ISHM: July 7 – 13, 2017

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Key Takeaways:

  • Despite Mosul Victory Announcement, “This Fight is Far From Over” – On July 9, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi delivered a speech in western Mosul announcing victory over ISIS militants in the city. However, security concerns remain as sporadic fighting continues in ISIS-held pockets of the city’s western half. Meanwhile, threats from insurgent attacks and IEDs remain for civilians and military forces. Three days after Abadi’s speech, ISIS launched a failed counterattack near Mosul, highlighting continued security risks in the area. Yet, seeming to acknowledge the group’s loss of Mosul, ISIS leadership reportedly declared the city of Tal Afar their new “capital” in Iraq. Two days after Abadi’s speech, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, Commanding General of U.S. forces in Iraq, warned that the fight against ISIS is “far from over,” despite the “historic” victory in Mosul. He stressed that in order to keep “ISIS 2.0 from emerging, the Iraqi government is going to have to do something pretty significantly different” to promote reconciliation between sectarian communities in the country. more…
  • Humanitarian Crisis is Worsening for IDPs from Mosul – As the Iraqi government celebrates victory in Mosul, humanitarian conditions for civilians in the city continue to deteriorate. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, 90% of civilians in western Mosul have been displaced. While hundreds of families are expected to return in the coming weeks, high levels of destruction and Iraqi government overstretch could delay reconstruction and service restoration efforts. Meanwhile, security concerns – including IEDs and suicide attacks – threaten civilians and prevent humanitarian organizations from reaching certain areas. On July 7, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), temporarily suspended certain activities at both the Qayyarah and Haj Ali displacement camps due to security concerns. The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande, said that many IDPs “need shelter, food, healthcare, water, sanitation and emergency kits…the levels of trauma we are seeing are some of the highest anywhere. What people have experienced is nearly unimaginable.” more…
  • Amnesty International Issues Scathing Report on ISF Abuses – Abadi, U.S. Denounce Report – On July 10, Amnesty International released a report uncovering the large number of death, injury and suffering that civilians of western Mosul endured. While describing ISIS’s use of civilians as human shields, the report also condemns the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and their coalition partners for failing to adequately protect civilians in ISIS-held areas of Mosul. Specifically, Amnesty cites the lack of adaptability and accountability taken by Iraqi forces to protect civilians, as they continued to use “imprecise, explosive weapons, with wide area effects in densely populated urban environments.” Two days after its release, Prime Minister Abadi condemned the Amnesty report’s conclusions. He responded to the report’s accusations in a speech praising the Iraqi and coalition forces as “our heroes [who] are human rights defenders and sacrificed themselves for civilians and freedom.” The U.S. military leadership has also denied Amnesty’s findings. Colonel Joe Scrocca, spokesman for the U.S. led coalition in Iraq, stated that “War is not pleasant, and pretending that it should be is foolish and places the lives of civilians and soldiers alike at risk.” The Amnesty report comes amidst other allegations of abuse by ISF, Popular Mobilization Forces (PMU), and Kurdish Peshmerga units against civilians in liberated areas across northern Iraq (as previously reported in ISHM). more…
  • PMUs Want Peshmerga Out of Disputed Areas, Allegedly Enter Syria Against Abadi’s Wishes – On July 11, a leader of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq – an Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU) – called for Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces to withdraw from areas cleared of ISIS militants that lie outside Iraqi Kurdistan. The declaration highlights rising tensions between PMU and Kurdish forces in northern Iraq. Meanwhile, PMU forces controlling the Iraq-Syria border announced that they had entered Syria through the al-Waleed border crossing, in violation of orders from Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to remain in Iraq, reportedly clearing three villages of ISIS militants. The PMU has held the al-Waleed crossing since May 2017. more…
  • Unconfirmed Reports of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Death Lead to Divisions Within ISIS – Tensions have emerged between militants in ISIS-held areas over the past week. On July 11, an ISIS-run radio station in Hawija reportedly acknowledged that al-Baghdadi is dead, followed by a similar announcement by ISIS leadership in Tal Afar and Diyala Province. After these announcements were made, reports emerged that some ISIS militants in Tal Afar had planned to stage a coup against the group’s current leaders there, prompting widespread arrests. One day later, ISIS leaders in Tal Afar declared the establishment of an “independent state” in the city, seemingly to prevent a succession crisis by granting themselves autonomy. Meanwhile, ISIS reportedly executed five of its own members in the north of Diyala Province for “failing to achieve the directives of the organization.” more…
  • Kurdish Independence Referendum Stirs Internal Debate – As Iraqi Kurdish leaders push ahead on their planned independence referendum set for September 25, internal political disagreement complicates the process. One of the main points of contention revolves around the reactivation of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Parliament. On July 10, the Movement for Change (Gorran) and the Kurdistan Islamic Group (Komal), two opposition parties in Iraqi Kurdistan, confirmed the necessity of reactivating the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Parliament “without conditions” before the upcoming referendum. The status of the Kurdish Parliament has been a major source of tension between the opposing parties since December 2015, when the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) forced it to shut down. The KRG President and KDP head Masoud Barzani responded to these demands in a speech to the European Parliament in Brussels, during which he highlighted past failed coups against the KRG initiated by the Movement for Change (Gorran) party. Meanwhile, Ammar al-Hakim, head of the Islamic Supreme Council, criticized the KDP for announcing the referendum. He argued that “the separation of Kurdistan serves the enemies of Iraq, and the State of Israel only welcomes [this instability] 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.


