ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM: February 8 – 15, 2024

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Key Takeaways:

  • Lawmakers Boycott Meeting To Discuss Response To U.S. Airstrikes; Talks On Ending Coalition Presence Resume In Baghdad; Sudani Heads To Amsterdam – On February 10, Iraq’s parliament failed to convene a session scheduled to discuss a response to repeated U.S. airstrikes against Iran-backed Iraqi militias. News reports indicated that only 77 lawmakers were present, while a great majority of representatives, including many from the Coordination Framework which had called for the session, chose to boycott it. The widespread boycott triggered angry reactions, and threats of retribution against other blocs, from some members of the Coordinating Framework. On February 11, a military spokesman for PM Sudani said that the bilateral Higher Military Commission (HMC) resumed its meetings in Baghdad on Sunday to “evaluate the military situation, risk levels, operational environment, and the capabilities of Iraq’s armed forces.” The spokesman added that meetings, which had been interrupted by exchanged attacks between the U.S. and militias, will continue in order to complete the HMC tasks quickly “so long as nothing happened to interrupt” the talks. On February 15, PM Sudani, accompanied by his Agriculture and Foreign Ministers, began an official visit to the Netherlands. Sudani’s talks with his Dutch counterpart, Mark Rutte, focused on cooperation in agriculture, water management, and other economic activities. The visit comes amid increased diplomatic activity between the two sides that also focused on the expected drawdown of Coalition forces and the future of NATO’s mission in Iraq, which the Netherlands will be leading starting in May. In other developments, on February 13, Iraqi President Abdul-Latif Rashid ratified the appointment of 12 new governors, including the new governor Maysan, who was elected on Friday. Rashid, however, did not ratify the appointment of Salah ad-Din’s new governor, Ahmed al-Jubouri. more…
  • UN Investigators Deliver “Crucial” Report On ISIS Financial Operations To Iraq – On February 12, the head of the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD) delivered to the head of Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council a new report on ISIS financial operations, along with evidence collected during UNITAD’s investigation. The report, called the Structure of Diwan Bayt al-Mal (2014-2017) represents “one of the most important lines of inquiry for the Team’s investigations” as it “delves into the financial infrastructure ISIL put in place to sustain the organization’s military operations,” UNITAD’s leader Christian Ritscher said. The report, Richter adds, provides insight that will be “crucial for pinpointing those most responsible for the international crimes” committed by ISIS in Iraq. In other developments, on February 13, the Asayish security agency in the Kurdistan region said that it arrested Kuekha Derin, a Peshmerga commander with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, on charges of extortion and threatening and shooting a local businessman in Sulaymaniyah. Authorities also demolished a building used by Derin and his associate using explosives, footage posted by local news networks showed. more…
  • Displacement Due To Climate Change Continues To Rise In Southern Iraq – On February 13, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) published new data that reflects further increase in the scale of climate-induced displacement affecting communities in southern Iraq. The data shows that as of mid-December, almost 135,500 individuals (comprising 22,583 families) were experiencing displacement due to water shortages impacting twelve provinces. Almost half of the displaced families (10,269) are from Dhi-Qar province, followed by Maysan (5,182 families), Diwaniyah (1,791 families), and Muthanna (1,68 families). The worst affected district is Nasiriyah in Dhi-Qar province, which reported 3,380 families displaced, followed by Qalat Salih in Maysan province with 2,566 families, and al-Shatra and al-Rifai (both in Dhi-Qar), with 2,411 and 2,065 families, respectively. The new data indicates that the number of individuals displaced by water scarcity has increased by more that 4,700 since the previous data set, published in October. In other developments, on February 13, Iraq’s Education Ministry instructed its representatives in the Kurdistan region to prepare to decommission the Ministry’s field offices in the region, which coordinate education services to children residing in IDP camps, as part of the government’s plan to close all IDP camps by July 30. On February 14, Iraq’s parliament conducted a first reading of a draft for the Right to Obtain Information Law. The draft has raised concerns among press freedom advocates who argued that the text includes many loopholed and vague terms that could be exploited by authorities to crack down on journalists. more…
  • Shell Withdraws From Talks To Build Major Petrochemicals Complex In Basra – On February 13, the Iraqi government said that Royal Dutch Shell has withdrawn from negotiations regarding the $11 billion Nibras petrochemicals project in Basra. Iraq has long sought Shell to be the main investor in the project, and the two sides had signed a preliminary deal in 2015. An Iraqi energy official told Reuters that the years long delay in finalizing a deal was caused by financial and contractual problems that ultimately “caused the initial deal to collapse.” In other developments, on February 14, the Saudi Energy Minister visited Baghdad for talks with PM Sudani during which the latter expressed Iraq’s interest in Saudi companies entering the Iraqi market, especially with regard to investments in developing energy infrastructures. On February 15, al-Sumaria reported that heavy rain this week has caused large amounts of oil leaking from oil fields near al-Alam district in Salah ad-Din province to flow towards wheat fields. Images from the area show large oil slicks covering irrigation canals and contaminating wide swaths of farmland, causing damage to crops. The same area was impacted by similar oil spills during the rainy season last year. 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.


