ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM: December 7 – 14, 2023

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Key Takeaways:

  • Washington Presses Baghdad To Prevent Further Militia Attacks On U.S. Interests – On December 8, following the December 7 mortar attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told PM Mohammed al-Sudani in a phone call that Washington “reserves the right to respond decisively” against the groups behind this and other attack on U.S. interests, mentioning specifically Kataib Hezbollah and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba. The Pentagon said that Austin “made clear that attacks against U.S. forces must stop.” For his part, Sudani instructed security forces to track down the perpetrators of the “terrorist” attack, stressing that the government will not allow armed groups to “supplant that state or hijack its role.” While reiterating his commitment to protecting diplomatic missions, Sudani warned against unilateral action by the U.S. without Baghdad’s consent. Later, on December 12, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Sudani (for the second time in December), condemning the attack and welcoming Sudani’s characterization of it as an act of “terrorism.” Once again, Sudani asserted that Iraqi forces were capable of “undertaking their duty to pursue the perpetrators…without intervention by any external party.” In other developments, on December 12, Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court dismissed a case that called for postponing provincial elections in Kirkuk. On December 12, Iraq’s parliament postponed until further notice a special session that was scheduled for Wednesday to elect a new speaker to replace Mohammed al-Halbousi, whose tenure ended on November 14. more…
  • Iraq Says Perpetrators Of December 7 Attack On U.S. Embassy Have Links To Security Forces – On December 7, several mortar rounds struck the U.S. Embassy compound and the offices of Iraq’s National Security Service in central Baghdad. No group claimed direct responsibility for the attack, which did not cause casualties, but a spokesman for Kataib Hezbollah applauded the operation on social media and said that attacks on U.S. interests would continue “until the last [U.S.] soldier” leaves Iraq. On December 14, a senior Iraqi military spokesman said the government has arrested several individuals involved in the attack, including individuals who provided logistical support to the attackers and facilitated their movement. Preliminary investigations indicate that some of the perpetrators “are linked to some security agencies,” the spokesman said without offering further details. Meanwhile, between December 8 – 12, militia groups conducted at least another half dozen attacks with drones and rockets against bases hosting U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria. more…
  • New Water Treatment Facilities To Reduce Dangerous Pollutants In The Tigris; Iraq Shuts Down Second Sulaymaniyah IDP Camp – On December 9, eight new wastewater treatment plants were inaugurated at Baghdad’s Medical City complex, the largest medical care center in the country. The new facilities, built with German funding, will benefit an estimated 3.5 million people by treating 2,300 cubic meters/day of wastewater that used to be discharged directly into the Tigris River, thereby addressing a major source of dangerous pollutants. On December 14, the Ministry of Migration and the Displaced said that it shut down the Arbat IDP camp in Sulaymaniyah province after the camp’s last 170 residents had returned to their home districts in Salah ad-Din province. This is the second camp closure to take place in the Kurdistan region since 2014. In November, the Qoartu camp for IDPs, also in Sulaymaniyah, was the first camp to be shut down in the Kurdistan region. Twenty four IDP camps remain open in Iraq, all but one are located in the Kurdistan region. In other developments, on December 13, UNICEF said its 2024 Iraq Humanitarian Action for Children aims to address the needs of nearly 650,000 children, who continue to be affected by the legacy of the ISIS conflict as well as the growing challenge of water scarcity. UNICEF is seeking $41.1 million to address needs related primarily to child protection, WASH, and education. more…
  • Iraq And Major UAE Bank Agree To New, Non-USD Import Financing Arrangement – On December 13, the Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) said it reached an agreement with the Abu Dhabi First Bank to launch financial transfer operations in the Emirati dirham to fund imports and exports between Iraq and the UAE. Five Iraqi banks will be able to benefit from the new transfer agreement, aimed at reducing dependence on U.S. dollar transfers and creating more liquidity for commerce financing. Iraqi imports from and through the UAE stand at an estimated $20 billion a year, representing about a third of Iraq’s total imports. In other developments, on December 8, Iraq’s Finance Ministry said it approved the release of IQD 700 billion as a new loan to the KRG in order to pay the salaries of civil servants in the Kurdistan region. On December 13, the CBI said it decided to establish “The National Company for Electronic Payment Systems in Iraq” in an effort to develop the country’s financial systems infrastructure and serve the growing numbers of customers utilizing electronic payments. more…

Attention readers! ISHM will take a break next week for staff vacation, but it will be back the week after, with comprehensive coverage of the week we missed!

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.


