ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM: February 22 – February 29, 2024

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Key Takeaways:

  • KRG PM Holds Talks In Washington; Salah Ad-Din’s Governor-Elect Steps Down; Parliamentary Investigation Targets Basra’s Governor – On February 24, KRG PM Masrour Barzani arrived in Washington where he met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. They discussed Erbil’s budget disputes with Baghdad, the halted oil exports through Turkey, the Sinjar Agreement, and the “worrisome” decisions by Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court regarding the Kurdistan region’s budget and election law. On February 25, the governor-elect of Salah ad-Din province, Ahmed al-Jubouri, said he decided to step down citing political struggles that prevented him from safely pursuing his goals. Jubouri’s confirmation was initially blocked by President Abdul-Latif Rashid on allegations of prior convictions for larceny and corruption. On February 27, acting speaker of parliament Mohsin al-Mandalawi created a parliamentary committee to investigate alleged violations committed by Basra’s governor while the provincial council was disbanded. Allies of governor Idani, who was elected against strong opposition from the Coordination Framework, rejected Mandalawi’s committee, which is to be chaired by a Kataib Hezbollah affiliated lawmaker. In other developments, on February 27, PM Sudani’s Cabinet appointed five new members to the board of trustees of the Iraqi Media Network (IMN). The parliamentary legal committee said the move was a violation, arguing that the Cabinet can only nominate candidates for parliament to vote on. more…
  • Prominent Writer Survives Gun Attack; Bilateral Committee Holds New Round Of Talks On Coalition Withdrawal – On February 23, unidentified gunmen in two pickup trucks intercepted the vehicle of Fakhri Karim, the head of al-Mada media institution, and opened fire from automatic weapons. Karim was not hurt in the attack, which took place in al-Qadisiyah, a gated community in central Baghdad. The incident was confirmed by Iraq’s Interior Ministry, which opened an investigation into the attack. On February 29, PM Sudani’s military spokesman said the bilateral Higher Military Committee (HMC) held another round of talks about winding down the U.S.-led anti-ISIS Coalition mission in Iraq. In other developments, on February 22, Iraq’s Interior Ministry said that federal border guards, in coordination with the Peshmerga, advanced to the Iraqi-Turkish border near the Shiladze subdistrict of Duhok, where violence between the PKK and Turkish military is frequent, and took control of hitherto vacant security outposts. On February 29, unidentified gunmen attacked an office belonging to the Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada militia in Dhi-Qar province using rocket propelled grenades. On February 29, an armed Turkish drone struck a YPG vehicle south of Sinjar, killing two of its occupants and wounding the third. more…
  • Journalists And Government Critics Face Attacks, Arrests, And Restrictions – On February 26, security forces arrested Yasir al-Jubouri, a well-known Iraqi blogger and government critic, at Baghdad’s airport, while he was leaving the country. Jubouri, who holds Irish nationality, was first arrested without a court order, but was later taken into police custody in Baghdad, where Prime Minister Sudani’s legal team filed charges against him under article 226 of the Iraqi penal code, which criminalizes acts considered to be publicly insulting the government. Jubouri was beaten, humiliated, and blindfolded during his detention, his family claimed. He was released on February 29 after Sudani dropped the charges amid growing public pressure. On February 27, acting speaker of parliament Mohsin al-Mandalawi instructed parliament’s legal department to sue “any person who offends the legislative institution and members of the council of representatives.” The move comes amid rising attacks on journalists and measures by other Iraqi state organs to suppress criticism. These include the attack on al-Mada’s Fakhri Karim, the arrest of blogger Yasir al-Jubouri, and a threat by the Federal Supreme Court last week to use the Baath Party era article 226 of the Iraqi penal code to retaliate against activists running a WhatsApp group that has criticized the Court. more…
  • Iraq Reopens Key Baiji Refinery Destroyed During The War With ISIS – On February 23, Iraq reopened the newly rebuilt North Refinery in the Baiji refinery complex, which was badly damaged during the war with ISIS. When it commences operations, the 150,000 barrels per day (bpd) refinery will help Iraq reduce gasoline imports to zero by the second half of this year, down from current levels of nearly 7 million liters per day. In other developments, on February 26, Iraq signed a memorandum of understanding with South Korean company Hanwha to resume construction at the 108,000-unit New Bismaya City project, where financial difficulties had forced Hanwha to suspend work since October of 2022. On February 28, Iraq’s Electricity Ministry said that the power grid lost nearly 4,000 megawatts as Iran halted natural gas and power supplies to meet high domestic demand amid cold weather. 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.


