliki, a strong proponent of the amendments, said the main political blocs were determined to pass the amended law. On March 1, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres visited Baghdad and Erbil and met with PM Sudani and other Iraqi leaders. Guterres said he was on “a visit of solidarity” to showcase the UN’s “commitment…to support Iraq in the consolidation of its democratic institutions and advancing peace, sustainable development and human rights for all Iraqis.” Guterres said he was “encouraged” by the formation of Sudani’s government and its commitment to tackle “the most pressing challenges facing the country head on – including combating corruption.” The Secretary General faced much criticism from Iraqis on social media on Thursday after he appeared in photographs alongside Asaib Ahl al-Haq leader Qais al-Khazali and at least two other designated individuals accused of human rights abuses. In other developments, on February 28, the KDP and PUK said they had reached an agreement on “most” of their disputes concerning the Kurdistan region’s election law and electoral commission. more…
- ISF Operations Kill 25 ISIS Militants; Renewed Turkish Airstrike Target PKK-Affiliated Militias In Sinjar – Between February 24 – March 2, Iraqi airstrikes and counter-terrorism troops killed at least 25 ISIS militants in Anbar and Salah ad-Din. The largest operation eliminated a cell of 17 militants in the western Anbar desert near Akashat. Between February 27 – March 1, two Turkish airstrike targeted vehicles of the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS) near Sinjar, killing at least five people. Between February 24 – March 1, eleven Iraqis were killed, one was wounded, and three went missing following attacks by ISIS militants and unidentified gunmen in Diyala, Anbar, and Ninewa. On February 25, the explosions of two IEDs in Diyala and Ninewa wounded two Iraqis. A third IED explosion in Diwaniyah targeted a military supply convoy without inflicting casualties. more…
- Severe Water Shortage Hits Iraq’s Rivers; New Digital Content Regulations Raise Fear Of New Free Speech Restrictions – On February 26, Iraqi officials and news reports said that water in the Tigris and Euphrates had reached dangerously low levels in the southern parts of the country. Images posted by environmental activists and news photographers on social media showed the riverbeds were exposed in places like Nasiriyah and Amara. Officials attributed the situation to a significant drop in water flows coming from Turkey, saying that current water flows were below 30% of historical levels. On February 27, a leaked draft of a bill for the regulation of digital content caused outrage among rights defenders and free speech advocates who said it represented an attempt to “muzzle [dissenting] voices and destroy freedom of expression.” Critics said the bill vaguely defined what constitutes acceptable content and included harsh penalties for posting content that’s against “prevailing societal norms.” In other developments, on March 2, the UN Secretary General visited a rehabilitation center for former al-Hol residents being returned by Iraqi authorities, and urged countries that have nationals at al-Hol to accelerate the process of repatriation of those nationals. Guterres cautioned that “the longer we let this untenable situation fester, the more resentment and despair will grow, and the greater the risks to security and stability.” more…
- Baghdad And Erbil Reach “Preliminary” Agreement On Budget; Oil Revenue Lower In February – On February 28, the KRG and federal government reportedly reached a preliminary agreement on Kurdistan’s share in the 2023 federal budget. KDP sources said the agreement entitles the KRG to 12.76% of the federal budget, includes funding for the KRG Peshmerga forces, and puts a hold on implementing Federal Supreme Court rulings against the KRG oil sector. On March 1, Iraq’s Oil Ministry said that February oil exports averaged 3.295 million bpd and generated $7.08 billion in revenue, some $600 million lower than the $7.69 billion achieved in January. In other developments, on March 1, Iraq’s Labor Ministry announced the launch of a new platform to match job seekers with employers and opportunities in the private sector. On March 1, the KRG announced the launch of a program to replace cash with direct deposit to pay the wages of all civil servants, pensioners, and security services in the region. 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.
Objections Delay Election Law Discussions Again; UNSG Raises Controversy During Rare Iraq Visit
On February 25, Iraq’s Defense Minister, Thabit al-Abbasi, arrived in Tehran on an invitation from his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad-Reza Ashtiani. During a joint press conference with Abbasi, the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said his organization was ready to advise and train the Iraqi military, presenting that as an alternative to the “divisive” and “controlling” presence of U.S. forces in Iraq.
