ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM: MARCH 16 – 30, 2023

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Key Takeaways:

  • Iraq And Iran Sign Border Security Agreement; Sudani Asks Erdogan To Release More Water; Parliament Passes Controversial Election Law Amendments – On March 19, the head of Iran’s supreme national security council, Ali Shamkhani, visited Baghdad to sign a new border security agreement meant to combat the presence of Iranian opposition groups along the Iran-Iraq border in Kurdistan. On March 21, PM Sudani arrived in Ankara and met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Sudani and Erdogan then led their countries’ delegations in detailed discussions about water, economic cooperation, and security. After the discussions, Erdogan said Turkey agreed to increase the volumes of water released through the Tigris and Euphrates for one month to help Iraq cope with water scarcity. On March 27, Iraq’s parliament voted to approve the remaining articles of an amended election legislation that will govern the next parliamentary election as well as elections for provincial and district councils. The amended law reinstated the modified Sainte Lague system of party list proportional representation, favored by large establishment parties, with a quotient of 1.7. Under the amended law, each province will be regarded as a single district, replacing the 83 districts adopted in the 2021 election. The law states that provincial elections are to be held by December 20 of this year, while parliamentary elections must be held at least 45 days before the end of this legislative term. The scene at the early morning session, attended by 218 MPs, was chaotic, as Speaker Halbousi used security forces to evict lawmakers who tried to stop the vote, including those from the Emtidad party, Ishraqat Kanon, and independents. News of the law’s passage also sparked protests in some of Iraq’s southern cities, including Hilla, Nasiriyah, and Kut. In other developments, on March 26, the KRG president announced that the next parliamentary election in the region will be held on the 18th of November, 2023. more…
  • Ministry Document Says Key Suspect In Hisham Al-Hashimi’s Assassination Is Missing – On March 28, Iraqi news sites circulated a letter addressed from Iraq’s Ministry of Justice to a member of parliament in response to an inquiry about the whereabouts of a key suspect in the 2020 assassination of prominent journalist and security analyst Hisham al-Hashimi. According to the letter, the suspect, Ahmed Maarij al-Kinani, could not be found at any of the ministry’s holding facilities. The Justice Ministry did not provide an explanation for the disappearance of al-Kinani, who had been arrested in July of 2021 and made televised confessions about his role in the assassination. Kinani was identified at the time as a police officer who was involved with “rogue groups.” In other developments, between March 17 – 28, the explosions of three IEDs and one remnant of war in Dhi-Qar, Wasit, Makhmour, and Kirkuk killed three civilians, including two children, and wounded three Popular Mobilization Forces fighters. Between March 17 – 29, Iraqi airstrikes and ground operations in Anbar, Diyala, and Kirkuk killed at least nine ISIS militants. On March 29, unidentified gunmen attacked the home of a policeman near the town of al-Khalis in Diyala, killing three members of his family and wounding a fourth. more…
  • Funds Urgently Needed To Sustain Food Aid For IDPs and Syrian Refugees; Iraq Joins UN Water Convention – On March 21, the World Food Program (WFP) warned that lack of funding is going to prevent it from continuing to deliver monthly food assistance to 137,000 Iraqi IDPs and 38,000 Syrian refugees in Iraq. The WFP says it urgently needs donors to contribute an additional $10 million to allow it to extend additional assistance until Iraqi authorities can include those IDPs and refugees in its social safety nets. On March 24, the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) said that Iraq became the 49th party to join the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (the UN Water Convention), which aims to ensure the sustainable use of transboundary water resources through cooperation across borders. Speaking at the UN Water Conference he was attending in New York, President Abul-Latif Rashid warned that “Iraq faces a real water crisis” and underscored the need for rules to govern how neighbors share the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates. In other developments, on March 26, Iraq’s Ministry of Trade signed a letter of cooperation with the WFP to reform the country’s public distribution system, with the stated goal of creating a comprehensive, resilient, and fully digitized system. more…
  • KRG Oil Exports Halted Following Pipeline Arbitration Decision; Gas Production Commences At The Akkaz Field – On March 25, Iraq’s Oil Ministry said that Iraq won an arbitration case against Turkey for violating the Iraq-Turkey export pipeline treaty by allowing the KRG to export oil without Baghdad’s consent. Following the ruling by the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce, Turkey halted exports of all oil coming from Kurdistan and the Kirkuk fields, which had averaged around 450,000 bpd. Iraq’s Oil Ministry said it would initiate discussions with the KRG and Ankara to agree on a new mechanism for exports, adding that it was “keen on exporting all available volumes from all fields…to maximize revenue.” In the meantime, oil companies operating in Kurdistan began diverting oil to storage tanks and making preparations to shut down production. On March 28, Iraq’s Ministry of Electricity said it started fueling the Akkaz power plant in Anbar with natural gas produced from the nearby Akkaz gas field. Oil officials said Akkaz is pumping 60 million cf/d, enough to generate 95 megawatts, from four recently developed wells. In other developments, on March 21, Kuwaiti logistics company Agility said it was awarded $1.6 billion in damages by an international arbitration court in connection with a dispute with the Iraqi Kurdish telecom firm Korek. On March 27, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria signed a multilateral memorandum of understanding for agricultural cooperation and trade promotion. 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.


