ISHM: June 2 – 8, 2017

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Key Takeaways:

  • Civilian Exodus from Western Mosul Continues as ISIS Targets Those Attempting to Flee – Displacements from western Mosul continue to increase, although the daily number of civilians crossing the front line has dropped from last week, according to Iraqi Ministry of Interior and UN estimates. Approximately 118,000 people remain in northern Mosul and the Old City, where fighting between ISIS militants and the ISF has intensified. ISIS continues to target and execute civilians caught trying to flee militant-held territory, even as humanitarian conditions inside ISIS-occupied neighborhoods deteriorates and drinking water, medicine, and food remains dwindle. Humanitarian agencies have struggled to respond to the needs of the growing displaced population, with the UNHCR noting that a shortage of funds could undermine the response to rising needs. For example, the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights reported on June 5 that 90,000 IDPs in al-Grabiah Camp in Tel Abth, 73 kilometers southwest of Mosul, face starvation and a severe shortage of basic relief items. To date, the UNHCR requires US$ 126 million to sustain its Mosul response operations. Meanwhile, conditions in liberated areas of eastern Mosul remain unstable, with security forces reporting that they are struggling to prevent widespread looting in several neighborhoods. more…
  • Combat Intensifies in Mosul’s Old City; PMUs Push to Secure Western Ninewa, Border – Iraqi Security Forces have continued their slow push into the last ISIS-controlled neighborhoods in western Mosul’s Old City, making small advances against the militants in Zndjeli and Shifa neighborhoods. In response, ISIS has put up a fierce resistance, launching a series of VBIED and rocket attacks against both Iraqi military and civilian targets over the past week. Civilian casualties have increased dramatically in western Mosul as a result of these attacks, as well as tactics employed by the Iraqi military – including the alleged use of white phosphorous munitions. Meanwhile, PMU fighters consolidate their gains along the Iraq’s western border with Syria. On June 5, Kurdistan Regional Government President Masoud Barzani criticized the PMUs for taking advantage of the Iraqi Army’s preoccupation in Mosul to advance south west of Sinjar and Tal Afar without coordination with any Iraqi party. more…
  • New Reports of Civilian Abuse by PMUs, Security Forces – On June 4, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that at least 26 bodies of blindfolded and handcuffed men have been found in a government-held area near Mosul since October 2016. In 15 of the cases, locally armed forces claimed that the men were executed by government security forces, who had accused them of ISIS affiliation. The HRW report comes one week after a series of photos emerged in which Iraqi photojournalist Ali Arkady documented abuses against civilians committed by the Federal Police’s Emergency Response Division. Two days later, reports emerged that Iraqi forces were detaining and abusing civilians attempting to flee from Mosul. Meanwhile, HRW announced on June 6 that the U.S.-led international coalition forces are taking “inadequate precautions to avoid civilian casualties.” Yet, despite these allegations, a survey released by the National Democratic Institute on June 7 indicated that more than 4 in 5 Iraqis have a favorable view of the Iraqi Army, with an 81% approval rating nationwide. more…
  • Date Set for Kurdish Independence Referendum – On June 7, Kurdistan Regional Government President Masoud Barzani announced that a referendum on Iraqi Kurdish independence has been set for September 25, 2017. Controversially, the referendum would include “areas of Kurdistan outside the region’s administration,” including Kirkuk and other disputed regions now occupied by Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces. The Movement for Change (Gorran) and the Kurdish Islamic Party both refused to participate in the meeting on the Kurdistan referendum; however, officials stressed that “their absence will not affect the decisions being made.” Tensions remain high among political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan, and the region’s Parliament has not met since October 2015. more…
  • Iraq Responds to Diplomatic Row with Qatar – On June 6, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi conveyed his regret over the diplomatic crisis between Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Bahrain, while pledging Iraqi neutrality in the matter. Other Iraqi politicians decried any policy of neutrality. For example, Member of Parliament Abdel-Salam al-Maliki advocated that Iraq support Qatar against Saudi Arabia, noting that Saudi Arabia is part of a “Wahhabi-American-Zionist project” in the region. 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.


