ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM: April 18 – May 2, 2024

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Key Takeaways:

  • Iraq, Turkey Sign Two Dozen Agreements During Erdogan’s Visit; Kurdistan Election Preparations Reportedly Put On Hold – On April 22, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Baghdad on his first official visit since 2011. Erdogan’s talks with Iraqi leaders focused on the key issues of border security and the threat of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), energy, trade, transportation, and water sharing. Speaking at a joint press conference after his talks with PM Sudani, Erdogan said the two sides “discussed the joint steps we can take against the …PKK and its extensions targeting Turkey.” Meanwhile, Sudani said the two countries signed a strategic framework agreement for cooperation on security, energy, and economic issues, as well as two dozen memorandums of understanding in various fields. Notably, these agreements include a multilateral memorandum between Iraq, Turkey, Qatar, and the UAE for cooperation on the Development Road project proposed by Iraq. Iraq and Turkey also signed a ten-year agreement on water management that Sudani said would address Iraq’s needs of water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The agreement deals with knowledge sharing and involving Turkish companies in Iraq’s water infrastructure projects, such as those dealing with water harvesting dams, lining canals, and water processing plants. On May 1, Kurdistan24 reported, citing sources within IHEC, that the Commission has halted all activities connected with its preparations for the parliamentary elections in the Kurdistan region, scheduled for June 10. The report implied that the order to halt IHEC’s preparations for the election was given by PM Sudani during a meeting with IHEC chief Omar Ahmed Mohammed in which Sudani stressed that the election should take place “under political consensus and with the participation of all social components in the region.” A spokeswoman for IHEC has denied the reports, however, saying that its work continues without interruption. more…
  • U.S. Forces In Syria Attacked From Iraq; Deadly Rocket Attack Disrupts Production At Kurdistan’s Main Gas Field – On April 21, five rockets were fired from a village northwest of Mosul at a base used by U.S. forces across the border in eastern Syria. Meanwhile, two explosive drones targeted the Ain al-Asad airbase in Anbar province, where U.S. military personnel are based. Both drones were shot down without causing damage or casualties. These are the first attacks to target U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria since early February, when key militia groups decided to halt their operations. In a statement, Kataib Hezbollah asserted that they have not made a decision to resume operations against U.S. forces. On April 26, an explosive drone struck the Khor-Mor gas field, the main source of natural gas for power plants in the Kurdistan region. The attack killed four foreign workers (all Yemeni nationals), injured eight, and halted gas flow to power plants for several days, causing the regional grid to lose 2,500 megawatts. A Kurdish official said Iran-backed militias were likely behind the attack, citing Iran’s interest in slowing down Iraq’s efforts to become energy independent. In other developments, on April 20, a member of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) was killed, and eight other individuals were injured when a large explosion rocked a military base known as Camp Kalsu in Babylon province. An investigation determined that the explosion and subsequent fire was probably accidental and not caused by an aerial attack as some PMF sources had initially speculated. Between April 20 – May 1, the “Islamic Resistance in Iraq,” a front group for Iran-backed Iraqi militias, claimed to have attacked two “vital” Israeli targets. On April 26, a famous Iraqi social media influencer known as Umm Fahad was assassinated in Baghdad by a gunman posing as a delivery driver. more…
  • Iraq Amends Laws To Include Harsh Penalties For LGBTQ+ People – On April 27, Iraq’s parliament approved new amendments to a 1988 law that criminalizes prostitution to include harsh penalties for gay and transgender individuals and anyone involved in “promoting” homosexuality. A quick review of the amendments reveals that they include the following enhanced penalties: Any person involved in a homosexual relationship faces a minimum of 10 years (and maximum of 15 years) in prison. Any person involved in promoting “prostitution or sexual deviance in any manner” faces a minimum of 7 years in prison, with no cap on the maximum possible prison sentence. Any person who attempts to biologically change their sex faces a minimum of 1 year (and maximum of 3 years) in prison. Medical professionals who assist in such procedures face the same penalty. The law drew strong criticism from human rights groups and foreign diplomats. The UN Human Rights Office said it was “alarmed” by the legislation that runs “contrary to several human rights treaties and conventions ratified by Iraq…and should be shelved.” Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Washington’s State Department said the law “threatens those most at risk in Iraqi society” and “can be used to hamper free-speech and expression.” In other developments, on April 24, Amnesty International called on the Iraqi government to “immediately halt all executions” after authorities had enforced the death penalty against 13 men at the Nasiriyah Central Prison. The rights organization expressed concern about lack of transparency surrounding the executions and reports that neither the prisoners nor their lawyers or families were notified in advance. more…
  • Obscure Ukrainian Energy Company To Develop Iraq’s Akkaz Gas Field; Oil Ministry Withholds Revenue Data For The Second Time – On April 24 Iraq’s Oil Ministry and Ukrainian energy company Ukrzemresurs signed an agreement to develop the Akkaz gas field in Anbar province. The field development will target 100 million cubic feet/day (MMcf/d) in production within 18-24 months and 400 MMcf/d within 4 years, Iraq’s Oil Minister said. Little is known about Ukrzemresurs, but a Ukrainian chamber of commerce official in Iraq claimed that it’s a small company that’s not suited for managing a development project of this size. On April 29, Iraq’s Oil Ministry said that crude oil exports during March averaged 3.422 million bpd, about 12,000 bpd below February. The statement, which came almost a month behind schedule, neglected to mention the total revenue generated by the March exports and the average price at which the oil was sold. In other developments, on April 23, Iraq’s Ministry of Industry said it signed a contract with an unnamed Saudi company to manufacture up to 1,500 sprinkler irrigation systems per year inside Iraq. On April 23, Iraq’s Ministry of Electricity signed an agreement with GE to modernize 12 gas-fired power plants and introduce new technologies to help reduce losses of up to 548 megawatts in power generation. 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.


