ISHM: July 14 – 20, 2017

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Key Takeaways:

  • Airstrikes Continue and Leftover IEDs of Concern in Western Mosul – Although Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory over ISIS in Mosul last week, sporadic fighting continues and reconstruction teams begin to clear unexploded munitions from liberated areas. Security forces have also expressed concerns that ISIS fighters are attempting to blend in with the civilian population. Last week, continued airstrikes killed 27 ISIS militants in Mosul who were attempting to flee across the Tigris River. Separately, several IED explosions killed civil defense members and civilians in western Mosul, prompting security forces to prevent families from returning to their homes in neighborhoods still believed to be laced with explosives. The need to clear these IEDs and other ISIS-laid traps over the coming months and years will present a daunting task for the Iraqi government and their international partners, in addition to other reconstruction needs. more…
  • Abuse, Summary Executions Eroding Confidence in ISF in Mosul – Several human rights monitoring organizations and news outlets have reported an increase in cases of abuse committed by Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) against suspected ISIS members in Mosul. Jan Kubis, head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), told the UN Security Council that there is a “rising popular sentiment in favor of collective punishment of families perceived to be associated” with ISIS, and urged Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to “take steps” to stop these attacks, which include “evictions, confiscations of homes, and other retribution and revenge measures.” Previously, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and other monitoring groups reported that numerous bodies have recently washed up along the shores of the Tigris River; it is suspected that ISF units were responsible for the executions. Lama Fakih, HRW’s deputy Middle East director, declared that “The lack of any apparent government action to investigate these deaths undermines the government’s statements on protecting detainee rights.” Two days later, HRW released a report showing the likely site of a viral video in which suspected ISIS members are shown being thrown off a cliff and shot by ISF. Abadi rejected these reports, stating that “collective punishments have no place among us” and urging monitoring groups to verify their claims. However, The New York Times published a story on July 19 outlining how claims of ISF engaging in extrajudicial killings have eroded trust between Mosul residents and liberating forces. more…
  • Funding Shortages, Long Term Displacement May Plague Mosul – Despite funding pledges from the U.S., United Kingdom, and other UN agencies to the UN’s reconstruction and stabilization funds in Iraq, the scale of the reconstruction task remains daunting. UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande, described the initial damage assessment of Mosul as “staggering.” Out of the 54 residential neighborhoods in Mosul, Grande described 15 of them as “completely flattened.” The UN has re-estimated the cost of rebuilding Mosul to be more than US$ 700 million – double the expected preliminary rebuilding costs. The UN has requested about US$ 1 billion in assistance to aid the people in Mosul, prioritizing the need to establish crucial services. Meanwhile, civilian displacement from the city continues, straining humanitarian responders across northern Iraq. Over the past week, approximately 12,000 people were evacuated from Mosul’s Old City, including children and the elderly who were too weak to walk out on their own. Other assessments from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), however, indicate that displacement rates have stabilized somewhat, with some Mosul residents returning to the city for short visits. Basic services in the country, such as running water and electricity, the level of destruction, and the scarcity of basic “grocery items,” remain key concerns for IDPs wishing to return back to their place of origin. more…
  • Next Steps for ISF Remain Uncertain Amid Expected Displacement from Tal Afar, Hawija – Following their victory against ISIS in Mosul, the ISF is expected now to turn toward remaining ISIS-held areas in Tal Afar and Hawija. On July 15, Abdul Amir Yarullah, the commander of the operations to clear Mosul, announced that the clearing of Tal Afar was imminent. Iraqi forces previously surrounded the city and cleared nearby villages, but had held off on entering the city while the ISF continued work to clear Mosul. Yarullah’s statement indicates that operations to liberate Tal Afar may be the ISF’s next mission after Mosul, and Iraqi airstrikes in the city’s vicinity have continued this week. Meanwhile, political leaders in Kirkuk Province have urged the Iraqi government to accelerate its plans to liberate the ISIS-held town of Hawija in Kirkuk Province. Sheikh Omar Sufian al -Naimi, a prominent tribal leader in the Kirkuk Province, threatened a “tribal uprising” in Hawija if government forces continued to delay operations to liberate the town. more…
  • Christian Militias Lightly Spar Near Qaraqosh; Christian Mayor Ousted by KDP – On July 14, members of the Babylon Brigades, a Christian militia in Ninewa, attempted to sneak into Qaraqosh, southeast of Mosul, in order to smuggle some of their detained forces out of a jail. They were detained by a rival, predominantly Christian militia, the Ninewa Plains Protection Units (NPU), which oversee Qaraqosh’s security. The incident was resolved without violence, but highlights the difficult security situation in PMU-controlled towns. Meanwhile, the mayor of the Christian town of al-Qosh, 50 kilometers north of Mosul, was forcibly removed from his position by Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) forces, and replaced by a KDP member. The development has been interpreted as a KDP power-grab in the lead-up to the September independence referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan, and has been strongly opposed by al-Qosh residents. more…
  • Implications Loom for September Kurdish Independence Referendum – Following Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani’s announcement that a referendum on Iraqi Kurdish independence would be held on September 25, international political figures have continued to voice criticism of the decision. This week, British Prime Minister Theresa May reiterated her country’s support for “one Iraq,” and U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said that while she appreciates the “legitimate aspirations” of the Kurds in Iraq, there are serious concerns about the timing of the referendum. Separately, Ambassador Brett McGurk, the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, warned that the upcoming Kurdish Referendum would be destabilizing. Meanwhile, preparations for the referendum continue, with election commissions forming in Iraqi Kurdish cities. However, the sensitive issue of whether disputed territories in Kirkuk will be included in the referendum vote remains unresolved. The area’s diverse ethnic groups – including Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmen – have voiced differing opinions regarding the upcoming referendum; Turkmen, in particular, have expressed their opposition to the KRG’s decision. The KRG has expressed its intent to carry out the referendum in any town held by its Peshmerga forces, prompting some minority communities to form their own militias that can ensure security without the need for Peshmerga presence. more…
  • Speculation on Iranian Influence in Post-ISIS Iraq – On July 14, The New York Times reported on Iran’s deepening influence over Iraq, which has increased after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Times article quoted Hoshyar Zebari, former Iraqi Finance Minister who was ousted last year, as saying that “Iranian influence is dominant…it is paramount.” By Zebari’s own account, he was ousted by the Iraqi Parliament because Iran distrusted his ties to the U.S. The article also quoted an Iranian border official as stating that “Iraq doesn’t have anything to offer Iran. Except for oil, Iraq relies on Iran for everything.” During the fight against ISIS, powerful Iranian-backed elements within the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) have assumed significant influence over Iraqi political and military affairs, providing Tehran with another conduit for shaping events in Baghdad. Iran’s role in Iraq after ISIS, as well as the positions assumed by powerful PMU leaders, will likely shape Iraqi political development in the future. 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.