Iraq And Iran Sign Border Security Agreement; Sudani Asks Erdogan To Release More Water; Parliament Passes Controversial Election Law Amendments

On March 19, the head of Iran’s supreme national security council, Ali Shamkhani, visited Baghdad and met with Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani and other Iraqi officials, including national security adviser Qasim al-Araji, Speaker Halbousi, and the head of the Supreme Judicial Council Faeq Zaidan. Sudani affirmed to Shamkhani during their talks that Iraq refuses to let its territory be used to launch attacks against any of its neighbors, a statement by Sudani’s office said. During his visit, Shamkhani and Araji signed a new agreement for cooperation on border security, an Iraqi government statement said. According to a report by Reuters, Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said that “Shamkhani’s current trip to Iraq has been planned since four months and is focused on issues related to the armed groups in northern Iraq.” On November 23, the Iraqi government had decided to enhance security along the borders with Iran and Turkey by deploying border guard units. The decision was made in response to Iranian demands for Iraq to crack down on Kurdish separatist groups that have bases on the Iraqi side of the border.

On March 19, Iraq’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Fuad Hussein, arrived in Brussels on a 3-day visit to participate in the 3rd meeting of the council on cooperation between Iraq and the European Union. A spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Ministry said Hussein was scheduled to have a plenary meeting with the EU foreign ministers, as well as bilateral meetings with the Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, and other senior European officials. 

On March 20, the Trade Minister of Saudi Arabia, Majid al-Qasbi, arrived in Baghdad accompanied by a delegation of Saudi officials and met with Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani. The meeting discussed bilateral investment and trade relation, as well as cooperation on energy and climate change, a statement by Sudani’s office said. During the visit, Qasbi and the Iraqi Ministers for Trade and Planning convened a meeting of the Iraqi-Saudi coordination council and discussed the implementation of memoranda of understanding previously signed between the two countries. 

On March 21, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani arrived in the Turkish capital, Ankara, and met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. According to a statement by the prime minister’s office, Erdogan and Sudani led their countries’ delegations in detailed discussions concerning several areas of bilateral relations, including water, economic cooperation, and security. At a joint press conference following the discussions, Erdogan said Turkey agreed to increase the volumes of water released to Iraq through the Tigris and Euphrates for one month to help Iraq cope with water scarcity. Meanwhile, Iraq’s Transportation Minister said the Iraqi delegation approached Turkey about a project to connect Iraq’s under-construction Fao port to Turkey’s Mersin port with highways and railroad to stimulate the movement of trade between the east and Europe through Iraq and Turkey.

On March 21, a security source in Diyala said that a special security unit arrested the former chairman of the Sunni Endowment office, Saad Kambash, from his residence in Baquba. Kambash faces a number of corruption charges, and last week the Integrity Commission said a warrant was issued for his arrest in connection with irregularities in a contract to rebuild the Grand Mosque of Mosul. 

On March 26, the presidency of the Kurdistan regional government (KRG) announced that the next parliamentary election in the region will be held on the 18th of November, 2023. A spokesman for the KRG president said the region has asked the United Nations to support its efforts to conduct a successful electoral process. In October of last year, a majority of representatives in the regional legislature voted to postpone elections and extend the parliamentary term by one year amid disagreements between the two major parties about the electoral system. 