Washington Presses Baghdad To Prevent Further Militia Attacks On U.S. Interests

On December 8, following the attack that targeted the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad (details below), Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani in a phone call that Washington “reserves the right to respond decisively” against the groups behind this and other attack on U.S. interests, mentioning specifically Kataib Hezbollah and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba. The Defense Department said that during the call with Sudani, the Secretary “made clear that attacks against U.S. forces must stop.” For his part, Sudani instructed security forces to track down and capture the perpetrators of the “terrorist” attack, stressing that the government will not allow any groups to “supplant that state or hijack its role and national decisions.” While reiterating Baghdad’s commitment to protecting diplomatic missions, Sudani warned against unilateral action and stressing that the U.S. must not respond to the attacks without Baghdad’s consent, a statement by the prime minister’s office said. Sudani also issued orders to replace the Presidential Regiment in charge of the Green Zone’s security with a unit from the Special Operations Division. Meanwhile, the leaders of the Coordination Framework echoed Sudani’s tone, condemning attacks on diplomatic missions, and saying after a meeting to discuss the incident that they support the government’s efforts to deal with “terrorist” acts of aggression that undermine Iraq’s security and sovereignty. Later, on December 12, the State Department said that Secretary Antony Blinken spoke with Sudani (for the second time in December) and condemned the attack on Washington’s embassy and other attacks by Iraqi militias on U.S. forces in bases in Iraq and Syria. A statement by the State Department added that Blinken welcomed Sudani’s characterization of the attacks as “acts of terrorism” and his pledge to track down those who carried them out. Blinken and Sudani agreed “to remain in close contact over the coming days and weeks,” the statement added. For his part, Sudani asserted that Iraqi forces were capable of “undertaking their duty to pursue the perpetrators…without intervention by any external party,” a statement by his office said.

On December 11, while on a visit to Cyprus, Iraqi President Abdul-Latif Rashid met with his Cypriot counterpart, Nikos Christodoulides and discussed several issues concerning bilateral relations between Iraq and Cyprus. A statement by Rashid’s office said the talks covered the implementation of agreements made in 2015 regarding security cooperation, taxation, protection of cultural heritage, air transportation, and prevention of illegal imports and exports. The two sides also discussed the problem of migration to Europe and the war in Gaza. 

On December 12, Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court dismissed a case filed by Arab and Turkmen politicians from Kirkuk in which they called for postponing provincial elections in the province until the voter registry has been audited. In announcing the verdict, the Court’s chief judge, Jasim al-Umairi, affirmed that elections in the disputed province shall proceed as scheduled on Monday, December 18. 

On December 12, Iraq’s parliament postponed until further notice a special session that was planned for Wednesday for the purpose of electing a new speaker to replace Mohammed al-Halbousi, whose tenure was terminated by the Federal Supreme Court on November 14. A statement by the legislature’s press office cited “lack of suitable conditions for holding the session,” explaining that many members could not attend the meeting because they were preoccupied with preparations for the upcoming provincial council elections. 

On December 13, the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) of Iraq said that more than 500 local and international organizations have registered to monitor next week’s provincial council elections in the country. A spokesman for the Commission added that each voting booth will be monitored by cameras, with a total of 112,000 installed inside or around voting booths nationwide. IHEC added that more than 420,000 personnel will manage the voting process, which begins with special voting on December 16 for 900,000 members of the security forces, hospital patients, and other groups needing special arrangements, while the other 16 million voters in the general public will head to the ballots on December 18.

Sources cited in this section include: Reuters, al-Sumaria, Iraqi PM’s office, Mawazin, INA, State Department, Kurdistan24, ISHM archive, Rudaw.


Iraq Says Perpetrators Of December 7 Attack On U.S. Embassy Have Links To Security Forces

On December 7, several mortar rounds struck around the U.S. embassy compound in central Baghdad, a U.S. military official said. According to an Iraqi security official, the munitions used in the attack were mortar rounds modified to launch like rockets, adding that the camouflaged platform used in the attack was discovered by security forces in al-Jadiriyah neighborhood, across the Tigris river from the embassy compound. Some of the projectiles presumably targeting the embassy ended up hitting the offices of Iraq’s National Security Service, Iraqi officials said. The barrage, the first to target the U.S. diplomatic mission since Iran-backed militias started attacking U.S. interests in Iraq, caused minor damage, but there were no reports of casualties. No group claimed direct responsibility for the attack, but a spokesman for Kataib Hezbollah applauded the operation in a statement on social media and said the attacks on U.S. interests would continue “until the last [U.S.] soldier” leaves Iraq.

On December 8, security sources in Kirkuk province said that ISIS militants attacked Iraqi army and Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) troops near the Daquq district. The fighting wounded one Iraqi soldier and two PMF fighters. 

On December 8, a new rocket attack targeted the Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar province, which hosts U.S. military personnel, news reports said. On the same day, Iran-backed militia groups fired rockets from the border town of Rabiyah at bases hosting U.S. forces in eastern Syria in at least three separate incidents. Meanwhile, security sources in the Kurdistan region said that an explosive drone that was apparently targeting the Hareer base near Erbil’s international airport struck a residential building nearby. The militias resumed their operations on December 11 with two new attacks, one involving explosive drones launched at Ain al-Asad, and the other involving a salvo of rockets targeting al-Shaddadi base in Syria. These were followed by another rocket attack against al-Omar oil field base in Syria on December 12, for which the “Islamic Resistance in Iraq” claimed responsibility.  

