ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM: December 14 – 28, 2023

ISHM LOGO

Key Takeaways:

    • Incumbents Gain In Provincial Elections Marred By Low Turnout; Sudani Says His Government Is Moving To End U.S. Military Presence – On December 18, Iraq conducted its first provincial council elections in a decade amid signs of widespread apathy and boycott by most voters. Election officials said that 6,599,668 voters cast their ballots in the election, which covered 15 of Iraq’s provinces and excluded the Kurdistan region, representing 41% of the 16,158,788 registered voters. Turnout was highest in Kirkuk, where 65% cast their ballots, and lowest in Baghdad’s Rusafa district, at just 21%. Further analysis, however, points to lower turnout levels of around 28% when compared against the total number of Iraqis eligible to vote, estimated at 23 million. Of those, close to 7 million did not update their biometric voter records and were thus discounted by the election commission. Preliminary results indicate that parties belonging to the incumbent governors in several provinces, including Basra, Wasit, Karbala, Diyala, Salah ad-Din, and Anbar came in first with a plurality of votes in their respective provinces. On December 28, PM Mohammed al-Sudani told the visiting PM of Spain that his government was “moving towards ending the presence of the International Coalition…in light of the availability of capable Iraqi forces.” The remarkable statement came two days after Sudani condemned recent U.S. retaliatory airstrikes against militias that have been attacking U.S. forces and interests in Iraq and Syria, saying the U.S. actions were “clear acts of aggression, unconstructive…and run against the declared U.S. interest in improving relations with Iraq.” In other developments, on December 27, PM Sudani said he established a committee to prepare a new draft of the Federal Supreme Court Law to reflect the expanded role and powers granted to the Court by the constitution, a government statement said. more…
    • U.S. Strikes Militia Targets After Drone Attack Injures Servicemembers; Minor Attacks Hit Voting Centers; Clashes Erupt Between Sadr’s Militia And The Asaib; Turkey To Build More Bases Inside Iraq – Between December 16 – 26, Iran-backed Iraqi militias operating under the “Islamic Resistance in Iraq” banner attacked U.S. forces at bases in Iraq and Syria at least six time, firing rockets and explosive drones. One of the attacks injured three U.S. military personnel at the Hareer base near Erbil, to which the U.S. responded with fresh retaliatory strikes against “multiple facilities used by Kataib Hezbollah and affiliated groups in Iraq,” CENTCOM said. The strikes in the city of Hilla killed at least one militia fighter and injured about 20 other people, including, reportedly, policemen and civilians. On December 18, four voting centers in Najaf were attacked with RPGs and small IEDs without causing casualties. On December 26, two people were wounded during armed clashes between militiamen loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr and others affiliated with the rival Asaib Ahl al-Haq in west Baghdad. The clashes reportedly erupted after AAH militiamen erected portraits of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, which was seen as a provocation by the Sadrists, resulting in violent clashes lasting over an hour. On December 28, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that his military was building new roads and adding new infrastructure in northern Iraq to complete the construction of new permanent bases and increase its presence in places where no bases currently exist. Erdogan, whose military lost 12 soldiers in recent attacks by the PKK, said the new bases would be completed by the spring of 2024. more…
    • Yazidi Survivors Sue Lafarge Over Payments To ISIS; Sulaymaniyah Airport Ban Extended; New Unit Raises Basra Refinery’s Capacity By 70,000 BPD – On December 14, Reuters reported that hundreds of U.S. citizens filed a lawsuit against cement maker Lafarge, accusing the French company of conspiring to provide material support to ISIS. The lawsuit, filed before a New York court by members of the Yazidi community, argued that Lafarge “aided and abetted ISIS’s acts of international terrorism and conspired with ISIS and its intermediaries, they must pay compensation to the survivors.” On December 23, Turkish authorities extended a ban on flights to and from Sulaymaniyah’s international airport until June 22 of next year. The flight ban was first imposed in April, as Turkish authorities cited security threats to civilian aviation arising from an alleged increase in PKK activities at the facility. On December 23, Iraq’s Oil Ministry inaugurated a new (and the fourth) petroleum refining unit at the country’s main southern refinery in Basra. With the capacity to process 70,000 bpd of crude oil, the new facility will expand the refinery’s total capacity from 210,000 bpd to 280,000 bpd. In other developments, on December 27, Iraq officially launched a project to build a new residential city in the Abu Ghraib district, west of Baghdad. The new city, named al-Jawahiri, is one of five similar projects and offers 30,000 homes, 10,000 residential lots, along with dozens of various other facilities. On December 27, Iraq’s Oil Ministry said that Iraq and Iran have agreed to create a joint committee to discuss development plans for oil fields straddling the borders between the two countries. 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.


