ISHM: February 24 – March 2, 2017

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Key Takeaways:

  • Iraqi Security Forces Progress into Western Mosul, PMUs Near Tal Afar – Over the past week, Iraqi Security Forces and Federal Police have made measured progress into western Mosul, clearing ISIS militants from several neighborhoods north of the Mosul Airport and taking control of the Fourth Bridge, the southernmost bridge connecting Mosul’s east and west. On March 1, the Iraqi Army’s 9th Armored Brigade effectively cut off the last major road out of western Mosul, interdicting supply lines and escape routes that connect Mosul and Tal Afar, 60 kilometers to the west. Meanwhile, Popular Mobilization Units claim to have killed a member of ISIS’s leadership in Tal Afar, and PMUs, including the Badr and Hezbollah Brigades, remain poised to enter the predominantly Iraqi Turkmen city. more…
  • 4,000 IDPs Per Day Are Fleeing Western Mosul – Displacement from western Mosul has risen dramatically over the past week. From February 25 to March 2, at least 30,000 individuals have been displaced from the western half of the city, according to a new report from UNHCR. Approximately 4,000 IDPs per day are arriving at transit and reception centers where they are screened to ensure no ties to ISIS and given emergency assistance before being transported to camps at Hamam al-Alil, Qayyarah, and al-Haj Ali. Despite being advised to shelter-in-place, IDP families are risking their lives to flee the city due to an absolute lack of food and water, and for fear of being caught in the crossfire between Iraqi Security Forces and ISIS militants. Roadside IEDs have been and are being laid by militants to prevent families from fleeing, and to hinder the approaching ISF. On February 25, one such IED killed 30-year-old renowned Kurdish journalist Shifa Gardi while she was reporting for Kurdish news agency Rudaw. When security is stabilized in newly-cleared neighborhoods of western Mosul, UNOCHA and UN demining teams are prepared to conduct humanitarian access missions to rapidly distribute emergency kits, food, and water to those who remain. more…
  • U.S. Commitment to Iraq Post-ISIS All But Certain – On February 28, Commander of U.S. Central Command, General Joseph Votel, said in an interview that he does not want “a repeat of where we left [Iraq] in 2011,” suggesting that the U.S. will remain engaged in the country after the defeat of ISIS. He continued to suggest that “the Iraqis understand they will require U.S. and coalition support.” In testimony before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee that same day, Dr. Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy suggested that in post-ISIS Iraq, 5,000 U.S. troops and an equal number of coalition forces will be required to maintain stability. To date, the Trump administration has made no formal commitment to a continued presence of U.S. resources. (Dr. Knights’s testimony before the Senate is available here.) more…
  • Security Concerns Linger in Diyala, Salah ad-Din Provinces; PUK Sends Troops to Oil Facilities in Kirkuk – An ISIS explosives expert and three of his associates were killed in an explosion at their IED factory in the Mutibija area of eastern Salah ad-Din Province. Uday Khaddran, Mayor of Khalis, located 10 kilometers northwest of Baquba, stated that ISIS infiltration of the area on the border of Diyala and Salah ad-Din has “reached unprecedented levels,” and called for urgent action. Officials in Diyala Province met with Defense Minister Irfan Hayali, demanding that the Iraqi Army’s Fifth Brigade return to the province as soon as possible to help stabilize the precarious security situation. Last month, the brigade was deployed to Mosul. On March 2, an official from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) announced that Iraqi Kurdish troops have been deployed to protect North Oil Company facilities in Kirkuk Province. more…
  • Saudi Foreign Minister Makes Surprise Visit to Baghdad – On February 26, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad, the first official visit of a Saudi foreign minister to Iraq since 1990. Jubeir congratulated Iraq on “the victories achieved against [ISIS],” adding, “the whole region is heading toward compromise and Saudi Arabia sees Iraq as an important player to have on its side.” Jubeir and Abadi discussed strengthening bilateral ties, resuming direct flights between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and the appointment of a new Saudi ambassador to Baghdad. more…
  • Minority Communities Receive Rebuilding Assistance; Iraqi Christians Relocate – On February 24, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) announced their intention to rehabilitate 600 damaged homes across Iraq to allow displaced families to return from IDP camps or critical shelter arrangements. In other news, Voice of America reported that Iraqi Christian towns in northern Iraq are struggling to rebuild both in population and in infrastructure, given that nearly 80% of Iraq’s Christian population has fled the country since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. 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.


