ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM: January 25 – February 1, 2024

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Key Takeaways:

  • Vote To Elect A New Speaker Of Parliament Gets Postponed Again; U.S.-Iraq Higher Military Commission Meetings Begin – On January 27, Iraq’s parliament postponed for another time a planned vote to elect a new speaker for the legislature to replace Mohammed al-Halbousi, whose tenure was ended last November. According to the parliament’s press office, only 180 lawmakers were present at Saturday’s session. On January 27, Iraqi and U.S. military officials convened the first meeting of the bilateral Higher Military Commission (HMC) in Baghdad to review the mission of the U.S.-led International Coalition against ISIS. The meeting came just two days after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the two sides agreed to launch the HMC process to “enable the transition” from the current mission of the Coalition “to an enduring bilateral security partnership.” In other developments, on January 27, Iraq’s parliament issued new regulations limiting the movement and operations of members of the press within the legislature’s compound, reportedly raising objections from reporters who saw the regulations as overly restrictive. On January 28, the U.S. Treasury Department said it was moving to identify the Iraqi private Al-Huda Bank as “a primary money laundering concern for serving as conduit for terrorist financing by Iran.” On January 31, government sources said that PM Mohammed al-Sudani has appointed Hisham al-Rikabi (the press adviser for Sudani and State of Law coalition leader Nouri al-Maliki) to the board of trustees of Iraq’s Communications and Media Commission. more…
  • Kataib Hezbollah To Suspend Attacks On U.S. Forces As Washington Prepares To Retaliate For A Deadly Attack On Its Troops In Jordan – On January 30, the secretary general of Kataib Hezbollah, Ahmed al-Hamidawi, announced that the militia will suspend its operations against U.S. forces “to avoid embarrassing the Iraqi government.” Hamidawi claimed that his militia was conducting its attacks without interference “and often with objections” from Iran. Hamidawi added that his fighters will assume a temporary posture of “passive defense” if attacked by the U.S. military. The statement came just hours after President Joe Biden said that his administration had decided to take military action in response to the January 28 attack that killed 3 U.S. soldiers in Jordan, which Washington believes had “the footprints of Kataib Hezbollah.” Biden’s national security spokesman further told reporters that “it is very possible that what you’ll see is a tiered approach here, not just a single action, but essentially multiple actions.” Remarkably, the suspension came just a few days after the “Islamic Resistance in Iraq” a front group for Iran-backed Iraqi militias, vowed to continue the attacks on U.S. forces, calling the recent agreement between Iraq and the U.S. to discuss the drawdown of Coalition forces a “ruse” by the U.S. designed ”to buy time to commit more crimes.” Earlier this week, the “Islamic Resistance in Iraq” said it attacked four bases used by U.S. forces in the region with explosive drones, including al-Rukban base (also known as Tower 22) along Jordan’s borders with Iraq and Syria. The brazen attack killed three American soldiers and injured more than three dozen others, making it the first deadly attack by the militias since October. Iraq’s government condemned the attack in public statements and during a phone call between Iraq’s Foreign Minister and his Jordanian counterpart. A senior government spokesman said Baghdad wants to see an end to “the cycle of escalation,” and was ready to help “draw basic rules of engagement that can spare the region more repercussions.” In other developments, on January 25, multiple rockets struck the Khor Mor gas field in Sulaymaniyah, setting a storage tank on fire and briefly disrupting production, resulting in widespread power outages. more…
  • Parliament Passes Law Offering Legal Assistance To Vulnerable Groups – On January 30, Iraq’s parliament passed the Legal Assistance Law, a legislation that offers free legal services, including representation, consultation, and mediation, to those who can’t afford them. The law is meant to benefit several vulnerable social groups, including survivors of domestic or gender-based violence, refugees and displaced persons, survivors of human trafficking, and persons with disabilities. The law provides for the creation of a legal assistance center within the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights to manage the implementation of the law and allocation of benefits. In other developments, on January 30, UN human rights experts expressed “deep concern” about reports that the Iraqi government has conducted “mass executions in its prison system” with an additional 250 inmates facing the risk of expedited enforcement of death sentences. Specifically, the experts mention that on December 25, authorities executed 13 inmates in one day at the Nasiriyah Central Prison without prior notice to their families or lawyers. The practice, the statement adds, constitutes “a form of ill-treatment.” The experts urged the Iraqi government to “immediately halt all executions, in particular in Nasiriyah Central Prison.” more…
  • Iraq Signs Contract To Build New City; KRG Receives First Payment From Baghdad Under New Budget Mechanism – On January 31, Iraq’s Ministry of Housing, Reconstruction, and Municipalities signed a contract with real estate developer ORA (owned by Egyptian businessman Naguib Sawiris) to build a new residential city southeast of Baghdad. The new city, named after the late famous Iraqi sociologist Ali al-Wardi, will be the largest of five similar projects meant to address Iraq’s housing crisis, a government statement said. The city design covers 61 square kilometers and includes 120,000 residenting units. On February 1, the KRG Finance Ministry said that the federal government has sent a sum of IQD 618 billion to be deposited in its accounts to enable the KRG to start paying its civil servants. The transfer comes two weeks after Iraq’s Council of Ministers decided to make monthly budget payments to the KRG based on actual expenditures as determined under the Iraqi budget law. In other developments, on January 28, Iraq’s Transportation Ministry said it plans to commission the construction of 13 new cargo ships this year in order to grow the 6-ship fleet of its Maritime Transportation Company. 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.


