Updates: April 4-10, 2015
- The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), and anti-ISIS tribal forces cleared the city of Tikrit. Upon clearing the city, reports of looting of houses and businesses surfaced, although the extent of looting remains unclear. Reports attribute the looting to some PMU members and local tribes. The Iraqi government responded by ordering the arrest of any looters. Most PMUs also withdrew from the city and security is now in the hands of ISF and local forces. Transition in Tikrit will be an indicator for upcoming operations to clear ISIS from major urban areas. Importantly, the restoration of the judicial system in Tikrit and Salah ad-Din province is imperative.
- The Council of Ministers decided to place PMUs under the command of the Prime Minister as he is Commander in Chief. This is a crucial development as there are concerns about the command and control of many PMU components.
- The number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) has reached 3 million people according to government figures. This number compounds the challenges facing Iraq as the government prosecutes major security campaigns while attempting to handle a growing complex humanitarian emergency.
- The Iraqi government plans to clear Anbar province, although ISIS continues to push back against government advances. The Iraqi government and international community should closely monitor the situation and be prepared to immediately respond to humanitarian consequences, as well as new avenues of access to vulnerable groups. Along with Ninewa and Dohuk, Anbar has the largest population in need of immediate humanitarian assistance.
- ISIS released more than 200 Iraqi Yazidis, mostly seniors. ISIS continues to hold thousands of other civilians, including Iraqi Yazidi girls who have suffered sexual exploitation and other egregious human rights abuses by their captors.
Tikrit Operations Aftermath
On April 4, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met the governor of Salah ad-Din and chairman of Salah ad-Din’s provincial council to discuss reconstruction efforts and security issues in Tikrit after the city was cleared of ISIS. PM Abadi stressed the need to ensure the security of returning families and to turn over the responsibility to maintain security to the Federal Police and local police and tribal forces to restore basic services to the city immediately, and to hold those committing abuses accountable for their actions. The meeting was also attended by the head of the “Liberated Areas’ Fund Chairman” Abdul Basit al-Turki, and the commander of the Federal Police, Raed Shaker. On the same day, Iraqi Interior Minister Mohammad al-Ghabban stated that the federal government would not tolerate any abuse of civilian populations in cleared areas and that the ministry would form a committee to investigate reported incidents in Tikrit.
On April 4, Popular Mobilization units (PMUs) withdrew from Tikrit and turned over security responsibilities to local police and Counter-Terrorism’s Golden Division forces to take control of the city and maintain security following reports of looting and destruction of private and public property. Meanwhile, Tikrit tribal leaders responded to looting and the destruction of civilian and government property by demanding that security in the city be handed over to Federal Police, local police, and local tribal forces. In addition, the tribal leaders stated that if their demands were not met they would resort to the international community to step in and prosecute those found guilty of war crimes. On April 4, the Iraqi Federal Police and members of PMU intelligence units reportedly began arresting those abusing members from the forces that reportedly participated in looting in Tikrit.
On April 5, government offices were reportedly reopened in al-Alam and Tikrit while forces from northern Baghdad repositioned to Tikrit to provide security. On April 7, local and federal authorities discovered 11 mass graves from the Spiecher massacre that ISIS committed and resulted in the killing of 1700 Iraqi soldiers. Eight graves were found within the confines of the Presidential Sites and three outside of them. The efforts to reopen government facilities and allow the return of populations are still ongoing amid continuous clashes between ISIS and anti-ISIS forces in the Qadisiyah neighborhood in northern Tikrit. According to local officials, some returning families are to undergo “security screening” before being allowed back to the city of Tikrit. There were also ongoing clashes throughout the week in the vicinity of Baiji, north of Tikrit.
PMUs to fall under Command of Prime Minister Abadi
On April 7, the Council of Ministers decided that the Popular Mobilization units (PMUs) will fall under the command of the Iraqi Prime Minister and Commander in Chief as an official military body. On April 5, speaker of the Council of Representatives, Salim al-Juburi and leader of the Sadrist Trend Moqtada al-Sadr held a joint press conference in Najaf. Juburi noted that incidents of looting and violence had occurred in Tikrit, but that those incidents should not distract the public’s attention from the clearing of the city. For his part, Sadr noted that the International Coalition’s intervention in the Tikrit offensive was unacceptable and that its involvement in future operations would not be accepted either.
Number of IDPs Reaches Three Million
On April 7, Saleh al-Mutlaq, chair of the Higher Committee of the Internally Displaced stated that over 3 million Iraqis are now internally displaced which amounts to 538,000 families. On April 9, officials from Babil’s Provincial Council warned about increasing illnesses in IDP communities and camps, caused by sub-standard housing units. Heba al-Qarghouli, Chairwoman of Babil’s Health Directorate, called on Baghdad to provide more support, saying, “There are new cases of scabies that have been diagnosed among displaced families in al-Nil, Binat al-Hassan, and Nader neighborhoods. She added, “Health teams from the Babil Health Department are providing treatment and follow up, as well as leading a pilot campaign to raise awareness.”
Anbar is Next Step for Iraqi Government
On April 4, the Iraqi Defense Ministry announced that ISF and Federal Police forces had launched raids on several ISIS positions in areas adjacent to al-Baghdadi sub-district in western Anbar. The raids were reportedly launched in order to degrade ISIS capability to launch attacks on the sub-district and its residents. Al-Baghdadi is home to the al-Asad airbase. On April 5, a committee from the Ministry of the Interior arrived in Ramadi to inspect preparations for the beginning of an offensive to clear western Anbar province of ISIS. On the same day, ISIS shelled the Amiriyat Fallujah sub-district in southern Anbar for the second day in a row.
On April 7, albu Nimr tribal leader, Naim al-Gaud, stated that ISIS has 8 secret prisons in “Fallujah, Qaim, Hit, Rawa, Ana, and elsewhere in the province.” Gaud stated that these prisons are holding 900 prisoners and that these prisoners are used for extortion or as human shields. On April 8, PM Abadi visited Anbar province’s Habaniyah airbase to inspect the Iraqi Security Forces and anti-ISIS tribal forces that are gearing up to clear ISIS from the province. On the same day, clashes between ISIS and anti-ISIS forces continued in areas east of Ramadi.
On April 9, ISIS executed up to 300 people in Qaim in western Anbar according to al-Gaud. On the same day, reports indicated that ISIS is preventing residents of Hit in western Anbar from leaving the city as joint security forces have launched an offensive to clear Anbar province. On April 10, ISIS launched attacks in Ramadi including in the northern Albu Faraj area, but those attacks were repelled.
216 Iraqi Yazidi Released by ISIS
On Wednesday, April 8, local sources in Kirkuk reported that 216 Yazidi seniors, women and children, former prisoners of ISIS, have safely arrived in Kirkuk and handed over to the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga in Kirkuk. The Iraqi Yazidis were held in Ninewa.
Ahmed Ali is a visiting senior fellow at the Education for Peace in Iraq Center. He would like to thank Alec Lynde and Jonathan Frederickson for the research support.