Incumbents Gain In Provincial Elections Marred By Low Turnout; Sudani Says His Government Is Moving To End U.S. Military Presence

On December 17, news reports circulated a correspondence between the head of Iraq’s Integrity Commission and a government anti-money laundering agency that indicated the Commission was investigating Basra governor Asad al-Idani for illicit enrichment. Specifically, the Commission was requesting information about “real estate and bank accounts” held in the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Lebanon under the name of Idani’s wife, Hadeel Abdul-Salim Nima. 

On December 18, Iraq conducted its first provincial council elections in a decade amid widespread apathy and boycott by many voters, including followers of Muqtada al-Sadr. The election covered 15 of Iraq’s provinces and excluded Erbil, Duhok, and Sulaymaniyah, which form the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) said the process was successful with little if any problems. Data published by IHEC shows that a total of 6,599,668 voters cast their ballots, representing 41% of the 16,158,788 registered voters. Turnout was highest in Kirkuk, where 65% of registered voters cast their ballots, followed by Salah ad-Din at 59%, Anbar with 57%, and Ninewa with 53%. By contrast, voter turnout was lowest in Baghdad’s Rusafa district (where Sadr City is located) at 21%, followed by Maysan with 29%, Dhi-Qar with 31%, and Najaf and Baghdad’s Karkh district with 32% each. Further analysis, however, points to lower turnout levels of around 28% when compared against the total number of Iraqis eligible to vote, estimated at 23 million. Of those, close to 7 million did not update their biometric voter records and were thus discounted by IHEC. For comparison, turnout in the two previous provincial elections conducted in 2013 and 2009 were 46% and 51%, respectively. Media analysis of the preliminary results published by IHEC on December 19 indicates that council seats in each of the 15 provinces will be distributed among the winning parties in the manner shown below. This list shows parties that won 2 or more seats in each province where elections were held. Of note, the results show that parties belonging to the incumbent governors in several provinces, including Basra, Wasit, Karbala, Diyala, Salah ad-Din, and Anbar came in first with a plurality of votes in their respective provinces. 