Iraqi Security Forces Progress into Western Mosul, PMUs Near Tal Afar

On February 24, Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU) forces cleared the village of Tal Zalit near Tal Afar, 60 kilometers west of Mosul. On February 25, the Interior Ministry ordered an investigation into a security breach at the border which allowed Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants to reach Interior Ministry headquarters and kill 17 service members.

On February 24, a local source in western Mosul reported that graffiti reading “Where’s Baghdadi” appeared, referring to the the ISIS leader’s absence as Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) continue to clear more areas of western Mosul. The source speculated that ISIS leaders in Mosul did not discourage this particular message as they are interested in taking control in the midst of the power vacuum.

On February 24, al-Sumaria News reported that many ISIS fighters surrendered to ISF in western Mosul. The ISF have steadily advanced into ISIS territory, leaving militants with what al-Sumaria called a choice to surrender or die.

On February 25, Sami al-Masoudi, a PMU leader in Ninewa Province, announced that the the Hezbollah Brigade of the PMUs killed the leader of the elite ISIS forces in Tal Afar, 60 kilometers west of Mosul. Masoudi stated that the death led to “panic in the ranks of the organization and retreat and withdrawal.”

On February 25, Federal Police forces advanced through the al-Tiran and Jawasaq neighborhoods, just north of Mosul Airport and on the bank of the Tigris River. The ISF also moved into the Wadi Hajar neighborhood, just west of al-Tireen.

On February 26, the PMU Media Authority reported that militants are catching stray dogs and strapping remote-detonated bombs to them. The dogs are then let loose in the vicinity of security forces. At least one dog was reported to have been successfully captured and the bomb dismantled without any casualties.

On February 27, Mosul Operations Commander Lt. Gen. Abdul Amir Yarallah announced that the al-Tireen neighborhood on the north edge of the Mosul Airport is cleared of ISIS militants. The same day, rapid response units from the Federal Police successfully cleared the Jawasaq neighborhood and what is known as the Fourth Bridge, the southernmost bridge in Mosul.

On February 27, the so-called Emir of Dawwasa in western Mosul died while fighting ISF in a neighborhood just north of the Jawasaq neighborhood. The same day, ISIS military commander of the Bab al-Tawb neighborhood reportedly fled from Mosul with his family, adding to confusion and chaos among ISIS militants in the area.

On February 27, the ISF cleared the town of Khabirat al-Autishana, six kilometers west of Mosul, Tal al-Rumman in southern Mosul, the College of Engineering, and the Olympic swimming pool.

On February 28, an anonymous source in western Mosul reported that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi allegedly issued a statement to ISIS militants in Mosul telling them that defeat was imminent and that militants should disguise themselves and flee to the mountains. The source also alleged that the Mujahedeen Shura Council fled from Mosul and Tal Afar and is moving toward Syria.

On February 28, the Ninth Brigade of the Iraqi Army cleared the town of al-Damarja, 20 kilometers northwest of Mosul. The same day, ISF closed in on the main government complex in western Mosul.

On March 1, the 9th Armored Brigade of the ISF effectively cut off the last major road out of western Mosul. The division is within sight of the road, preventing militants from moving between Mosul and Tal Afar and besieging the city.


4,000 IDPs Per Day Are Fleeing Western Mosul

Feb. 24 Feb. 25 Feb. 26 Feb. 27 Feb. 28 March 1 March 2
Total IDPs No data No data 163,896 No data 176,556 No data 191,826
Daily Net Change No data No data +2,166 No data +12,660 No data +15,270

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) Displaced from Mosul and Surrounding Areas Since Military Operations Began on October 17.

