ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM: February 1 – 8, 2024

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Key Takeaways:

  • Three Incumbents Among Twelve Newly Elected Governors; Iraq Asks U.S. To Resume Withdrawal Talks; European Foreign Ministers In Baghdad To Discuss Future Security Cooperation – On February 4, Salah ad-Din became the first province where a newly seated provincial council voted to elect a new governor. Within the next three days, provincial councils in another eleven provinces followed suit. Three of the newly elected governors (those of Basra, Wasit, and Karbala) are incumbents who succeeded in winning second terms. Three other provinces, Kirkuk, Diyala, and Maysan, have not elected new governors yet. On February 6, Iraq’s Foreign Minister told Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a phone call that it was essential for Washington and Baghdad to “return to the negotiating table” over the future of the U.S.-led International Coalition in Iraq. The talks, which began on January 27, were paused after Iran-backed militias launched a deadly attack on U.S. forces in Jordan, which provoked U.S. retaliatory strikes. On February 6, the Foreign Minister of the Netherlands visited Baghdad for talks with PM Mohammed al-Sudani that focused on future cooperation between Iraq and NATO as the U.S.-led Coalition prepares to end its presence. The Netherlands is scheduled to lead the NATO mission in Iraq by May of this year. This week, Sudani also met with the Defense Minister of Spain, who visited Baghdad on February 8 for talks that focused on Baghdad’s demand to end the mission of the International Coalition in Iraq and efforts to sign a bilateral memorandum of understanding for military cooperation. In other developments, on February 2, Akram al-Kabi, the leader of the Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba militia, said that his faction would continue its operations against U.S. forces even as fellow militiamen in Kataib Hezbollah decided to halt their operations. On February 6, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, announced that she would be leaving her position, which she has held since December of 2018, by the end of May. In a briefing to the UN Security Council, the UN official warned that recent escalation between the U.S. and Iran-backed militias have placed the country “on a knife-edge, with the tiniest miscalculation threatening a major conflagration.” more…
  • Escalation Risk Rises After Wave Of U.S. Airstrikes Hit Scores Of Militia Targets, Kill Senior Kataib Hezbollah Commander – On February 2, the U.S. military conducted airstrikes against Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria, striking “more than 85 targets” with “more than 125 precision munitions.” The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said targets included “command and control operations centers, intelligence centers, rockets, and missiles, and unmanned aerial vehicle storages, and logistics and munition supply chain facilities of militia groups” involved in attacks on U.S. and allied Coalition forces. Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) said the airstrikes hit several of its units near the border with Syria, killing 16 fighters and wounding dozens more. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the airstrikes were part of a broader campaign against Iranian proxies ordered by President Biden, noting that Friday’s action was “the start of our response.” The strikes were followed by an additional “unilateral” precision airstrike on February 7 that killed Abu Baqir al-Sa’idi, a senior commander in Kataib Hezbollah, who CENTCOM said was directly involved in planning and executing attacks against U.S. forces. The airstrike, which destroyed a vehicle in east Baghdad, reportedly killed two other militia members. The strikes illicit strong condemnation from the Iraqi government, whose Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. charge d’affaires to deliver a formal protest, saying the U.S. strikes killed and wounded civilians. Meanwhile, The PM Sudani’s military spokesman condemned the latest airstrike as an irresponsible assassination that violates Iraq’s sovereignty, exceeds the Coalition’s mandate, and jeopardizes bilateral talks. The spokesman added that this course of action “pushes the Iraqi government more than ever to end the Coalition’s mission as it turned into a factor of instability for Iraq.” Iraq’s parliament is set to meet on Saturday to discuss a response to the airstrikes, and at least 100 lawmakers have signed a motion to pass a binding law for the expulsion of Coalition forces. Meanwhile, the Coordination Framework warned that more U.S. strikes “will open the door for counter strikes, and the matter will not end there,” without further elaborating. more…
  • Oil Exports Drop In January As Iraq Initiates New Cuts; More Iraqi Banks Hit With Sanctions – On February 2, Iraq’s Oil Ministry said that crude oil exports during January averaged 3.338 million bpd, about 150,000 bpd below exports in December. The January exports generated $8.025 billion in revenue, a drop of about $275 million from the previous month. The vast majority of exports were shipped from fields in southern and central Iraq through the ports of Basra, while exports from the northern fields in Kirkuk and the Kurdistan region remained suspended for the tenth month. The drop in exports follows an announcement by the Oil Ministry in November outlining plans to reduce oil output by 220,000 bpd. On February 4, the Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) barred eight Iraqi banks from accessing the CBI’s daily U.S. dollar auction or otherwise conducting transactions in the U.S. dollar in a move aimed at cracking down on fraud and money laundering activities. The targeted banks are Asur International Bank, the Iraqi Investment Bank, the Iraqi Al-Etihad Bank, the Kurdistan International Islamic Bank, Al-Huda Bank, Al-Janoub Islamic Bank, Hammuorabi Commercial Bank, and Al-Arabiya Islamic Bank. The decision comes a week after a senior sanction official with the U.S. Treasury Department officials visited Iraq for talks focusing on discussing protecting the Iraqi and international financial systems from financial criminal activities, including terrorist financing. Last July, CBI barred 14 Iraqi banks from conducting transactions in the U.S. dollar after they were targeted by U.S. sanction over money laundering concerns involving dealings with Iran. In other developments, on February 8, Iraq’s Transportation Ministry said it has reopened an important railroad line designed to carry cargo from al-Qaim on the Syrian border to Baghdad passing through Haditha and Baiji. The line, damaged in the war with ISIS, will serve to deliver gravel from quarries at al-Qaim to cement factories and move other cargo between al-Qaim and Baghdad. On February 8, Iraq’s Health Ministry signed a contract with the San Donato Group of Italy to manage several new major hospitals across the country. 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.