Vote To Elect A New Speaker Of Parliament Gets Postponed Again; U.S.-Iraq Higher Military Commission Meetings Begin

On January 27, Iraq’s parliament postponed a planned vote to elect a new speaker for the legislature to replace Mohammed al-Halbousi, whose tenure was ended by Iraq’s top court last November. According to the parliament’s press office, only 180 lawmakers were present at Saturday’s session. 

On January 27, military officials from Iraq and the United States convened the first meeting of the bilateral Higher Military Commission (HMC) in Baghdad to review the mission of the U.S.-led International Coalition against ISIS, a statement by Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani’s office said. The meeting came just two days after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced that Washington and Baghdad agreed to launch the HMC process “in the coming days,” to “enable the transition” from the current mission of the Coalition “to an enduring bilateral security partnership.” A statement by the Coalition mentioned that working groups comprising Iraqi and coalition officers will evaluate the ISIS threat and the “operational and environmental requirements and Iraqi Security Force capabilities” and the HMC will then “work to set the conditions to transition the mission in Iraq.”

On January 27, Iraq’s parliament issued new regulations that impose restrictions on members of the press who seek to access the legislature’s compound, reportedly raising objections from reporters who saw the regulations as overly restrictive. The new rules require journalists to remain in the press room and prevent them from moving around the compound or conducting interviews outside the press room. Journalists who want to cover parliamentary news must also obtain new access badges that will be provided only to networks approved by parliament’s press relations department based on loosely-defined criteria set by the latter. The new regulations also prevent journalists from conducting interviews or entering the offices of parliamentary blocs or committees without prior written permits from the press relations department. The rules also impose a dress code on journalists, and require them to keep their equipment in lockers inside the compound, among other things.

On January 28, the U.S. Treasury Department said it was moving to identify the Iraqi private Al-Huda Bank as “a primary money laundering concern for serving as conduit for terrorist financing by Iran.” Treasury also announced that its Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) was imposing sanctions on Al-Huda’s owner, Hamad al-Mousawi, for providing support and money laundering services to groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force (IRGC-QF), including Kataib Hezbollah. The Treasure measures come less than a week after the Department had designated private Iraqi airline Fly Baghdad and three senior members of Kataib Hezbollah, including a member of parliament, over links to IRGC-QF involving money laundering, logistical support, and facilitating attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria.  

On January 31, government sources said that Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani has appointed Hisham al-Rikabi (the press adviser for Sudani and State of Law coalition leader Nouri al-Maliki) to the board of trustees of Iraq’s Communications and Media Commission. Rikabi will replace board member Mohammed al-Hamad, whose membership was terminated by Sudani on the same day.