On March 27, Iraq’s parliament voted to approve the remaining parts of an amended election legislation that will govern the country’s next parliamentary election as well as elections for provincial and district councils. A week earlier, in the early morning hours of March 20, parliament had voted to approve 7 out of 15 articles in the new legislation after weeks of delays due to objections from small parties and independents. The amended law reinstated the modified Sainte Lague system of party list proportional representation, favored by large establishment parties, with a quotient of 1.7. Under the amended law, each province will be regarded as a single district, replacing the 83 districts adopted in the 2021 election. The law also settles the debate over whether Iraq is to hold another early election by stipulating that parliamentary elections must be held 45 days before the end of the prior legislative term. The law also states that provincial elections are to be held no later than December 20 of this year. The scene at the early morning session, attended by 218 lawmakers, was chaotic, as Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi used security forces to evict lawmakers who were vocal in opposing the amendments. Halbousi also decided to refer the objecting representatives to the public prosecutor, demanding punishment for their alleged violation of parliamentary ethics. The Emtidad party, one of the law’s opponents who also included Ishraqat Kanon and independents, called Halbousi’s actions a “dangerous precedent that goes against democratic values.” Emtidad’s founder Ala’ al-Rikabi said the new law would “crush” the chances of small parties in the next election. The party said it would challenge the vote with the Federal Supreme Court. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) said in a statement later that its representatives did not vote for the law because it included articles that undermined Kurddish interests in Kirkuk and other disputed territories. Meanwhile, several lawmakers from the Christian community issued a statement condemning the law and accusing Masoud Barzani and Nouri al-Maliki of “betrayal” by passing a law that allows Barzani’s KDP to “appropriate” two seats from the Christian community’s quota. News of the law’s passage also sparked protests in some of Iraq’s southern cities, including Hilla, Nasiriyah, and Kut.

Sources cited in this section include: INA, al-Sumaria, NINA, Reuters, ISHM archives, Iraqi PM’s office, al-Hurra, Rudaw, al-Arabiya, Iraq’s parliament, Ultra Iraq. 


Ministry Document Says Key Suspect In Hisham Al-Hashimi’s Assassination Is Missing

On March 17, Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said that a force of pro-government tribal mobilization fighters killed four ISIS militants and destroyed their vehicle in a “preemptive operation” in the al-Ka’ra region in the desert of Anbar province. To the east, Iraqi security sources said on March 24 that Iraqi combat aircraft conducted four strikes in the Himrin mountains and near lake Himrin in Diyala province, killing three ISIS militants. In the adjacent Kirkuk province, Iraqi military sources said on March 29 that F-16 jets struck a hideout used by ISIS militants in the Wadi al-Khassa area, killing at least two of them. 

On March 17, security sources in Dhi-Qar province said that unidentified individuals threw a homemade improvised explosive device (IED) at a residential building in central Nasiriyah. The explosion, which occurred on a street where followers of Muqtada al-Sadr hold their weekly Friday prayers, caused damage to the targeted building but there were no reports of casualties.

On March 17, unidentified gunmen shot and killed Dr. Akeel Abdullah, a college professor in Nasiriyah, the provincial capital of Dhi-Qar province. The local government said security forces were able to arrest two key suspects in the incident, which was caught on security cameras. 

On March 18, the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) said that an IED explosion struck a vehicle that was transporting several PMF fighters during a security operation in the area between Kirkuk and Salah ad-Din provinces. The explosion injured at least three PMF intelligence personnel. 

On March 19, Ninewa police said that unidentified gunmen shot and killed a civilian who operates a poultry farm near his home in the Sinjar district. To the east, in Mosul, the Interior Ministry said on the same day that a brigadier general in the counter-terrorism directorate was killed and another service member was wounded during an operation to arrest a wanted individual in the eastern side of the city. 

On March 21, security sources in Wasit province said that a civilian was killed when an old land mine exploded near him in the Zurbatya subdistrict, along the border with Iran. To the north, in Ninewa province, security sources said on March 28 that two children were killed when a legacy IED exploded in the Diwana area near the Makhmour district.

On March 28, Iraqi news sites circulated a letter addressed from Iraq’s Ministry of Justice to a member of parliament who had made an inquiry concerning the whereabouts of a key suspect in the 2020 assassination of prominent journalist and security analyst Hisham al-Hashimi. According to the letter, the suspect, Ahmed Maarij al-Kinani, was no longer present in any of the ministry’s holding facilities. The Justice Ministry did not provide an explanation for the disappearance of al-Kinani, who had been arrested in July of 2021 and made a televised confession about his role in the assassination. Kinani was identified as a police officer who worked in the Interior Ministry, and was  involved with “rogue” groups. 

On March 27, local sources in Dhi-Qar province said that a group of nearly 40 individuals wielding cold weapons stormed into the Nasiriyah municipal hall and attacked people who were there to attend a political event featuring lawmakers from the New Generation party. At least six of the attendees were wounded in the attack, which also damaged the contents of the venue, according to the sources. 

On March 28, Shafaq reported citing informed sources that major general Abdullah Ramadan had been assigned to be the new chief of the Ninewa Operations Command, replacing lieutenant general Mahmoud al-Falahi, who had occupied this position since April of 2021. 

