ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM: March 7 – 14, 2024

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Key Takeaways:

  • Minority Parties To Boycott Kurdistan Election; Kurdish Judge Steps Down From Iraq’s Top Court; Court Decision Expands Internet Censorship – On March 11, several Iraqi Christian and Turkmen political parties in the Kurdistan region said they will boycott the next regional legislative elections in June to protest the February 21 decision by Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court (FSC) that eliminated minority quota seats in the regional parliament. On March 12, a Kurdish member of the FSC, Judge Abdul-Rahman Soleiman, said he was stepping down from the Court in protest of its recent decisions regarding the Kurdistan region’s budget and electoral system. Judge Soleiman said the decisions represented “a gradual return to the principles of centralized governance…by [illegally] expanding the range of exclusive powers granted to federal authority.” On March 13, the FSC issued a decision to greatly expand government censorship of internet content and social media platforms for a wide range of vaguely defined offenses. The decision includes a ban on “websites, social media networks and applications that include the production and dissemination of immoral and indecent content, and content that violates modesty.” It also bans platforms publishing content that insults “the divine, the sanctity of sacred books, prophets and messengers, religious symbols, or religions and sects…or otherwise offends or insults others.” In other developments, on March 13, former parliament speaker Mohammed al-Halobousi accused deputy speaker Mohsin al-Mandalawi of intentionally impeding the election of a new speaker in order to take over the position for himself. On March 10, Iraq’s parliament removed Nabil Jasim from his position as president of the Iraqi Media Network. On March 14, Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Defense Minister, and intelligence chief arrived in Baghdad for border security talks ahead of an anticipated visit by President Erdogan. more…
  • Militias Claim New Trans-Border Attack On Israel; Coalition Withdrawal Talks To Take Several Months – On March 11, the “Islamic Resistance in Iraq,” a front group for Iran-backed Iraqi militias, claimed that it attacked Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport with explosive drones. There were no reports of an actual strike hitting the airport. Jordanian authorities, however, were investigating an incident in which a drone of unknown origin crashed and exploded in the Jordanian province of Irbid. On March 12, a senior Iraqi official told Reuters that he expects negotiations between Baghdad and Washington for the drawdown and eventual departure of U.S.-led Coalition forces to continue beyond November, when the U.S. will have its next presidential election. The withdrawal talks began on January 27, when U.S. and Iraqi 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. In other developments, On March 8, a Turkish airstrike near the Shiladze subdistrict of Duhok killed two locals. Between March 8 – 12, the explosions of three remnants of war, one IED, and one grenade in Kirkuk, Erbil, Sulaymaniyah, Anbar, and Baghdad killed seven Iraqis and wounded at least four. On March 9, unidentified gunmen opened fire at the main temple for the Mandaean Sabians community in Maysan province, wounding two of the temple’s security guards. more…
  • Iraq Revives Basra Factories Inactive Since 2003; Turkmenistan Gas Imports Hinge On Pipeline Agreement With Iran – On March 9, Iraq reopened two major state-owned fertilizer factories and a steel plant in Basra province that had been inoperable since 2003. The fertilizer factories are designed to produce 1,000 tons/day of urea fertilizers and 1,350 tons/day of diammonium phosphate (DAP) fertilizers, respectively. The steel plant, meanwhile, has a capacity to produce about 1,350 tons per day of various forms of steel, a government statement said. On March 10, Iraq’s Electricity Minister said that Iraq could start receiving 20 million cubic meters/day of gas from Turkmenistan next summer, pending negotiations with Tehran to use its pipeline network to bring the gas into Iraq. The Minister described the negotiations with Iran as the “only challenge” delaying the execution of the deal. In other developments, on March 11, Iraq’s Oil Ministry launched a newly-built tanker with a capacity to transport 32,000 tons of petroleum products. The ship, named Akkad, is the second of two vessels ordered three years ago from Norwegian ship builder Batservice Mandal. 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.


Minority Parties To Boycott Kurdistan Election; Kurdish Judge Steps Down From Iraq’s Top Court; Court Decision Expands Internet Censorship

On March 10, Iraq’s parliament voted to remove Nabil Jasim from his position as president of the Iraqi Media Network (IMN), the legislature’s press office said. A few days later, on March 13, Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani appointed Karim Hummadi, a longtime TV host with IMN, to be IMN’s new president. The leadership change comes two weeks after the government voted to appoint five new members to the IMN board of trustees to 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 March 11, a number of Iraqi Christian political parties based in the Kurdistan region said they plan to boycott the next regional legislative elections, scheduled for June of this year. They were soon joined in their intended election boycott by a group of political parties representing the Iraqi Turkmen community in the Kurdistan region. The boycotting parties said they made their decision to protest the recent decision by Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court last month that reduced the number of representatives in the regional parliament from 111 to 100 by eliminating the minority quota seats. The boycotting parties argued that the Court decision was unconstitutional and threatens to undermine the foundations of democracy in the Kurdistan region by unjustly weakening the representation of minority communities.