On February 25, a roadside bomb killed 30-year-old Kurdish journalist Shifa Gardi while she was reporting for Rudaw, a Kurdish news source, from the front lines in western Mosul. Gardi, born a refugee in Iran in 1986, began her career in journalism in 2006. In a statement following her death, Rudaw described her as “one of Rudaw’s most daring journalists,” and Falah Mustafa, Minister of Foreign Relations for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) called her a “brave journalist” and “role model to young women.”

On February 24, Deputy Commanding General of the U.S. Air Force Matt Isler revealed that Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants are forcing children and people with disabilities to drive truck bombs and blow themselves up near Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). Isler noted that the tactic was “relatively new” and the use of this tactic suggests that ISIS militants are not able to recruit enough volunteers, and thus have resorted to forcing civilians to execute suicide attacks.

On February 26, The Telegraph reported that the largest discovered mass grave so far in Iraq was found at the Khasfa sinkhole located eight kilometers outside of Mosul. The grave contains the bodies of nearly 4,000 security forces, police officers, and Yazidi men. According to Human Rights Watch, who was monitoring the grave via satellite, ISIS militants began using the 400 meter-deep sinkhole in June 2014 when they overran Mosul, and had filled it by June 2015 with corpses, shipping containers, and concrete blast walls before bulldozing over the site with dirt.

On February 26, the Ministry of Displacement and Migration announced that 2,380 individuals fled western Mosul in the last 24 hours. Jassim Mohammed, minister for Displacement and Migration, stated that ministry teams received those who fled the city.

On February 26, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) reported that nearly 8,000 individuals have been displaced from Abu Saif village and the al-Kuwait, Ma’mun, al-Tayaran and Wadi Hajar neighbourhoods in western Mosul since operations to clear that part of the city began on February 19, 2017. As the operation progresses, an estimated 250,000 civilians could flee western Mosul. This is particularly dangerous for civilians living in the narrow, and densely-populated streets and alleys of the Old City, where civilians are more likely to be caught in the crossfire. Once the security situation stabilizes in newly-cleared areas of western Mosul, UNOCHA, UN security, and UN demining teams will conduct humanitarian access missions to rapidly distribute emergency kits, food, and water to those who remain. In eastern Mosul, water shortages remain a serious problem. The UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has acquired a 1.6MW generator and will install it as soon as possible at the al-Sahroon water treatment plant, which was hit by “direct fire” on February 19 and rendered non-operational. The al-Sahroon water treatment plant was the only plant in operation in eastern Mosul and provided nearly 70,000 residents in 12 neighborhoods with water.

On February 27, the Ministry of Displacement and Migration announced that it will launch a grant program to assist over 50,000 displaced families from all provinces who are registered with the ministry. Over two-and-a-half thousand families will receive approximately one million Iraqi dinars (approximately US$ 850) and an additional 47,000 families will receive 250,000 Iraqi dinars (approximately US$ 212).

On February 27, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has provided over 2,000 Iraqis with legal assistance in obtaining new civil identity cards and other legal documents that were lost or destroyed when they fled their homes. Civil identity cards are essential and allow Iraqis to pass through checkpoints, receive food assistance, education, healthcare, and housing.  

On February 28, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that over 10,000 civilians are displaced from western Mosul since operations to clear that part of the city began on February 19, 2017. Nearly 1,700 civilians arrived to the Hamam al-Alil emergency camp, located 20 kilometers south of Mosul, and 2,800 civilians arrived to the Qayyarah air strip, located 64 kilometers south of Mousl. Nearly 2,400 civilians had to flee the Hay al-Maamoun neighborhood in western Mosul yesterday as the ISF engaged with ISIS militants. Civilians report that ISIS militants are confiscating homes and stores that have been abandoned by fleeing civilians and are raiding homes of those who are more well-off, as they are more likely to have stockpiles of food and supplies. The IOM, UN, and other humanitarian partners are working to increase capacity at several large camps in Ninewa. Haj Ali, located 60 kilometers south of Mosul, currently hosts nearly 7,000 individuals and will be able to host 40,000 once construction is complete. IOM’s Qayyarah air strip site hosts over 25,000 individuals, but will be able to host up to 60,000 individuals in the near future. Nearly 224,000 individuals have been displaced from the Mosul corridor since operations to clear the city began on October 17, 2016. Currently 176,556 individuals remain displaced.  