Iraq, Turkey Sign Two Dozen Agreements During Erdogan’s Visit; Kurdistan Election Preparations Reportedly Put On Hold

On April 22, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Baghdad on his first official visit to the country since 2011. Erdogan’s talks with Iraqi leaders focused on the key issues of border security and the threat of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), as well as energy, trade, transportation, and water sharing. Speaking at a joint press conference after his talks with Prime Minister Sudani, Erdogan said that he shared his “belief that the PKK’s presence in Iraq will end,” adding that the two sides “discussed the joint steps we can take against the …PKK and its extensions targeting Turkey.” The two countries also signed a “strategic framework agreement for sustainable cooperation” on security, energy, and economic issues, as well as two dozen memorandums of understanding in various fields, Sudani told reporters. Notably, these agreements included a multilateral memorandum signed by ministers from Iraq, Turkey, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for cooperation on the Development Road project proposed by Iraq. During Erdogan’s visit, Iraq and Turkey also signed a ten-year agreement on water management that would address Iraq’s needs of water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Sudani revealed. The agreement includes knowledge sharing and inviting Turkish companies in Iraq’s water infrastructure projects, such as those dealing with water harvesting dams, lining canals, and water processing plants, an Iraqi government statement said. While in Baghdad, Erdogan also had a controversial meeting with an assembly of senior Sunni Arab politicians, which attracted criticism from some Shia politicians who accused Erdogan of seeking to control Iraq’s Sunni pirates. From Baghdad, Erdogan flew to Erbil, where he said he held “productive” talks with Kurdistan regional government (KRG) President Nechirvan Barzani.

On April 28, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in Riyadh for talks that focused on bilateral relations with an emphasis on economic cooperation, a statement by Sudani’s office said.  Sudani was in Riyadh to attend the Special Meeting of the upcoming World Economic Forum that Saudi Arabia hosted on April 28-29. 

On May 1, Kurdistan24 reported, citing sources within Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), that the Commission has halted all activities connected with its preparations for the parliamentary elections in the Kurdistan region, scheduled for June 10. The report implied that the order to halt IHEC’s preparations for the controversial election was given by Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani during a meeting with IHEC chief Omar Ahmed Mohammed. During the meeting, which came after recent talks between Sudani and KRG President Nechirvan Barzani, Sudani stressed that the election should take place “under political consensus and with the participation of all social components in the region,” a statement by Sudani’s office said on April 30. Barzani’s ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has threatened to boycott the election because of the “unconstitutional” interference in Kurdistan’s electoral system by Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court, which had ruled on February 21 to reduce the regional parliament from 111 to 100 representatives by eliminating the minority quota seats and divided the region into four electoral districts. A spokeswoman for IHEC has denied the reports, saying that its work continues without interruptions. 