Despite Mosul Victory Announcement, “This Fight is Far From Over”

On July 9, The New York Times covered Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s victory speech over the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), held in western Mosul on Sunday, which commemorated the efforts of Iraqi Security Forces to clear Mosul of militants over the past nine months. Mosul continues to face the dangers of suicide bombers, ISIS sleeper cells, and homes rigged with bombs to target returning civilians. In addition, there is widespread understanding that the worst is not over, but rather as U.S. Colonel Pat Work stated, “It’s going to continue to be hard every day.” Marwan Saee, a Mosul resident, commented about the immense task of rebuilding the city and community: “ISIS destroyed the people’s mentality, and the wars destroyed the infrastructure, and we paid the price. There is no such thing as the phase ‘after ISIS.’ ISIS is a mentality, and this mentality will not end with guns alone.”

On July 9, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi arrived in Mosul to declare victory over ISIS in the city and congratulate Iraqi troops on their work to clear the city. The trip follows a speech in Baghdad the previous week in which Abadi declared an end to ISIS’s “state of falsehood” after Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) seized control of the ruins of Mosul’s historic al-Nuri mosque. Abadi arrived in the city wearing the black uniform of Iraq’s elite Counter-Terrorism Forces, who have spearheaded the fight to clear Mosul but have reportedly suffered a staggering casualty rate that has climbed over 40% in the process. Abadi’s arrival came as CTS forces were locked in fierce battles with the last few dozen ISIS militants holding out in pockets of Mosul’s Old City, in the last stages of a struggle that has decimated much of the city.

On July 9, security forces announced that over 1000 ISIS fighters were killed in the battle for Mosul’s Old City. In addition to the casualties inflicted on the organization, the ISF also reportedly seized 65 armored vehicles, 20 more vehicles outfitted with explosives, 71 explosive belts, 310 Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), and 181 rockets.

On July 9, security forces killed 30 ISIS militants attempting to flee the Old City over the Tigris River into eastern Mosul. The news comes as the ISF close in on the last few buildings still under ISIS control in the Old City.

On July 9, security forces killed three ISIS militants who were attempting to reach eastern Mosul to carry out suicide attacks. The bombers crossed from western Mosul over the Tigris River into the cleared eastern area before being stopped and killed by security forces, who indicated that at least one of the attackers was a leader in the organization. As ISIS’s territory erodes in the Old City, the organization has attempted to destabilize the security situation in previously-cleared areas, with mixed success.

On July 9, ISIS leadership reportedly acknowledged that they had lost control of Mosul, and designated Tal Afar as their headquarters in Iraq. An anonymous source in Tal Afar said that the information was sent out in a “terse” memo to citizens of Tal Afar. Senior leadership in Tal Afar was also struggling to spin the loss of Mosul into a PR victory, emphasizing the high number of suicide bombers and intense fighting in the Old City.

On July 10, the U.S. Central Command said that Iraqi forces had officially retaken Mosul, though work to clear booby traps and ISIS fighters in hiding remains. The news marks the end of an intense, nine-month battle to retake the city, culminating in a brutal house-to-house fight in the Old City that many battle-hardened Iraqi soldiers considered the worst fighting in their lifetime. Celebrations broke out across Iraq even as the government prepared for the new challenge of securing and rebuilding the war-torn city.

On July 10, the White House released a statement from U.S. President Donald Trump, where he congratulated Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), “supported by the United States and the Global Coalition” on the clearing of Mosul of ISIS, and that “The victory in Mosul, a city where ISIS once proclaimed its so-called ‘caliphate,’ signals that its days in Iraq and Syria are numbered. We will continue to seek the total destruction of ISIS.” Other U.S. leaders likewise conveyed their congratulations: Rex Tillerson, U.S. Secretary of State, expressed his “condolences for the many lives lost in the operation,” as did Douglas Silliman, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, who thanked the ISF for their bravery and “commitment to taking care of those who have been displaced.”  Leaders are keen on emphasizing unity within the ethnically and religiously diverse community of Iraq, and the importance of working together to eradicate terrorism. Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commanding general of U.S. forces in Iraq,  stated in a press release, that “people of all ethnicities and sects have suffered and sacrificed together, not only for their own country, but to help provide security in the region and the world.”

