ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM: October 19 – 26, 2023

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Key Takeaways:

  • Militia Group Slams Sudani For Condemning Attacks On U.S. Forces; Total of 461 Candidates Barred From The Upcoming Provincial Election – On October 23, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, one of the powerful Iran-backed militias in Iraq, criticized PM Sudani for condemning the recent wave of attacks on U.S. forces in the country. The militia said that Sudani’s argument that U.S. presence is “by the official invitation of the Iraqi government” serves to “legitimize the presence of the [U.S.] occupation.” The militia argued that Sudani was “not serious about ousting the occupying forces…as the government promised prior to its formation.” The Nujaba group added that “standing in the way of the resistance…represents a violation of the law, Sharia, and national values,” calling for “a unified position…to end this hateful occupation.” That same day, Sudani received phone calls from Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of State Lloyd, during which Sudani reaffirmed “Iraq’s commitment to protecting military advisors and diplomatic missions in the country.” Sudani condemned the attacks on “Iraqi bases” that host “International Coalition advisers who are in Iraq by the official invitation of the Iraqi government,” and instructed security forces to “track down the individuals who conducted those attacks.” In televised remarks on October 24, Sudani expressed his interest in shielding Iraq’s relations with the U.S. from the fallout of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, saying that Iraq will uphold its commitments towards its friends “even if we disagreed with their position regarding Palestine.” On October 25, a spokesperson for the Iraqi High Electoral Commission (IHEC) said the Commission had disqualified a total of 461 candidates running for office in the upcoming provincial elections. The updated figure reflects an increase of more than 200 since last week. The majority of those candidates (240) were disqualified because of alleged ties to the banned Ba’ath Party. more…
  • Militias Launch Repeated Drone And Rocket Attacks On U.S. Forces; Peshmerga-Army Dispute Over Former PKK Outposts Turns Deadly – Between October 20 – 24, Iraqi military bases hosting U.S. force were attacked at least 10 times with drones and rockets fired by a group called “the Islamic Resistance in Iraq,” believed to be a front for Iran-backed militias. The attacks on U.S. forces at Ain al-Asad, Hareer, and Baghdad’s airport do not appear to have caused direct casualties, although a U.S. contractor had died as a result of a “cardiac event” during a previous attack on at Ain al-Asad on October 19. The attacks, which Washington thinks Iran was Iran was “actively facilitating,” came after the commanders of several Iran-backed Iraqi militias threatened to target U.S. interests if Washington decided to intervene in the conflict between Israel and Hamas. In response to the attacks, Washington will deploy additional air defense systems to the region and has ordered non-essential personnel at its Baghdad embassy and Erbil consulate to leave the country. Commenting on the situation, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, suggested the risk of escalation was quite high, saying that: “what we’re seeing is a prospect of a significant escalation of attacks on our troops and our people throughout the region.” On October 22, Iraqi army and Peshmerga troops exchanged fire after a dispute emerged between the two sides over possession of several security outposts in the Makhmour district that were vacated by the PKK last Thursday. The clashes killed four people and injured several others from both sides, including a Peshmerga brigade commander and two Iraqi army soldiers. In other developments, on October 22, unidentified militants used explosives to attack the offices of the Rafidain Center for Dialogue, an independent Iraqi policy institute in the city of Najaf. more…
  • New Development Fund Created; Korek Faces CMC Crackdown; Pro-Militia Protesters Block Oil Shipments To Jordan – On October 22, PM Mohammed al-Sudani chaired the first meeting of the board of the Iraq Development Fund, a new government initiative announced by the government last week. Sudani said the fund will operate “with private sector mentality” and focus on a small number of projects that have tangible benefits for the public. On October 23, Korek Telecom called on parliament and PM Sudani to intervene in its dispute with the Communications and Media Commission (CMC) after the latter banned the sale of new Korek sim cards and threatened to sever Korek’s interconnections with other mobile operators unless the company pays $800 million in damages awarded by an Iraqi court in April. On October 26, supporters of Iran-backed militias, who had gathered at the Trebil border crossing with Jordan to protest the Israeli blockade on Gaza, prevented 30 tanker trucks carrying Iraqi oil from reaching Jordan. The protesters claimed that the shipments of discounted fuel that average 15,000 bpd eventually reach Israel, saying that they will not allow Iraqi oil to go to a country that has relations with Israel. The blockade has not affected the movement of passengers or other goods across the border. In other developments, on October 24, the Iraqi government decided to give raises to pensioners and civil servants in the lower grades of the public sector’s pay scale. On October 24, officials in Diwaniyah province reported observing large numbers of dead fish in the central marsh of al-Dalmaj, attributing the deaths to the depletion of dissolved oxygen and declining water levels in the wetlands. On October 26, Iraq’s Ministry of Electricity said that infrastructure for the first phase of a grid interconnection project with Jordan has been completed. 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.


