ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM: January 18 – January 25, 2024

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Key Takeaways:

  • New U.S. Sanctions Target Iraqi Airline And Militia-Affiliated Lawmaker; Washington And Baghdad To Begin Talks To End Coalition Presence; Parliament To Elect New Speaker On Saturday – On January 22, the U.S. Treasury Department designated a private Iraqi airline, three senior members of Kataib Hezbollah, including Huqooq lawmaker Hussein Moanis, and a travel company over links to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The sanctions specifically mentioned Kataib Hezbollah’s role in recent drone and missile strikes against U.S. interests and accused Fly Baghdad of providing logistical support for the IRGC and allied militias “for several years.” Specifically, Treasury said the airline moved militia fighters to Syria and Lebanon and delivered cash and weapons, including ballistic missiles, to groups affiliated with the IRGC. On January 25, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that Washington and Baghdad will convene their bilateral Higher Military Commission (HMC) “in the coming days,” to launch a process that will “enable the transition” from the current mission of the International Coalition “to an enduring bilateral security partnership.” For its part, Baghdad lauded the agreement with Washington to announce the “success of ongoing negotiations since August of 2023” to launch the HMC process. In a statement, Iraq’s Foreign Ministry said the process will lead to “a specific and clear timeline that determines the…presence of International Coalition advisers and initiate a gradual and thoughtful drawdown” of Coalition advisers and “end the Coalition’s military mission” against ISIS. In related news, between January 22 – 25, PM Sudani had separate talks with the foreign ministers of the Netherlands, UK, and Spain about the future of bilateral relations in light of Baghdad’s plan to end the presence of the International Coalition in the country. On January 25, the website of Iraq’s parliament announced that the legislature will meet on Saturday, January 27, to elect a new speaker after an inconclusive vote on January 14 in which none of the top three candidates was able to win the required majority. more…
  • U.S. Military Retaliates With Deadly Strikes On Kataib Hezbollah Following Ballistic Missile Attack On Ain Al-Asad – On January 23, U.S. forces struck three targets used by Kataib Hezbollah and other Iran-affiliated militia groups in al-Qaim and Jurf al-Sakh, killing at least two militiamen. The targets included a headquarters of Kataib Hezbollah along with “storage, and training locations for rocket, missile, and one-way attack UAV capabilities.” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin described the latest strikes as “direct response to a series of escalatory attacks against U.S. and Coalition personnel in Iraq and Syria by Iranian-sponsored militias.” A senior Iraqi military spokesman condemned the strikes, warning that Iraq will deal with future U.S. strikes as “hostile actions.” The strikes came after Iran-backed Iraqi militias fired “multiple ballistic missiles and rockets” at Ain al-Asad base. The January 20 attack caused minor injuries among several U.S. personnel and also injured one Iraqi soldier. In the next four days, the base was attacked at least three more time with rockets and explosive drones. Earlier, Iran-backed Iraqi militias said they shot down an MQ-9 Reaper U.S. drone over Diyala province. In other developments, between January 21 – 25, the explosions of three remnants of war and a grenade in Ninewa, Diwaniyah, Sulaymaniyah, and Baghdad killed two children and wounded five civilians, including four children. On January 25, unidentified individuals attacked the residence of a newly elected provincial council member in Diyala province with hand grenades. more…
  • Migration Ministry Extends Deadline For IDP Camp Closure Plan – On January 24, Iraq’s Ministry of Migration and the Displaced announced a number of incentives and aid programs to encourage the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to their home districts and allow the closure of all remaining IDP camps this year. The aid package includes a stipend of IQD 4 million (approximately $3,000) for each household that voluntarily leaves IDP camps in the Kurdistan region. It also includes the allocation of government jobs (at 2% of available positions in provinces of return), social security benefits, and interest-free small business loans to returning IDPs. The Ministry also said that the government now aims to close the remaining 24 IDP camps in the Kurdistan region by July 30, extending the previously announced deadline of June 30 by a month. more…
  • Kurdistan Responds To Missile Attack With Calls To Boycott Iranian Goods – On January 19, the Erbil Chamber of Commerce called on all businesses and consumers in the Kurdistan region to boycott Iranian goods and freeze their trade with Iraq’s eastern neighbor to protest the Iranian ballistic missile attack that struck Erbil on January 16. In other developments, on January 21, PM Sudani appointed a new president for the state-owned Trade Bank of Iraq (TBI). According to a government document, Bilal Sabah Hussein will take over from the outgoing Mohammed Jawad Kaduhm. The order, oddly, appears to be a full reversal of a government order issued in June, in which Sudani had appointed Kaduhm as head of TBI replacing the then incumbemt Hussein. The document does not provide an explanation for the contradictory moves. On January 22, the UAE-based energy company, TAQA, said that it made a deal to sell its interest in the Atrush oil field in the Kurdistan Region, which it had acquired for $600 million in 2013. 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.