Airstrikes Continue and Leftover IEDs of Concern in Western Mosul

On July 17, Iraqi airstrikes killed 27 Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants in Mosul who were attempting to flee across the Tigris River. Despite a declaration of victory by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi last week, the security situation remains unstable, as Iraqi forces work to identify former and current militants, who are attempting to blend in with the local population.

On July 18, a civil defense officer and three of his assistants  were killed in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast in Mosul’s Old City, where they were clearing rubble and searching for survivors buried under collapsed buildings. The four men were part of a team of just 25 government employees working to rescue survivors and excavate bodies from the thousands of destroyed homes and buildings in the Old City, where over a thousand civilians are believed to have been killed in ISIS’s brutal last stand in the city. The casualties highlight the lasting security concerns of IED blasts in a city that ISIS spent years booby-trapping with advanced, difficult to detect weapons.

On July 19, an IED blasts in western Mosul killed and injured 13 civilians returning to their homes. The casualties came from two separate explosions that were triggered when previously-displaced families entered their houses in areas previously deemed clear of ISIS control. Security forces hospitalized the injured civilians and began preventing families from returning to areas that they believed may still have IEDs in response.

On July 19, Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), working with local PMUs, cleared the village of Imam Gharbi, located south of Mosul and near Ninewa’s border with Salah ad-Din. The area had previously been cleared last summer, in the leadup to the fight for Mosul, but ISIS militants fleeing Mosul retook control of the village two weeks ago, killing a number of soldiers and two journalists in the process.


Abuse, Summary Executions Eroding Confidence in ISF in Mosul

On July 15, The Guardian reported that numerous bodies have recently washed up along the shores of the Tigris River. Human rights observers suggest that government forces are behind the deaths.  The bodies are unidentified bodies,heavily decomposed, and often found bound and blindfolded.  Some bodies that have washed up are even mutilated. The bodies began flowing downriver from Mosul last spring, but as fighting intensified in Mosul, the number of bodies have increased. “I see bodies in the water daily…The number has increased since early April. There were five bodies floating in the river recently in one single day. They are young men with their hands tied behind their back and are blindfolded”, said Ahmed Mohamed, a resident of Qayyarah. Most of the bodies that are being pulled out of the water, appear to be young men in their early 20s, said Mansour Maroof Mansour, the manager of Qayyarah’s general hospital. Human rights observers have raised serious concerns about the killings in Mosul, specifically regarding the corpses that are being washed up along the shores of Qayyarah. Human Rights Watch (HRW) suspects that the bodies washing up are those of suspected Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants or collaborators that were extrajudicially executed by Iraqi forces. “The bodies of bound and blindfolded men are being found one after the other in 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,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director for Human Rights Watch. Extrajudicial executions and torture during an armed conflict are severe violations of international law and amount to war crimes.