Civilian Exodus from Western Mosul Continues as ISIS Targets Those Attempting to Flee

On June 1, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released a flash update stating that 378,120 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraq have been displaced from Mosul and other surrounding areas since October 2017. A total of three million IDPs have been recorded in Iraq since January 2014.  253,992 Iraqi refugees are currently hosted by other countries in the region and 17,282 Iraqis have been admitted to Al-Hol, a refugee camp in Syria, since October 2017. The daily displacement out of western Mosul dropped from 10,000 people to 6,000 people per day. More than 140 civilians have been reported killed in less than a week while trying to flee western Mosul as fighting intensifies between Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants and Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). Civilians fleeing west Mosul still face aggravated risks as military operations close in on the last pockets of ISIS controlled territories in west Mosul.  

On June 1, the United Nations reported that ISIS militants shot dead 163 civilians attempting to flee Mosul. Civilians trying to flee western Mosul have been targeted by gunfire or captured and executed by ISIS militants. Bodies of murdered Iraqi men, women and children are still lying on the streets of the al-Shira neighborhood of western Mosul.

On June 1, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), released its casualty figures for the month of May 2017. A total of 324 Iraqi civilians were killed and 470 injured in acts of terrorism, violence and armed conflict.  Of that, 160 civilians were killed and 52 injured in Ninewa Province, 86 and 226 injured in Baghdad Province, and 13 killed and 42 injured in Basra Province. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq, Jan Kubis, decried the continued targeting of civilians by terrorists during the early days of the holy month of Ramadan, and announced that “The people of Iraq are resolute in their drive to liberate their land. As painful as they are, these despicable attacks will serve to only increase this determination.”

On June 2, the UNHCR urged more support for the critical needs of vulnerable children, women, and men as fighting continues in Mosul. Andrej Mahecic, a spokesperson for the UNHCR, told the press that a shortage of funds threatens to undermine the humanitarian response in Mosul. The UNHCR is in need of approximately US$ 126 million to sustain its operations. Half of this amount is needed to accommodate the 100,000 newly displaced families to provide emergency shelter, child protection, prevent gender based violence, and numerous other core relief items.

On June 4, The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released a report emphasizing the increased displacement occurring on the western side of Mosul. The Ministry of Migration and Displacement reports that a total of 630,039 people have fled western Mosul between February 19, 2017 and June 4, 2017. A  total of 806,189 people have been displaced from Mosul since the beginning of the campaign to clear the city in October 2016.  As of May 30, an estimated 177,000 persons have returned to the city. OCHA reports that some 118,000 people remain in northern Mosul and the Old City, where fighting between ISIS militants and the ISF continues to intensify. Humanitarian partners have received information that concerns remain for the protection of citizens in ISIS controlled areas, where little food remains, in addition to a lack of safe drinking water and medicines have been reported. The reestablishment of a functioning city-wide water network remains a key concern as limited access to safe water puts civilians at risk to vector-borne diseases and outbreaks of water. The rate of trauma injuries also continues to be of serious concern. An estimated 13,084 people were taken to hospitals for emergency medical treatment between October 17, 2016 and June 3, 2017.

On June 5, UNICEF released a statement regarding the worsening situation in Mosul, an indication that Mosul will become increasingly more violent in the coming weeks, especially for children.  UNICEF Representative in Iraq, Peter Hawkins, says “Children’s lives are on the line. Children are being killed, injured and used as human shields. Children are experiencing and witnessing terrible violence that no human being should ever witness. In some cases, they have been forced to participate in the fighting and violence.” Hawkins calls on all parties in western Mosul to protect and keep children out of harm’s way and to immediately stop attacks on civilians, hospitals, clinics, schools, home and water systems. An estimated 100,000 girls and boys remain in extremely dangerous conditions in west Mosul and the Old City, where the fighting is most intense.

On June 5, the Iraqi Observatory on Human Rights reported that nearly 90,000 IDPs at the al-Grabiah Camp in Tel Abth, 73 kilometers southwest of Mosul in Ninewa Province, are facing starvation and a severe shortage of basic relief items. According to the observatory, many people have been sleeping on the ground without tents, food, or water. The situation at the camp is worsening, as there are calls for the local and federal government to speed up aid following reports of the death of a child and elderly women due to dehydration.