Three Incumbents Among Twelve Newly Elected Governors; Iraq Asks U.S. To Resume Withdrawal Talks; European Foreign Ministers In Baghdad To Discuss Future Security Cooperation

On February 2, Akram al-Kabi, the leader of the Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba militia, said that his faction would continue its operations against U.S. forces even as Kataib Hezbollah, another major Iran-backed militia, decided to halt its operations. Kabi the attacks would continue until two conditions are met: an end Israel’s war in Gaza and the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq. Kabi, who stressed that his group’s decision was “Iraqi” said he respected Kataib Hezbollah’s “wisdom” and decision last week (perceived by analysts to be in response to orders from Iran) to suspend its attacks. Adding that he awaits the group’s return to action “when the embarrassment and compelling reasons are lifted.” On January 30, Kataib Hezbollah’s leaders, Ahmed al-Hamidawi, announced that the militia had decided to suspend its operations against U.S. forces “to avoid embarrassing the Iraqi government.” 

On February 4, Salah ad-Din became the first Iraqi province where newly elected provincial councils voted to elect a new governor and chairman for provincial council. Within the next three days, the provincial councils in another eleven provinces followed suit, with Diwaniyah being the last province to elect a governor. Three other provinces, Kirkuk, Diyla, and Maysan, have not elected new governors yet. The list of elected governors, as compiled by local media, is as follows:

  • Baghdad: Governor Abdul-Muttalib al-Alawi
  • Basra: Governor Asaad al-Idani (2nd term)
  • Anbar: Governor Mohammed Nouri al-Karbouli
  • Babylon: Governor Adnan Fihan
  • Najaf: Governor Yousif Gannawi
  • Karbala: Governor Naseef al-Khatabi (2nd term)
  • Dhi-Qar: Governor Murtadha al-Ibrahimi
  • Wasit: Governor Mohammed al-Mayahi (2nd term)
  • Ninewa: Abdul-Qadir al-Dakhil
  • Salah ad-Din: Governor Ahmed al-Jubouri (aka Abu Mazin)
  • Muthanna: Governor Mohannad al-Itabi
  • Diwaniyah: Governor Abbas al-Zamili

On February 5, the chairman of Iran’s National Security Council, Ali-Akbar Ahmadian, visited Baghdad for talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani amid escalation between Iran-backed militias and U.S. forces, and just weeks after a deadly Iranian missile strike on Erbil. During the talks, Sudani stressed that Iraq “made, and continues to make, great efforts to preserve stability and restore calm” in the region, and emphasized that Iraq rejects “any unilateral action taken by any country,” a statement by his office said. For his part, Ahmadian said that Iran will continue to act in accordance with the March 2023 border security agreement between the two countries, the statement added, without providing further detail. Senior Iranian officials have argued in the past that Iran’s attack on Erbil was justified within the framework of that agreement.   

On February 6, Iraq’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Fuad Hussein, told Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a phone call that it was essential for Washington and Baghdad to “return to the negotiating table” over the future of the U.S.-led International Coalition in Iraq. Hussein was referring specifically to bilateral Higher Military Commission (HMC), which met for the first time on January 27, just a day before Iran-backed militias launched a deadly attack on U.S. forces in Jordan, which provoked new U.S. retaliatory strikes and forced talks into a halt. The Iraqi minister stressed to his American counterpart that the Iraqi government rejected such unilateral action on its soil, saying that “Iraq is not an arena for settling scores between rival countries.” Hussein also asked that Washington reconsider sanctions imposed by the Treasury Department on more than 20 Iraqi private banks (more details below), raising questions about whether the sanctions were imposed over compliance issues or “other political reasons.” Hussein argued that the sanctioned banks played a big role in financing Iraq’s food imports. 