New U.S. Sanctions Target Iraqi Airline And Militia-Affiliated Lawmaker; Washington And Baghdad To Begin Talks To End Coalition Presence; Parliament To Elect New Speaker On Saturday

On January 21, Rudaw reported that thousands of people took to the streets in Zakho to protest the January 16 deadly ballistic missile attack by Iran on Erbil. Two days later, on January 23, there were reports of more demonstrations in other Kurdish cities  condemning the attack, including in Sulaymaniyah, Halabja, and Ranya.

On January 22, the Defense Minister of the Netherlands, Kajsa Ollongren, visited Baghdad for talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani. The two sides discussed bilateral relations, including the Netherlands’ support to Iraq as a member of NATO in fighting terrorism, and plans for Sudani to visit Amsterdam, a statement by Sudani’s office said. During the talks, Sudani reaffirmed his government’s commitment to the security of diplomatic missions and NATO’s mission in the country, and reiterated Baghdad’s interest in “reorganizing relations with the International Coalition and transitioning to bilateral relations with Coalition members,” the statement added. Last week, Sudani had met with the Dutch ambassador to Iraq, who delivered a formal invitation from the Dutch prime minister to visit the Netherlands. The two sides also discussed bilateral cooperation with regard to the Netherlands’ upcoming role as leader of the NATO mission in Iraq, starting in May of this year. On the same day, Sudani received a phone call from UK Foreign Minister David Cameron during which they discussed Iraq’s plans to end the presence of the International Coalition and the war in Gaza, a statement by Sudani’s office said. This week, Sudani also met with José Manuel Albares, the Foreign Minister of Spain, who visited Baghdad on January 25. Similarly, the talks focused on Baghdad’s demand to end the mission of the International Coalition in Iraq and transition to a focus on bilateral relations with Coalition members, a statement by Sudani’s office said. The two sides also discussed the war in Gaza and opportunities for Spanish companies in large infrastructure projects in Iraq, such as the Faw Port and Development Road projects. 

On January 22, the U.S. Treasury Department said it designated a private Iraqi airline company and three senior members of the Kataib Hezbollah militia, including a member of parliament, over links to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its Quds Force unit.  Treasury’s new sanctions also target “a business that moves and launders funds” for Kataib Hezbollah. In its announcement, the Treasury Department, said the airline in question, Fly Baghdad, and its CEO  provided assistance to the IRGC “and its proxy groups in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.” The announcement points out that the new measures emphasize “the ongoing threat the IRGC-QF and its proxy network pose to U.S. personnel and the region,” and specifically mentioned Kataib Hezbollah’s role in recent drone and missile strikes against U.S. interests in Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile, Treasury accused Fly Baghdad of providing logistical support for the IRGC and allied militias “for several years.” Specifically, Treasury said the airline moved militia fighters to Syria and Lebanon and delivered cash and weapons, including ballistic missiles, to groups affiliated with the IRGC and its Quds Force. The Kataib Hezbollah sanctioned members include Hussein Moanis, a member of parliament from the Huqooq bloc, the political wing of the militia. Commenting on the new measures, the Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence said that “Iran and its proxies have sought to abuse regional economies and use seemingly legitimate businesses as cover for funding and facilitating their attacks,” adding that Washington “will continue to disrupt Iran’s illicit activities aimed at undermining the stability of the region.” A spokesman for Iraq’s Civil Aviation Authority said on January 22 that Fly Baghdad continued to operate “until there was clarity” on the measures announced by the Treasury Department. The airline halted its flights on January 25 though after Prime Minister Sudani ordered the airline to comply with the U.S. sanctions.  

On January 25, the website of Iraq’s parliament announced that the legislature’s agenda for its next meeting on Saturday, January 27, begins with another vote to elect a new speaker. Last week, during a session held on January 14, parliament had failed to elect a new speaker to replace Mohammed al-Halbousi, whose tenure was ended by Iraq’s top court last November. The vote was inconclusive and none of the top three candidates was able to win the required majority. 