Sources cited in this section include: AP, Reuters, Iraqi PM’s office, Ultra Iraq, Mawazin, Rudaw, Kurdistan24, Shafaq, ISHM archive.


U.S. Forces In Syria Attacked From Iraq; Deadly Rocket Attack Disrupts Production At Kurdistan’s Main Gas Field

On April 19, Kurdistan24 reported that an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated under a vehicle belonging to Ata Sarawi, a former senior member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in the Sarchinar neighborhood of Sulaymaniyah. The targeted individual was not harmed in the explosion, which destroyed his vehicle and damaged others nearby. 

On April 20, the Security Media Cell reported that a member of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) was killed and eight other individuals were injured when a large explosion rocked a military base known as Camp Kalsu in northern Babylon province. An investigation determined that the explosion and subsequent fire was probably accidental and not caused by an aerial attack, noting that the Air Defense Command confirmed the absence of piloted military aircraft or drones in adjacent airspace before, during, and after the explosion. PMF sources had initially speculated that the attack was the result of a U.S. or Israeli military strike. 

On April 20, the “Islamic Resistance in Iraq,” a front group for Iran-backed Iraqi militias, claimed in a statement that it conducted a new attack with explosive drones against an unspecified “vital target” in the Israeli city of Eilat. The alleged attack was in retaliation for the explosion that struck a PMF base in Babylon province earlier that day, which militia sources suspected was the result of a U.S. or Israeli operation. Several days later, on May 1, the militia group claimed to have attacked another unspecified Israeli “vital target,” this time in the Golan Heights, using explosive drones. There were no reports confirming actual attacks hitting either one of the facilities.

On April 23, Iraqi F-16 jets conducted an airstrike that targeted a hideout used by ISIS militants in the Himrin Mountains in Diyala province, Iraq’s Joint Operations Command (JOC) said. The airstrike killed two ISIS militants considered to be senior local commanders, JOC added. 

On April 21, Iraqi security sources said that five rockets were fired from a village in the Zummar subdistrict, northwest of Mosul, at a base used by U.S. forces across the border in eastern Syria. Meanwhile, two explosive drones targeted the Ain al-Asad airbase in Anbar province, where U.S. military personnel are based, in two separate incidents. Both drones were shot down without causing damage or casualties. The launch vehicle used in the rocket attack was quickly destroyed by guided munitions delivered by Royal Air Force jets patrolling the area, the UK military said. These are the first attacks to target U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria since early February, when key militia groups decided to halt their operations. In a statement posted on social media, Kataib Hezbollah asserted that they have not made a decision to resume operations against U.S. forces. Following the attacks, the U.S. military urged the Baghdad government to take action to protect U.S. military advisers in Iraq, warning that the U.S. military would not hesitate to respond with measures of their own if the attacks did not stop.

On April 26, a famous Iraqi social media influencer and fashion blogger known as Umm Fahad was shot and killed in her vehicle by a gunman posing as a delivery driver on a motorcycle. The Friday night attack took place outside the victim’s residence in the Zayouna neighborhood of east Baghdad. 

On April 26, local officials in the Chamchamal district of Sulaymaniyah province said that an explosive drone struck the Khor-Mor gas field, which provides important natural gas supplies for power plants in the Kurdistan region. Initial reports indicated that the attack killed three foreign workers at the field and injured three more. The attack also halted gas flow to power plants, causing the regional grid to lose 2,500 megawatts, the regional Ministry of Electricity said. Following the deadly attack, the UAE-based Dana Gas (part of the Pearl Gas consortium that operates Kho-Mor) said it was temporarily suspending operations at the field. The company also revealed that total casualties from the attack, which struck a chemicals storage facility at Khor-Mor, were four workers killed (all Yemeni nationals) and eight injured. The Khor-Mor field, where the vast majority of natural gas in the Kurdistan region is produced, was targeted with rockets on multiple occasions in recent years, most recently with two rockets on August 30, 2023. Friday’s attack, however, is the first to result in multiple fatalities. Nechirvan Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan region, urged the federal government to expose the culprits behind this “terrorist attack” and bring them to justice. Meanwhile, a member of Barzani’s ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) said Iran-backed militias were likely behind the attack, citing Iran’s interest in slowing down Iraq’s efforts to become energy independent. The field’s operators said on April 30 that they were taking steps to resume production within the following day.