On February 6, the Foreign Minister of the Netherlands, Hanke Bruins Slot, visited Baghdad for talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani. The two sides discussed bilateral relations, including Baghdad’s interest in continued cooperation with the NATO mission in Iraq to train and advise Iraq’s security forces as the U.S.-led Coalition prepares to end its presence in the country, a statement by Sudani’s office said. The Netherlands is scheduled to be the leader of the NATO mission in Iraq by May of this year. During the talks, Sudani also expressed Iraq’s interest in benefiting from the Netherlands’ experience with seaport management, agriculture, and the management of water resources, the statement added. This week, Sudani also met with Margarita Robles, the Defense Minister of Spain, who visited Baghdad on February 8. The talks focused on Baghdad’s demand to end the mission of the International Coalition in Iraq and efforts to sign a bilateral memorandum of understanding for military cooperation, a statement by Sudani’s office said.  These are the second visits by  senior Dutch and Spanish officials to Baghdad in recent weeks. They followed visits by the Defense Ministers of the Netherlands and Spain on January 22 and 25, respectively, which also focused on security cooperation and NATO’s role in Iraq post-Coalition departure. 

On February 6, Turkish Defense Minister Yasar Guler visited Iraq for meetings with Iraqi leaders, including Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani, President Abdul-Laif Rashid, Defense Minister Thabit al-Abbasi, and National Security Adviser Qasim al-Araji. The talks between Sudani and Guler, who was accompanied by the Turkish military’s chief of staff, focused on border security and measures taken by Iraq to prevent attacks from its territory on Turkey, as well as Iraq’s objections to unilateral actions that violate its sovereignty, a statement by Sudani’s office said. Sudani also called for coordination between Iraq and Turkey to help bring stability to Syria as a prerequisite for launching major regional initiatives, including Iraq’s Development Road project, the statement added. In addition to border security, the talks between Guler and President Rashid also addressed trade, water sharing, and the ongoing closure of Turkish airspace to flights to and from Sulaymaniyah’s international airport. 

On February 6, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, announced that she would be leaving her position, which she has held since December of 2018, by the end of May. In a briefing to the UN Security Council about conditions in Iraq, the UN official warned that recent escalation between the U.S. and Iran-backed militias have placed the country “on a knife-edge, with the tiniest miscalculation threatening a major conflagration.” Hennis-Passchaert emphasized “the urgent need to cease attacks, be they originating from within or outside of Iraq’s borders,” which she stressed “must include reining in armed actors operating outside state control.”

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


Escalation Risk Rises After Wave Of U.S. Airstrikes Hit Scores Of Militia Targets, Kill Senior Kataib Hezbollah Commander

On February 2, the U.S. military conducted a series of airstrikes against Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria, striking “more than 85 targets” with “more than 125 precision munitions,” including some dropped by B-1 bombers flown all the way from the U.S. The targets were in seven different areas, three of which are in Iraq and the other four in Syria. A statement by the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said the targets struck Friday night local time included “command and control operations centers, intelligence centers, rockets, and missiles, and unmanned aerial vehicle storages, and logistics and munition supply chain facilities of militia groups” involved in attacks on U.S. and allied Coalition forces in Iraq and neighboring countries. Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) said the airstrikes hit several of its units and bases in the remote al-Qaim district on the border with Syria and killed 16 of its fighters. The PMF added that 36 others were injured in the attacks, while a search was on for the remains of several missing PMF fighters who are presumed dead. Iraq’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said it summoned the U.S. charge d’affaires in Baghdad to deliver a formal protest, saying the U.S. strikes killed and wounded civilians in al-Qaim and Akashat in Anbar province. Meanwhile, a military spokesman for the Iraqi Prime Minister said Baghdad considered the strikes a violation of its sovereignty that will have “grave consequences for security and stability in Iraq and the region.” In Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the airstrikes were part of a broader campaign against Iranian proxies ordered by President Joe Biden, noting that Friday’s action was “the start of our response.” The Defense Secretary also pointed out that Washington does not “seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else, but the president and I will not tolerate attacks on American forces.” A State Department spokesperson told reporters on February 5 that Washington did not notify the Baghdad government before the airstrikes, contradicting a previous statement by the White House National Security Council spokesman who had mentioned that Baghdad was given notice ahead of the operation.

On February 4, security sources in Maysan province said that unidentified gunmen on motorcycles shot and killed Naji al-Kabi, a senior commander in the Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) militia in an attack that took place in al-Askari neighborhood of Amara. AAH leader Qais al-Khazali urged his followers to show restraint and avoid acts of revenge in the province, which has seen a number of assassinations and violent clashes between AAH and the rival militia of Muqtada al-Sadr in recent years. 

