ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM: July 13 – 20, 2023

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Key Takeaways:

    • Cardinal Sako Leaves Baghdad As Tension With Christian Militia Leader Escalates; Sudani Visits Damascus; Iraq Severs Ties With Sweden, Embassy Torched – On July 15, Cardinal Louis Sako, Patriarch of the Chaldeans, announced his decision to relocate his office from Baghdad to Erbil in objection to “the deliberate and insulting campaign by the Babylon brigade.” This week, Sako faced court summons in Baghdad after Rayyan al-Kildani, the leader of the Babylon Movement (and militia) filed a lawsuit accusing Sako of slander. Sako said the campaign against him was part of a “dirty game” by Kildani to appoint his associates in key positions in charge of the Christian community’s endowments. A spokesman for the State Department said Washington was “disturbed by the harassment of Cardinal Sako… and troubled by the news that he has left Baghdad.” On July 16, PM Sudani began an official visit to Syria accompanied by a large delegation. Speaking at a joint press conference with Bashar al-Asad, Sudani called for joint action to engage with upstream countries to secure “the fair share of water for Syria and Iraq.” The two sides also discussed trade, border security, and combatting drug trafficking. On July 20, the Iraqi government severed diplomatic relations with Sweden in response to reports that an Iraqi immigrant desecrated a copy of the Quran outside Iraq’s embassy in Stockholm. Baghdad condemned Swedish authorities for allowing the individual in question to perform his act, and asked the Swedish ambassador to leave Iraq, while also recalling its charge d’affaires from Stockholm. Meanwhile, followers of Muqtada al-Sadr attacked the Swedish embassy and set the building on fire. Authorities reportedly evacuated embassy staff to a safe location and, belatedly, deployed security forces to the area. Meanwhile, a militia group called Ashab al-Kahf urged their members and other “resistance” groups to “seek and destroy Swedish interests.” UNAMI condemned the attack on Sweden’s embassy and called on Iraq to respect the Vienna Convention. The State Department said it was unacceptable that Iraqi security forces did not act to prevent the embassy attack. more…
    • Sadr’s Followers Attack The Offices Of Rival Parties In Several Provinces – On July 16, angry crowds of Muqtada al-Sadr’s followers attacked and vandalized 20 offices belonging to the Dawa party and other rival groups across several provinces in central and southern Iraq. The wave of assaults came after a senior aide to Muqtada al-Sadr accused Dawa leader Nouri al-Maliki of insulting Sadr’s father, the late Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr. Some of the incidents involved the use of weapons, as reports indicate that at least four offices of parties allied with Dawa in Najaf and Baghdad were struck with rocket propelled grenades and machine gun fire. There were no reports of fatalities. Maliki called the accusations directed at his party and the attacks on its offices an attempt at sowing discord between Shia parties. For his part, Sadr denounced the use of violence and, in an expression of solidarity, visited one of the offices that was struck with gunfire the night before. In other developments, the explosions of three IEDs and two remnants of war in Anbar, Diyala, Dhi-Qar, and Basra killed at least one Iraqi and wounded six, including two children. more…
    • Baghdad Looks For Alternatives To Iranian Gas; Fourteen Iraqi Banks Barred From Using U.S. Dollars – On July 14, Iraq’s Electricity Ministry said it plans to dispatch delegations to Qatar and Turkmenistan to explore the possibility of importing natural gas to supply power plants. On the following day, Iraq’s Electricity Minister said Baghdad was also considering plans to purchase 80 million cubic feet/day of surplus gas from the Kurdistan region as part of its quest to find alternatives to unreliable imports from Iran. Then on July 19, Iraq’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said an Iraqi delegation discussed energy relations with Venezuela’s deputy oil minister and that the two sides plan to sign a memorandum of understanding regarding cooperation in the energy and gas sector when the Foreign Affairs Minister visits Venezuela later this year. On July 20, the Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) barred 14 Iraqi banks from conducting transactions in U.S. dollars based on audits of their foreign transfers in 2022. The CBI move comes after the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve Bank of New York imposed sanctions on those banks over money laundering concerns involving transactions with Iran. In other developments, on July 16, Iraq’s Transportation Minister said he sent a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs requesting that Iraq appeal Security Council resolution 833 of 1993, which deals with Iraq’s maritime borders with Kuwait. On July 19, the Department of State approved a 120-day sanctions waiver that allows Iraq to pay for energy imported from Iran through foreign banks instead of Iraqi banks to avoid restrictions on the latter that have led to supply disruptions. more…

Don’t miss our new report: Water Diplomacy in the Land of Two Rivers.