Militia Group Slams Sudani For Condemning Attacks On U.S. Forces; Total of 461 Candidates Barred From The Upcoming Provincial Election

On October 21, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani arrived in Cairo to attend a regional summit meeting to discuss the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. In his speech at the conference, Sudani argued that “injustice does not produce lasting peace” and that violence could only end when Israel ends its “apartheid” policies and occupation of Palestinian land. Sudani stressed that Iraq rejects any attempts to move the residents of Gaza elsewhere, insisting that “there’s no place for Palestinians except their own land,” and stressing that “nobody has the right to make peace or concessions on behalf of the Palestinian people.” After calling for an immediate ceasefire, the Iraqi premier proposed creating a fund for Gaza’s reconstruction.

On October 23, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, one of the powerful Iran-backed militias in Iraq, criticized Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani for condemning the recent wave of attacks that targeted U.S. forces in the country (see below). The militia group said that Sudani’s description of U.S. presence as being “by the official invitation of the Iraqi government” serves to “legitimize the presence of the [U.S.] occupation.” In its statement, the militia argued that Sudani’s position indicates that his government is “not serious about ousting the occupying forces and ending their presence…as the government promised prior to its formation.” The Nujaba group added that “standing in the way of the resistance…represents a violation of the law and Sharia and national values,” calling for “a unified position…to end this hateful occupation.” The militia further alleged that the government has no knowledge of the size or movements of U.S. forces in Iraq, adding that “Zionists” operate among them and on their bases, without offering evidence to support this claim. Recent events have revived calls by Iraqi militias and allied politicians for the expulsion of U.S. forces from Iraq. On October 18, former Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi called for “the immediate implementation” of a January 2020 resolution by parliament that called for the withdrawal of all U.S. and NATO forces from Iraq. Abdul-Mahdi said his demand comes in response to the “aggression on Palestine,” and in order to “prepare on all levels” for “the long battle that awaits us.” 

On October 23, Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani received phone calls from Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of State Lloyd in which they discussed the latest wave of attacks on U.S. forces in the country. During the conversations, Sudani reaffirmed “Iraq’s commitment to protecting military advisors and diplomatic missions in the country,” a statement by his office said. The Iraqi premier has also issued a statement condemning the attacks on “Iraqi bases” that host “International Coalition advisers who are in Iraq by the official invitation of the Iraqi government,” saying that the “safety and security of these bases could not be taken lightly.” Sudani has also instructed security forces to “carry out their duties…and track down the individuals who conducted those attacks.” In televised remarks on October 24, Sudani expressed his interest in shielding Iraq’s relations with the U.S. from the fallout of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, saying that Iraq will uphold its commitments towards its friends “even if we disagreed with their position regarding Palestine.”

On October 25, a spokesperson for the Iraqi High Electoral Commission (IHEC) said the Commission had disqualified a total of 461 candidates running for office in the upcoming provincial council elections. The updated figure reflects an increase of more than 200 since last week, when the number of disqualified candidates stood at 259. The majority of those candidates (240) were disqualified by IHEC because of alleged ties to the banned Baath Party, as determined by the Accountability and Justice Commission. Another 54 were disqualified because of criminal records, and the remainder were disqualified because they were facing corruption charges, submitted forged education records, or were members of the security forces. 

Sources cited in this section include: INA, Shafaq, al-Sumaria, ISHM archive, Iraqi PM’s office, Iraqi Media Network. 