On March 1, Rukmini Callimachi captured a family’s escape from western Mosul through narrative and photographs for the New York Times. Khadija Abbas and her family made the perilous journey out of western Mosul and were spotted by ISF and a small unit of American advisors. The family waved a piece of white cloth to signal that they were civilians and escaped ahead of 10 other families to make sure the route was safe. By the end of the day, more than 30 other civilians escaped western Mosul on the same path. In a separate article, Callimachi spoke with other residents who escaped western Mosul. One man, Lahib Muhammed Ali, fled his dairy farm in western Mosul after ISIS militants placed a mortar in his fields which was later targeted by an airstrike. Fifty of his sixty cows were killed. Callimachi also described letters that had been dropped over parts of western Mosul. The International Center for War and Peace Reporting led an initiative to deliver letters from residents in eastern Mosul to persuade residents in western Mosul that “the Iraqi people have not forgotten them.” In one letter from a man who called himself “your son, the eastern side Omar,” urged civilians to be patient and remain in their homes until ISF arrived. He ended the letter saying, “We are all Iraq.”

On March 1, the IOM reported that 28,400 individuals have been displaced from western Mosul as a result of the operations to clear that part of the city which began on February 19, 2017. Since February 25, nearly 4,000 individuals are fleeing the city each day, the
“highest sustained daily average of displacement” since operations to clear Mosul began on October 17, 2016. Site expansion and efforts to upgrade water and sanitation systems in camps south of Mosul are ongoing and Jad’ah, Qayyarah air strip, and Haj Ali camps are at capacity. For IDPs moving south, Hamam al-Alil is the first point of transit where IDPs are subjected to a security screening and are provided emergency response kits and blankets before being relocated to other camps or emergency sites.  

On March 1, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) reported that a total of 392 Iraqi civilians were killed and 613 others were injured in “acts of terrorism, violence, and armed conflict in Iraq in February 2017.” Ninewa Province experienced the highest number of casualties with 201 total civilian deaths, followed by Baghdad Province which experienced 120 total civilian deaths. The Anbar Province Health Directorate recorded 42 total civilian deaths. Figures for Anbar Province may not reflect the total number of casualties in Anbar Province as reporting and verification services have been disrupted due to the ongoing conflict in Anbar. In addition, the figures for Anbar do not include casualties as a result of secondary effects of violence such as lack of food, medicine, and access to health services.

On March 2, the IOM reported that 191,826 internally displaced persons (IDPs) are displaced from Mosul and the surrounding area since operations to clear the city of ISIS militants began on October 17, 2016, a net increase of 30,096 IPDs since February 23. In the last two days alone 15,270 IDPs fled Mosul. Sixty-two percent of IDPs from Mosul and the surrounding area are housed in emergency camps, 18% live in private settings, 19% live in emergency sites, and 1% live in critical shelter arrangements. Cumulatively, 255,708 IDPs have been impacted by the crisis in Mosul since it began in October 2016. However, to date 63,882 IDPs have returned to their homes.

On March 2, the UNHCR reported that nearly 30,000 IDPs have fled western Mosul since February 25. Newly displaced individuals report that families are waiting to flee until their neighborhoods are cleared of ISIS militants, after which they walk three to four kilometers outside of the city where ISF perform security checks and transport the IDPs to camps. However, IDPs also report that cleared neighborhoods are still insecure due to IEDs and booby traps in the streets, and that this is preventing some families from fleeing. The UNHCR anticipates that more civilians will flee western Mosul once IEDs and booby traps are removed from the streets, as electricity, water, and food are in extremely short supply in western Mosul. To accommodate the recent surge in IDP movements, the UNHCR has constructed a transit and reception center at the Hamam al-Alil camp, 25 kilometers south of Mosul, that will house 2,000 IDPs before they have the necessary security clearance to move to an IDP camp. The structure will be erected in the coming days.