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.


Cardinal Sako Leaves Baghdad As Tension With Christian Militia Leader; Sudani Visits Damascus; Iraq Severs Ties With Sweden, Embassy Torched

On July 15, Cardinal Louis Sako, the Patriarch of the Chaldeans, announced his decision to relocate his office from Baghdad to Erbil in objection to “the deliberate and insulting campaign by the Babylon brigade.” In an open letter to the public, Sako also cited as another reason for his relation the recent move by President Abdul-Latif Rashid to recall a 2013 decree by his predecessor that recognized the religious leader as Patriarch of the Chaldeans. This week, Sako was also facing court summons in Baghdad after Rayyan al-Kildani, the leader of the Babylon Movement (and militia) filed a lawsuit in which he accused Sako of slander. In May, Sako accused Kildani, a militia leader designated by the U.S. for engaging in human rights abuses, of “stealing the properties” of Christians in Baghdad and Ninewa hijacking their community’s representation in parliament. In his July 15 letter, Cardinal Sako said the campaign against him was part of a “dirty game” by Kildani to appoint his relatives and associates in key positions in charge of the Christian community’s endowments to control large sums of funds and real estate in the Ninewa plains and elsewhere. A spokesman for the State Department said Washington was “disturbed by the harassment of Cardinal Sako… and troubled by the news that he has left Baghdad.” The spokesman added that the State Department was “in continuous contact with Iraqi leaders on this matter.” In response, the Iraqi president said in a statement that Washington’s position was “disappointing,” and threatened to summon the U.S. ambassador to discuss the matter.  

On July 16, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani began an official visit to Syria, the first by an Iraqi prime minister since the Syrian civil war began in 2011. Sudani, accompanied by a large delegation, was received in Damascus by President Bashar al-Asad. The two sides held “extensive talks” in which they discussed security cooperation and counterterrorism, water shortages and climate change, and bilateral cooperation on trade, transportation, and tourism, a statement by Sudani’s office said. Speaking at a joint press conference with Asad, Sudani called for joint action to engage with upstream countries (referring to Turkey) to secure “the fair share of water for Syria and Iraq.” The Iraqi premier said the two sides also discussed border security and cooperation in cracking down on the trafficking of illicit drugs. Addressing the situation at Syria’s al-Hol camp, where tens of thousands of mostly women and children with perceived ties to ISIS are held, Sudani said that countries that have citizens in should start repatriating them similar to what Iraq has been doing.

On July 19, a group of Sunni Arab politicians announced the formation of a new political coalition to compete in the country’s next provincial council elections, scheduled for December. The new coalition, Tahaluf al-Hasm al-Watani (National Resolve Coalition) includes former Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi, former Finance Minister Rafi al-Issawi, current Defense Minister Thabit al-Abbasi, Jamal al-Karbouli of al-Hal party, among others. Meanwhile, a group of 13 Kurdish parties, led by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Gorran (Change Movement), said they have entered into an alliance to compete in the provincial elections in districts that have sizable Kurdish communities outside the Kurdistan region. 

On July 19, Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani met with the visiting Minister of the French Armed Force, Sébastien Lecornu, in Baghdad. Sudani expressed his government’s interest in greater cooperation with France in training and equipping Iraqi security forces, particularly with regard to the acquisition of French aviation and air defense systems, a statement by his office said. The French minister later traveled to Erbil, where he had talks with Nechirvan Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan region. 

On July 19, Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) informed the Kurdistan regional government (KRG) that it proposes to organize the Kurdistan parliamentary election “on February 18, 2024, or a later date.” Last week, the KRG presidency officially asked IHEC to oversee the regional parliamentary elections of Kurdistan, originally scheduled for November of this year. IHEC’s initial response to the KRG letter was that it could not conduct the provincial council elections in Iraq (scheduled for December, 2023) and the Kurdisan parliament elections at the same time, noting that it would need an additional 6-7 months of preparations.