On February 27, Iraq’s parliament voted to postpone discussions of proposed amendments to the local elections law until Saturday, March 4. The amendments in question have been controversial and sparked objections from small parties and independent lawmakers who see them as undemocratic. Specifically, the amendments center around reducing the number of electoral districts by treating provinces as individual electoral districts, and returning to the Sainte Lague system of proportional representation. More recently, the followers of Muqtada al-Sadr have also voiced their opposition to the amendments, with former deputy speaker Hakim al-Zamili posting a message aligning the group with the senior clergy’s position against a system based on “closed lists and single districts.” Ahead of parliament’s Monday meeting, hundreds of Iraqis gathered outside the Green Zone to express their objection to the amendments amid tight security. Simultaneously, there were reports of heavy deployment by armed followers of Muqtada al-Sadr, and of friction between them and rival armed factions, at the Turkish Restaurant building, across the Tigris from the Green Zone. There were no reports of actual violence, though. Meanwhile, lawmakers from the bloc led by Nouri al-Maliki, a strong proponent of the amendments, stressed that the main political blocs were determined to pass the amended election law, adding that postponing the discussion until March 4 was meant to “appease” objecting representatives and “create a pleasant atmosphere, but nothing more.”
On February 28, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) said in a joint statement that they had reached an agreement on “most” of their disputes concerning the Kurdistan region’s election law and electoral commission. The parties added in their statement that they would reconvene again in a matter or days to reach a final agreement on the matter. The region was expected to hold general elections in October of last year, but the vote was postponed due to disagreements over electoral rules and lawmakers voted to extend the term of the current legislature by an additional year.
On March 1, the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, visited Iraq and met with Prime Minister Sudani and other Iraqi leaders in Baghdad and Erbil on his first trip to the country since 2017. Speaking alongside Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani, the Secretary General said that he was on “a visit of solidarity” to showcase the international organization’s “commitment…to support Iraq in the consolidation of its democratic institutions and advancing peace, sustainable development and human rights for all Iraqis.” Guterres said he was “encouraged” by the formation of Sudani’s government and its potential and commitment to tackle “the most pressing challenges facing the country head on – including combating corruption, improving public services, and diversifying the economy.” Addressing the threat of water scarcity, Mr. Guterres, said this problem was “compounded by reduced inflows from outside, unsustainable water management, and now more and more climate change,” which he described as “the present danger of our times,” noting that this was “a threat that requires international attention.” The UN official also said he called for “sustainable agreements” on disputes between Baghdad and Erbil, lauded Baghdad’s steps to repatriate its citizens from al-Hol camp in Syria, and praised Iraq’s diplomatic efforts towards “advancing dialogue and diplomacy, based on the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and good neighbourliness. The Secretary General faced much criticism from Iraqis on social media on Thursday by appearing in photographs alongside Asaib Ahl al-Haq leader Qais al-Khazali and at least two other designated individuals accused of human rights abuses.
On March 2, Iraq’s Integrity Commission said that the Anti-Corruption Central Criminal Court had ordered the current deputy of the minister of migration and the displaced for technical affairs to appear in court. The order, which also affected several other ministry officials, is related to alleged violations in a contract to build a camp for internally displaced Iraqis at al-Amla in Ninewa province.
Sources cited in this section include: Shafaq, Kurdistan24, INA, ISHM archives, al-Sumaria, Nas News, Ultra Iraq, Rudaw, al-Hurra, Iraqi prime minister’s office, Reliefweb.
ISF Operations Kill 25 ISIS Militants; Renewed Turkish Airstrike Target PKK-Affiliated Militias In Sinjar
On February 24, security sources in Anbar province said that ISIS militants attacked a checkpoint manned by fighters from the tribal mobilization forces of the Hit district near the village of al-Khodha. The attack killed four of the pro-government tribal fighters.
On February 24, the Security Media Cell reported that an Iraqi airstrike targeted ISIS militants near Wadi al-Udheim in Salah ad-Din province, killing five of the targeted individuals. Two days later, on February 26, a senior Iraqi military spokesman said that counter-terrorism service troops conducted an operation in pursuit of ISIS militants in the desert around Akashat in western Anbar province. The spokesman said the operation resulted in the killing of 17 ISIS militants “including a very senior leader.” Finally, on March 2, a senior Iraqi military spokesman said that Iraqi troops from the al-Jazeera operations command killed three ISIS militants in the Hit districts. Documents found at the militants’ hideout indicated that they were involved in a deadly attack on tribal mobilization fighters in the same districts on February 24.