U.S. Commitment to Iraq Post-ISIS All But Certain

On February 28, Dr. Michael Knights, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), testified at a United States Senate hearing concerning Iraq and the progress of the campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Knights suggested that in post-ISIS Iraq, 5,000 United States troops and an equal number of coalition forces will be required to maintain stability. Knights emphasized that this should not be a nation building project, but rather one designed to ensure a stable Iraq until it is completely cleared of ISIS. Knights argued that stability should be a prerequisite to nation building, and that this should be the United States’ main focus in Iraq. One key aspect of enforcing this stability will need to be a strong border with Syria, and effective anti-crime programs to cut off funding to militant organizations. Finally, Knights speculated on whether loosening the rules of engagement in Iraq might be problematic. On one hand, it could increase civilian casualties in the short term, but by ending battles quicker and by defeating the enemy in a shorter amount of time, it is also possible that civilian deaths over the long-term will decrease.

On February 28, Commander of United States Central Command, General Joseph Votel commented in an interview that he does not want “a repeat of where we left [Iraq] in 2011,” suggesting that the U.S. will remain engaged in the country after the defeat of ISIS. He continued to suggest that “the Iraqis understand they will require U.S. and coalition support.” “They are looking for continuing support that allows them to prevent the reemergence of this enemy, and to give them the ability to handle this on their own.”

On March 1, anonymous United States officials suggested that President Donald Trump’s latest iteration of his travel ban will not include Iraq in its list of nations containing potential threats. According to the Associated Press (AP), the decision to omit Iraq comes as a result of pressure from Pentagon and State Department officials who see the travel ban as harmful to the United States relationship with Iraq, which is integral in the fight against ISIS. According to the same report, the new order will also ignore previous criteria placed on refugees, such as the singling out of Syrian refugees and preferential treatment rooted in religious identity.

On March 1, Kirkuk Governor Najm al-Din Karim met with United States Senator Chris Van Hollen to discuss the political, economic, and military situation in Iraq. Governor Karim identified areas in the south and west of Kirkuk as offering the largest threats to the region’s stability, especially in regard to the IDP crisis. Senator Van Hollen complemented Governor Karim for his leadership in such a difficult situation.


Security Concerns Linger in Diyala, Salah ad-Din Provinces; PUK Sends Troops to Oil Facilities in Kirkuk

On February 24, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced that Iraqi Air Force planes carried out airstrikes on Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) positions in Albu Kamal in Syria, just across the border from Qa’im in Anbar Province. Abadi noted that he will “prosecute terrorism that is trying to kill our children and our citizens anywhere it resides.” The airstrikes allegedly targeted ISIS militants responsible for the recent bombings in Baghdad.

On February 24, border guards and Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) in western Anbar repelled an ISIS attack. The militants targeted a security headquarters in the area around Rutba, 310 kilometers west of Ramadi.

On February 24, an anonymous source reported that airstrikes killed two ISIS militants traveling in a car laden with explosives in the Mutibija region of eastern Salah ad-Din Province. The source did not specify if the airstrikes were carried out by Iraqi or coalition airplanes, but stated that they killed an ISIS militant known as Abu Duaa, a well-known insurgent in the area.

On February 24, police officers arrested a man wearing a suicide belt who attempted to detonate the explosives inside an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Abu Ghraib, 27 kilometers west of Baghdad. Anti-explosive teams were able to dismantle the suicide belt without detonating the explosives.

On February 25, a local source reported that a known ISIS explosives expert and three of his associates died in an explosion at a workshop in the Mutibija area of eastern Salah ad-Din Province. The same day, Uday Khaddran, the Mayor of Khalis (10 kilometers northwest of Baquba), stated that infiltration of the area on the border of Diyala and Salah ad-Din has “reached unprecedented levels,” and called for urgent action.

On February 25, a meeting between Defense Minister Irfan Hayali and the Council of Diyala Province covered the three pressing topics of the Mutibija region, the security situation on border between Salah ad-Din and Diyala Provinces, organized crime in the area, and the return of IDPs  to the province. Hayali promised additional support for Diyala and said that he sees the security of the province as key to the security of Baghdad.