On March 12, a Kurdish member of Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court, Judge Abdul-Rahman Soleiman, announced that he was stepping down from the Court in protest of its recent decisions regarding the Kurdistan region’s budget and electoral system. In a press conference, Judge Soleiman accused the Court’s decisions of moving ”towards a gradual return to the principles of centralized governance, and away from the principles and foundations of the federal system by expanding the range of exclusive powers granted to federal authority.” This expansion is taking place “at the expense of powers assigned to the region and provinces…or powers shared by authorities,” Soleiman added. In a brief statement, the Court said that Judge Soleiman’s departure won’t impact its work, citing the presence of three substitute judges ready to take his place. The statement did not address Soleiman’s accusations. 

On March 13, former parliament speaker Mohammed al-Halobousi accused deputy speaker Mohsin al-Mandalawi of intentionally impeding the election of a new speaker in order to take over the position for himself. In a televised interview, Halbousi, who was ousted from his position by Iraq’s top court in November, argued that the majority in parliament was in support of amending the bylaws to allow the nomination process to resume, adding that Mandalawi has been trying to block this motion. Parliament had met on January 14 to elect a new speaker but the vote was inconclusive as none of the frontrunner candidates (Shalan al-Karim, Salim al-Issawi, and Mahmoud al-Mashhadani) succeeded in winning a majority of votes. 

On March 13, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) asked Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) to reconsider the distribution of parliamentary seats in the Kurdistan region, a spokesperson for IHEC said. The KDP request deals particularly with the newly created electoral district of Halabja, which the KDP wants to be represented by more seats in the regional parliament. The request comes after Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court ruled to divide the Kurdistan region into four electoral districts, allocating the legislature’s 100 seats as follows: Sulaymaniyah (38), Erbil (34), Duhok (25), and Halabja (3). Meanwhile, the president of the Kurdistan region’s judicial council argued in a statement that the Federal Supreme Court acted in violation of the constitution and interfered in a matter that is part of the exclusive powers of the Kurdistan region’s parliament. 

On March 13, Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court issued a decision to greatly expand government censorship of internet content and social media platforms for a wide range of vaguely defined offenses. The decision includes a ban on “websites, social media networks and applications that include the production and dissemination of immoral and indecent content, and content that violates modesty.” It also bans platforms spreading content that insults “the divine, the sanctity of sacred books, prophets and messengers, religious symbols, or religions and sects.” The broad ban also prohibits platforms and websites associated with content that “promotes vice, immorality, prostitution, sexual deviancy, or otherwise offends or insults others.”

On March 14, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan and Defense Minister Yasar Guler arrived in Baghdad and met with Iraqi Foreign Minister, Fuad Hussein. Fidan and Guler, who are accompanied by Turkey’s intelligence chief Ibrahim Kalin are scheduled to have talks with Iraqi officials regarding border security and the presence of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The talks with Iraqi officials are also expected to focus on preparations for a visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that’s intended to take place before the end of March.

Sources cited in this section include: al-Sumaria, INA, Shafaq, ISHM archive, Rudaw, Kurdistan24, Ultra Iraq, Mawazin, Reuters, al-Taghier, Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court.


Militias Claim New Trans-Border Attack On Israel; Coalition Withdrawal Talks To Take Several Months

On March 8, Kirkuk police said that an explosive remnant of war detonated in the Bor Mountain area of the province. The explosion killed a man who was taking his family on a picnic in the area and wounded his 12 year old son. Two days later, on March 10, security sources in Erbil said that three members of the border guard forces were killed at the border guard headquarters in the province while they were defusing a landmine that was previously removed from an area on the borders with Iran. On the following day, security sources in Sulaymaniyah province said that two people were killed when a landmine exploded in the mountains of the Penjwin district, near the borders with Iran. 

On March 8, the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) said that one of their fighters was killed when his patrol vehicle struck an improvised explosive device (IED) in the desert outside the Rawa district of Anbar province.

On March 8, Rudaw reported that a Turkish airstrike targeted a mountain area near the Shiladze subdistrict of Duhok province. The strike killed two local residents and wounded a third person. 

