ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM: February 15 – 22, 2024

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Key Takeaways:

  • Baghdad To Host 2025 Arab Summit; Top Court Rulings To Reshape Kurdistan’s Election System, Budget Payments – On February 19, an Iraqi government spokesman said that Baghdad has submitted a request to host the Arab League summit in 2025. The announcement, and news that the government plans to spend IQD 26 billion on preparations, sparked criticism, including from lawmakers affiliated with the ruling Coordination Framework coalition. On February 21, Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court issued a ruling that struck down several articles of the Kurdistan region’s election law and made significant changes to its electoral system. Notably, it reduces the number of representatives in the regional parliament from 111 to 100 by eliminating the minority quota seats, and divides the region into “no fewer than four” electoral districts. On the same day, the Court ruled that delays or deductions affecting the salaries and pensions of civil servants in the Kurdistan region were unconstitutional. The Court thus ordered the federal and regional prime ministers to make the necessary arrangements to base the salaries of all Kurdistan region payees in state-owned banks so that salaries and pensions could be disbursed directly to beneficiaries rather than through monthly loans to the KRG. The Court also ordered the KRG to hand over all oil and non-oil revenue to the federal government. The ruling KDP said the Court decisions were “against the spirit of the constitution…and the principles of federalism,” while a spokesman for the rival PUK party said the Court’s decisions were achievements for democracy and Kurdish rights. The decisions were also applauded by the New Generation opposition party. In other developments, on February 19, a Coordination Framework representative in Salah ad-Din called on governor-elect Ahmed al-Jubouri, whose confirmation was blocked by President Rashid, to step down and avoid “new conflict” in the province. On February 21, PM Sudani and the winning blocs in the provincial elections in Kirkuk agreed to form a ruling coalition that Sudani himself will preside over until the blocs can form a new provincial government and agree on its program. more…
  • Militias Offices Attacked Following The Murder Of Prominent Sadrist Blogger – On February 19, security forces found the body of a prominent member of Muqtada al-Sadr’s movement dumped along the main highway in the province, a day after he was kidnapped from the town of Abu Gharaq by a group of gunmen. Sources described the victim, Aysar al-Khafaji as a Sadrist blogger and media producer for Sadr’s Saraya al-Salam militia. Khafaji’s tribe gave governor Adnan Fayhan (who’s a member of the rival Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia) 24 hours to expose the perpetrators, threatening to start attacking the offices of powerful parties if he did not deliver. Then on February 21, a Popular Mobilization Forces office in central Hilla was struck by two mortar rounds. Other reports said the attack involved rocket propelled grenades (RPGs). Meanwhile, a local office of Asaib Ahl al-Haq in Najaf was attacked with RPGs (other reports said it was an IED). The early morning attacks caused minor damage to the buildings’ fences but there were no reports of casualties. In other developments, on February 18, unidentified gunmen killed two close relatives of Badr Organization chief Hadi al-Amiri in al-Rashidiya subdistrict, north of Baghdad. On February 20, a Turkish airstrike targeted the Dinarta subdistrict of Duhok province, killing two civilians. On February 22, unidentified gunmen opened fire from automatic weapons on the motorcade of a lawmaker from the State of Law coalition in central Baghdad. There were no reports of casualties. more…
  • Heavy Rainfall Provides Some Relief For Iraq’s Rivers And Marshes – On February 19, Iraq’s Minister of Water Resources, Awn Thiab, said that recent rainfall, which was relatively heavy in the northern parts of the country, has boosted the country’s water reserves by one billion cubic meters. The increase, according to Thiab, brought Iraq’s total water reserves to five billion cubic meters, and allowed the Ministry to release more water downstream towards Iraq’s diminishing southern marshes. Footage from Baghdad showed the Tigris River swollen after the heavy rain, to the point of flooding some riverside coffee shops. Remarkably, five billion cubic meters is the same volume of water reserves reported last August, which government officials described then as “the lowest in the history of the country.” As recently as 2020, Iraq’s dams and reservoirs held as much as 60 billion cubic meters of water. In other developments, on February 21, Iraq and Syria signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for cooperation on postal services, the extension of a fiber optic cable from Iraq to Syria, as well as cooperation in “controlling digital content and blocking cyber attacks.” On February 22, PM Sudani announced that 400 Iraqi students will be going to study abroad after they were selected in the first phase of a government program to support 5,000 scholarships for Iraqi students to study in foreign universities. 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.