On February 25, security sources in Diyala said that an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded in a village east of the Khanaqin district, northeast of Baquba, wounding a local animal herder. On the same day, a legacy IED detonated in the town of Badush, northwest of Mosul, seriously injuring one civilian. To the south, Iraqi security sources said that an IED exploded targeting a convoy transporting supplies for the anti-ISIS International Coalition on a major highway in the southern province of al-Diwaniyah. There were no reports of casualties or serious damage as a result of the attack.
On February 26, Ninewa police said that security forces in Sinajar recovered the bodies of three local animal herders who had been murdered in unknown circumstances near the town of Khanasur. To the southeast, security sources in Diyala said on February 27 that a local fisherman was killed and another was injured when ISIS militants attacked their boat on lake Himrin, northeast of Baquba. On the following day, news reports said that a farmer was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen in the Baladruz district, southeast of Baquba. Then on March 1, security sources in Anbar province said that security forces recovered the burned bodies of two truffle hunters who were kidnapped along with three others several days earlier near the desert town of Nukhaib. According to the sources, the other three truffle hunters, who include servicemembers, remain missing.
On February 26, the Security Media Cell reported that authorities had opened an investigation into an incident in which an army soldier killed a civilian in the town of Yusufiyah, south of Baghdad. The statement did not provide details about the circumstances of the deadly incident.
On February 27, the counter-terrorism service of the Kurdistan region said that a Turkish airstrike targeted a vehicle belonging to members of the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS) near the town of Khanasur in the Sinjar district. The statement said the airstrike killed three members of the group, which is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ arty (PKK). Two days later, on March 1, local sources reported that Turkish armed drones conducted a second strike near Sinjar, killing another YBS official and one of his guards.
Sources cited in this section include: al-Sumaria, INA, Shafaq, NINA, Reuters, Nas News.
Severe Water Shortage Hits Iraq’s Rivers; New Digital Content Regulations Raise Fear Of New Free Speech Restrictions
On February 26, Iraqi officials and news reports said that water in the Tigris and Euphrates had reached dangerously low levels in the southern parts of the country. Images posted by environmental activists and news photographers on social media showed the riverbeds of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers were exposed in places like Nasiriyah and Amara. Water Resources officials attributed the situation to a significant drop in water flows coming from Turkey through the two rivers, saying that current water flows are at less than 30% of their historical levels. A ministry spokesman explained that the country’s water reserves had dropped from 59 billion cubic meters in 2019 to just 8 billion cubic meters now, blaming mismanagement by former governments and undisciplined use by farmers for the rapid depletion of those reserves.
On February 27, news sites in Iraq circulated a leaked draft of a bill prepared by the Communications and Media Commission for the regulation of digital content in the country. The leaked document caused outrage among rights defenders and free speech advocates who said it represented an attempt to “muzzle [dissenting] voices and destroy freedom of expression.” Critics of the leaked bill noted that it contained vague definitions of what constitutes acceptable content, and harsh penalties for posting content that does not conform with “prevailing societal norms.” A spokesman for the Commission played down the leaked document as mere suggestions presented by “some academics and civil society organizations.” The development comes three weeks after the government established a platform to receive tips from the public about “inappropriate” social media content and arrested several content creators based on such tips.
On February 27, Iraq repatriated a new group comprising 154 households of Iraqis with perceived ties to ISIS from the al-Hol camp in Syria to the Jedaa camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Ninewa, the U.S. Central Command said. This is the second transfer of its kind to take place under the government of Mohammed al-Sudani. There are nearly 27,000 Iraqis at al-Hol, making up half of al-Hol’s occupants. Many of these are women and children with perceived ties to ISIS. This week, UN Secretary General Antonion Guterres visited the Jedaa camp, which is considered the rehabilitation center for former al-Hol residents. The Secretary General urged countries that have nationals at al-Hol to accelerate the process of repatriation of those nationals. Mr. Guterres emphasized that the international community “must prevent the legacy of yesterday’s fight from fueling tomorrow’s conflict.” He cautioned that “the longer we let this untenable situation fester, the more resentment and despair will grow, and the greater the risks to security and stability.”