On July 20, the Iraqi government decided to sever diplomatic relations with Sweden in response to reports that an Iraqi immigrant in Sweden desecrated a copy of the Quran outside Iraq’s embassy in Stockholm. Baghdad condemned Swedish authorities for allowing the individual in question to perform his act, and asked the Swedish ambassador to leave Iraq, while also recalling its charge d’affaires from Stockholm. The government’s actions appear to be widely supported by various major Iraq political parties. During the early morning hours, followers of Muqtada al-Sadr attacked the Swedish embassy in Baghdad to condemn the purported desecration of the Quran, setting the building on fire. Authorities reportedly arrested 20 individuals who were involved in the attack, which did not result in casualties. Authorities reportedly evacuated embassy staff to a safe location and, belatedly, deployed security forces to the area. Meanwhile, a militia group called Ashab al-Kahf urged their members and other “resistance” groups to “seek and destroy Swedish interests,” and to “find every Swede…and kill them wherever you find them,” accusing Sweden of being a front for Israeli plots. In response to the attack on its embassy, Swedish authorities summoned the Iraqi charge d’affaires and closed its embassy in Baghdad until further notice. The UN mission to Iraq (UNAMI) condemned the attack on the Swedish embassy and called on Iraq to respect the Vienna Convention. UNAMI cautioned that “fighting hate speech with violence doesn’t help anyone.” The State Department also condemned the attack, saying it was unacceptable that Iraqi security forces did not act to prevent it. In another Iraqi reaction, the government’s Communications and Media Commission suspended the license of Swedish telecom company Ericsson.

Sources cited in this section include: Nas News, State Department, Ultra Iraq, Iraqi PM’s office, AP, Shafaq, ISHM archives, Rudaw, al-Hurra, INA, social media, al-Sumaria. 


Sadr’s Followers Attack The Offices Of Rival Parties In Several Provinces

On July 14, security sources in Kirkuk province said that locals in the Wadi Zghaytoun region found the body of a farmer who was kidnapped by ISIS militants four days earlier from the Rashad subdistrict, west of Kirkuk. The sources said the victim was apparently executed with gunfire.

On July 16, angry crowds of Muqtada al-Sadr’s followers attacked a number of offices belonging to the Dawa party across several provinces in central and southern Iraq. Footage circulating on the internet showed Sadr’s followers breaking into some of Dawa’s offices and vandalizing their walls and contents. The wave of assaults came after a senior aide to Muqtada al-Sadr posted a message on social media in which he accused Dawa leader Nouri al-Maliki of insulting Sadr’s father, the late Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr. News reports indicate the Sadrists attacked a total of 20 Dawa offices across 10 provinces. Some of the incidents involved the use of weapons, as reports indicate that at least three offices of parties allied with Dawa in Najaf and one in Baghdad were  struck with rocket propelled grenades and machine gun fire. Other parties whose offices were attacked include Badr, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, and Ansar Allah al-Awfia. In a statement, Nouri al-Maliki called the accusations of insulting Sadr’s father a fabrication. Maliki further said that his party rejects any attacks on religious leaders and symbols, calling the accusations directed at his party, and the attacks on its offices, an attempt at sowing discord between Shia parties. For his part, Sadr denounced the use of violence in the attacks on party offices, and in an attempt to extend an olive branch, he visited one of the offices that was struck with gunfire the night before. In a message on Twitter, Sadr also called on parliament to create a law that bans insults directed at senior religious scholars. 

On July 16, security sources in Anbar province said that a lieutenant in the Iraqi army was injured when his patrol struck an improvised explosive device (IED) in the Tharthar sector of the province. 

On July 17, security sources in Dhi-Qar province said that a remnant of war exploded in an area to the southwest of Nasiriyah. The explosion killed a bedouin man and wounded a woman. On the following day, unidentified individuals attacked a civilian residence in the district of al-Shatra, north of Nasiriyah, with two small explosive devices. One of the devices detonated without causing casualties, while security forces defused the other device. Further south, in Basra province, the explosion of another remnant of war on July 18 seriously wounded two children, ages nine and four, in the Safwan subdistrict.

On July 19, security sources said that an unidentified gunman on a motorcycle opened fire on the residence of the juvenile police station chief in Kirkuk. One of the police chief’s guards was killed in the attack, a security source said.  