On July 10, Baghdad announced the commencement of victory celebrations: a member of the police force, who wished to remain anonymous, told news sources that, “dozens of people have begun celebrations today in the Tahrir Square and Bab Sharqi areas of central Baghdad, to mark the liberation of Mosul city.” After Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s ceremonial victory speech in Mosul, people all over Iraq have begun to show their jubilation over the official clearing of ISIS from the city.

On July 10, ISIS leadership in Hawija reportedly acknowledged the organization’s use of female suicide bombers in Mosul, according to a local anonymous source. The source said that 13 women were used as suicide bombers in the city, some of whom were carrying their children. The fight for Mosul’s Old City led to a mass exodus of civilians along “safe corridors” into ISF-held territory, where security forces struggled to sort out militants attempting to blend in with the crowd. Female bombers proved especially useful after security forces resorted in some cases to making males strip before allowing them to approach checkpoints. ISIS previously denied the use of female suicide bombers, but is now acknowledging it while claiming that the women are the wives of senior militant leaders.

On July 11, Lt. General Stephen Townsend, Commanding General of the U.S. forces in Iraq, held a media availability in Baghdad, answering questions about U.S. troop levels, future military operations against ISIS, and broader issues of security and stability in Iraq. Townsend said that the end of the operation to clear Mosul would not lead to any significant change in U.S. troop levels, saying “this fight is far from over.. there’s still hard work to be done by the Iraqis and the coalition,” and noting the work still left to clear ISIS from Hawija, Tal Afar, and other pockets of control in the Ninewa and Anbar provinces. After the fight against ISIS in Iraq is over, the future of U.S. troops remains undecided, but Townsend indicated a high likelihood of a sustained presence of U.S. and coalition troops to address other security issues.

On July 11, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, Commanding General of U.S. forces in Iraq, warned that the fight against ISIS is not over, despite the “historic” victory in Mosul.  He stressed that in order to keep “ISIS 2.0 from emerging, the Iraqi government is going to have to do something pretty significantly different.” He emphasized the need for the Shia ruling parties to “reconcile with the Sunni population, and make them feel like their government in Baghdad represents them.” Townsend warned that the reconciliation process “must be based on solid foundations of unity, co-operation, justice, tolerance and coexistence starting at the societal, community, and tribal levels to prevent falling back into the past and risk disastrous consequences.”

On June 11, U.S. President Donald Trump called Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to congratulate Iraq on the recent victory in Mosul. Trump expressed his respect and appreciation of the Iraqi forces in their fight against ISIS. In return, Abadi conveyed his gratitude for the international support provided.  

On July 12, leaders of the U.S.-led international coalition in Iraq met in Washington to discuss the clearing of Mosul and the ongoing fight against ISIS. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert stated that “the meeting is at a crucial moment in the fight against ISIS and directly after the liberation of Mosul.”  The coalition, consisting of 72 countries, has special working groups focused on supporting stability and combating the financing of terrorism.

On July 12, Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) working with the Iraqi air force repelled an ISIS counterattack near Mosul, killing 17 militants in the process. The attack is the fourth major counterattack on the city by ISIS in the past week, and all four were successfully thwarted by a mixture of ISF, PMU, and Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces, a promising sign as the Iraqi government works to establish stability and security in the city.


Humanitarian Crisis is Worsening for IDPs from Mosul

On July 7, the International Organization for MIgration (IOM), temporarily suspended certain activities at both the Qayyarah and Haj Ali displacement camps due to security concerns. Both the Qayyarah and Haj Ali site are situated outside of Mosul, in the Qayyarah subdistrict of the Ninewa Province. The IOM temporarily halted all activities and distributions due to sporadic violence, including exchange of gunfire. As a result of the temporary suspension, the IOM has relocated all non-local emergency staff to Erbil. The suspension and relocation will have an impact on service delivery to displaced people living within the camps, as well as those continuing to flee Mosul. Due to the security risks of the surrounding areas, officials have shut down the perimeter of the camps, not allowing any movement in or out of the sites. This raises serious concerns, specifically for the Haj Ali site, as 13 buses filled with newly displaced persons (IDPs) were expected to arrive. The Ministry of Migration and Displacement (MoMD), sent six water trucks to accommodate the temporary suspension of activities, yet were unable to clear the appropriate checkpoints to reach the camp. Water availability in the camp is crucial as temperatures have reached the low 50s (degrees Celsius) in the past few days. The IOM plans to review the security situation on Sunday, July 9.

