Updates: February 13-20, 2015
- Baghdad witnessed a renewed political crisis after the kidnapping and killing of prominent Iraqi Sunni tribal leader, Qassim al-Janabi. The killing produced political galvanization of Iraqi Sunni and secular groups as they boycotted parliamentary sessions. Iraqi Sunni political groups also accuse the Iraqi Shi’a militias of carrying out the killing. Shortly after the incident, Iraqi Shi’a leader Moqtada al-Sadr ordered armed groups under his control to cease operations. It is unlikely, however, that Sadr’s forces will disarm or choose to abandon their influence in Baghdad and southern Iraq.
- There is a humanitarian emergency in the al-Baghdadi area in western Anbar province. The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has executed members of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and anti-ISIS tribal forces. ISIS is currently besieging civilians in al-Baghdadi. Notably, local figures from al-Baghdadi requested assistance from the Shi’a Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
- Meanwhile, there is a growing movement in southern Iraq as activists seek to address concerns of corruption among public officials.
- The province of Sulaymaniyah has registered over 1,000 new displaced families from the outskirts of Baghdad and Tikrit.
- The Iraqi military is reportedly planning to launch operations to clear ISIS from Mosul by the spring of this year. The plan was detailed by a U.S. military official and will shed light on the readiness of ISF and Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga.
Killing of Iraqi Sunni Tribal Figure Raises Sectarian Tensions
On February 13, unknown assailants kidnapped and killed prominent Iraqi Sunni tribal leader, Qassim Swedan al-Janabi. In addition to Janabi, his son and at least eight of his bodyguards were also kidnapped and killed. Their bodies were found in the eastern Baghdad neighborhood of the Army Canal or Qanat al-Jayesh. Janabi’s nephew, Zaid al-Janabi, who is a member of the Council of Representatives (CoR) was also kidnapped and beaten, but he was later released.
These events caused Iraqi Sunni and secular groups to react very strongly in condemning the events. On February 14, Speaker of the CoR Salim al-Juburi met with his bloc, the Iraqi Sunni National Forces Union (NFU) as “political forces” attempted to convince NFU Members of Parliament to continue in the political process ahead of Saturday’s session of parliament, but the NFU and the secular Wataniyya alliance decided to boycott the session. Both groups demanded that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi order the withdrawal of Iraqi Shia militias from Baghdad.
The Iraqi Shi’a National Alliance condemned the attack and warned of increasing sectarian tensions. The Security and Defense Committee in the Council of Representatives announced that it would launch an investigation into the attack on MP Zaid al-Janabi and Sheikh Qassim al-Janabi. The Speaker of the Council of Representatives called on the Ministers of Defense and Interior to report to the Council at its meeting on Monday to discuss the measures being taken to investigate the kidnappings and killings. Baghdad Operations Command will also open an investigation into the incident.
On February 15, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called the kidnapping and murder of Sheikh Qassim al-Janabi a “violation of human rights and a setback in national reconciliation efforts”. On February 15, NFU MPs continued their boycott of the Council of Representatives, forming a committee of Iraqi Sunni leaders to negotiate with the central government over developments in Iraq, specifically focused on the recent kidnapping and murder of Janabi.
On February 16, the Minister of Interior and Defense met with leaders in the Council of Representatives to discuss the security situation in the capital in the wake of the kidnapping and murder of Janabi. The Interior Minister stated that security of Baghdad falls to the Baghdad Operations Command (BoC). Speaker of the Council of Representatives Salim al-Juburi called on the Security and Defense Committee to clarify the roles of the Ministries of Interior and Defense in providing security for the capital.
On February 17, leader of the Sadrist Trend, Moqtada al-Sadr, announced that the two Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) he commands, the Promised Day Brigade and the Peace Brigades, would cease operations as a show of ‘good faith’ in the wake of the kidnapping and killing of Qassim al-Janabi. Sadr also called on all parties to remain in the political process. On February 18, Iraq’s top political leaders met at the Peace Palace in Baghdad to discuss major political, economic, and security developments. The meeting included the Presidency Council, President Fuad Masum, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Speaker of the Council of Representatives Salim al-Juburi, and the Chief Justice of Iraq Medhat al-Mahmoud. The meeting likely discussed the Janabi killing.
The al-Baghdadi Humanitarian Crisis
On February 14, Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) engaged the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in al-Baghdadi in western Anbar province. On the same day, reinforcements arrived in al-Baghdadi to support the ongoing operations to clear ISIS militants from the district. During the attack on al-Baghdadi, ISIS laid siege on residential apartment complex, killing 5 civilians and wounding 7 others. Additionally, ISIS militants kidnapped 30 residents of al-Baghdadi during the attack. On February 15, the ISF and ISIS continued to clash while ISIS remained in control of some residential areas.