On July 17, Jan Kubis, head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), told the UN Security Council that there is a “rising popular sentiment in favor of collective punishment of families perceived to be associated” with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Kubis urged Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to “take steps” to stop these attacks, which include “evictions, confiscations of homes, and other retribution and revenge measures.”  He emphasised Iraq’s need to “convert the gains made in the military victory [against ISIS] into stability, security, justice and development” in Iraq.

On July 17, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General for Iraq, Jan Kubis called for international support to stabilize Mosul and create conditions for peace and development throughout the country. Kubis praised Iraqi security forces for an exceptional effort in the liberation of Mosul, while condemning the “absolute disregard for human lives and civilization” during the final fight for the city, and the “butchering” of civilians by brainwashed female and child suicide. Kubis noted that de-mining, stabilization, reconstruction efforts, returning internally displaced persons (IDPs) and the elimination of ISIS cells are of top priority moving forward. Kubis also called upon the government to “turn the gains of the military victory into stability, security, justice and development…the government will have to do everything possible to give the people back their lives in security and dignity.” In addition, he brought up the issue of the rising popular sentiment in regards to collective punishment of families, perceived to be associated with ISIS. Kubis raised his concerns regarding revenge attacks in Mosul against these civilians as they have been subjected to “evictions, confiscations of homes, and other retribution and revenge measures.” Kubis called upon Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to take urgent steps in stopping the attacks against civilians and cracking down on collective punishment. Collective punishment and forms of extrajudicial retribution violate international law.

On July 17, in response to a recent HRW report, the Iraqi government closed down the “rehabilitation camp” of Bartella, approximately 14 kilometers east of Mosul. The camp housed over 170 families with alleged links to ISIS who were undergoing “psychological and ideological rehabilitation,” in order to be reintegrated back into society. UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Lise Grande, NGOs and other human right watch dogs expressed their concerns about the camp, leading to its closure. Grande ensured that families received basic aid such as food, water and medical assistance, yet the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warned that aid was inadequate, noting that at least four people died during its tenure. The families 170 families that were placed in the Bartella camp have been moved to the Jad’ah camp in al- Qayyarah.

On July 17, the UN Security Council released a statement calling upon Iraqis to continue working towards stabilizing the country and reiterated the need for national reconciliation, the safe and voluntary return of IDPs, and the urged for increased accountability for all abuses of human right and violations of international law.  The Security Council also unanimously adopted Resolution 2367, which extends the mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) until July 31, 2018.

On July 18, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi rejected the UN report on collective punishments against civilians accused of supporting ISIS in Iraq. During Abadi’s weekly conference, he stated that “collective punishments have no place among us,” and called on international organizations to verify the claims of abuse.

On July 19, HRW issued another report regarding extrajudicial executions conducted by Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), as international observers have recently discovered an execution site in western Mosul. The site is believed to be the location of a recent video that went viral, which displaying Iraqi soldiers throwing detainees off a high cliff and then later shooting the corpses of the detainees. The report combined new statements about other extrajudicial executions throughout Mosul, and continued documentation of Iraqi soldiers killing men fleeing the city who were accused of supporting ISIS. Prime Minister Haider al- Abadi has pledged to investigate the abuses of Iraqi forces, yet government officials have yet to hold anyone accountable for the murder, torture, and numerous human right abuses that have taken place.  International observers discovered a building in western Mosul that had 17 male corpses lined up in a row, surrounded by pools of blood. The men were still in civilian dress, yet many appeared to have been blindfolded with their hands bound behind their backs at the time of death. International observers spotted  Iraqi Security Forces’ 16th Division and some soldiers of the elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) in the area where many of these abuses and executions have been taking place.  This new report follows several other people who have likewise detailed abuses committed by security forces against civilians, providing evidence of beatings, torture, and extrajudicial executions. “Relentless reports, videos, and photographs of unlawful executions and beatings by Iraqi soldiers should be enough to raise serious concerns among the highest ranks in Baghdad and the international coalition combatting ISIS” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch. “As we well know in Iraq, if the government doesn’t provide an accounting for these murders, the Iraqi people may take matters into their own hands.” Whitson raises real concerns about the fallout of these abuses and executions, and the effect that they will have on the country moving forward. An unchecked abuse of power creates a dangerous prospect: If Iraqi soldiers continued to abuse civilians, reprisal and vengeance may drive enraged citizens into the hands of new extremists, setting the stage for a new radical organization to take advantage of Iraq’s delicate situation. HRW reiterates the need for Iraqi officials to investigate all alleged crimes, as extrajudicial executions and torture during an armed conflict amount to war crimes, and those found criminally responsible should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