On February 5, the Security Media Cell reported that Iraqi military aircraft struck a hideout used by ISIS militants in the Hawi al-Udheim region of Diyala province, killing a group of five militants. 

On February 6, security sources in Maysan province said that an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated in front of the residence of a local government official in the city of Amara. The explosion destroyed a vehicle parked near the house but there were no reports of casualties.

On February 7, the U.S. military conducted a “unilateral” precision airstrike in Iraq that targeted and killed a senior commander in the Kataib Hezbollah (KH) militia who was directly involved in planning and executing attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and neighboring countries, a statement by CENTCOM said. The airstrike, which destroyed a vehicle in al-Mashtal neighborhood of east Baghdad killed Abu Baqir al-Sa’idi, according to statements by Iraqi military officials and the PMF. Two other individuals who were in the same vehicle were also killed, Iraqi sources told Reuters. The airstrike did not appear to have caused collateral damage of civilian casualties, the CENTCOM statement added. The military spokesman for Prime Minister Sudani condemned the airstrike as an irresponsible assassination that violates Iraq’s sovereignty, exceeds the Coalition’s mandate, and jeopardizes bilateral talks. The spokesman added that this course of action “pushes the Iraqi government more than ever to end the Coalition’s mission as it turned into a factor of instability for Iraq.” Iraq’s parliament is set to meet on Saturday to discuss a response to repeated U.S. airstrikes, and at least 100 lawmakers have signed a motion to pass a binding law for the expulsion of Coalition forces from the country. Meanwhile, a statement by the Coordination Framework warned that more U.S. strikes “will open the door for counter strikes, and the matter will not end there,” without further elaborating.

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


Oil Exports Drop In January As Iraq Initiates New Cuts; More Iraqi Banks Hit With Sanctions

On February 2, Iraq’s Oil Ministry said that crude oil exports during January totaled more than 103.5 million barrels, for an average of 3.338 million barrels per day (bpd), which is about 150,000 bpd below exports in December. The January exports generated $8.025 billion in revenue, a drop of about $275 million from the $8.31 billion achieved in December. Iraq sold its crude oil at an average price of approximately $77.53 per barrel, about $0.60 above the previous month’s average of $76.96 per barrel. The vast majority of the January exports were shipped from fields in southern and central Iraq through the ports of Basra, while small amounts averaging about 15,000 bpd bpd were exported to Jordan by trucks. Meanwhile, exports from the northern fields in Kirkuk, as well as fields under the control of the Kurdistan regional government (KRG), remained suspended for the tenth month. The drop in exports during January was expected. In November, the Ministry of Oil had announced plans to reduce oil output by 220,000 bpd in addition to prior output cuts of 211,000 bpd that were announced in April 2023.

On February 4, the Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) barred a group of eight Iraqi banks from accessing the CBI’s daily U.S. dollar auction or otherwise conducting transactions in the U.S. dollar in a move aimed at cracking down on fraud and money laundering activities. The banks targeted by the decision are Asur International Bank, the Iraqi Investment Bank, the Iraqi Al-Etihad Bank, the Kurdistan International Islamic Bank, Al-Huda Bank, Al-Janoub Islamic Bank, Hammuorabi Commercial Bank, and Al-Arabiya Islamic Bank. The decision comes a week after a senior sanctions official with the U.S. Treasury Department visited Iraq for talks focusing on protecting the Iraqi and international financial systems from financial criminal activities, including terrorist financing. A spokesman for the Treasury Department said Washington welcomed CBI’s policies, which have led  “to legitimate Iraqi banks achieving international connectivity through correspondent banking relationships.” Last July, CBI barred 14 Iraqi banks from conducting transactions in the U.S. dollar after they were targeted by U.S. sanction over money laundering concerns involving dealings with Iran.

On February 8, Iraq’s Transportation Ministry said it has reopened an important railroad line designed to carry cargo from al-Qaim on the Syrian border to Baghdad passing through Haditha and the oil hub town of Baiji. The line, which has been inoperative since the beginning of the war with ISIS, will serve to move gravel from quarries at al-Qaim to cement factories and move other cargo between al-Qaim and Baghdad. 

On February 8, Iraq’s Health Ministry signed a contract with the San Donato Group (GSD) of Italy to manage several new major hospitals across the country, Health Minister Salih al-Hasnawi said. In the first stage of the contract, GSD will take over management at six major hospitals with a capacity of nearly 500 beds each in Karbala, Najaf, Hilla, Maysa, Dhi-Qar, and Basra. The Health Ministry and GSD are expected to sign another contract for the management of an additional five hospitals within the next few weeks, Hasnawi added. 

Sources cited in this section include: Iraq’s Oil Ministry, ISHM archive, al-Hurra, Reuters, NRT, INA.


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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