Sources cited in this section include: al-Sumaria, ISHM archive, AP, Treasury Department, Mawazin.


Kataib Hezbollah To Suspend Attacks On U.S. Forces As Washington Prepares To Retaliate For A Deadly Attack On Its Troops In Jordan

On January 25, local sources in the Khor Mor gas field in Qadir Karam area of Sulaymaniyah province said that an attack with rockets targeted the field around 10:45pm local time, setting a storage tank on fire. The attack disrupted operations at the field, whose production is crucial for power generation in the Kurdistan region, resulting in widespread power outages. Gas production was restored by January 27 though, according to the region’s Natural Resources Minister, who noted that this was the first attack on the field to significantly impact production. The minister, Ahmed al-Mufti, also said the power generation has returned to normal pre-attack levels.  

On January 25, Iraqi security sources said that an explosive drone targeted the Ain al-Asad base in Anbar province, which hosts U.S. military personnel. On the same day, security officials in the Kurdistan region said that another explosive drone was shot down as it approached the Hareer base near Erbil’s airport. On January 26, the “Islamic Resistance in Iraq” claimed responsibility for another drone attack on Ain al-Asad. This was followed by two more attacks on the same base on January 27 and 28. On the 28th, there was also a new drone attack on the Hareer base. There were no reports of casualties in connection with any of these incidents.  

On January 29, local sources in the Mawat district of Sulaymaniyah province said that an unidentified aircraft, believed to be of the Turkish military, struck and destroyed a civilian home in the village of Galala, near the border with Iran. There were no reports of casualties, as the house was vacant, according to the sources. 

On January 29, security sources in Dhi-Qar province said that an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated next to an empty house that was previously used by the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia as an office. The explosion, which happened in al-Rifa’i district of the province, caused some damage to the building, but there were no reports of casualties.

On January 29, the “Islamic Resistance in Iraq,” which is a front group for Iran-backed Iraqi militias, said it attacked four bases used by U.S. forces in the region using explosive drones, including the al-Rukban base (also known as Tower 22) along Jordan’s borders with Iraq and Syria. The brazen January 28 attack on Jordanian territory killed three American soldiers and caused injuries among more than three dozen others, making it the first deadly attack by the militias since October, when they started a wave of attacks on U.S. forces in response to the war between Hamas and Israel. The drone was able to reach its target after air defenses at al-Rukban misidentified it as a friendly unmanned aircraft. A Pentagon spokesperson said the attack “has the footprints of Kataib Hezbollah” and that “Iran is behind it” but that it was still unclear who exactly conducted the attack. Iran has denied having any links to the deadly drone strike. Iraq’s The Iraqi government condemned the attack in public statements and during a phone call between Iraq’s Foreign Minister and his Jordanian counterpart. A senior government spokesman said that Baghdad wanted to see an end to “the cycle of escalation,” and was ready to help “draw basic rules of engagement that can spare the region more repercussions.”

On January 30, the secretary general of Kataib Hezbollah, Ahmed al-Hamidawi, announced that the militia had decided to suspend its operations against U.S. forces “to avoid embarrassing the Iraqi government.” In his statement, Hamidawi claimed that his militia was conducting its attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria without interference “and often with objections” from Iran. Hamidawi added that his fighters will assume a temporary posture of “passive defense” if attacked by the U.S. military. The statement came just a few hours after President Joe Biden said that his administration had decided to take military action in response to the January 28 attack that killed 3 U.S. soldiers in Jordan, which Washington believes had “the footprints of Kataib Hezbollah.” Biden’s national security spokesman further told reporters that “It’s fair for you to expect that we will respond in an appropriate fashion and it is very possible that what you’ll see is a tiered approach here, not just a single action, but essentially multiple actions.” Remarkably, the suspension announcement came just a few days after a statement on the Telegram channel of the “Islamic Resistance in Iraq” vowed to continue the attacks on U.S. forces, calling the recent agreement between Baghdad and Washington to discuss the drawdown of Coalition forces a “ruse” by the U.S. designed ”to buy time to commit more crimes.” Unconfirmed reports said that IRGC commander Ismail Qaani made an unannounced visit to Baghdad and met with militia commanders to persuade them to halt their attacks on U.S. forces. 