On July 19, The New York Times Magazine published a story covering the fight to retake Mosul since its beginning in October of 2016. The story focused on the erosion of trust between Mosul’s citizens and the forces sent to liberate them. The story highlights difficulties that the ISF will face in establishing stability and security for the a population against whom it has in some circumstances perpetrated severe  human rights abuses.


Funding Shortages, Long Term Displacement May Plague Mosul

On July 14, Chirstos Stylianides, Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management of the European Commission, announced that they will provide additional funding to assist and protected civilians in Iraq. The European Union (EU) has pledged an additional 30 million for emergency relief and medical services for injured civilians. In a meeting regarding internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Mosul, Stylianides said: “The end of the Mosul military campaign marks the beginning of a new phase of international support to Iraq – one that requires our rock solid commitment to preserving humanity. Together we will ensure that all civilians are protected in Tal Afar, West Anbar and Hawija, as well as in their locations of displacement.” With the new pledge Iraq, the total EU humanitarian assistance since 2015, has reached 340 million.

 On July 14, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) pledged an additional US$ 119 million in humanitarian assistance to Iraq, bringing the United States total aid contribution to over US$ 1.4 billion since 2014. The new donation is intended to deliver emergency food assistance, safe drinking water, hygiene kits, improved sanitation, and emergency shelter.  The U.S. has also provided medical assistance and support for field treatment operations.

On July 14, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that an additional 380,000 IDPs have been identified one week following the clearing of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Mosul. The IOM has reported that there have been a total of 3,351,132 IDPs since January 2014, scattered across 104 districts. The report indicates that many of those who fled western Mosul during the military operations choose to relocate in newly cleared areas of eastern Mosul, as opposed to IDP sites. By taking this new factor into account and including recent changes to the IOM IDP tracking matrix, newly released reports indicate that as of July 13, 2017, over one million people have been displaced from Mosul. In

On July 14, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued a report indicating that over 100,000 sites and over 100 kilometers of roads in Mosul have been severely damaged or completely destroyed. According to a UN damage calculation, residential homes have been the most heavily damaged, with about 8,500 homes declared severely damaged or destroyed. This calculation excludes homes that have interior damages, as the calculation was conducted by overhead satellite imagery. In addition to this, the report touched on the fact that 850,000 IDPs still remain displaced from Mosul since  in October 2016.

On July 17, the Council of the EU discussed and adopted resolution on Iraq, agreeing to implement a future Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) mission for civilians to support security sector reform. The CSDP mission will focus on assisting Iraqi authorities in implementing the civilian aspects of Iraq’s security strategy and will provide aid and assistance in priority work areas. The security strategy aims to build state institutions that can consolidate peace, security and prevent conflicts under the rule of law. The EU is set to begin with the creation and implementation of this mission, beginning with the adoption of a crisis management concept. The Council emphasised the importance of an inclusive process of reconciliation at the national and regional level and the need for political reforms. The EU also expressed its highest concern about the humanitarian crisis in Iraq and pledges to remain engaged by continuing to provide humanitarian aid.

On July 15, the United Kingdom (UK) pledged an additional US$ 5.2 million to the United Nations Development Programme’s Funding Facility for Stabilization (FFS). This program is used to finance fast track initiatives in areas recently liberated from the Islamic State of Iraq and al- Sham (ISIS). The FFS advises and assists the government of Iraq to help repair public infrastructure, provide grants to small business, boost the capacity of local government and promote civil engagement. In response to the new pledge, a spokesperson from the British Embassy in Iraq said: “We must turn to the urgent political, economic and humanitarian challenges that lie ahead. This further contribution to UNDP’s Funding Facility for Stabilization demonstrates that the UK will continue to support Iraq on the path to recovery.” This new additional pledge brings the UK’s total contribution to the FFS to around US$ 15 million.