Lawmakers Boycott Meeting To Discuss Response To U.S. Airstrikes; Talks On Ending Coalition Presence Resume In Baghdad; Sudani Heads To Amsterdam

On February 10, Iraq’s parliament failed to achieve a quorum to convene a session that was planned to discuss a response to repeated U.S. airstrikes against Iran-backed Iraqi militias. Multiple news reports indicated that only 77 lawmakers were present at the meeting, while a great majority of representatives, including many from the Coordination Framework which had called for the session, chose to boycott it. Lacking quorum, acting Speaker Muhsin al-Mandalawi adjourned the meeting and referred a motion signed last week by 100 lawmakers calling for a binding law for the expulsion of Coalition forces to the legislature’s legal and security and defense committees. The widespread boycott of the meeting triggered angry reactions, and threats against other blocs, from some members of the Coordinating Framework. Lawmaker Falih al-Khazali (affiliated with Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada militia) said that his colleagues would boycott any future meeting for the election of a new speaker, a legislative and political priority for Sunni parties. Lawmaker Mustafa Sanad, another Coordination Framework ally, said that Shia lawmakers would block any budget revisions that could increase funding for the Kurdistan region. Meanwhile, Acting Speaker Mandalawi issued instructions to deduct IQD 1 million from each lawmaker that fails to attend a legislative session. 

On February 11, a military spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani said that the bilateral Higher Military Commission (HMC) resumed its meetings in Baghdad on Sunday to “evaluate the military situation, risk levels, operational environment, and the capabilities of Iraq’s armed forces.” The spokesman, Yahya Rasoul, added that the meetings will produce “a timetable for a thoughtful and gradual reduction [of U.S.-led Coalition presence] until the conclusion of the Coalition’s mission.” Rasoul further added that meetings will continue in order to complete the HMC tasks quickly “so long as nothing happened to interrupt” the talks. The resumption of talks between Iraq and the U.S. comes several days after 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. Hussein was referring to the 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.    

On February 13, Iraqi President Abdul-Latif Rashid signed presidential decrees ratifying the appointment of 12 new governors who were elected by provincial councils last week, a statement by Rashid’s office said. The list includes the new governors of Baghdad, Basra, Anbar, Babylon, Najaf, Karbala, Dhi-Qar, Wasit, Ninewa, Muthanna, Diwaniyah, and Maysan, which was the last province to elect a governor. The new governor of Maysan, Habeeb al-Fartousi, replaces the Sadrist Ali Dwai, and is reportedly affiliated with the Badr militia. Remarkably, President Rashid did not ratify the appointment of Salah ad-Din’s new governor, Ahmed al-Jubouri (Abu Mazin). Mishan al-Jubouri, a long-time rival of the new Salah ad-Din governor, claims that Rashid delayed the ratification because the Integrity Commission allegedly presented documents proving that Ahmed al-Jubouri had prior convictions for larceny and corruption. The presidential statement did not comment on the matter. The elections of new governors in Kirkuk and Diyala continue to face delays amid ongoing political disputes among the major blocs in the respective provincial councils. 

On February 15, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani, accompanied by a delegation of senior government officials, including the Agriculture and Foreign Ministers, began an official visit to the Netherlands, a statement by Sudani’s office said. Sudani’s talks with his Dutch counterpart, Mark Rutte, focused on cooperation in agriculture, water management, and other economic activities. Sudani will also meet with representatives of major Dutch companies to discuss business opportunities in Iraq, the statement added. The last few weeks have seen increased diplomatic activity between Iraq and the Netherlands that also focused on the expected drawdown of Coalition forces, the transition to bilateral cooperation with Coalition members, and the future of NATO’s mission in Iraq, which the Netherlands will be leading starting in May. The Defense and Foreign Ministers of the Netherlands have both visited Baghdad since late January.

Sources cited in this section include: Rudaw, INA, ISHM archive, al-Mada, Ultra Iraq, Iraqi president’s office, Mawazin, Shafaq, Iraqi PM’s office.


UN Investigators Deliver “Crucial” Report On ISIS Financial Operations To Iraq

On February 9, security sources in Maysan province said that a group of unidentified individuals threw an improvised explosive device (IED) at a civilian home in Hay al-Hussein in central Amara. The explosion wounded three civilians, including a child whose condition was said to be critical. Security forces subsequently arrested four individuals, all relatives of the targeted building’s residents, who were identified by the victims as the alleged perpetrators.