On March 9, Maysan police said that unidentified gunmen opened fire at the main temple for the Mandaean Sabians community in the province. The early morning attack wounded two of the temple’s security guards.

On March 9, the Security Media Cell said that Iraqi F-16 jets struck a large tunnel in the Wadi Tharthar region of northwest Iraq after ground troops identified a group of six ISIS militants hiding inside the tunnel. All militants were killed in the operation, the statement added. On the following day, the Cell reported that Tribal Mobilization Forces tracked and engaged four militants moving in a truck in the same area, killing all four of them.

On March 11, security sources in Kirkuk province said that an armed group opened fire at the home of the local Mukhtar in the village of Nabtaz in the Daquq district. The targeted individual and his family were not hurt in the attack.

On March 11, the “Islamic Resistance in Iraq,” a front group for Iran-backed Iraqi militias, claimed in a statement that it had conducted an attack with explosive drones that targeted the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. There were no reports of an actual attack hitting the airport. Jordanian authorities, however, reported that they were investigating an incident in which a drone of unknown origin crashed and exploded in the Jordanian province of Irbid.

On March 12, a senior Iraqi government official told Reuters that he expects negotiations between Baghdad and Washington for the drawdown and eventual departure of U.S.-led Coalition forces to continue beyond November, when the U.S. will have its next presidential election. The withdrawal talks began on January 27, when U.S. and Iraqi 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 HMC met at least twice later, most recently on February 29. Commenting on the state of the talks, former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said recently that he did not think there was an Iraqi desire among the political forces to dispense entirely with the Americans – even though there is a feeling today that their presence at this time causes more problems than solutions.”

On March 12, unidentified individuals on a motorcycle attacked a civilian residence in al-Mashtal neighborhood of eastern Baghdad with a hand grenade. The attack wounded three people, police sources said.

On March 13, the Iraqi Ministry for Migration and the Displaced said that a new group of 320 internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Iraq’s Yazidi community had returned voluntarily from IDP camps in Duhok province to their districts of origin in Sinjar. The Iraqi government has announced plans to close all IDP camps in the Kurdistan region by July 30, 2024.

Sources cited in this section include: Rudaw, Shafaq, Mawazin, INA, Reuters, ISHM archive, NRT.


Iraq Revives Basra Factories Inactive Since 2003; Turkmenistan Gas Imports Hinge On Pipeline Agreement With Iran

On March 9, Iraq reopened two state-owned fertilizer factories and a steel plant in Basra province during a visit by Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani to the province. One of the factories is designed to produce 1,000 tons of urea fertilizer per day, while the other has a capacity to produce about 1,350 tons per day of diammonium phosphate (DAP) fertilizers. The steel plant, meanwhile, has a capacity to produce about 1,350 tons per day of various forms of steel, a government statement said. The facilities had been inoperable since the 2003 U.S. invasion. 

On March 10, Iraq’s Electricity Minister, Ziyad Ali Fadhil, said that Iraq could start receiving natural gas from Turkmenistan next summer pending negotiations with Tehran to use the Iranian gas pipeline network to bring the gas into Iraq. Fadhil confirmed that Iraq has signed a deal with Turkmenistan to import 20 million cubic meters per day of gas. The volume is 20% lower than reported in December, when Fadhil led a delegation to Turkmenistan to negotiate the purchase of 25 million cubic meters/day of natural gas. Fadhil described the negotiations with Iran as the “only challenge” delaying the execution of the deal.

On March 11, Iraq’s Oil Ministry launched a newly-built tanker with a capacity to transport 32,000 tons. The ship, named Akkad, is the second of two vessels ordered three years ago to be used to transport petroleum products. Back in August 2020, Iraq’s Oil Minister said his ministry signed a contract with Norwegian ship builder Batservice Mandal to build two oil tankers. The two 30,000 ton (as reported then) capacity tankers were to be delivered within 18 months.The deal is part of the ministry’s plans to rebuild Iraq’s tanker fleet, which has suffered severe losses during repeated wars.

Sources cited in this section include: INA, Ultra Iraq, ISHM archive, Iraq’s Oil Ministry.


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

Casualties Due To IEDs and ERWs from March 7, 2024 - March 14, 2024

DateLocationDeathsInjuries
3/8/24 Bor Mountain, Kirkuk province11
3/8/24 Desert near Rawa, Anbar province10
3/10/24 Border guard HQ, Erbil30
3/11/24 Penjwin, Sulaymaniyah province20

 

Please note: some geographic locations represented are approximations and this map may not represent all incidents.


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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