On December 11, security sources in Najaf said that a violent armed clash erupted between two tribes in al-Haydariyah subdistrict, in the northern parts of the province. The fighting, which the sources said involved the use of small and medium weapons, injured a young girl who was struck in the neck with a bullet. 

On December 12, a Karbala woman running for office in the upcoming provincial elections said that unidentified individuals armed with batons attacked her office in the city and assaulted several members of her team. The candidate, Wisal al-Asadi, said that four of her staff members were injured in the attack, including one whose injuries were described as serious. 

On December 14, a senior Iraqi military spokesman said the government has arrested several individuals involved in the December 7 attack on the U.S. Embassy and the headquarters of Iraq’s National Security Service in Baghdad. Those detained include individuals who provided logistical support and access to the attackers, the spokesman, Major General Yahya Rasoul, explained. He added that preliminary investigation results indicate that some of the perpetrators “are linked to some security agencies,” without specifying which ones, noting that the search continues for other individuals who may have been involved in the attacks. 

Sources cited in this section include: al-Hurra, Mawazin, Shafaq, al-Sumaria, NINA, Rudaw, Ultra Iraq, INA. 


New Water Treatment Facilities To Reduce Dangerous Pollutants In The Tigris; Iraq Shuts Down Second Sulaymaniyah IDP Camp

On December 9, eight new wastewater treatment plants were inaugurated at the Iraqi capital’s Medical City complex, the largest medical care center in the country, a statement by UNICEF, the Iraqi government, and  Germany’s KFW development bank said. The new facilities will benefit an estimated 3.5 million residents of Baghdad by treating 2,300 cubic meters/day of wastewater that used to be discharged by the medical complex directly into the Tigris River. The discharge of wastewater by hospitals into Iraq’s river is widely regarded as a major source of dangerous pollutants that pose great risk to public health. 

On December 13, UNICEF outlined its 2024 Iraq Humanitarian Action for Children plan. The plan aims to address the humanitarian needs of 1.1 million people, including nearly 650,000 children, out of three million people who continue to be affected by the legacy of the ISIS conflict and require humanitarian assistance. The UN organization notes that one of the “greatest challenges facing Iraq will be water scarcity driven by climate change,” especially in southern Iraq, which is reflected in the fact that 740,000 children lack access to safe water. The plan also highlights that an estimated 600,000 displaced and returnee children “face obstacles to accessing education,” while nearly 222,000 children need protection services to address risks including those of gender-based-violence. UNICEF is seeking $41.2 million to help address the needs of these vulnerable children and families who are affected by conflict and water scarcity. The main assistance areas targeted by the organization are child protection (accounting for 36.8% of the funding sought), followed by education (24.3%), and WASH (24.1%). The amount requested is 47% lower than the request made in 2023, which UNICEF attributes to “the integration of displaced populations into government services, particularly WASH.“

On December 14, the Ministry of Migration and the Displaced said that it shut down the Arbat camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sulaymaniyah province after the camp’s last 170 residents had returned to their home districts in Salah ad-Din province. In a statement, the Ministry noted that this is the second camp closure to take place in the Kurdistan region since the beginning of the 2014 displacement crisis. In November, the Qoartu camp for IDPs, also in Sulaymaniyah province, was the first to be shut down in the Kurdistan region. Twenty four IDP camps remain open in Iraq, all of which are located in the Kurdistan region, with the exception of al-Jad’ah in Ninewa province. 

Sources cited in this section include: ReliefWeb, ISHM archive, al-Sumaria.


Iraq And Major UAE Bank Agree To New, Non-USD Import Financing Arrangement

On December 8, the Iraqi Ministry of Finance said that it approved the release of a new payment of IQD 700 billion as a loan to the Kurdistan regional government (KRG) in order to pay the salaries of civil servants in the Kurdistan region. The cash transfer is part of a temporary arrangement reached in September under which the Baghdad government authorized the state-owned Rafidain, Rasheed, and TBI to provide the KRG with three monthly loans of IQD 700 billion ($538 million) each starting in September. 

On December 13, the Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) said that its governor, Ali al-Allaq, has reached an agreement with the chief executive of the Abu Dhabi First Bank, Hana al-Rostamani to launch financial transfer operations in the Emirati dirham to fund imports and exports between Iraq and the United Arab Emirates. A statement by the CBI said that five Iraqi banks will be able to benefit from the new transfer agreement, which will in turn reduce dependence on the electronic platform for U.S. dollar transfers and create more liquidity for commerce financing. Iraqi imports from and through the UAE stand at an estimated $20 billion a year, representing about a third of Iraq’s total imports. 

On December 13, the Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) said that its board of directors has decided to establish “The National Company for Electronic Payment Systems in Iraq” in an effort to develop the country’s financial systems infrastructure and serve the growing numbers of customers. The CBI added that its role will focus on supervising these electronic payment systems, and that it will work with other stakeholders to create the legal and operational framework of the new company.   

Sources cited in this section include: al-Mada, ISHM archive, INA, al-Sumaria.

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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