On January 25, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement that Washington and Baghdad will convene their bilateral Higher Military Commission (HMC) “in the coming days,” to launch a process they had “committed to during the U.S.-Iraq Joint Security Cooperation Dialogue” that was held in Washington last August. The Secretary said the HMC process will “enable the transition” from the current mission of the International Coalition to defeat ISIS “to an enduring bilateral security partnership.” Austin explained that expert working groups will examine three main factors: the ISIS threat, operational requirements, and the capability of Iraq’s forces “and advise the HMC on the most effective evolution of the D-ISIS Coalition mission, ensuring that ISIS can never resurge, in consultation with Coalition partners at all stages of the process.” The statement added that Washington “remains committed to a secure, stable, and sovereign Iraq,” underscoring that “the start of the HMC process reflects the evolving U.S.-Iraq bilateral relationship under the Strategic Framework Agreement.” For its part, the Iraqi government lauded the agreement with Washington to announce the “success of ongoing negotiations since August of 2023” to launch the HMC process. In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the HMC process will lead to “a specific and clear timeline that determines the duration of the presence of International Coalition advisers, and initiate a gradual and thoughtful drawdown” of Coalition advisers and “end the Coalition’s military mission” against ISIS. 

Sources cited in this section include: Rudaw, ISHM archive, Kurdistan24, Iraqi PM’s office, INA, Treasury Department, Ultra Iraq, Iraq’s parliament, the Pentagon.


U.S. Military Retaliates With Deadly Strikes On Kataib Hezbollah Following Ballistic Missile Attack On Ain Al-Asad

On January 19, Iran-backed Iraqi militias said they fired upon a U.S. military drone the night before, bringing it down over the Muqdadiyah district in Iraq’s Diyala province. On the following day, U.S. defense officials confirmed that a military drone had crashed near the Balad air base, which is adjacent to Diayala, without specifying its type or what caused the crash. The militias claimed that the downed drone was an MQ-9 Reaper. 

On January 19, security sources in Maysan province said that multiple unidentified gunmen opened heavy fire on the residence of a prominent doctor in central Amara, hours after he was appointed as manager of al-Hakim hospital in the city. The sources suspect a militia group called Ansar Allah al-Awfiya to be behind the attack, noting that the group posted messages objecting to the targeted doctor’s appointment who reportedly replaced a doctor who has strong ties to the militia. There were no reports of casualties in connection with the shooting. 

On January 20, the U.S. military said that Iran-backed Iraqi militias fired “multiple ballistic missiles and rockets” at Ain al-Asad base in Anbar province. The attack caused minor injuries among several U.S. personnel and also injured one Iraqi soldier, U.S. and Iraqi sources said. The exact number of rockets and missiles used in the attack is unknown, with reports mentioning numbers ranging from 10 to as many as 40. The same base was targeted again on January 22 in an attack that involved at least one explosive drone, according to Iraqi security sources. Then two more explosive drones targeted Ain al-Asad on January 23. Both weapons were shot down before they could reach the base. This was followed by yet another attack, this time with rockets, that targeted Ain al-Asad on January 24. It is unclear whether the attack resulted in any damage or casualties. 

On January 21, Ninewa police said that a 7 year old boy died when a remnant of war exploded near him while he was collecting recyclables at an empty lot in the Baaj district of the province. On the following day, security sources in Diwaniyah province said that a 17 year old boy sustained a serious head injury when another remnant of war exploded near him in al-Nouriyah area, southwest of city of Diwaniyah. Then on January 23, security sources in Sulaymaniyah province said that one civilian was injured when another remnant of war exploded in the Kalar district of the province. A few days later, on January 25, security sources in Baghdad said that a child was killed and three others were wounded in an accidental grenade explosion in al-Fudhayliyah area of eastern Baghdad. 

On January 22, local sources in Maysan province said that security forces found the body of Mohammed al-Thihabawi, a senior member of al-Hikam Movement in the province, several days after he had gone missing. Authorities have arrested individuals believed to be Thihabawi’s killers and are investigating the motives.  Earlier this week, security forces found the victim’s burned vehicle in the Ali al-Sharqi district of the province.  

On January 22, security sources in Salah ad-Din province said that a suicide bomber attempted to attack the office of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) security directorate in Tikrit. The building’s guards intercepted and shot the militant, killing him before he could get inside. The bomb carried by the attacker did not detonate and there were no reports of casualties among PMF personnel.

On January 22, PMF sources said that unidentified individuals attacked the residence of a PMF officer serving as deputy commander of the PMF’s 4th brigade using a hand grenade. The attack, which occurred in al-Shaab neighborhood of eastern Baghdad, caused damage to the building but there were no reports of casualties. 