  • Baghdad: Taqaddum (9); Nabni (9); State of Law (9); Siyada (5); National State Forces (5); al-Hasm al-Watani (3); al-Asas (2); Other (3)
  • Kirkuk: PUK (5); Arab bloc (3); Iraqi Turkmen Front (2); KDP (2); al-Qiyada (2); Other (1)
  • Ninewa: Ninewa For Its People (5); KDP (4); al-Aqd al-Watani (3); Siyada (2); Taqaddum (2); al-Hadba (2); Itihad Ahl Ninewa (2); al-Hasm al-Watani (2); al-Hawiyah al-Wataniyah (2); Other (2)
  • Diyala: Diyalatuna (4); Taqaddum (3); Siyada (3); Azm (2); Other (3)
  • Salah ad-Din: Jamaheer al-Wataniyah (5); Coordination Framework (2); al-Azm al-Watani (2); Taqaddum (2); Siyada (2); al-Hasm al-Watani (2)
  • Dhi-Qar: Nabni (5); Stat of Law (4); al-Makina (2); al-Muhimma (2); Other (3)
  • Anbar: Taqaddum (6); Anbar Hawiyatuna (3); Qimam (2); Siyada (2); Other (3)
  • Muthanna: Nabni (3); State of Law (3); National State Forces (3); Other (1)
  • Karbala: Ibda’ Karbala (7); State of Law (2); Nabni (2); Other (2)
  • Babylon: Nabni (4); State of Law (3); National State Forces (3); Ishraqat Kanoon (2); Tajammo Parlaman al-Shaab (2); Other (4)
  • Wasit: Wasit Ajmal (7); State of Law (2); Nabni (2); National State Forces (2); Other (1)
  • Basra: Tasmim (12); Nabni (6); State of Law (3); Other (1)
  • Najaf: Nabni (3) State of Law (3); al-Wafa movement (2); National State Forces (2); Other (4)
  • Diwaniyah: Nabni (4); State of Law (3); Qiyam (2); National State Forces (2); Ishraqat Kanoon (2); Other (1)
  • Maysan: Nabni (5); State of Law (4); National State Forces (3); Other (1)

IHEC said on December 28 that it expects to release the final results within days after tabulating remaining ballots and verifying seat allocations, adding that the 454 complaints it had received were unlikely to change the preliminary results. 

On December 19, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani received a phone call from French President Emmanuel Macron, a statement by Sudani’s office said. During the call, Macron and Sudani discussed the conclusion of provincial elections in Iraq, cooperation in the security and energy sectors, and Iraq’s Development Road project. The two sides also discussed the war in Gaza and the need to bring about a ceasefire and deliver humanitarian aid to civilians. An earlier meeting in October between Sudani and Macron’s Middle East and North Africa adviser indicated that the French President was planning a visit to Baghdad, but the statement from the December 19 phone call did not mention the status of that planned visit. 

On December 20, a senior Iraqi delegation led by Foreign Affairs Minister Fuad Hussein met in Ankara with Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan and other Turkish officials for talks that focused on security, counter-terrorism, and water, a joint statement said. The two sides agreed to have greater cooperation on counter-terrorism, specifically mentioning the threat of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and emphasized the need to preserve “Iraq’s political unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.” The statement added that the two sides stressed that “regional peace, stability, and prosperity will be possible through cooperation in trade, investment, transportation, and infrastructure, within the framework of a joint strategic vision.” In addition to Hussein, the Iraqi delegation included Defense Minister Thabit al-Abbasi, Popular Mobilization Committee chairman Falih al-Fayadh, and the Interior Minister of the Kurdistan region, Reber Ahmed. 

On December 20, and after IHEC published the preliminary results of the provincial council elections, the Coordination Framework announced that its factions would come together to form single blocs in every province in which they competed in order to prepare for the election of new governors. 

On December 20, Iraq’s Council of Ministers issued orders to confirm 41 senior officials at the Director General level in their positions in accordance with Civil Service Law (24) of 1960, a government statement said. The directors were confirmed after receiving “positive evaluations” based on “mechanisms and standards…approved by the Council of Ministers,” the statement added. The appointment of director generals and officials in similar coveted positions is a thorny and highly contested issue in Iraq. Many such positions are filled on acting basis as formal confirmations require (per article 61 of the constitution) a vote by parliament, which is often difficult due to entrenched and competing interests. The government statement, curiously, does not make any mention of a role for parliament in the confirmation of the 41 directors. 

On December 25, Iraq’s Foreign Affairs Ministry announced that Baghdad has reopened an embassy in the Libyan capital, Tripoli to serve the Iraqi community in Libya and advance political and diplomatic relations between Baghdad and Tripoli. Ministry spokesman Ahmed al-Sahhaf has been appointed as charge d’affaires at the embassy, which had been closed since 2011. 