Militias Launch Repeated Drone And Rocket Attacks On U.S. Forces; Peshmerga-Army Dispute Over Former PKK Outposts Turns Deadly

On October 20, Iraqi security sources said that a military base hosting U.S. military personnel near Baghdad airport was attacked with two Katyusha type rockets in the early morning hours on Friday. One of the rockets struck the base’s perimeter while the other was intercepted by air defenses, the sources said, adding that security forces recovered a launchpad used in the attack in the nearby al-Jihad neighborhood. On the same day, a statement by “the Islamic Resistance in Iraq” said the group, believed to be a front for Iran-backed militias, attacked the Hareer base outside Erbil, which also hosts U.S. military personnel. The same base was attacked with two more drones on the following day, a subsequent statement by the militant group said. Meanwhile, the Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar, where U.S. military personnel are also present, was attacked with Katyusha-type rockets and explosive drones twice over the weekend, first on Saturday, and later in the early morning hours of Sunday. Some of the munitions were intercepted and shot down by the base’s air defense systems. Then on Monday, October 23, the same militant group claimed to have attacked U.S. military forces at al-Malikiyah (al-Tanf) military base in eastern Syria using two drones, both of which allegedly struck their targets. On the following day, Ain al-Asad was attacked again with two rockets. This time though, the weapons were said to be of a heavier caliber and longer range, with security sources reporting that the launch pads were discovered 50km (31 miles) from the base. There were no reports of casualties in any of these attacks. Earlier, however, a U.S. military spokesman said that one U.S. contractor died as a result of a “cardiac event” while seeking cover from incoming rockets during a previous incident at Ain al-Asad on October 19. The drone and rocket attacks, which totaled at least 10 in Iraq and 3 in Syria, came after the commanders of several Iraqi militias, including Kataib Hezbollah, Asaib Ahil al-Haq, Badr, and al-Nujaba, had threatened to target U.S. interests if Washington decided to intervene in the ongoing fighting between Israel and Hamas militants. In response to the attacks, which the White House said Iran was “actively facilitating,” and to defend against possible escalation, Washington decided this week to deploy additional advanced air defense systems to the Middle East. Washington had also ordered non-essential personnel at its Baghdad embassy and Erbil consulate and their families to leave the country due to heightened security risks. The U.S. also issued a travel advisory to all citizens saying: “Do not travel to Iraq due to terrorism, kidnapping, armed conflict, civil unrest, and Mission Iraq’s limited capacity to provide support to U.S. citizens.” Commenting on the situation and possibility of escalation, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: “This is not what we want, not what we’re looking for. We don’t want escalation…We don’t want to see our forces or our personnel come under fire. But if that happens, we’re ready for it.” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, suggested the risk of escalation was quite high, saying that: “what we’re seeing is a prospect of a significant escalation of attacks on our troops and our people throughout the region.” 

On October 22, Iraqi army and Kurdish Peshmerga troops exchanged fire after a dispute emerged between the two sides over who gets to control a number of security outposts in the Qara Chogh Mountains in the Makhmour district. The clashes killed at least three people and injured seven others from both sides, a senior Iraqi military spokesman said. According to Peshmerga officials, the victims include a colonel in the force, another officer who commanded the Peshmerga’s 18th brigade, and two Iraqi army soldiers. The disputed outposts, reported to be four in number, were vacated on Thursday by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), whose fighters had been stationed there since 2014. The Iraqi government said that Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani ordered an investigation into the circumstances that led to the deadly incident.

On October 22, unidentified militants used explosives to attack the offices of the Rafidain Center for Dialogue, an independent Iraqi policy institute in the city of Najaf. Footage captured by surveillance cameras indicates that at least two explosive devices were employed in the early morning attack. The bombings caused extensive damage to the building, which was empty at the time, but there were no reports of casualties. A statement by the Center said this was the fourth time its offices have been attacked.  

On October 24, the Security Media Cell reported that troops from Iraq’s counter-terrorism service killed three ISIS militants during intelligence-driven operations in the Himrin Mountains within Kirkuk province. The Cell said the militants killed in the operation had been involved in numerous attacks on federal police forces and civilians in this sector.  

On October 24, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) provided new data on the conditions facing internally displaced persons (IDPs) who had returned to their home districts as of the end of August 2023. The update shows that a total of 12,216 individuals returned to their districts since April, bringing the total returnee population to 4,845,612 individuals. The update, based on a survey of 2,170 locations across nine provinces, estimates that more than 600,480 people (representing 12% of the returnee population) are living in what qualifies as “high severity” conditions, which represents an increase of more than 4,340 people since April 2023. The survey also found that 2.31 million (48% of the total) live in “low severity” conditions, and the remaining 1.93 million (40%) were experiencing “medium severity” conditions. Most of the returnees living in high severity areas are located in Ninewa (270,318), Salah ad-Din (203,622), followed by Anbar (59,340), and Diyala (56,148). Of these provinces, Ninewa and Diyala accounted for the largest increases in returnees living in poor conditions. Severity is measured by IOM using 16 indicators covering various conditions relating to housing, livelihoods, basic services, security, and social cohesion.