On April 30, security sources in Salah ad-Din province said that Iraqi security forces clashed with ISIS militants during a security operation in al-Mu’tasim subdistrict near the city of Samarra. Two members of the security forces were killed in the fighting, which also resulted in the killing of one militant thought to be the leader of the local ISIS cell and the arrest of two more. 

On April 30, UNMAS reported that an Iraqi demining worker was killed when an explosive remnant of war detonated during an explosive clearance operation in the town of Batnaya, north of Mosul.

On May 1, security sources in Baghdad said that militiamen loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr have vacated the building known as the Turkish Restaurant, which was a key bastion of the 2019 anti-government protests, more than four years after the militiamen took over the building. The source said that Sadr’s Saraya al-Salam (Peace Brigades) militia handed control of the building to security forces without providing further details. 

On May 1, security sources in Anbar province said that four Electricity Ministry workers were injured when a legacy IED exploded near their work site in the remote Akashat region of the province. The individuals were reportedly working on the power grid connection between Iraq and Jordan when the incident happened. 

On May 2, security sources in Baghdad said that an unidentified individual threw a hand grenade from a moving motorcycle at the building of al-Ahli al-Iraqi Bank in the Jamila neighborhood of east Baghdad. The explosion damaged several vehicles parked near the bank but there were no reports of casualties. 

Sources cited in this section include: Kurdistan24, Rudaw, INA, AP, Shafaq, Mawazin, al-Hurra, Reuters, UK Defense Ministry, ISHM archive, BBC Arabic, PUKMedia, al-Sumaria, UNMAS. 


Iraq Amends Laws To Include Harsh Penalties For LGBTQ+ People

On April 24, Amnesty International called on the Iraqi government to “immediately halt all executions” days after authorities had enforced the death penalty against 13 men at the Nasiriyah Central Prison in Dhi-Qar province. The rights organization expressed concern about lack of transparency surrounding the executions and disturbing reports by activists and lawyers that dozens of people on death row have been executed this month. Moreover, these sources told Amnesty that neither the inmates nor their lawyers or families were notified in advance of the executions.  This is not the first time that executions at this particular prison have raised alarms among rights defenders. In January, UN human rights experts expressed “deep concern” about “mass executions” in Iraq’s prison system and criticized the authorities’ failure to provide prior notice to the inmates’ families or lawyers. The practice, the experts noted, constitutes “a form of ill-treatment, which renders the subsequent execution contrary to article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

On April 27, Iraq’s parliament voted to approve new amendments to a 1988 law that criminalizes prostitution, homosexuality, and gender change to include harsh penalties for gay and transgender individuals and anyone involved in “promoting” homosexuality. A quick review of the text of the amendments reveals that they include the following enhanced penalties:

  • Any person involved in a homosexual relationship faces a minimum of 10 years (and maximum of 15 years) in prison.
  • Any person involved in promoting “prostitution or sexual deviance in any manner” faces a minimum of 7 years in prison, with no cap on the maximum prison sentence that can be imposed. 
  • Any person involved in practicing or promoting “effeminate” acts faces a minimum of 1 year (and maximum of 3 years) in prison.
  • Any person who attempts to biologically change their sex faces a minimum of 1 year (and maximum of 3 years) in prison. Medical professionals who assist in such procedures face the same penalty.

The law drew strong criticism from human rights groups and foreign diplomats. The UN Human Rights Office said it was “alarmed” by the legislation that runs “contrary to several human rights treaties and conventions ratified by Iraq…and should be shelved.” Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Washington’s State Department said the law “threatens those most at risk in Iraqi society” and “can be used to hamper free-speech and expression.” The official also warned that the new law could undermine Iraq’s efforts to attract and retain foreign investment. British Foreign Secretary David Cameron condemned the law as “dangerous and worrying.”