On December 26, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani condemned the U.S. December 25 retaliatory airstrikes against militias in the city of Hilla (details below), saying they were “clear acts of aggression, unconstructive…and run against the declared U.S. interest in improving relations with Iraq.” Sudani, at the same time, stressed that his government continues to deal with attacks on foreign diplomatic missions and military advisers as unacceptable acts of aggression that undermine Iraq’s sovereignty.  In a recent conversation with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Sudani had warned Washington against taking unilateral action in dealing with attacks by militia groups, and stressed that the U.S. must not respond to the attacks without Baghdad’s consent. For its part, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, who said the U.S strike killed one of its fighters, demanded that the government implement parliament’s resolution to expel U.S. forces from the country and “take other measures to deter” future strikes. The militia group also vowed to continue its operations “until the last occupation soldier” leaves Iraq. Meanwhile, Hadi al-Amiri, a key leader of the Coordination Framework, strongly condemned the U.S. strike and once again called for the expulsion of U.S. forces according to a clear timeline, saying that the only way to “put an end to these aggressions.”  

On December 27, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani said he had instructed his team to establish a committee tasked with revising a draft of the Federal Supreme Court Law, which previous governments had prepared in 2015 but was not passed by parliament. The committee is to include representatives of the President, the Council of Ministers, and the State Council, a statement by Sudani’s office said. The new draft seeks to reflect the expanded role and powers granted to the Court by the constitution, which are greater than what was included in the current law, which dates back to 2005, the government statement explained. The government plans to open discussions about the new draft with all political powers in order to fully establish the constitutionally mandated frameworks, the statement added. 

On December 28, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, accompanied by representatives of Spanish companies, visited Baghdad for talks with Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani that focused on economic partnerships and formulating a bilateral strategic partnership agreement, a statement by Sudani’s office said. During the talks, Sudani underscored Iraq’s interest in benefiting from Spain’s experience in solar power, tourism, archeology, and fighting the impact of climate change. He also instructed his government agencies to be more open to cooperation with Spanish companies, the statement added. For his part, Sanchez expressed Madrid’s interest in stronger ties with Iraq in the areas of defense, education, transportation, and fighting climate change, the statement added. Speaking at a joint press conference with Sanchez, Sudani addressed the ongoing hostilities between U.S. forces and Iran-backed militias, saying that while attacks on diplomatic missions and military bases were unacceptable, U.S. forces must also adhere to the legal framework of their presence and not exceed their mission by taking military actions that violate Iraq’s sovereignty. Remarkably, Sudani said that his government was “moving towards ending the presence of the International Coalition…in light of the availability of capable Iraqi forces.”

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


U.S. Strikes Militia Targets After Drone Attack Injures Servicemembers; Minor Attacks Hit Voting Centers; Clashes Erupt Between Sadr’s Militia And The Asaib; Turkey To Build More Bases Inside Iraq

On December 16, Iran-backed Iraqi militias operating under the “Islamic Resistance in Iraq” banner attacked U.S. forces at al-Malikiyah base in eastern Syria using an explosive drone, claiming a direct hit. Hours later, the militias attacked two other bases hosting U.S. forces in Syria at al-Omar and Conoco oil fields, also with explosive drones. After a brief pause, the militias launched two rockets against Ain al-Asad air base in Iraq’s Anbar province during the early morning hours of December 19. Local security sources said the attack did not result in casualties or significant damage. Ain al-Asad was attacked again on the following day, when militias launched another Katyusha-type 122mm rocket at the base, the U.S. military said. A truck/launcher prepared to fire additional rockets was discovered and neutralized by security forces. Then on December 22, the “Islamic Resistance in Iraq” claimed to have launched an attack against a “vital target” near the Israeli city of Eilat using “the appropriate weapons,” without providing additional details. Returning to Iraq, on December 25, the militias claimed a new attack with explosive drones that targeted U.S. forces  at the Hareer base near Erbil’s international airport. The drone strikes, which injured three U.S. military personnel, were met hours later with fresh retaliatory strikes by U.S. forces on orders from President Joe Biden. The U.S. airstrikes targeted “multiple facilities used by Kataib Hezbollah and affiliated groups in Iraq,” the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said. The strikes, which Iraqi sources said hit Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) facilities in the city of Hilla, killed at least one PMF member and injured about 20 others, including PMF fighters, policemen, and a few civilians. Militias resumed their operations on December 26 with an attack involving a salvo of rockets aimed at al-Shaddadi base in Syria. 

