ISHM: May 26 – June 1, 2017

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Key Takeaways:

  • Explosions in Baghdad Kill Dozens as Ramadan Begins – On May 30, two vehicle-borne explosive devices killed at least 27 people and wounded several others in Baghdad. The attack came just days into the holy month of Ramadan, and targeted Shia civilians gathering after midnight to prepare for their pre-dawn meal. The first explosion struck a popular ice cream parlor in the middle-class Karradah District; the second blast hit the busy Shawaka District. ISIS militants claimed responsibility for both attacks, continuing an annual pattern of launching mass-casualty attacks during Ramadan in predominantly Shia neighborhoods. In response, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi declared a set of new orders and procedures to tighten security in the capital. more…
  • Mosul Residents Urged to Flee Western Half of the City – On May 26, the Iraqi Air Force dropped leaflets over the two remaining ISIS-occupied neighborhoods in Mosul, urging citizens to evacuate. This messaging contradicts previous Iraqi government calls for Mosul residents to remain in their homes and wait for security forces to clear their neighborhoods, indicating that an attack against ISIS positions may be imminent. Four days later, the UN announced that it expected upwards of 200,000 civilians to flee Mosul in the coming week following week. The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande, reports as many as 15,000-16,000 civilians are fleeing Mosul per day, concluding that, “Based on our own scenario planning, we are, at the moment, staring our worst-case scenario in the face.”more…
  • Emergency Response Division Investigated for Abuse – The Interior Ministry announced on May 24 that it would investigate allegations of torture and abuse against the elite Federal Police Emergency Response Division (ERD). The decision comes in response to last week’s Der Spiegel article in which Iraqi journalist Ali Arkady documented the torture and interrogation techniques employed by members of the ERD (as previously reported in ISHM). Iraqi officials assure that legal measures against any wrongdoers will be applied; however, they have not outlined any time frame for prosecution. On May 31, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad issued a statement in which it explained that the U.S. “…has not provided military aid, arms, or assistance to the Emergency Response Division,” which was blacklisted by American officials in 2015.  more…
  • PMUs Make Progress Toward Iraq-Syrian Border – On May 29, forces from the Badr Organization – a PMU with financial and political ties to Tehran – reached the village of Umm Jaris on the Syrian border after securing a number of key villages and supply lines west of Mosul. Two days later, Badr forces cleared an additional 17 kilometers along the border, and Badr Secretary General announced his organization’s readiness to secure the entire area. However, Badr leader Hadi al-Ameri confirmed that the PMU have not entered Syrian territory, and do not plan such an incursion without direct orders from authorities in Baghdad. more…
  • Elections Set for September, Despite Calls for Postponement – On May 30, former Prime Minister and current Vice President Nouri al-Maliki criticized Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi’s leadership in an interview, and confirmed that he does not seek to return to any executive office in the future. His comments come amid calls for Abadi to delay upcoming national elections, which are currently scheduled for 2018. Maliki described the attempted delay as an international attempt to remove the Islamic Dawa Party from power. There have been suggestions that the 2017 provincial elections could be held at the same as the national elections, which are currently scheduled for 2018. more…

Please note: This week’s edition of ISHM is an abridged version of our weekly publication due to research team transitions. We will return to our regular schedule on Thursday, June 8.

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.


Explosions in Baghdad Kill Dozens as Ramadan Begins

On May 30, two vehicle-based improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) killed at least 26 people and wounded several others, just days into the holy month of Ramadan. The first VBIED detonated in the Karradah District, outside an ice cream parlor just after midnight, as people filled the streets to prepare for their pre-dawn meal. The second bomb detonated in the busy Shawaka District. Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants claimed responsibility for both bombings as they targeted known predominantly Shia neighborhoods.

On May 30, Iraqi President Fuad Masum called on security forces to be more proactive in preventing terrorist and criminal acts in Baghdad and other provinces. He spoke soon after two VBIEDs targeted late-night crowds typical during Ramadan, killing over 20 people.

On May 31, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq, Jan Kubis, condemned the terrorist attacks in Baghdad that took place in the early morning of May 30. Kubis stated, “We condemn in the strongest terms the terrorist bombings in Baghdad on Monday night and Tuesday morning, which have claimed many civilian casualties as the Iraqi people celebrate the holy month of Ramadan.” The U.S. Embassy also condemned the brutal attacks in Baghdad claiming that they targeted children and families, and it reaffirms the terrorists’ disregard for human life.

On May 31, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met with leaders at the Baghdad Operations Command headquarters, where he issued a set of new orders and procedures to tighten security in the capital: these include the deployment of troops to popular entertainment areas around the city. During the immediate aftermath of the twin bombings, Haider al-Abadi had announced the government was working on “radical plans” to joint checkpoints, and attributed the attacks to “an intelligence glitch,” stressing that it was not a “security collapse.”


Mosul Residents Urged to Flee Western Half of the City

On May 26, the Iraqi Air Force dropped leaflets over northern Mosul urging citizens to evacuate, indicating that the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are planning an imminent attack on ISIS militants who are still controlling the city. Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants have laid sheets of corrugated metal over pebbles in alleys, as the grinding noise produced by stepping on it would alert militants of any troop movement or of any civilians trying to escape.