On July 9, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) raised serious concerns about the grave danger that civilians in Mosul face amidst the “liberation of Mosul” celebrations. Ninety percent of those residing in western Mosul remain displaced, yet hundred of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) are expecting to return back to their homes in the coming weeks. The prospect of returning residents has put a significant amount of pressure on the Iraqi government to immediately provide essential services and rebuilding efforts. The NRC warns that security concerns in Mosul need to be addressed immediately, including unexploded ordnances, IEDs, and ongoing violence. The NRC also warns of the grave humanitarian situation in Hawija, Tal Afar, and western Anbar, where the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) occupy large territories. The humanitarian situation in those regions not only remains extremely dangerous, but is expected to worsen “Now that the battle for Mosul has ended, the Iraqi state must provide safety and security for all civilians. Combatants must not take the law into their own hands. In particular, there must be no collective punishment of families suspected of affiliation with IS,” said Heidi Diedrich, Iraq’s country director for the NRC.

On July 9, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) asserted that rebuilding Iraq will be the key to preventing further conflict in the country. “Sustained funding so civilians are assisted and protected during the aftermath of Mosul is the least the Government of Iraq and the international community must commit to now. Looking ahead there must be a commitment to rebuild and to alter the conditions that created the conflict in the first place”, said Heidi Diedrich, Iraq’s country director for the NRC. Currently, humanitarian funding has been marginal at best. One-third of Iraq’s population, an estimated 11 million people, are in need of humanitarian assistance, yet only 42% of required funding has been fulfilled this year.

On July 9, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), urgently requested funding to assist the 700,000 people who remain displaced from Mosul. A total of 920,000 civilians have fled their homes since the military campaign to clear the city. Even though the military campaign in Mosul has officially ended, the humanitarian crisis has not, warns the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande. Many of the people who have fled have lost everything. “They need shelter, food, healthcare, water, sanitation and emergency kits…the levels of trauma we are seeing are some of the highest anywhere. What people have experienced is nearly unimaginable,” said Grande. Grande warns of the significant work needed to be done in the coming weeks. Of the 54 residential neighborhoods in Mosul, 15 are heavily damaged, and 23 are moderately damaged. Approximately 70% of western Mosul has been destroyed as a result of ISIS militants. In addition to necessary aid needed to assist IDPs in Mosul, Grande warns of the threat facing those trapped in Hawija, Tal Afar, and western Anbar, where fighting is likely to occur. Humanitarian partners urgently require $562 million USD to meet the needs of the millions of Iraqis who are in desperate need of assistance. The United Nations estimates the cost of rebuilding Mosul to be more than $1 billion USD. In an interview with Reuters, Grande estimated that long-term reconstruction of the city would cost “many billions of dollars.”

On July 9, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) raised concerns about the developing humanitarian situation in Tal Afar, 63 kilometers west of Mosul. Approximately 9,000 IDPs remain stranded in the ISIS controlled city. The displaced families have been living in dire conditions at makeshift camps for approximately seven months, with new IDPs arriving daily. A reported 265 IDPs have arrived in the last week alone. The UNHCR is committed to working closer with protection organizations, humanitarian partners, and authorities to guarantee these IDPs’ safety.

On July 10, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released a statement regarding the worsening humanitarian crisis in Mosul. The UNHCR stated that hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced, and that many will remain displaced because the city of Mosul suffered extensive damage during the conflict. Those displaced have nothing to return back to, as the city lacks basic services and infrastructure such as water, electricity, schools, and hospitals. The rebuilding process is expected to be costly and slow, but will be necessary to achieve stability. Many areas of the city are strewn with mines and explosives: U.S. officials estimate that it will take upwards to ten years to clear the entire city.  UNHCR also reiterates the need for officials to ensure the security of the city before civilians return and that any returns to the city must be voluntary, non-discriminatory, and safe. While the military campaign in Mosul has come to an end, there is no end in sight for the humanitarian crisis.


Amnesty International Issues Scathing Report on ISF Abuses – Abadi, U.S. Denounce Report

On July 9, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a report citing numerous threats, and forcible expulsion of Yazidi families by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The KRG has been removing families whose relatives are involved and working with certain Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs). KRG security forces have moved the displaced families to Sinjar, where public services remain very limited in the aftermath of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at HRW, urges for the return of Yazidi families, saying: “Kurdistan Regional Government authorities should stop expelling Yazidi families because of their relatives’ actions, a form of collective punishment…these displaced families have the right not to be forcibly returned to their still-damaged home villages.” Many Yazidi families had fled Sinjar in August 2014, after their villages were destroyed by fighting between PMUs and ISIS. In addition to the widespread property destruction, mass graves, unexploded improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and lack of basic services, Yazidi families were targeted for execution or enslaved by ISIS militants, as noted in a 2016 HRW report. The majority of the families being forced to leave the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI)  are displaced from their homes as result of war or persecution. The forcible expulsion of Yazidis is in direct violation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement: the right to freedom of movement. IDPs also have the right to seek safety in another part of the country, and to be protected against forcible return to “any place where their life, safety, liberty and/or health would be at risk.” HRW warns that the expulsion of Yazidi families from the KRI amounts to collective punishment by the KRG and would be a violation of international law.