On April 30, Iraqi authorities repatriated nearly 700 people, mostly women and children with perceived ties to ISIS, from al-Hol camp in eastern Syria, a spokesman for Iraq’s Ministry of Migration and the Displaced said. The new returnees will first be taken to the al-Jed’ah camp f near Mosul to go through rehabilitation programs with the support of international agencies, the spokesman added. According to recent remarks by Iraq’s National Security Advisor, Qasim al-Araji, Iraq has repatriated a total of 8,881 individuals (2,268 households) from al-Hol.

Sources cited in this section include: Amnesty International, ISHM archive, Iraq’s parliament, al-Sumaria, UN Human Rights Office, AP, Mawazin, Rudaw.


Obscure Ukrainian Energy Company To Develop Iraq’s Akkaz Gas Field; Oil Ministry Withholds Revenue Data For The Second Time

On April 23, Iraq’s Ministry of Industry said it signed a contract with a Saudi company for a project to manufacture sprinkler irrigation systems in Iraq as part of its plans to support the agriculture sector and conserve water resources. The project aims to produce up to 1,500 sprinkler systems per year, a statement by the ministry added, without mentioning the name of the Saudi company or providing other details about the project’s cost, location, and timeline.

On April 23, Iraq’s Ministry of Electricity signed an agreement with GE to modernize 12 gas-fired power plants and introduce new technologies to help reduce losses in power generation. The work involves boosting the efficiency of 48 generation units at the 12 power plants, all located in Iraq’s Mid-Euphrates region, to recover 548 megawatts that are currently lost in operation, a statement by the ministry said. 

On April 24 Iraq’s Oil Ministry and Ukrainian energy company Ukrzemresurs signed an agreement for the development of the Akkaz gas field in Anbar province. The field development will target 100 million cubic feet/day (MMcf/d) in production within 18-24 months and 400 MMcf/d within 4 years, Iraq’s Oil Minister Hayan Abdul-Ghani said at the signing ceremony. The natural gas would be used to feed two power plants in the western province, a senior oil official added. News of the deal first came out in September of last year, when Iraq’s Deputy Oil Minister for Extraction, Basim Mohammed Khudheir, said the ministry was preparing to award a contract for the development of the Akkaz to a Ukrainian company without naming it. The field, whose development was once awarded to Korea’s Kogas, has seen limited development relying on domestic efforts, and had commenced small scale production in March of 2023 at a rate of 60 MMcf/d. Little is known about Ukrzemresurs, but a Ukrainian chamber of commerce official in Iraq told Rudaw that it’s a small company that’s not suited for managing a development project of this size. 

On April 29, Iraq’s Oil Ministry said that crude oil exports during March totaled more than 106.1 million barrels, for an average of 3.422 million barrels per day (bpd), which is about 12,000 bpd below exports in February. In its statement, which came almost a month behind schedule, the Ministry of Oil once again neglected to mention the total revenue generated by the March exports and the average price at which the oil was sold. The vast majority of the March 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, remained suspended for the twelfth month. 

On April 29, local sources in the Yayji subdistrict, southwest of Kirkuk, said that a crude oil pipeline had exploded, causing a large oil leak and spewing clouds of toxic gasses. The sulfur- smelling fumes forced nearby villagers to abandon their homes and seek safety, the sources said, adding that this was the second such incident in the past four months. North Oil Company, which operates the oil fields in the area, said the 8” pipeline failed due to age and corrosion, adding that repair crews were deployed to replace the damaged section. 

On May 1, Iraq inaugurated an iron casting plant with a capacity of 600,000 tons per year.  The refurbished plant, which has been out of operation for two decades, is located in al-Taji district, north of Baghdad. The facility processes scrap metal into pellets that can then be used to make steel.

Sources cited in this section include: Mawazin, Ultra Iraq, Iraq’s Oil Ministry, INA, ISHM archive, Rudaw, Iraqi PM’s office, Shafaq.


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

Casualties Due To IEDs and ERWs from April 18, 2024 - May 2, 2024

DateLocationDeathsInjuries
4/19/24 Sarchinar, Sulaymaniyah province00
4/30/24 Batnaya, Ninewa province10
5/1/24 Akashat, Anbar province04

 

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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