On December 18, security sources and election officials in Najaf said that four voting centers in the province were attacked that day, adding that none of the attacks resulted in casualties. According to the sources, two small improvised explosive devices (IEDs) detonated against the outer fences of two voting centers in al-Kufa district that day, while a third center in al-Amir neighborhood of Najaf City was struck by a rocket propelled grenade (RPG). A fourth center in al-Kufa was meanwhile attacked with a stun grenade. In another election-related incident on Monday, unidentified gunmen opened fire from small arms on the home of a candidate from the Nabni coalition, led by Hadi al-Amiri, in al-Baladiyat neighborhood of eastern Baghdad, police sources said. There were no reports of casualties as a result of the attack. 

On December 18, security sources in Anbar province said that ISIS militants attacked an Iraqi army outpost west of the remote Rutba district of the province. The attack killed an army soldier and wounded three, while the army troops killed one of the attacking militants and wounded three.

On December 18, local sources in the Safwan subdistrict of Basra said that a 10 year old boy was killed when a remnant of war exploded in the South Rumeila area of the province. 

On December 19, Iraq’s Defense Ministry said that a Bell-407 helicopter crashed while providing security for elections in Kirkuk province. The crash was attributed to technical problems that occurred shortly after taking off from the Hlewah air base in Tuzkhormatu. The helicopter’s pilot, an army aviation colonel, was killed in the crash, while the second crew member was injured and taken to the hospital for treatment.   

On December 20, local sources said an artillery shell of unknown source struck a home in the Deraluk subdistrict, near Amadiyah in Duhok province. The shell, likely fired by Turkish troops fighting PKK militants, caused physical damage to buildings and vehicles, but there were no reports of casualties.  

On December 20, security sources in Baghdad said that ISIS militants attacked a security tower in the Tarmiyah district, north of the Iraqi capital. One member of the Iraqi security forces was killed in the attack, the sources added. 

On December 21, security sources in Baghdad said that one person was killed and two were injured when unidentified individuals attacked their residence in al-Kamaliyah neighborhood of east Baghdad with a hand grenade. The attack appeared to be linked to prior tribal conflicts, the sources added. 

On December 26, two people were wounded, including a member of the security forces, during armed clashes between militiamen loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr and others affiliated with the rival Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) militia in Hay al-Aamil neighborhood of west Baghdad. The clashes reportedly erupted after AAH militiamen erected portraits of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, which was seen as a provocation by the Sadrists, resulting in clashes lasting over an hour. Federal police reinforcements were deployed to the area to defuse the situation and reopen roads to traffic.

On December 26, Iraq’s Security Media Cell said that security forces had located the charred remains of two individuals (a Kuwaiti and a Saudi national) who had gone missing in a remote desert area between the provinces of Anbar and Salah ad-Din. According to the Cell, the two men–initially thought to have been kidnapped–were killed when their vehicle struck a legacy IED left behind from the war with ISIS. Local sources, however, challenged the official account, claiming that eyewitnesses saw the duo coming under attack with machine gun fire and rocket propelled grenades by unidentified militants who ambushed them in the remote desert. ISHM could not verify these claims.  

On December 28, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that his military was building new roads and adding new infrastructure in northern Iraq to complete the construction of permanent bases and increase its presence in places where no permanent bases exist. Erdogan, whose military lost 12 soldiers in recent attacks by the PKK, said the new bases would be completed by the spring of 2024. Erdogan claimed that Turkey’s anti-PKK campaign has been “most successful” in recent years because his forces “have taken steps in line with the new concept to crush the heads of terrorists in their lairs. This is how we disrupted imperialist games. We do not allow terrorists to contaminate the lands of the homeland.”