On February 12, the head of the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD) delivered to the head of Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council a new report on ISIS financial operations, along with evidence collected during UNITAD’s investigation. The report, called the Structure of Diwan Bayt al-Mal (2014-2017) represents “one of the most important lines of inquiry for the Team’s investigations” as it “delves into the financial infrastructure ISIL put in place to sustain the organization’s military operations,” UNITAD’s leader Christian Ritscher said. The report, Richter adds, provides insight that will be “crucial for pinpointing those most responsible for the international crimes” committed by ISIS in Iraq. Richter added that his team will hand over to the Iraqi authorities a number of other reports containing “legal findings pertaining to specific international crimes committed by ISIL” and additional evidence.

On February 13, the Asayish security agency in the Kurdistan region said that it arrested Kuekha Derin, a Peshmerga commander with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, on charges of extortion and threatening and shooting a local businessman in Sulaymaniyah. Authorities also demolished a building used by Derin and his associate using explosives, footage posted by local news networks showed. At least two of Derin’s associates who were involved in the affair had been arrested earlier, the statement explained. 

On February 15, a small IED detonated next to the home of a government official in the Suleikh neighborhood of northeast Baghdad. The explosion caused minor damage to the building but there were no reports of casualties.

Sources cited in this section include: Shafaq, ReliefWeb, Dijlah, social media, NINA.


Displacement Due To Climate Change Continues To Rise In Southern Iraq

On February 13, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) published new data that reflects further increase in the scale of climate-induced displacement affecting communities in southern Iraq. The data shows that as of mid-December, almost 135,500 individuals (comprising 22,583 families) were experiencing displacement from their areas due to water shortages impacting twelve provinces. Of these families, more than four in ten (46%) were in displacement within their home districts. Most of the displaced had relocated to urban areas because water scarcity and high salinity undermined agriculture and overall livelihoods. Almost half of the displaced families (10,269) are from Dhi-Qar province, followed by Maysan (5,182 families), Diwaniyah (1,791 families), and Muthanna (1,68 families). The worst affected district is Nasiriyah in Dhi-Qar province, which reported 3,380 families displaced, followed by Qalat Salih in Maysan province with 2,566 families, and al-Shatra and al-Rifai (both in Dhi-Qar), with 2,411 and 2,065 families, respectively. The new data indicates that the number of individuals displaced by water scarcity has increased by more that 4,700 since the previous data set, published in October, when the number stood at approximately 130,780.

On February 13, Iraq’s Ministry of Education instructed its representatives in Erbil, Sulaymaniyah, and Duhok to make preparations to decommission the Ministry’s field offices in those provinces, a member of the parliamentary education committee said. The offices, which coordinate the provision of education services to children residing in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), will be decommissioned as part of the Baghdad government’s recently announced plan to close all IDP camps in the Kurdistan region by July 30, 2024. The lawmaker, Najwa Hamid, said that her committee will work to determine whether conditions on the ground allow for the return of all IDP camp residents to their home districts and the closure of schools that were set up for them. 

On February 14, Iraq’s parliament conducted a first reading of a draft for the Right to Obtain Information Law, a legislation that press freedom and rights advocates have long called for. The current language of the draft, however, has raised concerns among press freedom watchdogs who argued that the text includes many loopholes and vague terms that could be exploited by authorities to crack down on journalists seeking access to information. 

Sources cited in this section include: IOM, ISHM archive, Rudaw, al-Mada, Shafaq, al-Sumaria.


Shell Withdraws From Talks To Build Major Petrochemicals Complex In Basra

On February 13, a statement issued by the office of Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani said that Royal Dutch Shell has withdrawn from negotiations regarding the $11 billion Nibras petrochemicals project in Basra. Iraq has long sought Shell to be the main investor in the project, for which the two sides had signed a preliminary deal in 2015. The government statement said that Sudani instructed the ministries of oil and industries to “consider other options that are more responsive to the new gas situation…and reconsider the project’s size and other technical details.” The statement did not explain the reasons behind Shell’s withdrawal from the talks, but an Iraqi energy official told Reuters that the years long delay in finalizing a deal was caused by financial and contractual problems that ultimately “caused the initial deal to collapse.”

On February 14, the Energy Minister of Saudi Arabia, Abdul-Aziz Bin Salman, visited Baghdad for talks with Iraqi Prime Minister, Mohammed al-Sudani. During the talks, Sudani expressed Iraq’s interest in Saudi companies entering the Iraqi market, especially with regard to investments in developing energy infrastructures, a statement by Sudani’s office said. The two sides also discussed the need for having “matching visions” with regard to “regulating the energy market and oil prices” within the OPEC framework, the statement added. 

On February 15, al-Sumaria reported that heavy rain this week has caused large amounts of oil leaking from oil fields near al-Alam district in Salah ad-Din province to flow towards wheat fields. Images from the area show large oil slicks covering irrigation canals and contaminating wide swaths of farmland, causing extensive damage to crops. The same area was impacted by similar oil spills during the rainy season last year.

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


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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