Baghdad To Host 2025 Arab Summit; Top Court Rulings To Reshape Kurdistan’s Election System, Budget Payments

On February 18, Reuters confirmed prior unconfirmed reports that Esmail Qaani, the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, made an unannounced visit to Baghdad in late January and met with militia commanders to persuade them to halt their attacks on U.S. forces. That visit took place just a day before, the secretary general of Kataib Hezbollah, Ahmed al-Hamidawi, announced that the militia will suspend its operations against U.S. forces. During that visit, Qaani met with militia commanders at Baghdad’s airport and cautioned against mounting new attacks, fearing that inflicting more U.S. casualties would provoke more painful U.S. strikes against senior militia commanders, their groups’ arsenals, and even against Iran itself, several sources told Reuters

On February 19, a Coordination Framework (CF) representative in the Salah ad-Din provincial council called on the newly elected governor, Ahemd al-Jubouri, to step down and avoid “new conflict” in the province. Addressing the situation in Salah ad-Din during a televised interview, the CF representative said that CF wants to “Restore normalcy” to the province and appoint someone young to be governor. Last week, Iraqi President Abdul-Latif Rashid refused to ratify Jubouri’s appointment as governor after he was elected by a majority of the provincial council. One of Jubouri’s local rivals claimed that Rashid delayed the ratification because the Integrity Commission allegedly presented documents proving that Ahmed al-Jubouri had prior convictions for larceny and corruption. For their part, Jubouri’s allies in the provincial council have sent an official letter to President Rashid on February 18 arguing that Rashid’s decision to delay the ratification was invalid and that prior charges against Jubouri were either not proven or rendered irrelevant due to a 2016 amnesty.

On February 19, the official spokesman of the Iraqi government said that Baghdad has submitted a request to host the Arab League summit in 2025. This would be the second summit to be held in Baghdad since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. Iraq had hosted its first post-2003 summit more than a decade ago in 2012. The announcement, and news that the government plans to spend IQD 26 billion on preparations for the summit, have already sparked criticism, including from lawmakers affiliated with the ruling Coordination Framework coalition, with representative Mustafa Sanad calling the spending “a great violation.” Sanad accused Sudani’s office of pressuring the Finance and Planning Ministries to release the funds without scrutiny, adding in a post on X that hundreds of government officials are in prison “because of much lesser violations.”  

On February 21, Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court issued a ruling that struck down several articles of the Kurdistan region’s election law and made significant changes to the region’s electoral system. Notably, the ruling reduces the number of representatives in the regional parliament from 111 to 100 by eliminating the minority quota seats, and divides the region into “no fewer than four” electoral districts. The Court’s ruling, made in response to a suit filed in May 2023 by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), also tasks Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) with administering elections in the region until a new regional electoral body is formed. During a meeting with the regional government earlier this week, IHEC said that it needs a minimum of four months’ time to make preparations for much-delayed legislative elections in the region, which were originally scheduled to take place in the fall of 2022. On the same day, the Court ruled that delays or deductions affecting the salaries and pensions of civil servants in the Kurdistan region constitute a rights violation and go against article 30 of the constitution. The Court thus ordered Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani and KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani to make the necessary arrangements to base the salaries of all Kurdistan region payees in state-owned banks so that salaries and pensions could be disbursed directly to beneficiaries rather than through the current system of monthly loans to the KRG. The Court also ordered the KRG Prime Minister to hand over all oil and non-oil revenue generated by the KRG to the federal government. The ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) said the Court decisions were “against the spirit of the constitution…and the principles of federalism.” The KDP added that the Court ruling to change the region’s election law violated the principle of separation of powers. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the rival PUK party described the Court’s decisions on the election law and civil servant salaries as an achievement for democracy and Kurdish rights. The Court decisions were also applauded by the New Generation opposition party. 

On February 21, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani hosted a meeting of the winning blocs in the provincial elections in Kirkuk, where political disagreements have prevented the newly formed provincial council from electing a new governor. The meeting produced an agreement to form a ruling coalition comprising all of the winning blocs, a statement by Sudani’s office said. Sudani himself will preside over the coalition’s meetings until the blocs can form a new provincial government and agree on a program for the local government, the statement added. Sudani gave the blocs one week to present their proposals for local government formation and program. 

Sources cited in this section include: Reuters, ISHM archive, Mawazin, INA, al-Mada, Kurdistan24, PUKMedia, NRT, Ultra Iraq, Rudaw, Amwaj Media, Iraqi PM’s office.