On July 17, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande, described the initial damage assessment of Mosul as “staggering.” Out of the 54 residential neighborhoods in Mosul, Grande described 15 of them as completely flattened. The UN has re-estimated the cost of rebuilding Mosul to be more than US$ 700 million – double the expected preliminary rebuilding costs. Grande attributes the stark increase in costs needed, as she describes the fighting that occurred “as so fierce and so much worse than what anyone else experienced.” The United Nations has requested about US$1 billion in assistance to aid the people in Mosul, prioritizing the need to establish crucial services. Grande has made it clear that her top concern is reaching civilians who may still be trapped in Mosul’s old city. “We believe perhaps hundreds of people are still there… the fighting may have stopped but the humanitarian crisis has not”, said Grande. In the past week alone, 12,000 people have been evacuated from the old city, primarily children and the elderly, who were too weak to walk out on their own.

On July 17, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued a report regarding the migration movement of IDPs. In western Mosul, no new displacement has been recorded, yet many IDPs have returned for short visits to check up and assess conditions for return. An estimated 2,500 IDPs had made visits to western Mosul between July 14-16, yet none were officially recorded at the site. There are reports that rent in eastern Mosul is increasing, pushing many IDPs to return home. Basic services in the country, such as running water and electricity, the level of destruction, and the scarcity of basic “grocery items,” remain key concerns for IDPs wishing to return back to their place of origin.


Next Steps for ISF Remain Uncertain Amid Expected Displacement from Tal Afar, Hawija

On July 14, Iraqi Security Forces in the Kirkuk Province arrested an alleged leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) who had worked for the organization’s “Office of Education” in an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in the south of the province, near Hawija. The suspected leader’s husband was also reportedly a senior member of the organization. As ISIS loses territory across Iraq, the country’s IDP population has swelled, leaving security forces with the challenging task of sorting civilians out from militants who may still have ties to the organization.

On July 14, four ISIS militants were killed in an apparent ambush by a rival ISIS faction in Tal Afar. The attack happened in a mosque, shortly before the end of Friday prayers. In response, ISIS conducted mass arrests to locate and punish the perpetrators.

On July 15, Abdul Amir Yarullah, the commander of the operation to clear Mosul, announced that the clearing of Tal Afar was imminent. Iraqi forces have already surrounded the city and cleared nearby villages, but had held off on entering the city while the ISF worked to clear Mosul. Tal Afar is one of several cities in Iraq still under ISIS control, and this statement is another indication that this operation will soon become the government’s top priority.

On July 16, five ISIS militants died after eating poisoned food at a leadership succession ceremony in Tal Afar, where ISIS declared an “independent state” last week. Following the poisoning of at least 30 people, ISIS launched an investigation to find the perpetrator of the attack, resulting in several arrests. The dead included a deputy director of the city’s religious police.

On July 17, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande warned of the is expected 100,000 civilians who will flee their homes by the end of the year in anticipation of expected fighting to clear ISIS  militants from western Anbar, Ninewa and Kirkuk governorates. Grande’s advisement follows last week’s warning by  the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) about the grave humanitarian situation in Hawija, Tal Afar, and western Anbar, where ISIS still occupies large territories. The humanitarian situation in those regions not only remains extremely dangerous, but is expected to worsen in the coming weeks.

On July 17, an Iraqi airstrike killed 18 ISIS militants in Tal Afar, about 80 km west of Mosul. After the ISF succeeded in retaking  Mosul from ISIS last week, Iraqi coalition forces  have begun to allocate more resources in anticipation of an assault on Tal Afar, which they have indicated will be the next ISIS stronghold they intend to retake.

On July 17, an anonymous source in the Ninewa province claimed that ISIS leaders in Tal Afar are encouraging militants in the city to flee to the “promised land” in the West Bank and Egypt, in order to evade capture or death at the hands of advancing Iraqi coalition forces. As ISIS’s territory erodes, reports of low morale, desertion, and voluntary surrender to authorities have surrounded recent security developments in Mosul and beyond. This report comes shortly after a source indicated that ISIS leaders were paying up to $20,000 to be smuggled out of Hawija and Tal Afar into neighboring countries, though the source did not specify to where they were fleeing.

On July 18, an anonymous source in the Diyala province alleged that ISIS militants are fleeing Hawija in significant numbers to join the organization in Diyala. While security forces have made significant gains against ISIS in Diyala, the allegations indicate that the organization still has access to a network of roads and tunnels – likely aided by local corruption.The network is believed to stretch from Hawija to Diyala’s border with Salah ad-Din, roughly 100 kilometers to the south. The area is likely to see an uptick in militant activity as the organization shifts its resources away from its besieged stronghold in Kirkuk province.