On May 29, the United Nations warned of grave danger to civilians residing within the neighborhoods of Al-Saha al-Oula, Al-Zinjili and Al-Shifaa, north of Mosul’s old city. The warning follows a new Iraqi military offensive against ISIS militants who still hold significant territory in the region. Lise Grande, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, expressed her concern by stating, “We are deeply concerned that right now, in the last final stages of the campaign to retake Mosul, that the civilians… in (IS) areas are probably at graver risk now than at any other stage of the campaign.” The UN estimates that there are between 180,000- 200,000 civilians remaining under ISIS held territory in western Mosul.

On May 29, the United Nations reported that tens of thousands of citizens are struggling to get food, water, and supplies in parts of Mosul that are still being controlled by ISIS militants. These reports come days after U.S.-backed Iraqi troops launched a new offensive to take back districts on the western side of the Tigris River. UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande, reports that those who have been able to escape the conflict zone, are facing a severe shortage of food, water, and medical supplies. Government forces have been warning civilians to flee, yet evacuation is not compulsory. Many civilians have remained in their homes fearing that they could get caught in the crossfire.

On May 30, the United Nations announced that upwards of 200,000 Iraqi civilians could be fleeing Mosul in the upcoming days as the Iraqi government has now urged residents to cross behind government lines and into safety. Many civilians remain trapped to the north of the Old City in ISIS held neighborhoods. UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande, reports that people leaving western Mosul have spiked from 10,000 and had even reached 15,000-16,000 per day. Grande stated, “Based on our own scenario planning, we are at the moment staring our worst-case scenario straight in the face”. The UN is developing contingency plans that envision as many as 40,000 civilians fleeing Mosul in the coming days.


Emergency Response Division Investigated for Abuse

On May 24, the Interior Ministry launched an investigation into one of its elite police units, the Emergency Response Division. This is in response to the films released by Ali Arkady which depict the ERD committing grave human rights abuses including torture, rape, and extrajudicial killings of Mosul civilians. Officials assure that legal measures against wrongdoers will be applied, however as of yet no timeframe has been established.

On May 25, the Department of Defense released the results of the investigation into the March explosion in Mosul which killed 105 civilians: it concluded that the extensive destruction was caused by secondary explosives planted by ISIS and not ammunition dropped by a U.S. plane. It further states that Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants purposefully placed the explosives among civilians, and planted snipers on the roof to draw an airstrike in order to ensure catastrophic collapse

On May 31, in response to the footage of elite Iraqi troops torturing and executing civilians, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad stated that the U.S. “…has not provided military aid, arms, or assistance to the Emergency Response Division,” as it was already blacklisted by the U.S. in 2015. Nevertheless, the U.S. continues to indirectly support and advise the unit, and early this year a senior U.S. official publically praised the unit at the Pentagon.

On May 30, a mass grave of 60 civilians was found in the al-Shifa district in western Mosul; the bodies found included elderly, lawyers, and other professionals – all shot in the head by ISIS; several mass graves have been discovered since the major Mosul offensive was launched in October 2016. Iraqi commanders determine that 90% of western Mosul has been cleared, with only two districts near the Old City remaining under ISIS control.


PMUs Make Progress Toward Iraq-Syrian Border

On May 29, Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) reached the village of Umm Jaris on the Syrian border after securing a number of key villages and supply lines west of Mosul. Their advance effectively isolated the remaining Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) forces within the Old Mosul district, where the Iraqi Army itself is focused on what is said to be the final push for Mosul.   

On May 29, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi addressed the PMUs in an optimistic speech, congratulating them for successfully pushing ISIS to the Iraqi-Syrian border. Abadi sites this advance, which cuts ISIS off outside Mosul, as the first step to clearing the entire border.

On May 31, Badr forces cleared 17 kilometers along the Iraqi-Syrian border from the town Umm al-Jaris, in the Ninewa Province, south to Gayer Gfass village. Secretary General of the Badr Brigade announced their readiness to secure the entire border.

On May 31, Hadi al-Amiri, Secretary General of the Badr Brigade, stated that PMUs operate in union with the Iraqi Army, but that no external factors or foreign workers will influence their advance along the Syrian border. Likewise, he commented that the simple and modest support provided by the U.S.-led international coalition contributed to the delayed clearing of Mosul.

On May 31, leader of the Badr Brigade, Hadi al-Amiri, reconfirmed that PMUs neither have nor will enter Syrian territory without direct orders from authorities: an international agreement has to be made before the advance is approved. For now, PMUs along the border turn south, and will work alongside Syrian forces; however, greater military support is needed to clear the 600 kilometer border.

On May 31, a Parliamentary spokesman confirmed that PMUs cannot cross the border between Iraq and Syria without the approval of Parliament, as the constitution does not permit interference in the affairs of other countries. Additionally, Hadi al-Amiri, Secretary General of the Badr Brigade, announced that PMUs will not interfere with Syrian affairs without the permission of the legitimate Syrian government.


Elections Set for September, Despite Calls for Postponement

On May 30, Vice President Nouri al-Maliki criticized Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s performance, warning against strikes at the Islamic movement from within the Dawa Party and the possible loss of areas in southern Iraq due to the deteriorating security situation. During his commentary, Nouri al-Maliki reconfirmed that he had no desire to return to any executive authority.

On May 31, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi responded to calls to delay 2018 national elections.  Vice President Nouri al-Maliki described the attempted delay as an international attempt to remove the Islamic Dawa Party from power, insisting the National Alliance is in full support of elections continuing as planned.


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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