Militias Offices Attacked Following The Murder Of Prominent Sadrist Blogger

On February 18, security sources in Dhi-Qar province said that a small improvised explosive device (IED) detonated in central Nasiriyah without causing casualties. The sources added that the explosion appeared to target the head of a local sports club.

On February 18, security sources in Baghdad said that unidentified gunmen shot and killed two relatives of Badr Organization chief Hadi al-Amiri (one of them was reportedly married to Amiri’s sister in law) in al-Rashidiya subdistrict, north of Baghdad. The incident, according to other sources, is linked to a dispute over ownership of farmland in the area. The assassination was carried out by gunmen on motorcycles who shot the victims while they were driving their SUV. Within hours, the Security Media Cell said all the perpetrators were arrested without providing further details.  

On February 19, security sources in Babylon province said that the body of a prominent member of Muqtada al-Sadr’s movement was found dumped along the main highway in the province, a day after he was kidnapped. Sources described the victim, Aysar al-Khafaji as a Sadrist blogger who produces media for Sadr’s Saraya al-Salam militia. Khafaji was reportedly kidnapped from the Abu Gharaq subdistrict of Babylon by a group of gunmen driving vehicles with tinted windows. Relatives of Khafaji have given governor Adnan Fayhan (who’s a member of the rival Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia) 24 hours to deliver the perpetrators, threatening to start attacking the offices of powerful parties in the province after that deadline.  

On February 20, local sources in Duhok province said that a Turkish airstrike targeted the Dinarta subdistrict, killing two local civilians while they were working on their farms. 

On February 21, Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) sources in Babylon province said that a PMF office in the Nasij neighborhood in central Hilla was struck by two mortar rounds. Other reports said the attack involved rocket propelled grenades (RPGs), but images of the impacts do not support that theory. Meanwhile, news reports said that a local office of Asaib Ahl al-Haq in the city of Najaf was attacked with RPGs (other reports said it was an IED). The early morning attacks caused minor damage to the buildings’ fences but there were no reports of casualties. The attacks come amid heightened tensions between the followers of Muqtada al-Sadr and rival militias following the kidnap-murder of a prominent Sadrist blogger in Babylon earlier this week (see above).  

On February 22, security sources in Baghdad said that unidentified gunmen opened fire from automatic weapons on the motorcade of lawmaker Baqir al-Saidi (State of Law coalition) in al-Jadiriyah neighborhood of central Baghdad. There were no reports of casualties as a result of this driveby attack. 

Sources cited in this section include: al-Sumaria, NINA, al-Taghier, Ultra Iraq, Shafaq, Rudaw, Mawazin, al-Hurra.


Heavy Rainfall Provides Some Relief For Iraq’s Rivers And Marshes

On February 19, Iraq’s Minister of Water Resources, Awn Thiab said that recent rainfall, which was relatively heavy in the northern parts of the country, has boosted the country’s water reserves at various dams by one billion cubic meters. The increase, according to Thiab, brought Iraq’s total water reserves to five billion cubic meters, and allowed the Ministry to release more water downstream towards Iraq’s diminishing southern marshes. Footage from Baghdad showed the Tigris River swollen after the heavy rain, to the point of flooding some riverside coffee shops. Remarkably, five billion cubic meters is the same volume of water reserves reported last August. At the time, a spokesman for the Ministry of Water Resources described it as “the lowest in the history of the country.” As recently as 2020, Iraq’s dams and reservoirs held as much as 60 billion cubic meters of water, the spokesman added at the time. 

On February 20, Iraq’s postal service signed an agreement with Turkish Airlines that will allow the Iraqi company to move mail by air to the rest of the world using the Turkish carrier’s aircraft. The deal will increase the number of destinations available to the Iraqi postal service to 344, a statement by Iraq’s Transportation Ministry said.  

On February 21, Iraq and Syria signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for cooperation in telecommunications, information technology, and postal services. The MoU, signed by Iraq’s Telecommunications Minister and Syria’s Trade Minister in Baghdad, deals with cooperation on postal services, the extension of a fiber optic cable from Iraq to Syria, as well as cooperation in “controlling digital content and blocking cyber attacks,” a statement by Iraq’s Telecommunications Ministry said. 

On February 22, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani announced that 400 Iraqi students will be going to study abroad after they were selected in the first phase of a government program to support 5,000 scholarships for Iraqi students to study in foreign universities. 

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


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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