On February 27, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released a report outlining the ongoing transition from a humanitarian-focused approach for addressing assistance needs in Iraq to a development-focused one. The report notes the marked improvement in humanitarian in recent years compared to the years during and immediately following the occupation by ISIS of major parts of Iraq, with the number of people needing humanitarian assistance dropping from a high of 11 million people in 2017 to 2.5 million in 2022. It notes that the improvement in state revenues in 2022 has allowed governments in Baghdad and Erbil to be in “a substantially improved position to deliver basic services of quality, and protection to its own population, including displaced and returnee populations.” The report explains that in light of decreasing humanitarian needs and growing local ability to provide solutions, the international humanitarian response in Iraq is winding down, while a government-led approach is being put in place. This approach will be implemented under the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (UNDSCF).
Sources cited in this section include: France24, Ultra Iraq, socialmedia, Rudaw, Reliefweb, al-Sumaria, ISHM archives.
Baghdad And Erbil Reach “Preliminary” Agreement On Budget; Oil Revenue Lower In February
On February 28, Rudaw reported that the Kurdistan regional government (KRG) and federal government in Baghdad had reached an agreement on the Kurdistan region’s share in the proposed 2023 federal budget. News of the agreement followed a new round of negotiations between a KRG delegation and Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani earlier this week. According to news reports citing a member of the parliamentary finance committee from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the agreement entitles the KRG to a share equivalent to 12.76% of the federal budget. The federal government would also include the expenses of the KRG Peshmerga forces in its sovereign expenses budget. Baghdad would also allow the KRG to continue its unilateral oil exports and suspend Federal Supreme Court rulings in this regard until parliament passes an oil and gas legislation. Another KDP representative said the agreement was “preliminary” and “awaits a political agreement” before the parties could move forward to pass a budget bill.
On March 1, Iraq’s Oil Ministry said that crude oil exports during February totaled 92.25 million barrels, for an average of 3.295 million barrels per day (bpd), which is about 30,000 bpd higher than exports in January. The February exports generated $7.08 billion in revenue, some $600 million lower than the $7.69 billion achieved in January. Iraq sold its crude oil at an average price of approximately $76.75 per barrel, about $0.8 above the previous month’s average of $75.96 per barrel. Shipped exports from fields in southern and central Iraq averaged 3.183 million bpd, while exports from the northern fields in Kirkuk, which were exported through the Turkish port of Ceyhan, averaged slightly more than 117,670 bpd. Iraq also sold an average of 10,000 bpd carried by trucks to Jordan. The exports to Jordan were sold at a discount of $10.26 below the official average for January.
On March 1, Iraq’s Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs announced the launch of “Mihan” (meaning vocations or careers), a new platform for matching job seekers with employers and opportunities in the private sector. The new platform, the first of its kind in Iraq, was developed in cooperation with iMMAP and with support from Germany’s GIZ.
On March 1, KRG Prime Minister Masoud Barzani announced the launch of “Hisabi” (meaning my account), a new program to deposit the paychecks of people in the public sector electronically into their bank accounts. The new program aims to replace cash in paying the wages of all civil servants, pensioners, and security services in the region, and is scheduled to commence operations “within days,” according to Barzani. The program’s rollout will start with a pilot initiative benefiting 850 health workers in Erbil’s hospitals.
On March 2, the Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) decided to increase the maximum amount of U.S. dollars that each “A” rated exchange company can purchase from the CBI by $2 million each week. The move is part of CBI measures meant to mitigate the ongoing shortage in foreign currency that has negatively impacted the value of the dinar in recent months. As the markets closed on Thursday, the exchange rate on the parallel market was around IQD1,525 to $1, which remains significantly higher than the official rate of IQD1,300 to $1 set by the Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) in February.
Sources cited in this section include: Iraq’s Oil Ministry, ISHM archives, INA, NINA, Kurdistan24, Shafaq, Nas News.
IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties
Casualties Due To IEDs from February 23, 2023 - March 2, 2023
|2/25/23||Khanaqin, Diyala province||0||1|
|2/25/23||Badush, northwest of Mosul||0||1|
|2/25/23||On the main highway through Diwaniyah province||0||0|
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.
Subscribe to our weekly ISHM and have the latest developments in Iraq sent straight to your inbox every Thursday and follow EPIC on Twitter to receive updates throughout the week.