On February 16, about 6,000 residents of western al-Baghdadi remained trapped in a residential compound due to an ISIS siege. Reinforcements have not yet reached the area and the humanitarian situation continued to worsen. On February 17, ISF and reportedly Iraqi Sunni tribal fighters, and Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) provided humanitarian assistance and medical supplies to residents in al-Baghdadi. On February 18, Iraqi Sunni tribal fighters reportedly repelled an attack by ISIS on the road between al-Assad Air Base and Haditha to the north.
On February 18, the Governor of Anbar province, Suhaib al-Rawi, stated that the federal government should “reconsider” its military plan and on February 19, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered a special unit of the Federal Police to al-Baghdadi in order to reinforce ISF fighting ISIS in the district.
Meanwhile, on February 19, al-Baghdadi Police Chief Lt. Col. Qassim al-Obaidi warned that if reinforcements are not sent to the besieged housing complex in the district a massacre is imminent given that ISIS had surrounded the complex,cut off electricity, and prevented food or humanitarian supplies from arriving. On February 19, the Obaidi tribal leaders in al-Baghdadi called on Grand Ayatollah, Ali al-Sistani, to send Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) to al-Baghdadi to assist in the operation to clear Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants from the district, claiming that Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are not doing enough and that a humanitarian crisis looms if the siege of the residential complex continues.
On February 19, reports surfaced from al-Baghdadi indicating the continued deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the area. On the same day, Baghdadi local official, Mal allah Hamrin al-Obaidi, stated that ISIS executed 100 Awakening and Iraqi Police members from the Obaidi tribe. Obaidi added that ISIS is forcing families of those executed to watch the executions. Al-Obaidi indicated that the toll of those executed by ISIS in al-Baghdadi has reached 170 people and that there are more prisoners that ISIS may execute. There are also reports that ISIS burned some prisoners in al-Baghdadi.
On February 20, Haditah PMU leader, Ibrahim al-Jughaifi, stated that anti-ISIS tribal forces were able to open a route between al-Asad airbase and the besieged area. However,Jughaifi also criticized the commander of the 7th Iraqi Army division General Majid al-Luhaibi for being inactive in supporting the residents of the besieged area.
Demonstrations against Government Corruption in southern Iraq
On February 14, dozens of residents protested against what they perceive rampant government corruption. One of the protestors, al-Haji Qasim Halawi, stated that their demands were focused on the disclosure of government corruption cases to the public and a renewed push towards reform and change in the management of the province. Council of Muthanna provincial council Ahmed Manfi voiced support to the protesters and added that local officials will consider the demands of the protesters.
On February 15, activists in Diwaniyah, located in Qaddsiyah province in southern Iraq, announced the establishment of counter-corruption Popular Mobilization Units in the province to tackle the issue of government corruption in the province. According to Ahmed Hamzawi, the supervisor of this movement, “the crowd that fights corruption is no less important than the one that fights terrorism… Corruption has returned to, and destroyed, Iraq over the past decade and wasted billions of dollars between politicians and their parties.” Member of Qaddsiyah’s provincial Integrity Committee, Baqir ali al-Shaalan, praised the initiative and its mechanisms.
1000 Newly Displaced Families Registered in Sulaymaniyah
On February 16, Ministry of Displacement and Migration official in Sulaymaniyah Mohammad al-Mashhadani stated that over 1,000 new families from the outskirts of Baghdad and Tikrit have been registered in the province. Al-Mashhadani added that 757 families were registered on February 10 and 11 and 340 families on February 12.
Fight for Mosul can Start in the Spring
On February 19, an unnamed U.S. military official stated that operations to clear ISIS from Mosul in northern Iraq can start in April or May. The official added that the campaign will include forces from the ISF, Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga, and local forces from Mosul. The official stated that these forces will be about 20,000-25,000 members and that a local force from Mosul will hold the terrain after the fight. The official added that ISIS currently has 1000-2000 members in the city. On the same day, ISIS reportedly launched operations in Mosul and “kidnapped” tens of civilians in the Sumer neighborhood and adjacent areas. Additionally, ISIS set up checkpoints in the Mosul and that these procedures were taken after unknown gunmen killed three ISIS members including one of its leaders in the Sumer area.
Ahmed Ali is a Visiting Senior Fellow at the Education for Peace in Iraq Center. He would like to thank Alec Lynde and Jonathan Frederickson for their research support.