On June 6, the ISF announced that they are struggling to prevent theft and looting from the homes of civilians displaced from Mosul. Widespread reports of looting from abandoned homes detail individuals reportedly carrying out refrigerators, fans, heavy rolls of cloth, metal cables, and sofas. Mosul police officer, Abbas Ali, claims that many people come from other neighborhoods looking to steal from homes claiming that they do not have anything, yet argues that this does not justify the the theft of property of others.

Mosul: On June 6, the UNHCR condemned ISIS’s massacre of 163 civilians who were shot amid their attempt to flee the warzone. He further noted that days after the attack “bodies of murdered Iraqi men, women and children are still lying on the streets of the al-Shira neighborhood.


Combat Intensifies in Mosul’s Old City; PMUs Push to Secure Western Ninewa, Border

On June 3, a spokesman for the Iraqi Ministry of Defence responded to allegations that the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) used white phosphorous against Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham  (ISIS) militants in western Mosul: “[we] cannot deny nor confirm – we are investigating into this news.”  White phosphorus is a controversial ammunition used to make smoke screens or military signals, however when aimed at people it can cause severe burn wounds. Western Mosul is currently congested with civilians – as of May 27, over 200,000 non-combatants were estimated to be in the area. In the past, the U.S. has documented the use of white phosphorous in Iraq throughout the campaign to clear Mosul.  While it is not strictly illegal, international humanitarian law states that in should only be used in areas cleared of civilians.

On June 5, President of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Massoud Barzani, stressed that while he fully approved of the tripartite agreement between Peshmerga forces, the Iraqi Army, the the U.S. military, he criticized the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) forces for taking advantage of the Iraqi Army’s preoccupation in Mosul to advance south west of Sinjar and Tal Afar without coordination with any Iraqi party. Barzani further demanded that to prevent the emergence of any self-interested political schemes, and the subsequent issues that would result, there should be a military, political, and administrative plan for post-ISIS Mosul.

On June 6, ISIS detonated bombs near a group of civilians fleeing Katyusha rockets in the Zndjeli district of west Mosul, killing seven and severely wounding nine others.  The escalation of fighting in the Nineveh province has resulted in a dramatic increase of civilian casualties.

On June 6, ISF engaged in heavy fighting against ISIS militants, making small advances in Zndjeli and Shifa neighborhoods in Mosul. However progresses is stalled due to the rising number of civilian casualties.  

On June 6, the deputy chief and engineer, Abu Mahdi, announced that PMU forces will cross into Syria if Iraqi territory and security is threatened.  This claim was quickly refuted by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Badr commander Hadi al-Amiri, who responded by reconfirming that Iraqi forces will remain within the border.

On June 7, Federal Police leader, Raed Shakir Jawdat, announced that his forces currently control 85% of the Zndejli neighborhood and have gained access to the Sinjar gate on the outskirts of the Old City. He noted that forces are advancing cautiously due to ISIS’s reliance on boobytrapps and human sheilds, but that “our forces are intensifying their intelligence operations and monitoring air and ground movements.”

On June 7, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi urged Iraq to prioritize unity, saying that “community reconciliation must be achieved among the civilian population,” which is particularly crucial throughout the next step in fighting terrorism, extremism, and corruption. He commended the cooperation between the Iraqi army, police, PMUs, and the Peshmerga, attributing the current success of forces to their unity.  

On June 7, the Federal Police and Iraqi Army continued to advance on three fronts in northwest Mosul, circumventing the medical complex which harbors government hospitals. Reports indicate that nearly 80% of this area has been successfully cleared; additionally, forces have evacuated over 100 families including 47 wounded civilians.

On June 7 it was reported that ISIS have looted and boobytrapped the Shifa neighborhood, confiscating civilian’s property and vehicles to use as roadblocks and IEDs designed to both trap fleeing people, and impede the Iraqi forces.  

On June 8, deputy PMU chief, Abu Mahdi, announced that that “the next two days will witness the end of military operations in western Mosul, and the entire region with the exception of Tall Afar.” He noted that PMUs outside of Tal Afar are waiting orders from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi before attacking the ISIS stronghold.