On July 20, security sources in Diyala province said that an IED exploded near a jewelry store in the neighborhood of al-Mafraq, south of Baquba. The explosion injured two individuals. 

Sources cited in this section include: Shafaq, al-Mada, al-Hurra, Nas News, al-Sumaria, NINA, Mawazin. 


Baghdad Looks For Alternatives To Iranian Gas; Fourteen Iraqi Banks Barred From Using U.S. Dollars

On July 14, Iraq’s Ministry of Electricity said it plans to dispatch delegations to Qatar and Turkmenistan to explore the possibility of importing natural gas from them to supply Iraq’s power plants, a parliamentary source said. On the following day, Electricity Minister Ziyad Ali Fadhil told reporters that Baghdad was also considering plans to purchase surplus natural gas from the Kurdistan region as part of its quest to find alternatives to unreliable imports from Iran, noting that the region has some 80 million cubic feet/day that could be available to supply some of Iraq’s power plants. Last week, the Iraqi government approved plans by the Ministry of Oil to purchase natural gas from the Khor Mor gas field in the Kurdistan region, without specifying the volumes, prices, or timelines associated with the purchase. On July 19, Iraq’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said that an Iraqi delegation discussed energy relations with Venezuela’s deputy oil minister and that the two sides plan to sign a memorandum of understanding regarding cooperation in the energy and gas sector, without providing details. The memorandum is to be signed later this year when Foreign Affairs Minister Fuad Hussein visits the South American country. On July 14, power generation in Iraq recovered to reach an average of 24,000 megawatts after it had suffered a loss of 5,000 megawatts due to a sudden drop in Iranian gas supplies.  

On July 16, Iraq’s Transportation Minister, Razzaq al-Sadawi, said he sent a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs requesting that Iraq appeals Security Council resolution 833 of 1993, which deals with Iraq’s maritime borders with Kuwait. Minister Sadawi argued that the post-Gulf War resolution unjustly denied Iraq its right to use the Khor Abdullah channel. Sadawi added that while the resolution was binding to the pre-2003 government, the new government has a “patriotic and moral obligation to not recognize” the Security Council’s conflict resolution process from that period. Sadawi further argued that Kuwait had acted unilaterally in recent years to maximize its control over Khor Abdullah as well as parts of Iraq’s exclusive economic zone in the gulf.   

On July 19, the Department of State approved a new sanctions waiver that allows the Iraqi government to pay for electricity imported from Iran by making deposits into foreign banks outside Iraq instead of Iraqi banks (such as the Trade Bank of Iraq) to avoid restrictions on the latter that have led to severe power shortages. According to a U.S. official who spoke to Reuters, the new waiver lasts for a period of 120 days. While the third country banks will still need Washington’s permission to release the funds to Iran, U.S. officials think the nes arrangement will “help the Iraqis with this perennial pressure from the Iranians to access the money.” The official added that the new waiver may allow Iraqi officials to make the argument to their Iranian counterparts “that they are not in control of the money that they have paid (into non-Iraqi accounts).” 

On July 20, the Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) said it has barred a number of Iraqi banks from conducting transactions in the U.S. dollar based on audits of their foreign transfers in 2022. A CBI document circulating on the internet shows that the bank specifically banned 14 banks from using U.S. dollars “in any shape or form” as of July 20. The banks, however, will retain the ability to do business in the local currency. The CBI move comes after reports that the U.S. Treasury Department and Federal Reserve Bank of New York imposed sanctions on those 14 banks over money laundering concerns involving the banks’ transactions with Iran. Commenting on the new sanctions, an unnamed U.S. official told The Wall Street Journal there was “ strong reason to suspect that at least some of these laundered funds could end up going to benefit either designated individuals or individuals who could be designated…And of course the primary sanctions risk in Iraq relates to Iran.”

Sources cited in this section include: al-Mada, Rudaw, ISHM archives, NRT, Nas News, Reuters, INA, Shafaq. 


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

Casualties Due To IEDs from July 13, 2023 - July 20, 2023

DateLocationDeathsInjuries
7/16/23 Near Tharthar, Anbar prvince01
7/17/23 Southwest of Nasiriyah, Dhi-Qar province11
7/18/23 Al-Shatra, Dhi-Qar province00
7/18/23 Safwan, Basra province02
7/20/23 Al-Mafraq, southwest of Baquba02

 

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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