On July 10, Amnesty International released a report uncovering the large number of death, injury and suffering that civilians of western Mosul endured. The report goes in depth on the abuses that both ISIS and Iraqi forces executed during the fight for the city. The report documents the ISIS atrocities towards civilians, including the forcible movement of civilians from villages into the war zone and using them as human shields. To prevent civilians from escaping, ISIS militants would lock civilians in homes and weld the doors shut, rig booby traps at exits, and summarily execute hundreds who tried to escape. The report interviewed a Mosul resident, “Hasan,” who witnessed the hanged bodies of civilians caught by ISIS while trying to escape. “If you tried to run away, they would catch you and kill you, and hang your body from the electricity pylon as a warning. Four of my neighbors were caught trying to escape, and I saw them hanging from the electricity pylon. They were left for days, just hanging there. They would hang between 15 and 50 people from the pylons,” said Hasan. The fear of being killed while attempting to flee the city meant that the only way to escape was to flee during the peak height of clashes–when ISIS fighters were preoccupied. Civilians would have to run directly through the front lines to reach Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). Iraqi forces and the U.S.-led international coalition were also listed in the report for failing to take adequate measures to protect civilians and subjecting them to “a terrifying barrage of fire from weapons that should never be used in densely populated civilian areas.” The report cites the lack of adaptability and accountability taken by Iraqi forces to protect civilians as they moved into more urban areas of the city, as they continued to use “imprecise, explosive weapons, with wide area effects in densely populated urban environments.” Amnesty International also documented a disturbing pattern of attacks, in which Iraqi forces appear to not have struck their intended military targets, unnecessarily killing and injuring civilians, and destroying civilian infrastructure. In some cases, civilian deaths were caused by the inappropriate choice of weapon used by the military and the failure to take necessary precautions to protect civilians, and verify that targets were combatants. Even when attacks had struck their intended military target, the gross abuse of power, used in choosing unnecessarily powerful weapons, resulted in unnecessary civilian deaths. Mohamed, a civilian in western Mosul told Amnesty International that “the strikes targeted the IS snipers. A strike would destroy an entire house of two stories. They shelled during night and day. They killed a huge number of people.” Amnesty International calls upon the Iraqi government and members of the U.S.-led coalition to publicly acknowledge the scale and gravity of the loss of civilian life in Mosul, highlight the need for reparation to victims and families of victims, immediately cease the use of indiscriminate weapons and explosive weapons with in civilian areas, and urgently increase funding for humanitarian assistance to civilians fleeing Mosul.

On July 11, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, warned of the human rights challenges that face Iraq in the future, and that if left unaddressed, they are likely to incite further violence and civilian suffering. In a statement, Hussein discussed the cruelty and level of depravity that ISIS inflicted on the people of Mosul, yet warns of the threat they still pose in the rest of the country. “ISIS forced tens of thousands of people from their homes in and around the city and used them as human shields, a war crime under international humanitarian law and a violation of the most basic standards of human dignity and morality, but ISIS’s fighters can still terrify and kill through bombings and abductions, and people are still being subjected to daily horrors and suffering in remaining ISIS strongholds, such as Tal Afar and Hawija,” said Hussein. Hussein addressed the allegations of human rights abuses by the ISF and others who have taken revenge upon ISIS fighters and accused supporters. Hussein warned of the destructive nature of this behavior, saying “Horrific though the crimes of ISIS are, there is no place for vengeance. It is therefore disturbing to hear reports that threats of collective punishment, including illegal forced evictions, have been made against families whose relatives are suspected of being affiliated to ISIS. Such punishments are an act of vengeance that works against national reconciliation and social cohesion.” Hussein advised that the most fitting way to move forward is to create an Iraq grounded in equality and the rule of law, ensuring that the Iraqi government upholds responsibility for law and order – especially through transparent investigations of human rights abuses, and holding those accountable to the highest extent of the law. Due to the immense amount of human right abuses being reported, Hussein urges that Iraq initiates legal reform, allowing for domestic courts to have jurisdiction over international crimes. He also guaranteed the full backing of the UN Human Rights Office and the UN Assistance to Iraq Mission (UNAMI), in support of establishing a court competent enough to try international crimes. In addition to this, Hussein reiterated his request that Iraq becomes a party to the Statue of the International Criminal Court.