On July 18, Najm al-Din Karim, the governor of the Kirkuk province, called for an accelerated process to clear Hawija of ISIS militants. Hawija, located in the west of the Kirkuk province, is one of ISIS’s last urban redoubts in Iraq, and Iraqi coalition forces have surrounded the city for months. The offensive to clear the city was put on hold as Iraqi Security Forces focused their resources on the battle for Mosul. As the fight in Mosul transitions to a counterinsurgency operation against sleeper cells and IED attacks, Karim is putting pressure on Baghdad for Hawija to become next focus of the central government’s operations, though Baghdad has indicated that it intends to clear Tal Afar next, a city west of Mosul in the Ninewa province.

On July 19, an anonymous source revealed that foreign fighters from Arab countries had taken over key ISIS leadership positions in Hawija. According to the source, local Iraqi leaders and militants from outside the country clashed recently for unstated reasons, and an influx of foreign fighters from Mosul have tilted the balance in favor of the outsiders.  

On July 19, Sheikh Omar Sufian al-Naimi, a prominent tribal leader in the Kirkuk province, called for the Iraqi government to accelerate its plans to clear Hawija and threatened a “tribal uprising” to take control of the city if the government would not supply the troops and resources to do so in a timely manner. Naimi emphasized the humanitarian necessity of swift action for a city that has lived under three years of brutal ISIS rule. The ISF has indicated a preference for clearing Tal Afar before Hawija, a move that has upset many in the Kirkuk province who would like to see a sooner end to ISIS’s control there.


Christian Militias Lightly Spar Near Qaraqosh; Christian Mayor Ousted by KDP

On July 14, tensions between rival Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) in the Ninewa Plains flared when the Babylon Brigades attempted to sneak into Qaraqosh, east of Mosul, in order to smuggle some of their detained forces out of a jail. Some Babylon Brigade fighters were being detained after allegedly looting and vandalizing local homes and churches. The detained fighters were being held by the Ninewa Plains Protection Units (NPU), a separate PMU which oversee security in the town, . The incident was resolved without violence, but highlights the difficult security situation in PMU-controlled towns.

On July 18, the mayor of al-Qosh, 50 kilometers north of Mosul, was unexpectedly removed from his position by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), and replaced by a KDP member. The previous mayor was a locally-backed Assyrian political figure. The move is seen by the local community as a power grab by the KDP, which is looking to shore up its control of disputed territories in advance of the September 25 Kurdistan independence referendum.


Implications Loom for September Kurdish Independence Referendum

On July 17, Najm al-Din Karim, Governor and Chairman of the Security Committee of the province of Kirkuk, announced that the committee will not  form a Turkmen military force in the province, arguing that the Kurdish Peshmerga forces have the responsibility to protect the lives and property of all citizens in the region. Karim asserted that the formation of a Turkmen military force, which would have the support of neighboring Turkey, is not only unconstitutional but a threat to Iraqi sovereignty. This statement came in response to widespread concerns for the safety of Turkmen, an ethnic minority in the Kirkuk province, amid rising ethno-religious tensions throughout Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan.  Other minority groups have voiced similar concerns: last month, the Faili, a Shia Kurdish minority group in Baghdad, announced their intention to form a military force designed to specifically protect their community.

On July 17, Jan Kubis, head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), called on both Erbil and Baghdad to begin constructive dialogue about the fate of Kurdistan.  He stated that “the absence of a meaningful political dialogue could turn a conflict of interests into a different kind of conflict,” and that “meetings of negotiation teams [should come] as a matter of urgency.”  The Kurdish Region is preparing to hold a referendum on independence from Iraq on September 25. There is widespread criticism over the timing of the Referendum, with critics arguing that the vote will destabilize security in the region. In addition, there is concern that tensions will escalate in the disputed areas, which are claimed by both Erbil and Baghdad but have been largely controlled by the Kurdish Peshmerga forces since 2014. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) plans to holding the referendum in any town controlled by their military. In the same speech, Jan Kubis urged the KRG to reactivate Kurdistan’s Parliament “as a matter of priority” in order to “ensure unity and the functioning of democracy in the region.” The Parliament is a major source of intra-party conflict between the ruling Kurdish Democratic Party and the main opposition party, the Movement of Change (Gorran).

On July 18, Mahmoud Barzani, President of the KRG and head of the ruling KDP, expressed his party’s readiness to “resolve problems with Gorran in order to achieve national peace.”  Gorran refuses to condone the upcoming referendum unless Parliament, which has been shut down since December 2015, is reinstated without any conditions. Recently the KDP attempted to make a deal in which Parliament would be reopened on the condition that Gorran would stop advocating for a change in the Presidential Law, a move which could potentially limit Barzani and the KRG’s executive power.  In the same speech, Barzani commented on the upcoming Referendum, and predicted that “about 85% of the people of kurdistan will vote in favor of independence.”