On March 29, security sources in Diyala said that unidentified gunmen attacked the home of a family in the Albu-Abdallah village, northeast of the town of al-Khalis, and killed three members of that family and wounded a fourth, who managed to escape. The gunmen reportedly set fire to a nearby cottage ahead of the attack to create distraction. According to the source, the victims were the family of a local policeman, adding that it was unclear whether the motives were related to terrorism or tribal conflict. 

Sources cited in this section include: Shafaq, al-Sumaria, INA, ISHM archives, NINA.


Funds Urgently Needed To Sustain Food Aid For IDPs and Syrian Refugees; Iraq Joins UN Water Convention

On March 21, the UN World Food Program (WFP) warned that lack of sufficient funding is going to prevent it from continuing to deliver monthly food assistance to 137,000 Internally Displaced People (IDPs) residing in 27 camps across Iraq. The organization said funding shortfalls will also disrupt aid to 38,000 Syrian refugees in another 10 camps in Iraq by July of this year. To sustain the provision of food assistance, WFP says it urgently needs donors to contribute an additional $10 million. These funds would allow it to extend assistance to IDPs until June 2023, and to the Syrian refugees through the end of this year. At that point, Iraqi authorities will have had sufficient time to “complete the survey of IDPs to include them into its social safety nets.”

On March 24, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) said that Iraq became the 49th party to join the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (the UN Water Convention). The convention aims to ensure the sustainable use of transboundary water resources by facilitating cooperation across borders. Speaking at the UN Water Conference he was attending in New York, President Abul-Latif Rashid warned that “Iraq faces a real water crisis” and underscored the need for rules to govern how neighbors share the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates.  “At present no basin-wide arrangement consensus exists among riparian countries regarding the management of Euphrates and Tigris,” Rashid said, adding that he strongly encourages “all the countries to follow Iraq in acceding to both the 1997 United Nations Convention on the Law of Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses and the 1992 Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes”. 

On March 26, Iraq’s Ministry of Trade signed a letter of cooperation with the World Food Program (WFP) to reform the country’s public distribution system. A statement by the ministry said the cooperation letter was signed to achieve the ultimate goal of creating a comprehensive, resilient, and fully digitized system that can help determine the real number of beneficiaries and strengthen food security by targeting those in need. The statement said the Ministry and WFP had successfully introduced end-to-end digitalization in the food ration system in Najaf province and were now preparing to scale the work up in other parts of Iraq, gradually moving towards a reformed PDS in Iraq. 

On March 26, the Iraqi government announced a day off for the public sector and schools on Monday as a wave of damaging heavy rain closed roads and caused widespread flooding in several cities across central and southern Iraq, including Baghdad, Najaf, Samawa, and Diwaniyah. In the latter, residential neighborhoods were still underwater five days later as municipal services struggled to move the floodwater. The rain, however, helped boost reserves at dams and reservoirs to the north, with officials reporting a significant improvement in water levels at the Dokan and Darbandikhan dams. 

On March 29, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) provided new data on the living conditions of internally displaced persons (IDPs) during the fourth quarter of 2022. The update looked at the living conditions for 979,000 IDPs (out of 1.17 million total) living in 2,662 locations across Iraq’s 18 provinces. The survey estimates that more than 53,826 people (representing 5% of IDPs) are living in what qualifies as “high severity” conditions. This percentage represents a decrease from 8% in the fourth quarter of 2021. The survey also found that 270,000 people (28% of the total) live in “medium severity” conditions, and the remaining 655,500 (67% of the total) were experiencing “low severity” conditions. Most of the returnees living in high severity areas are located in Anbar (17,778), Salah ad-Din (16,248), followed by Ninewa (10,674), and Baghdad (7,860). Severity is measured by IOM using 22 indicators covering various conditions relating to housing, livelihood, infrastructure and services, safety and security, and social inclusiveness.

Sources cited in this section include: Reliefweb, UNECE, al-Sumaria, NINA, IOM, al-Hurra, INA, Rudaw.


KRG Oil Exports Halted Following Pipeline Arbitration Decision; Gas Production Commences At The Akkaz Field

On March 17, Iraq’s Oil Minister, Hayan Abdul-Ghani, said that the Basra Gas Company installed two new gas compressors at the Zubeir oil field with a capacity of 32 million cubic feet per day. According to the minister, the new systems will allow Iraq to capture and utilize more gas that is currently flared at Zebier, yielding 30 million cubic feet per day of dry gas and 150 tons per day of liquid petroleum gas, in addition to small amounts of condensates. In related energy sector news, the Deputy Minister of Oil said on March 22 that the North Refineries Company had repaired the 20,000 barrels per day (bpd) isomerization facility (which serves to enhance the octane content in gasoline) at the Salah ad-Din 2 refinery in Baiji. The official, Hamid Younis, said the unit will undergo trial operations by the beginning of May.