KRG PM Holds Talks In Washington; Salah Ad-Din’s Governor-Elect Steps Down; Parliamentary Investigation Targets Basra’s Governor

On February 24, Masrour Barzani, the prime minister of the Kurdistan regional government (KRG) arrived in Washington on an official visit, Kurdistan24 reported. Barzani met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on February 26, and discussed budget disputes with Baghdad, the halted oil exports through Turkey, the Sinjar Agreement, and the “worrisome” decisions by Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court regarding the Kurdistan region. Barzani’s trip agenda also includes meeting with members of Congress, and other White House and State Department officials, the report added.

On February 25, the governor-elect of Salah ad-Din province, Ahmed al-Jubouri, announced that he decided to step down and nominate another candidate for the position from his own party. In a statement to the press, Jubouri said his bid for the governor position was blocked by political struggles that prevented him from safely pursuing his goals, adding that he chose the “option of calm instead of escalation.” Jubouri’s decision comes less than a week after a Coordination Framework (CF) representative in the Salah ad-Din provincial council called on Jubouri to step down and avoid “new conflict” in the province. Jubouri’s confirmation was initially blocked by President Abdul-Latif Rashid on allegations of prior convictions for larceny and corruption.

On February 27, the President of Armenia, Vahagn Khachaturyan, visited Baghdad for talks with Iraqi leaders, starting with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani. The talks focused on cooperation in the areas of information technology, clean energy, banking, tourism, and other business opportunities for Armenian companies in Iraq, a statement by Sudani’s office said. Khachaturyan also met with Iraqi counterpart Abdul-Latif Rasid for discussions that focused on the same subjects. Then on February 29, Khachaturyan traveled to Erbil, where he met with KRG President Nechirvan Barzani for talks that focused on trade, investment, tourism, and establishing direct flights between the Kurdistan region and Armenia. 

On February 27, the government of Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani voted to appoint five new members to the board of trustees of the Iraqi Media Network (IMN). The new trustees are Aws Majid Ghanim al-Mohammadawi, Thaer Hitayhit, Hamad Mahmoud al-Doukhi, Alan Abdulah Rashid, and Sana Saeed Karoumi. The new trustees will replace the previous board whose members had resigned nearly a year ago. The appointment of the new trustees was criticized by parliament’s legal committee as a violation, arguing that the role of the Council of Ministers is limited to nominating candidates for parliament to vote on.

On February 27, acting speaker of parliament Mohsin al-Mandalawi issued instructions to create a parliamentary committee to investigate alleged violations committed by the local government in Basra during the time from the disbanding of the former provincial councils in October 2019 until the newly elected council took over. The move created backlash in Basra, where allies of governor Asad al-Idani in the provincial council rejected Mandalawi’s committee, to be chaired by the Kataib Hezbollah affiliated lawmaker Saud al-Saidi, arguing that the provincial council is the body concerned with managing the province’s affairs. Governor Idani, who is now in his second term in office, was elected against strong opposition from the Coordination Framework.

On February 28, several parties and organizations representing ethnic and religious minority groups in the Kurdistan region called for international intervention to repeal a decision by Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court last week that reduced the number of representatives in the regional parliament from 111 to 100 by eliminating the minority quota seats. The 19 representatives of more than a dozen Turcoman, Chaldean, and Assyrian parties and organizations argued that the ruling was based on a “misleading claim presented to the Court by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), adding that the ruling will lead to the concentration of power in the hands of the region’s Muslim Kurdish community. 

Sources cited in this section include: Kurdistan24, ISHM archive, INA, Rudaw, NRT, Mawazin, al-Sumaria, Iraqi PM’s office, Shafaq.


Prominent Writer Survives Gun Attack; Bilateral Committee Holds New Round Of Talks On Coalition Withdrawal

On February 22, Iraq’s Interior Ministry said that federal border guard troops advanced to the Iraqi-Turkish border near the Shiladze subdistrict of Duhok province and took control of border security outposts in the area in coordination with the Kurdistan region’s Peshmerga forces. The outposts in question, located in a region where hostilities between Turkish military forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants are frequent, were previously unoccupied, the Ministry added in a statement. 

On February 23, unidentified gunmen in two pickup trucks intercepted the vehicle of Fakhri Karim, the head of al-Mada media institution, and opened fire from automatic weapons. Karim was not hurt in the attack, which took place in al-Qadisiyah neighborhood of central Baghdad, a statement by al-Mada said. The incident was confirmed by Iraq’s Interior Ministry, which has opened an investigation into the attack. Images posted on social media appear to show Karim’s vehicle with several bullet holes through the hood.  

On February 25, Ninewa police said that a legacy improvised explosive device (IED) detonated in the Wadi Agab cemetery in Mosul’s western side. The explosion seriously injured one civilian, the police sources added.

On February 29, security sources in Dhi-Qar province said that unidentified gunmen attacked an office belonging to the Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada militia (14th brigade in the Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF) in Souk al-Shuyukh district. The early morning attack, in which the attackers used a rocket propelled grenade, did not result in casualties.  