On July 12, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi condemned a new report from Amnesty International, which demands the formation of an independent commission to investigate human rights abuses committed by Iraqi forces on civilians during the fight to retake Mosul. The report focuses on possible abuses committed during the nearly nine-month long battle to retake Mosul from ISIS, a campaign which was extremely bloody, and took place among thousands of civilians trapped in the city. Numerous UN and human rights groups have accused Iraqi forces of torturing, illegally detaining, and killing civilians suspected of supporting terrorists during this time. In addition, in late May Ali Arkady, a journalist, released a cache of photos documenting members of the Elite Iraqi Forces torturing civilians.  Abadi responded to these accusations in a speech, where he praised the Iraqi and coalition forces as “our heroes [who] are human rights defenders and sacrificed themselves for civilians and freedom.” In contrast with this depiction of bravery, he prompted: “Where was the role of this organization when ISIS killed Mosul sons and destroyed everything?” Lastly, Abadi stressed that instead of condemning Iraqi forces for the reality of war, “the direction of the future government should focus on economic development and education, which are the base for the rise of a state and society, and the fight against corruption.”  

On July 12, Colonel Joe Scrocca, spokesman for the U.S. led coalition in Iraq criticized a recent Amnesty International report, which accuses Iraqi forces of causing unnecessary loss of civilian life, as “irresponsible.” “War is not pleasant, and pretending that it should be is foolish and places the lives of civilians and soldiers alike at risk.” In addition, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commanding General of U.S. forces in Iraq, told a news briefing in Washington that coalition did not violate any international laws, and called into question Amnesty International’s authority on the subject, stating that “I would challenge the people from Amnesty International or anyone else there who makes theses charges to first research their facts and make sure they are speaking from a position of authority.”

On July 13, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a new report regarding the forcible relocation of about 170 families to a “closed rehabilitation camp” by Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). The relocated families allegedly had relatives join the ISIS organization. Local Iraqi authorities are also demanding the eviction of families who may have had ties to ISIS. Many of these families have already been the targets of threats and attacks. Mosul’s District Council announced they would be began a “psychological and ideological rehabilitation program” in which “ISIS families” will be sent to camps for rehabilitation. If families positively respond to the rehabilitation program, they will be reintegrated into society. On July 9, the first rehabilitation camp opened up in Bartella, 14 kilometers east of Mosul. Forced displacements and detentions of “ISIS families” have been taking place in Anbar, Babil, Diyala, Salah al-Din, and Ninewa provinces since the opening. Iraqi military and security forces have not made any effort to stop these detentions, and in many cases, have participated in them. Human Rights Watch visited the Bartella site, in which families claimed that they were being held against their own will, and have not been accused of any crimes. Limited humanitarian services were being provided at the site, with no education or training programs being provided to the detainees. Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at HRW reacted to the forcible displacements: “Iraqi authorities shouldn’t punish entire families because of their relatives’ actions…these abusive acts are war crimes and are sabotaging efforts to promote reconciliation in areas retaken from ISIS.” Under Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, unlawful displacement of civilians during a conflict, such as in Iraq, is a war crime. The widespread unlawful forced displacement of a civilian population, imposed by the state, can amount to a crime against humanity.


PMUs Want Peshmerga Out of Disputed Areas, Allegedly Enter Syria Against Abadi’s Wishes

On July 10, a spokesperson for a predominantly female militia of Sinjar citizens announced that they had entered Syria to continue fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) across the border. The spokesman said that the decision was in response to the organization’s “heinous practices against women and girls.” The militia was founded in 2014 with support from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and their decision to cross international boundaries raises the stakes as Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi works to keep the Iraqi-aligned coalition of militias under his control.

On July 11, a leader of an Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU) called for the withdrawal of Kurdish Peshmerga forces from areas cleared of ISIS militants, and threatened to use force against the Peshmerga if necessary to push them back within the boundaries of Kurdistan. The declaration by Jawad al-Telbawi, a leader of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, highlights the tensions between the diverse forces aligned in the fight against ISIS. As the militant group recedes from its former territory, issues of sovereignty and territorial control will gain urgency, and Baghdad’s plans for bringing PMUs under its control and checking Kurdistan’s territorial ambitions remain unclear.  

On July 11, the PMU forces controlling the Iraq-Syria border announced that they had entered Syria, in violation of orders from Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to remain in Iraq. PMU forces seized control of the al-Waleed border crossing from ISIS militants in May, and have repeatedly requested permission to push into Syria to fight the organization. They have reportedly cleared three towns in Syria already.


Unconfirmed Reports of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Death Lead to Divisions Within ISIS

On July 9, Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants killed two journalists and injured a third in the Salah ad-Din Province. The journalists were working for a local television station, and were likely targeted for their work as journalists. As ISIS loses territory across Iraq, they have ramped up attempts to stem the flow of unfavorable news coverage about their situation.

On July 10, ISIS executed five of its members in the north of the Diyala Province for “failing to achieve the directives of the organization.” This is the fourth reported mass execution of ISIS members in the province in the past year, and comes just five days after they executed four of their leaders in the province under similar allegations. An Iraqi Security Force (ISF)-led campaign against ISIS in Diyala and Salah ad-Din has put the organization under intense pressure and their struggles are compounded by a growing leadership crisis as ISIS leaders begin to cautiously acknowledge their self-declared caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, may be dead.