New Reports of Civilian Abuse by PMUs, Security Forces

On June 4, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that at least 26 bodies of blindfolded and handcuffed men have been found in a government held area in and around Mosul since the operation to retake the city began in October 2016. In 15 of the cases, locally armed forces claimed that the men were extrajudicially killed by government security forces who held them in custody on suspicion of being affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Local and international sources report that the remaining cases  appear to be executions, conducted on government held territory. The discovery of these bodies raises concerns about the government’s responsibility for the killings.  Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at HRW says that “The bodies of bound and blindfolded men are being found one after the other in a and around Mosul and in the Tigris River, raising serious concerns about extrajudicial killings by government forces. The lack of any apparent government action to investigate these deaths undermines the government’s statements on protecting detainee rights.” Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) and Iraqi forces have been screening and detaining men fleeing Mosul, on suspicion of ties to ISIS. HRW has raised concerns about detainees’ treatment by these groups, including possible extrajudicial executions. HRW emphasizes that any extrajudicial executions during an armed conflict are war crimes and if widespread and carried out as a policy, would constitute crimes against humanity.

On June 5, the Joint Special Operations Command responded to the photograph and videos of alleged torture perpetrated by Iraqi Federal Police taken by journalist Ali Arkady.  A command officer condemned the reports as a means for Arkady to receive asylum for the crimes he himself committed, and denounced the photographs depicting Iraqi soldiers as “fabricated.”

On June 6, Kurdistan’s Evaluation Committee responded to the HRW report about alleged abuse of detainees in the Kurdistan Region, stating that that detainees are held under human conditions, receive due process, and are released as soon as innocence is established.  The report emphasizes that “human rights standards apply to all criminals and terrorists detained during the war.” . According to the reports, the Kurdistan Regional Government is holding over 1,500 detainees in detention centers in Erbil.

On June 6, it was reported that Iraqi forces were detaining civilians attempting to flee from Mosul: internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Mosul have been and are continuing to be detained by Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces and by PMUs for alleged ties to ISIS. These accusations are congruent with previous allegations of Iraqi force’s abuse of civilian detainees, including journalist Ali Arkady’s recent expose.

On June 6, HRW announced that the U.S.-led international coalition forces are taking “inadequate precautions to avoid civilian casualties.” According to HRW, there have been seven separate attacks by coalition forces which resulted in 44 civilian deaths in five highly populated areas of western Mosul. HRW alleges that some of the attacks may have been illegal under international humanitarian law. Two of the seven reported incidents had no clear military target in the area, which resulted in the deaths of 13 civilians. The remaining attacks “may have caused disproportionate civilian harm in comparison to military advantage gained.” If true, these attacks would be in strict violation of international humanitarian law.

On June 7, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) released its survey findings on Iraqi perceptions of the security situation in Iraq for the months of March and April 2017. The survey found that more than 4 in 5 Iraqis have a more favorable view of the Iraqi Army, with an 81% approval rating nationwide. When the question was broken down by province, Baghdad, West Iraq and South Iraq, all had strikingly high ratings of the Army, yet Kurdistan only had a 10% approval rating. The survey also revealed that 76% of respondents believed that the Iraqi Army were responsible for liberating Iraq from ISIS while  63% believed that PMUs were. When this question was broken down by province, only 20% of those residing in Kurdistan believed that PMUs should be given credit for the liberation. 68% of respondents believed that the Iraqi Army and/or Federal Police should provide security for newly liberated areas and currently occupied territories compared to 16% who believe the responsibility should belong to PMUs. Nationwide, 63% of those surveyed believe that PMUs should be integrated into the Iraqi Army or given more power – yet over half of IDP respondents believe that the PMUs should be completely disbanded. Nationwide, Iraqis appear evenly split on the question of whether PMU members should take on a political role.


Date Set for Kurdish Independence Referendum

On May 31, the Atlantic Council published a “Report of the Task Force on the Future of Iraq,” outlining the security and humanitarian issues faced in Iraq, recommendations for U.S. foreign policy, and why investment in the country is vital to U.S. national security. The report concludes that there needs to be a long-term multilateral approach to improve good governance, strengthen the economy, train forces, and mediate between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in a manner which engages the Iraqi population.