On February 29, the counter-terrorism service of the Kurdistan region said that an armed drone of the Turkish military struck a vehicle in al-Wardiyah area, in the southern parts of the Sinjar district. The airstrike killed two members of the Sinjar Resistance Units militia (YPG) who were inside the vehicle and injured a third YPG member.

On February 29, the military spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani said that the bilateral Higher Military Committee (HMC) held another round of talks about winding down the U.S.-led anti-ISIS Coalition mission in Iraq. The spokesman, Yahya Rasoul, said the three sub-committees within the HMC, which had convened its first meeting on January 27, have submitted their reports which will inform the plans to end the Coalition’s mission and transition to bilateral relations with its members. 

Sources cited in this section include: Shafaq, al-Taghier, Dijlah, INA, al-Mada, Mawazin, NINA, ISHM archive.


Journalists And Government Critics Face Attacks, Arrests, And Restrictions

On February 26, security forces arrested Yasir al-Jubouri, a well-known Iraqi blogger and government critic, at Baghdad’s airport while he was leaving the country, his brother told the news site Ultra Iraq. Jubouri, who holds Irish nationality, had arrived in Iraq a week earlier to visit his family, his brother added. A source close to Jubouri said the arrest took place without a proper court order. But a subsequent statement by Jubouri’s family said he was eventually taken into the Salhiya police station in Baghdad, where Prime Minister Sudani’s legal team filed charges against him under article 226 of the Iraqi penal code, which criminalizes acts considered to be publicly insulting the government. Specifically, the charges cited a post by Jubouri on X in which he criticized nepotism in government appointments. Jubouri was also beaten, humiliated, and blindfolded during his detention, his family claimed. Jubouri was released on February 29 after Sudani dropped the charges against him.

On February 26, the Federal Supreme Court ruled that government regulations containing the term “gender” were not valid. Specifically, the Court’s decision mentions government orders concerning the creation of departments within the secretariat of the Council of Ministers to deal with the preparation and implementation of gender policies in government institutions and development programs.  

On February 27, acting speaker of parliament Mohsin al-Mandalawi instructed parliament’s legal department to file lawsuits against “any person who offends the legislative institution and members of the council of representatives,” a statement by parliament’s press office said. Analysts point out that this comes amid attacks on journalists and other measures by other Iraqi state organs to suppress criticism. These include the attack on al-Mada’s Fakhri Karim (above), the arrest of blogger Yasir al-Jubouri (above), and a threat by the Federal Supreme Court last week to use the Baath Party era article 226 of the Iraqi penal code (number 11 for 1969) to retaliate against activists running a WhatsApp group that has criticized the Court. Article 226 states any person who publicly insults the government, courts, or military, can get up to seven years in prison. Last month, parliament also issued new regulations that impose restrictions on members of the press who seek to access the legislature’s compound, raising objections from reporters who saw the regulations as overly restrictive. The new rules, among other things, require journalists who want to cover parliamentary news to 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. 

Sources cited in this section include: Ultra Iraq, social media, Shafaq, INA, the Washington Institute.


Iraq Reopens Key Baiji Refinery Destroyed During The War With ISIS

On February 23, Iraq reopened the newly rebuilt North Refinery in the Baiji refinery complex, which was badly damaged during the war with ISIS, a statement by Prime Minister Sudani’s office said. When it commences operations, the 150,000 barrels per day (bpd) refinery will help Iraq reduce its reliance on imported refined fuels, including gasoline. According to Oil Minister Hayan Abdul-Ghani, Iraq expects to reduce gasoline imports to zero by the second half of this year, down from current levels of nearly 7 million liters per day.

On February 26, Iraq signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with South Korean company Hanwha to resume construction at the New Bismaya City project, southeast of Baghdad. The project, where work began in 2012, involves building an entirely new residential city with 108,000 homes and related social infrastructure. The $10 billion project has faced delays in recent years as financial difficulties forced Hanwha to suspend work at Bismaya in October of 2022. The government statement did not provide details about the contents of the MoU.

On February 28, Iraq’s Electricity Ministry said that the power grid lost nearly 4,000 megawatts of power as Iran halted the flow of natural gas to power plants in central and southern Iraq amid rising demand in Iran due to cold weather. Iran also cut power supplied directly to Iraq through grid connections between Iran and Iraq’s Diyala province, Ministry sources said.

On February 29, Iraq’s Electricity Ministry signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Toyota to implement “several projects in the sectors of production, transmission, and distribution,” a statement by the Ministry said. The two sides will form a joint committee to identify and prioritize specific projects for implementation, the statement added, without providing further details.

Sources cited in this section include: INA, Iraq’ PM’s office, Hanwha, Ultra Iraq, NRT, Rudaw, Shafaq.


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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