On February 25, a member of the Council of Anbar, Naem Abd al-Mahsin al-Kaud, announced that ISIS militants in Salah ad-Din executed nine members of the al-Bunmr family. Al-Sumaria News reported that ISIS militants killed hundreds of the al-Bunmr family in 2015 for supporting security forces.

On February 25, ISIS militants killed a farmer and his family, shelling their home in the Baiji area, 75 kilometers north of Tikrit. The same day, the police chief of Baiji, Saad al-Qaisi, announced that security forces killed three suicide bombers hiding in house in Baiji currently under construction. Qaisi stated that the security situation in Baiji is stable.

On February 25, Mayor of Abu Saida, Mohammad Baqir al-Tamimi, said in an interview that five clans that have been fighting and adding to the dire security situation in Diyala Province have now made a peace agreement. Although no specifics were reported on the causes of the conflicts or what the resolution entails, Tamimi did state that “resolving tribal conflicts will strengthen internal security in Abu Saida.”  

On February 26, Sadiq al-Husseini, head of the Diyala Security Council, announced that airstrikes on the outskirts of Hawija killed 3 senior members of the so-called Diyala Mandate of ISIS. Husseini reported that the dead included an ISIS central intelligence officer, who has contributed to many civilian deaths by providing information for ISIS attacks.

On February 26, Najit al-Tai, member of the Diyala Provincial Council, reported that Defense Minister Irfan Hayali vowed to return the fifth brigade of the army to the Diyala/Salah ad-Din border as soon as operations in Mosul are complete. Many leaders in Diyala have expressed extreme concern over the lack of troops in the Province, and how this contributes to the precarious security situation.   

On February 26, security forces seized a cache of explosives and improvised explosive device (IED) materials from an ISIS hideout in the Jalula area, 70 kilometers northeast of Baquba. The mayor of Jalula, Jacob Joseph Mullah Ali, stated that the cache was found with information about ISIS militant activities that civilians provided.

On February 26, a local source reported that ISIS militants attacked the Alas oil fields east of Tikrit. ISF responded and engaged in a gun battle with the militants.

On February 26, ISIS launched an attack on a security station in the Adaim Basin, resulting in the death of one of their leaders, Abu Muhammad. The station is positioned near the Diyala/Salah ad-Din border, and Abu Muhammad was reportedly taken across the border before dying in Salah ad-Din Province.

On February 27, two mortar shells landed in the Adaim area in Diyala Province, 63 kilometers northwest of Baquba. The shells are thought to have been fired from the Mutibija area on the border of Diyala and Salah ad-Din, the first instance of shelling in Diyala this year.  

On February 27, the Nujaba faction of the PMUs repelled an ISIS attack on security forces in the Makhoul Mountains in Salah ad-Din Province, killing 16 ISIS militants. The attack involved 2 tactical units and one suicide unit with four car bombs.

On February 28, Baghdad began the third phase of a security plan, bringing online more surveillance cameras, mainly trained on various roads. The addition is a welcome one, as complaints about the significant holes in the capital’s security apparatus allow multiple IED attacks everyday.  

On February 28, Commander of Tigris Operations Lt. Gen. Mezher al-Azzawi announced that ISF carried out a “lightning operation” against ISIS in the restive Mutibija area. He reported that the attack, supported by the Iraqi Air Force, killed nine militants and destroyed a number of vehicles.

On February 28, a class of 450 tribal fighters in Anbar graduated from a U.S.-led international coalition training program. The two month program instructed trainees in weapons use and methods of warfare, in anticipation of them helping with operations to clear western Anbar Province.

On March 2, an official from the Iraqi Kurdish Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) announced that Kurdish troops had entered the North Oil Company (NOC) facilities in Kirkuk. The move came after Baghdad announced its decision to export additional oil from Kirkuk to the rest of Iraq. The Kurdish force took control of a NOC pump station where extracted oil is stored.