On January 31, security sources in Baghdad said that unidentified individuals attacked a civilian residence in the Ur neighborhood of east Baghdad using a hand grenade. The attack, which the sources attributed to prior tribal conflicts, injured four people. 

Sources cited in this section include: Rudaw, al-Hurra, al-Sumaria, Reuters, the Pentagon, INA, Washington post, Shafaq, NINA, Kurdistan24, al-Jazera, social media. 


Parliament Passes Law Offering Legal Assistance To Vulnerable Groups

On January 30, Iraq’s parliament passed the Legal Assistance Law, a legislation that offers free legal services, including representation, consultation, and mediation, to those who can’t afford them. The law is meant to benefit several vulnerable social groups including survivors of domestic or gender-based violence, refugees and displaced persons, survivors of human trafficking, individuals with disabilities, and the spouses and minor children of individuals regarded as martyrs by the state. The law provides for the creation of a legal assistance center within the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights to manage the implementation of the law and allocation of benefits. 

On January 30, UN human rights experts expressed “deep concern” about reports that the Iraqi government has conducted “mass executions in its prison system” with an additional 250 inmates facing the risk of expedited enforcement of death sentences. Specifically, the experts mention in their statement that on December 25, authorities executed 13 inmates in one day at the Nasiriyah Central Prison without prior notice to their families or lawyers. The practice, the statement adds, constitutes “a form of ill-treatment, which renders the subsequent execution contrary to article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” The experts urged the Iraqi government to “immediately halt all executions, in particular in Nasiriyah Central Prison.” They further urged Iraq to “grant clemency and commute the sentences of those on death row as a first step towards the complete abolition of the death penalty.”

Sources cited in this section include: Iraq’s parliament, al-Sumaria, UN Human Rights. 


Iraq Signs Contract To Build New City; KRG Receives First Payment From Baghdad Under New Budget Mechanism

On January 28, a spokesman for Iraq’s Transportation Ministry said the Ministry has plans to commission the construction of 13 new cargo ships this year in order to grow the 6-ship fleet of its Maritime Transportation Company. Five of the new ships would be funded through a loan from the Japanese government, while the remaining ships would be funded through the Ministry’s budget, the spokesman added.  

On January 28, the head of the Iraq Development Fund, Mohammed al-Najjar, said the government has approved a new mechanism to fund school building plans across the country based on a rent-to-own system. Under this mechanism, the government would provide contractors with guarantees to pay rent for 10-11 years in amounts that allow contractors to recover their investments and make a profit, the official explained. The mechanism, he argued, would allow the government to pay rent for up to 13 schools a year for the cost of building a single school, giving the country a chance to build more schools faster to meet demand, which is estimated at 8,000 buildings. 

On January 31, Iraq’s Ministry of Housing, Reconstruction, and Municipalities signed a contract with real estate developer ORA (owned by Egyptian businessman Naguib Sawiris) to build a new residential city southeast of Baghdad. The new city, named after the late famous Iraqi sociologist Ali al-Wardi, will be the largest 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, a government statement said. The city design, which covers 61 square kilometers, includes 120,000 homes, along with various other facilities, the government statement added. Last month, Iraq launched al-Jawahiri, the first of these five city projects in the Abu Ghraib district, west of Baghdad. 

On February 1, the KRG Finance Ministry said that the federal government has sent a sum of IQD 618 billion to be deposited in its accounts to enable the KRG to start paying its civil servants. The transfer comes two weeks after Iraq’s Council of Ministers decided that the federal government will start making monthly budget payments to the KRG based on actual expenditures as determined under the Iraqi budget law. The new mechanism replaces the monthly loans that the KRG has been receiving from Iraqi state-owned banks since last fall to cover the salaries of civil servants in the Kurdistan region. 

Sources cited in this section include: Rudaw, INA, Iraqi PM’s office, ISHM archive, NRT.


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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