On June 4, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi received the head of the Kurdish Region Security Council, Mansour Barzani, and the President’s chief of staff,  Fuad Hussein, to discuss the ongoing security cooperation between the Peshmerga and the Iraqi Defense Forces (IDF). Both parties stressed that the trust and harmony of this alliance is a “breakthrough in the relationship” that will lead to a greater understanding between the two groups in the future.

On June 5, President Fuad Masum met with former Vice-President Nouri al-Maliki,  where he emphasized the need to conduct elections without delay and within the constitutional timing. He further stressed that legal, physical, and organizational preparations are needed for the Parliament and provincial assemblies to be held simultaneously.

On June 6, Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region Nechirvan Barzani announced a contract between the KRG and the Russian government’s company “Rosneft”, which will increase oil production from the current 700,000 barrels/day to one million b/d.  However, the 2017 Iraqi budget allocates 250,000 b/d from Kurdistan – not including Kirkuk – and in the past Baghdad has accused the KRG of pumping far greater amounts of oil through pipelines to Turkey.  

On June 7, the Kurdistan Ministry of Natural Resources welcomed Iraqi Oil Minister Abdul Jabbar Alibi: both parties announced their commitment to improving relations between the KRG and the Baghdad government, promising constructive dialogues on the issues of oil and gas. Oil production is a major source of contention between the two parties – in 2014 energy related arguments resulted in then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki cutting the region’s budget, including the salaries of government employees.

On June 7, President of the Kurdistan region, Massoud Barzani, met with Kurdish parties – including representatives from “Christian, Armenian, and Turkish communities” –  to set the date for a referendum on the secession of the Kurdistan Region from the rest of Iraq. September 25 was selected as the date for the referendum. The referendum is meant to quantify the will of the people, and will not result in an official decision on the independence of the region. Controversially, the referendum would include “areas of Kurdistan outside the region’s administration,” including Kirkuk and other disputed regions now occupied by Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces. Additionally, Barzani issued a decree which commissions the Independent Electoral Commission to set a date for the presidential and parliamentary elections.

On June 7, The Movement for Change (Gorran) and the Kurdish Islamic Party both refused to participate in the meeting on the Kurdistan referendum, however, officials stressed that “their absence will not affect the decisions being made.”  Tensions are high between Kurdish political parties: both Gorran and Korram argue that a referendum can only be called by the Kurdish Parliament – which was forced into recess in October 2015 after the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) prevented Speaker Yousif Mohammed from entering Erbil, where the parliament building is located. Nevertheless the two main parties in Kurdistan, the PUK and the KDP, continue to lead negotiations both in Erbil and with Baghdad, Iran, and Turkey.


Iraq Responds to Diplomatic Row with Qatar

On June 6, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi conveyed his regret over the diplomatic crisis among Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Bahrain, while pledging Iraqi neutrality in the matter: “we are not part of these differences, we are keeping good relations with all countries.”  Abadi continued his message of unity by reaffirming Iraq’s desire to cooperate with “any country that wants to eliminate terrorism,” adding that terrorism “is not aimed at a particular party or sect, but seeks to target all forms of life.”

On June 6, Member of Parliament Abdel-Salam al-Maliki advocated for the support of Qatar against Saudi Arabia, not as a sign of forgiveness to their financing of terror organizations, but rather because “Qatar is no different from the evil of Saudi Arabia,” both are partially responsible for the bloodshed in Iraq, and that the safety offered by Iraqi neutrality in the matter is an “illusion”. He believes that Iraq must either stand with Saudi Arabia, thereby supporting the U.S.-Israeli axis, or with Qatar and the Russian-Syrian-Iranian bloc; he argued for the latter as it was in opposition to the “Wahhabi-American-Zionist project.”

On June 6, the U.S. and Russia individually renewed their support of the Iraqi government and military campaign. The Russian ambassador, Maksim Maksimov met with President Haider al-Abadi to discuss strengthening bilateral cooperations including greater economic, trade, and armament cooperation. Additionally, Maksimov conveyed Vladimir Putin’s congratulations on the victories against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

On June 6, a Saudi newspaper reported that sources close to the government in Doha were involved with financing terrorist groups with up to $64.2 billion between 2010 to 2015. The suspected financial link between Qatar’s government and terrorist organizations is one of the main factors of the deepening diplomatic tension in the region.


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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