Saudi Foreign Minister Makes Surprise Visit to Baghdad

On February 26, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad. The visit marked the first official visit of a Saudi foreign minister to Iraq since 1990. During the visit, Jubeir congratulated Iraq on “the victories achieved against Daesh,” adding, “the whole region is heading toward compromise and Saudi Arabia sees Iraq as an important player to have on its side.” Jubeir noted the many interests the two countries share, including preventing violent extremism, and investing in trade. Jubeir and Abadi discussed strengthening bilateral ties, resuming direct flights between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and appointing a new Saudi ambassador to Baghdad. Saudi-Iraqi relations resumed in 2015 following a 25-year hiatus, but were again soured when Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Iraq, Thamer al-Sabhan, suggested that Iranian and Iraqi-supported Shia groups were threatening Sunni Iraqis and demanded that Iraq exclude Shia Popular Mobilization Unit’s (PMUs) from operations to clear Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants. Iraq took offense to Sabhan’s comments, viewing them as fanning the flames of sectarianism, and Sabhan was recalled to Saudi Arabia.


Minority Communities Receive Rebuilding Assistance; Iraqi Christians Relocate

On February 24, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) announced that they will assist 600 families in 2017 by rehabilitating their damaged homes, allowing them to leave critical shelter arrangements and return to their cities of origin. Two hundred homes in Salah ad-Din and Diyala Provinces were included in the current phase of the project that started in December 2016, and currently, 40% of construction is complete. IOM Iraq Chief of Mission Thomas Lothar Weiss emphasized the need to assist families as they leave IDP camps or critical shelter arrangements, adding that IOM is interested in promoting “sustainable long-term” strategies for return.

On February 26, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) called on the international community to help “protect and revive the country’s archaeological, religious and cultural sites for future generations.” According to the Deputy-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova, UNESCO is already mobilizing to safeguard heritage sites by installing fencing and guards around vulnerable sites and will partner with the Iraqi Steering Committee to coordinate initiatives in Iraq. Iraqi Minister of Education, Mohammad Iqbal Omar, underscored the need to prevent stolen antiquities from being sold on the black market and prevent the profits from being used to finance terrorist activity.

On February 27, the Voice of America reported that Christian towns in Iraq are struggling to rebuild both in population and in infrastructure even as the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) continue to clear Iraqi towns of Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants. According to the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that serves Christian minorities in Iraq, since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, nearly 80% of the Christian population has fled the country due to sectarian violence. An estimated 1.5 million Christians lived in Iraq before the 2003 invasion. Voice of America interviewed a woman from Qaraqosh, a predominantly Christian Assyrian town 32 kilometers southeast of Mosul, and she stated that she planned to immigrate to Reims, France, where eight other Iraqi Christian families from Qaraqosh have resettled. While Christian families are seeking refuge abroad, their efforts to find safety have challenged others seeking to establish an “autonomous region for Christians in northern Iraq with Qaraqosh as its capital.” With countries like Canada pledging to resettle 1,200 Yazidi refugees in the next year, it is more likely that Iraqi Christians who are able to leave Iraq, will do so.

On March 1, the Ministry of Oil announced that firefighters extinguished oil well number 81 in the Qayyarah oil field, located 65 kilometers south of Mosul, and removed all improvised explosive devices (IEDs) from the vicinity. Efforts to extinguish the five remaining fires are ongoing.


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

DateLocationDeathsInjuries
03/01/17Naharwan, East of Baghdad13
03/01/17Al-Ubeidi, East Baghdad
02
03/01/17Taji, North of Baghdad14
03/01/17Bob al-Sham, Northeast of Baghdad02
02/28/17Al Alam, East of Tikrit08
02/28/17Tajiyat, North of Baghdad03
02/28/17Al-Shuhuda, South Mosul14
02/28/17Bob al-Sham, North of Baghdad02
02/27/17al-Zidan, South of Baghdad13
02/27/17Madain, South of Baghdad14
02/27/17Shuala, North of Baghdad02
02/27/17Diyala Bridge, South Baghdad20
02/26/17Hamrin, North of Baquba13
02/26/17Abu Gharib, West of Baghdad10
02/26/17Suwaib, Southwest of Baghdad15
02/25/17Diyala Bridge, South Baghdad01
02/24/17Nahrawan, East of Baghdad03
02/24/17Madain, South of Baghdad03
02/24/17Al-Houra, Northeast Baghdad11

 

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 Education for Peace in Iraq Center.


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