Sources cited in this section include: Shafaq, Mawazin, al-Hurra, Reuters, ISHM archive, Kurdistan24, State Department, AP, INA, Rudaw, al-Taghier, INA, ReliefWeb, ISHM archive. 


New Development Fund Created; Korek Faces CMC Crackdown; Pro-Militia Protesters Block Oil Shipments To Jordan

On October 22, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani chaired the first meeting of the board of the Iraq Development Fund, a new government initiative whose creation was announced by the government a week earlier. During this inaugural meeting, the board discussed selecting an executive director for the fund and a preliminary roadmap for its activities, a statement by Sudani’s office said. The statement added that the prime minister emphasized during the meeting that the newly established fund will operate “with private sector mentality” and focus on a small number of projects that have tangible benefits for the public.

On October 23, Korek Telecom, one of Iraq’s major mobile telecommunications providers, called on parliament and Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani to intervene in a dispute between the company and Iraq’s Communications and Media Commission (CMC) after the latter banned the sale of new Korek sim cards. In a statement on October 22, the CMC also threatened to sever Korek’s interconnections with other mobile operators within 10 days, unless the company fulfills its financial obligations to the CMC. Back in April, the CMC said it won a case in court against Korek Telecom over disputed licensing and frequencies fees. Under the ruling, Korek, which is owned by Kurdish businessman Sirwan Barzani, was required to pay the Iraqi state nearly $800 million in compensation for the delayed fees. In its appeal, Korek said it was ready to settle the financial claims of the CMC but that the latter has been ignoring the company’s efforts to resume negotiations. 

On October 24, the Iraqi government decided to give raises to pensioners and civil servants in the lower grades of the public sector’s pay scale. According to a government statement, pensioners receiving less than IQD 1 million a month (approximately $750 in the official exchange rate) will receive a pay raise of IQD 100,000 a month. Civil servants in grades 8 – 10 who have no extra bonuses will receive a bonus equivalent to 50% of their base salary. The director of Iraq’s National Retirement Commission said the new policy will benefit 1.642 million Iraqis and cost IQD 164 billion (approximately $124 million in the official exchange rate) each month. Of that amount, the Commission’s fund will cover about a third, while two thirds will come from the public treasury. The new policy comes as the country deals with rising exchange rates that have diminished the purchasing power of low income Iraqis. As of writing on Thursday, the exchange rate on the parallel market was hovering around IQD 1,613 to $1, approximately 23% higher than the official rate of IQD 1,320 to $1 set by the Central Bank. 

On October 24, the department of environment in Iraq’s Diwaniyah province reported observing large numbers of dead fish from various species in the central marsh of al-Dalmaj. A spokesman for the department attributed the deaths to the depletion of dissolved oxygen in the water due to declining water levels in the wetlands, noting that large parts of the marsh have become completely dry. Farther south, in Dhi-Qar province, local officials in al-Chibayish said that up to 90% of the district’s marshes had gone dry, and that in many places, all that remains is small puddles of brackish and polluted water not fit for human or animal consumption. More than 100 thousand people have been displaced in the two provinces, and others in southern Iraq, due to water shortage, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said recently. 

On October 26, supporters of Iran-backed militias gathered at the Trebil border crossing with Jordan prevented tanker trucks carrying Iraqi oil from reaching Jordan. The protesters had begun a sit-in at the border crossing last Friday to protest the Israeli blockade on Gaza. Jordanian sources said that at least 30 trucks carrying the fuel had to turn back because of the protesters, disrupting the shipments of discounted fuel that average 15,000 barrels per day. The protesters claim that the oil that goes to Jordan eventually reaches Israel, saying that they will not allow Iraqi oil to reach a country that has relations with Israel. Officials at the border crossing said the blockade has not affected the movement of passengers or other goods across the border. 

On October 26, Iraq’s Ministry of Electricity said that infrastructure for the first phase of a grid interconnection project with Jordan has been completed. The newly established link will allow Jordan to supply 50 megawatts of power to Iraq’s Rutba region in the western Anbar province starting in November, a ministry spokesman said. The second and third phases of the project are designed to allow the transfer of an additional 350 megawatts and will extend the grid interconnection to reach Egypt, the spokesman added. 

Sources cited in this section include: Iraqi PM’s office, Rudaw, ISHM archive, Mawazin, INA, NRT, al-Mada, Shafaq, Ultra Iraq. 


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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