On July 11, eight suspected militants voluntarily turned themselves in at a security checkpoint in northern Diyala. ISF’s Commander of Tigris Operations, Lieutenant General Mazhar al-Azzawi, indicated that their decision to surrender was the product of a long-term strategy of working with local residents to gather intelligence and build trust that suspected terrorists would have their rights respected if they chose to surrender. In a separate statement, Directorate of Military Intelligence announced that 15 militants had turned themselves in on the same day, though it was unclear if this was a separate incident. A recent ISF campaign of airstrikes in northern Diyala has pressured ISIS militants to flee or turn themselves in as their territory erodes in the province. “There are two options for ISIS militants: surrender or death,” said the Directorate of Military Intelligence. A follow-up report indicated that ISIS leadership in the area had resorted to intimidation and threats to stem the flow of surrendering militants.

On July 11, an ISIS-run radio station in Hawija reportedly acknowledged that al-Baghdadi was dead. The speaker claimed the death was not a setback and that a succession process was in place. Baghdadi has not been seen publicly since 2014, and reports of his death have gained steam since the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that a Russian airstrike had probably killed him in late May. ISIS leaders previously attempted to contain rumors through strict punishments and sometimes executions for anyone who discussed Baghdadi’s death, but they now appear to be acknowledging the situation and working to spin it in a positive direction for their followers.

On July 11, ISIS leadership in Tal Afar announced that Baghdadi is dead, and called for unity within the organization as they work to establish a new so-called “caliph” for the organization. Tal Afar is one of the last urban strongholds of ISIS, and leaders in the city instituted a strict ban on discussing the death of their leader last week, which is now apparently lifted.

On July 11, reports surfaced that factions within ISIS were on the brink of staging a coup in Tal Afar after the organization acknowledged the death of their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Current leadership resorted to mass arrests of suspected adversaries as they work to establish a new leader for the organization.

On July 11, ISIS leaders in the Diyala Province corroborated reports from Hawija and Tal Afar that Baghdadi is dead. In a brief statement, they acknowledged his death and called for unity in the organization.

On July 11, Abu Haitham al-Obeidi declared himself the new caliph of ISIS. Al-Obeidi is a senior ISIS leader in the city of Hawija, and has reportedly barricaded himself in western Hawija with supporters, as he prepares for a fight to establish himself as Baghdadi’s successor. Iraqi coalition forces have surrounded the city and are reportedly in the final preparations to invade shortly after Mosul is secured.

On July 11, U.S. General Stephen Townsend, leader of the U.S. operations against ISIS, said that he was “unable to confirm or deny where [al-Baghdadi] is or whether he is alive or dead,” while speaking to the media in Baghdad, adding, “For the record, my fervent hope is it is the latter.” Baghdadi’s reported death raises the potential for fracturing within the organization, which has no clear succession process and has lost much of its senior leadership to airstrikes and raids by coalition forces.

On July 12, ISIS leaders in Tal Afar reportedly declared an “independent state” in the city, in another sign of the increasing fracturing within the organization. While the leaders stopped short of breaking off entirely from ISIS, it appears that they are attempting to preempt a succession crisis by giving themselves the autonomy to run their own affairs and ignore the bloody infighting that is reported to be taking place in Hawija.

On July 13, one of ISIS’s top chemical weapons experts was found dead in Hawija, in an apparent murder under unclear circumstances. Abul-Baraa al-Iraqi was a senior official in the organization, and was believed to be in Raqqa, where he had been a key contributor to ISIS’s chemical weapons stockpile. His death is also a potential indicator of the growing factionalism within ISIS, as different groups vie for power in Baghdadi’s absence.


Kurdish Independence Referendum Stirs Internal Debate

On July 10, the Movement for Change (Gorran) and the Kurdistan Islamic Group (Komal), two major opposition parties in Iraqi Kurdistan, confirmed the necessity of reactivating the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Parliament “without conditions” before the upcoming referendum on independence from Iraq, currently scheduled for September 25. In a joint statement, the two parties said that “independence is a natural right of the people of Kurdistan… and should include Kurdish areas outside of the administration of the KRG.” The status of the Kurdish Parliament has been a major source of tension between the opposing parties since December 2015, when the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) forced it into recess. The KDP recently offered to reopen Parliament if the major opposition parties agree to drop their amendments to the Presidential Law, which would limit executive (and thereby KDP) power, but Gorran and Kommal remain committed to reopening Parliament without prior concessions.