On July 18, Jassim Mohammad Jaafar, a member of the Turkmen political bloc in Kurdistan, gave a press conference in which he spoke “on behalf of the Turkmen” to reassert the minority’s opposition to the upcoming Kurdish Referendum, because it is “contrary to the [Iraqi] Constitution and political consensus of the Iraqi Department of State.” In addition, he accused the KRG of placing undue pressure on “the Turkmen, Arabs, Christians, Shabaks, Yazidis, and other components [in the disputed areas] in attempts to involve them in the illegal and failing project” of the referendum. He noted that his bloc refused to participate in any meeting regarding the referendum. While he spoke on behalf of the minority group’s political representation, it is unclear if the anti-Kurdish sentiment is widespread throughout the community: historically, the Turkmen have had violent relations with both the Kurds and Arabs in the region.

On July 18, British Prime Minister Theresa May called Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in order to congratulate Iraq on their victories over ISIS, and to confirm the UK’s continued support for the Iraqi government and forces.  In addition, she reiterated her position on the Kurdish Referendum, stating that “we support the unity of Iraq…we are for one Iraq” and for the security and stability of all civilians. The UK is one of many international actors who have condemned the referendum as destabilizing.

On July 19, Sala Dalo, a top KDP official, announced that political parties are preparing to form election committee branches in major Kurdish cities, which is a necessary logistical step towards the upcoming referendum. However, according to the PUK office in Kirkuk, “so far no committee has been formed on the subject in Kirkuk. And even if it is formed, a meeting has to be held [between the major parties] and the Parliament reactivated beforehand.” The PUK has a stronghold in Kirkuk, and has been pushing for the reactivation of Parliament, which was forcibly suspended in December 2015 as political retaliation by the KDP onto Gorran.  While the PUK has accepted the KDP’s offer to conditionally reopen Parliament, the party still poses a major obstacle to a unified Iraqi Kurdistan.

On July 19, representatives from over 30 Arab tribes located west of the Tigris gathered in the town of Zumar, about 80 kilometers northwest of Mosul, in order to demonstrate their support for the upcoming Referendum. The town is located in the disputed area claimed by both Erbil and Baghdad, but is currently under Peshmerga control.  The Kurdish Peshmerga forces were instrumental in reclaiming cities and towns in the disputed and Kurdish Region, and have since maintained controlled despite opposition from Iraqi forces.  Kurdish leaders plan on holding the referendum b within Peshmerga-controlled areas even where they are outside the official KRG borders.

On July 19, Muhammad Haji, Secretary-General of the Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party, stated that even if Turkey and Iran closed their borders to Kurdistan in protest to the upcoming Referendum, this tactic will only be sustainable for “five months” due to their economic interests in Kurdistan.  Haji cited the low price of Kurdish oil, which currently hovers around U.S. $25/b, as opposed to the international price, which has exceeded US$ 49.44/b.  In addition, Haji noted that Ankara has more at stake than Tehran, as it has “800 companies and 30,000 workers” located within the Kurdistan Region.

On July 19, KRG President Massoud Barzani announced that Kurdistan’s Presidential and Parliamentary elections will be held on November 1st this year.  He called on concerned authorities to “take the necessary measures and to cooperate with the Electoral Commission and the Referendum in the Kurdistan Region in order to [hold the November elections].” The last Parliamentary elections were held in September 2013, however the Parliament has been suspended since December 2015. The KRG has additional representatives in the Iraqi Parliament, which was scheduled to have elections last April that have since been postponed several times.

On July 19, Iraqi MP Haitham al-Jubouri attended meetings in Erbil, during which he accused the KRG of stealing 220 thousand barrels of oil/d.  Jubouri stated that “this amount is equivalent to US$ 3 billion annually,” adding that the profits “go into the pockets of the corrupt.” In 2014, after Peshmerga forces cleared much of northern Iraq of ISIS, the KRG resumed oil production in the Kirkuk oil fields. At the time they hoped it would support economic self-sufficiency in the region, though a drop in oil prices has hampered that goal.  Oil production nevertheless remains one of the primary sources of tension between Erbil and Baghdad: not only do Kurdish forces control oil fields in the disputed regions, but in addition they continue to export far more than the quota Baghdad placed on the KRG.

On July 19, Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, stated that while she appreciates the “legitimate aspirations” of the Kurds in Iraq, there are serious concerns that the timing of the referendum, set for September 25, will distract from the urgent priority of eradicating ISIS and stabilizing the country for all Iraqis. Haley’s position reiterates the U.S. State Department’s statement released last month, which emphasized that while Kurds have a right to independence from Iraq, holding a Referendum this year will destabilize the security in the region.