On January 23, the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said that its forces struck three targets used by Kataib Hezbollah and other Iran-affiliated Iraqi militia groups. The facilities targeted in these “unilateral” strikes included a headquarters of Kataib Hezbollah along with “storage, and training locations for rocket, missile, and one-way attack UAV capabilities.” Initial reports indicate that at least two militiamen were killed in the strikes, which took place in Jurf al-Sakhr, southwest of Baghdad, and the remote border town of al-Qaim. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin described the latest strikes as “direct response to a series of escalatory attacks against U.S. and Coalition personnel in Iraq and Syria by Iranian-sponsored militias.” A military spokesman for the Iraqi prime minister condemned the U.S. strikes, saying they undermine security cooperation and recent progress in reorganizing the future of relations between Iraq and the International Coalition. The spokesman added that Iraq will deal with future U.S. strikes as “hostile actions” and will “take all required measures…to protect Iraqi lives.” 

On January 24, the Iraqi government decided to allocate a sum of IQD 15 billion (approximately $11.4 million) to fund a government program to buy firearms from the public as part of its gun control policy. Each of Iraq’s 15 provinces (excluding the Kurdistan region) will be allocated IQD 1 billion for the program, a government statement added. News coverage dismissed the program as too small, noting that at current market prices, the funds would be sufficient to purchase no more than 15,000 firearms out of millions in civilian hands. 

On January 25, unidentified individuals attacked the residence of a newly elected provincial council member from the Azm coalition in Diyala province with hand grenades, a senior Azm member said. The attack, which took place in a village on the outskirts of Baquba, damaged the building but there were no reports of casualties. 

Sources cited in this section include: Shafaq, al-Sumaria, Rudaw, CENTCOM, al-Hurra, Mawazin, NINA, NRT, INA, Reuters.


Migration Ministry Extends Deadline For IDP Camp Closure Plan

On January 24, Iraq’s Ministry of Migration and the Displaced announced a number of incentives and aid programs to encourage the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to their home districts and allow the closure of all remaining IDP camps. The aid package includes a stipend of IQD 4 million (approximately $3,000) for each household that voluntarily leaves IDP camps in the Kurdistan region. It also includes the allocation of government jobs (at 2% of available positions in provinces of return), social security benefits, and interest-free small business loans to returning IDPs. The Ministry also said that the government now aims to close all IDP camps in the Kurdistan region by July 30, extending the previously announced deadline of June 30 by a month. Last November, the Ministry of Migration and the Displaced began to shut down IDP camps in the Kurdistan region, starting with the Qoartu and Arbat camps in Sulaymaniyah province. Currently, 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: PUKMedia, ISHM archives. 


Kurdistan Responds To Missile Attack With Calls To Boycott Iranian Goods

On January 19, news reports circulated a Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) document that shows that the Bank intends to dispose of its electronic platform for foreign financial transfers before the end of this year. According to the document, CBI will require Iraqi banks to prepare the expertise and connections necessary to establish operational links with correspondent banks by June 30, 2024. In related developments, a government source told the official news agency on January 23 that the government and CBI have approved a mechanism to provide small businesses with electronic payment cards allowing up to $100,000 in monthly transactions to process payments for imported goods. 

On January 19, the Erbil Chamber of Commerce called on all businesses and consumers in the Kurdistan region to boycott Iranian goods and freeze their trade with Iraq’s eastern neighbor in protest of the Iranian ballistic missile attack that struck Erbil on January 16. 

On January 21, government documents showed that Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani had appointed a new president for the state-owned Trade Bank of Iraq (TBI). According to the document, Bilal Sabah Hussein will take over from the outgoing president, Mohammed Mohammed Jawad Kaduhm. The order, oddly, appears to be a full reversal of a similar but opposite government order issued about seven months ago. In June, Sudani had appointed Mohammed Mohammed Jawad Kaduhm as president of TBI, replacing Bilal Sabah Hussein. The order documents circulated by news sites do not provide an explanation for the contradictory moves. 

On January 22, the UAE-based energy company TAQA, said on its website that it made a deal with General Exploration Partners Inc. (GEP) “for the sale of its interest in the Atrush oil field in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.” TAQA, which entered the Kurdistan region’s oil sector a decade ago, had paid $600 million in 2013 to acquire its stake in the Atrush field from GEP. Currently, TAQA’s working interest in the field is 47.4%, while the KRG and GEP hold the remaining 25% and 27.6% shares, respectively.

Sources cited in this section include: Shafaq, INA, Rudaw, ISHM archive, al-Ahd, TAQA, al-Sumaria.  


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

Casualties Due To IEDs and ERWs from January 18, 2024 - January 25, 2024

DateLocationDeathsInjuries
1/21/24 Al-Baaj, Ninewa province10
1/22/24 Al-Nouriyah, southwest of Diwaniyah01
1/23/24 Kalar, Sulaymaniyah province01
1/25/24 Al-Fudhayliyah, eastern Baghdad
13

 

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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