On July 10, DNO, a Norwegian oil and gas company, announced their decision to increase drilling in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) by up to three new rigs in the Tawke fields. In the past, the KRG was unable to pay DNO for exporting the oil due to the economic crisis, however, recently they have been able to complete “16 consecutive monthly export payments.” These fields currently produce approximately 115,000 barrels of oil per day (b/d). Norway’s increased presence adds strain to KRG-Baghdad relations: oil has historically been a source of tension between the KRG and Baghdad, with the Iraqi government threatening to take action against Kurdish oil companies who have exceeded Iraq’s quota on oil exports, as determined by OPEC.  With the Kurdish Referendum set for late September, the KRG is looking to strengthen its economic standing in order to improve its bargaining position against Baghdad. Despite the threats from Iraq, the KRG has been independently exporting roughly 800,000 (b/d) at US$ 47/b through the Ceyhan port in Turkey.  However, U.S. officials have estimated that both production and price per barrel needs to increase dramatically before the KRI can economically support its own independence.

On July 10, Interior Minister Qasim al-Araji responded to concerns of Faili Kurds, stating that the government “stands by all the people of Iraq and will be protecting people regardless of nationality or religion, delivering services to them without any discrimination.” The community faces twofold discrimination, as they are an ethnic minority in Arab-dominated central and southern Iraq, and also Shia, a religious minority among the Sunni dominated Kurdish population. Faili Kurds in Baghdad and other Arab-dominated provinces have reported increased threats since the KRG announced its plans to hold a referendum on independence in May. Ethno-religious tensions have increased after some Faili leaders expressed support for the upcoming Kurdistan Referendum.

On July 11, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani met with officials in Brussels, after which Barzani told reporters that “Belgium has assured us that it is ready to continue to support the Kurdistan military,” and will send observers to monitor the upcoming Kurdish Referendum. The Belgian position counters that of other major international players, including the U.S. State Department, who openly oppose the independence referendum, and last week announced that their support of Kurdish Peshmerga forces is contingent on Kurdistan remaining part of a unified Iraq.

On July 11, Ammar al-Hakim, head of the Islamic Supreme Council and newly elected leader of the National Alliance, a political bloc that consists of the ruling Shia parties in Iraq, criticized the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) for its pursuit of a Kurdish referendum to separate from Iraq. He argued that “the separation of Kurdistan serves the enemies of Iraq, and the State of Israel only welcomes [this instability] in the region.”  Mahmoud Mohammed, a representative for the KDP, responded that Hakim is simply promoting anti-Kurdish propaganda. Supporters of the upcoming referendum assert that it will strengthen regional ties, and that the Kurds have a legal and religious right to seek self determination and independence from Iraq.

On July 11, Qais al-Khazali, Secretary General of the Iran-backed Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU), addressed both the Sunnis and Kurds in Iraq, stressing the importance of unifying with the Shia Iraqi leadership: “the blood tax we pay every day is not new, however because of ISIS we have unified, and we must continue to work together” in a single Iraq, adding that it is “best for the Kurds to remain within Iraq.” As the fight against ISIS comes to an end, ethnic and sectarian tensions have reemerged over issues of territory and political power.

On July 11, Dogu Pritck, head of the Turkish National Party, suggested that the upcoming Kurdistan independence referendum is a veiled attempt to destabilize the region: “America and Israel threaten the territorial integrity of the region, while Israel is seeking to form another state under the name of Kurdistan.” In recent months, regional actors have condemned the upcoming referendum for two primary reasons: first, out of fear that an independent Kurdish state will encourage the Kurdish minorities in Iran and Turkey to likewise seek self-determination, and second, that it is a conspiracy headed by Israel and the U.S. to undermine Arab control in the region.

On July 12, President of the Kurdistan Region, Massoud Barzani, gave a speech to the European Parliament in Brussels, during which he highlighted past failed coups against the KRG initiated by the Movement for Change (Gorran) party. He cited August 19, 2015 as Gorran’s most recent failed “sabotage” as the end of the political alliance between the Kurdish parties, and the prolonged suspension of Parliament. When asked why Gorran did not have a representative among the Kurdistan delegation, Barzani was quick to respond that the opposition party was simply in another delegation which did not attend this meeting. Barzani’s party, the ruling KDP, has been at odds with Gorran since their coalition government broke apart in 2015, when Barzani remained President despite the end of his official term.

On July 12, the KRG held a meeting with an Iraqi delegation headed by Iraqi Oil Minister Jabbar Alibi. The delegation , which consists of the ministers of oil, education, agriculture, and electricity, was sent by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to address the rising tensions between Erbil and Baghdad. These meetings, set to last four days, suggest “willingness to cooperate in the recovery of life” in areas destroyed by ISIS.


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

DateLocationDeathsInjuries
07/13/17Taji district, north of Baghdad04
07/13/17Nahrawan district, east of Baghdad11
07/13/17Karma, 50 km east of Ramadi98
07/11/17Kilo 160 area, west of Ramadi
13
07/10/17Hamrin mountains, northern Salah ad-Din33
07/07/17Suwaib district, southern Baghdad02

 

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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