On December 28, unidentified masked gunmen killed a policeman and wounded three people, a policeman and two civilians, in an attack with small arms at a popular market in the city of Kirkuk. A spokesman for the Kirkuk police said that initial analysis of footage captured by surveillance cameras indicate that the attack was an act of terrorism.

Sources cited in this section include: Mawazin, Shafaq, al-Sumaria, CENTCOM, social media, Reuters, Rudaw, AP, NINA, INA, Kurdistan24, Ultra Iraq, Hurriyet Daily News.


Yazidi Survivors Sue Lafarge Over Payments To ISIS; Sulaymaniyah Airport Ban Extended; New Unit Raises Basra Refinery’s Capacity By 70,000 BPD

On December 14, Reuters reported that hundreds of U.S. citizens filed a lawsuit against cement maker Lafarge, accusing the French company of conspiring to provide material support to ISIS. The lawsuit, filed before a New York court by members of the Yazidi community led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad, argued that Lafarge “aided and abetted ISIS’s acts of international terrorism and conspired with ISIS and its intermediaries, they must pay compensation to the survivors.” The new report points out that last year, Lafarge had agreed to pay $778 million in fines after pleading guilty in a U.S. court to a charge that it paid money to ISIS in order to keep operating in Syria. 

On December 23, officials at Sulaymaniyah’s international airport said that Turkish authorities have extended a ban on flights to and from the airport until June 22 of next year. The flight ban was first imposed in April, as Turkish authorities cited security threats to civilian aviation arising from an alleged increase in activities by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Sulaymaniyah and the PKK’s infiltration of airport security. The ban, initially imposed for 90 days, was first renewed in July. 

On December 23, Iraq’s Oil Ministry inaugurated a new (and the fourth) petroleum refining unit at the country’s main southern refinery in Basra. With the capacity to process 70,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil, the new facility will expand the southern refinery’s total capacity from 210,000 bpd to 280,000 bpd. Speaking at the inauguration ceremony, Oil Minister Hayan Abdul-Ghani said the project was completed relying on domestic efforts led by South Refineries Company after contracts with foreign companies had stalled. 

On December 27, Iraq officially launched a project to build a new residential city in the Abu Ghraib district, west of baghdad. Speaking at the cornerstone laying ceremony, Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani said the new city, named al-Jawahiri, is one of five similar projects to be built in Baghdad, Karbala, Ninewa, Babylon, and Anbar, to address Iraq’s housing crisis and reduce pressure on crowded urban centers. The city design, which covers 7,121 dunams, includes 30,000 homes, 10,000 residential lots, along with 70 schools and various other facilities, a government statement said.

On December 27, Iraq’s Oil Ministry said that Iraq and Iran have agreed to create a joint committee to discuss development plans for oil fields straddling the shared borders between the two countries. The agreement, signed in Iraq by Oil Minister Hayan Abdul-Ghani and his Iranian counterpart Javad Owji, also provided for the creation of other joint committees dealing with refinery development, training, oil marketing, drilling, pipe and spare part procurement, and oil exploitation, among others, a statement by the Oil Ministry added.   

Sources cited in this section include: Reuters, Rudaw, ISHM archive, al-Hurra, Iraq’s Oil Ministry, Iraqi PM’s office, al-Sumaria. 


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

Casualties Due To IEDs and ERWs from December 14, 2023 - December 28, 2023

DateLocationDeathsInjuries
12/18/23 Al-Kufa, Najaf province00
12/18/23 South Rumeila, Basra province10
12/26/23 Desert between Salah ad-Din and Anbar20

 

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.


Subscribe to our weekly ISHM and have the latest developments in Iraq sent straight to your inbox every Thursday and follow EPIC on Twitter to receive updates throughout the week.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email