On March 20, the Iraqi government said it approved the recommendation of the Ministerial Energy Council regarding a settlement agreement with the South Korean energy company Kogas. Under the agreement, Iraq will pay Kogas, the former operator of the Akkaz gas field in Anbar, a sum of $49 million. Payment is to be made in crude oil, through the State Oil Marketing Organization (SOMO). According to a government statement, Kogas will transfer its contractual rights and obligations to a qualified international company or a consortium of companies, based on the Ministry of Oil standards. The agreement will remain effective for one year, and Kogas will provide technical support to the project without any additional financial or obligations.

On March 21, Kuwaiti logistics company Agility said it was awarded $1.6 billion in damages by an international arbitration court in Dubai in connection with a dispute with the Iraqi Kurdish telecom firm Korek. Agility had accused Korek of using fraud and corruption to expropriate investments by an Agility subsidiary and an affiliated company worth hundreds of millions of dollars in Korek, which is owned by Kurdish businessman Sirwan Barzani.   

On March 25, Iraq’s Oil Ministry said that Iraq won an arbitration case that Baghdad had filed against Turkey for violating a treaty for the use of the Iraq-Turkey export pipeline by allowing the Kurdistan region to export oil without its consent. Following the ruling by the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce, Turkish authorities halted the loading of crude oil arriving through the pipeline, which carried an average of 450,000 barrels per day (bpd), to tankers at the port of Ceyhan. The pipeline mostly carried oil produced from fields controlled by the Kurdistan regional government (KRG), along with an average of 75,000 bpd from the Kirkuk fields under Baghdad’s control. According to Reuters, the ICC verdict said that Iraq was entitled to $1.5 billion (before interest) in damages that Turkey has to pay, a fraction of the $33 billion initially sought by Baghdad. Moreover, Turkish officials said that the ICC also ordered Iraq to compensate Turkey for lost transit revenue due to Iraq’s failure to send the agreed upon volumes of oil through the contested pipeline. After the verdict, Iraq’s Oil Ministry said it would initiate discussions with the KRG and Ankara to agree on a new mechanism for exporting Iraqi oil through Turkish ports, adding that it was “keen on exporting all available volumes from all fields,” including those from Kurdistan “to maximize revenue for the federal budget.” For its part, the KRG’s Natural Resource Ministry said the verdict “will not disrupt our relations with Baghdad,” adding a Kurdish delegation was on its way to Baghdad for new talks. The first of these discussions began on March 26 with a meeting between Iraq’s Oil Minister and a KRG delegation, but there were no signs of a breakthrough. In the meantime, oil companies operating in Kurdistan began diverting oil to storage tanks, and some, like Norway’s DNO, began preparations for an “orderly shutdown” of its Tawke and Peshkhabir fields.

On March 27, Iraq and three Arab countries signed a multilateral memorandum of understanding for agricultural cooperation and trade promotion. The memorandum, signed in Damascus by Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, deals also with cooperation on animal production, agricultural knowledge sharing, veterinary medicine, rural development, and climate change adaptation.   

On March 28, Iraq’s Ministry of Electricity announced that the gas-fired Akkaz power plant had begun operating relying on natural gas produced locally from the nearby Akkaz gas field for the first time. According to the Ministry, Iraq has been able to commence natural gas production from “several” wells in the field, whose development had been delayed for years due to the ISIS conflict, relying on local development efforts, resulting in enough gas to generate 95 megawatts of electricity from the powerplant. According to the Ministry of Oil, the field is pumping 60 million cubic feet per day of natural gas from four developed wells. The gas is then delivered to the power plant via a 30 km long pipeline. 

Sources cited in this section include: Iraq’s Oil Ministry, NINA, al-Sumaria, al-Arabiya, Argus, Reuters, DNO, al-Hurra, Shafaq, INA. 


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

Casualties Due To IEDs from March 16, 2023 - March 30, 2023

DateLocationDeathsInjuries
3/17/23 Central Nasiriyah00
3/18/23 Unspecified area between Kirkuk and Salah ad-Din03
3/21/23 Zurbatya, Wasit province10
3/28/23 Diwana, near Makhmour20

 

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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