On July 19, Ambassador Brett McGurk, the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, warned that the upcoming Kurdish Referendum would be destabilizing in Iraq: “having a referendum on such a fast timeline, particularly in disputed areas, would be, we think, significantly destabilizing and we’ve made those views very clear.” Since the referendum was announced, the U.S. has maintained the position that while they appreciate Kurdistan’s “legitimate aspirations” on independence from Iraq, the timing will likely undermine security.  McGurk reemphasized that security concerns remain critical in the region, stating that “ISIS is not finished…they’re in Tal Afar, just south of the Kurdistan region.  They’re in Hawija, just south of Kirkuk….so this is not the time to hold a referendum in these areas.”

On July 19, Falah Mustafa, the head of the KRG Department of Foreign Relations, met with U.S. leaders during his lobbying tour in Washington.  Mustafa echoed fellow Kurdish politicians who continue to woo American diplomats in spite of the U.S.’s reservations about the referendum: “The U.S. has found out that Kurds are their best friends and allies – in building democracy, in fighting terrorism, in caring for the displaced communities and standing for the minorities.” Mustafa urged the U.S. to adopt a mediation role between Erbil and Baghdad, in order to help broker the upcoming negotiations.  The referendum is binding in the sense that it will ensure formal negotiations on independence will take place between Erbil and Baghdad.

On July 19, Masoud Barzani, President of the KRG, announced that the KDP, the ruling political party in the region, is prepared to reopen Parliament without any conditions. Parliament has been a major dividing force among Kurdish political parties: Gorran refused to comply with the conditional terms for the reopening of Parliament, and accused the KDP of using the Referendum for political gain.  In his statement. Barzani emphasized that the Referendum is for all Iraqi Kurds, and will benefit the entire region.


Speculation on Iranian Influence in Post-ISIS Iraq

On July 14, The New York Times reported on Iran’s deepening influence over Iraq, which, after the U.S. invasion in 2003, has increased in relative proportion to the U.S.’s decline.  Iran – who has long been skeptical of, and ardently opposed to, U.S. influence in the region – has been securing more control over Iraq after U.S. withdrawal of troops in 2011. The Times reports that Iran’s power is “not just ascendant, but diverse, projecting into military, political, economic, and cultural affairs.”  The article quoted Hoshyar Zebari, the former Iraqi Finance Minister ousted last year: “Iranian influence is dominant…it is paramount.” By his own account he was fired because Iran distrusted his ties to the U.S. The Times noted that Iraq’s Parliament has moved to make the Popular Mobilization Units, a coalition of largely Iranian-backed militias, a permanent fixture in Iraq’s security forces  This power move comes before the upcoming Iraqi Parliamentary elections, which are expected to take place later this year. Iran has also recently build a new border crossing into Iraq, which is a critical transit point for Iranian military leaders to send weapons and supplies to aid the fight against ISIS. Vahid Gachi, the Iranian official in charge of the crossing, commented that “Iraq doesn’t have anything to offer Iran.  Except for oil, Iraq relies on Iran for everything.”

On July 17, Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of the Iranian Supreme Council for National Security, warned the visiting Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) delegation that the upcoming Referendum on Kurdish independence will “create a rift in the ranks of the Iraqi people and does not correspond with the wisdom and policy of Iraqi officials.” Shamkhani emphasized that Iran’s position is in the interest of Kurdistan, and that Iran has long supported the Kurdish people: “the Islamic Republic of Iran was then only country that stood by the Kurdish people in the ISIS-held territories.” In response Mala Bakhtiar, head of the PUK’s executive body, stressed that all of Kurdistan’s parties agree that a Referendum is a natural right, though there is disagreement over how it should be executed.

On July 17, Mahmoud Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), met with Iraj Masjedi, Iran’s Ambassador to Iraq, in order to discuss bilateral relations and the rising tensions between Erbil and Baghdad. Masjedi issued a post-meeting statement where he described Barzani’s emphasis on Iran’s possible role amid the current dispute over the Kurdistan referendum. However, no specifics were outlined.  

On July 18, the U.S. State Department announced new sanctions against Iran, in part due to war crimes the government committed in Iraq. The Press Statement, issued by Department Spokesman Heather Nauert, stated that Iran “supports militias fighting in Iraq that recruited and used child soldiers.  These abhorrent abuses only fuel conflict throughout the Middle East.” The U.S. declared that it will “continue to aggressively counter Iran’s malign activities in the region.”  

On July 18, the Iraqi Interior Minister, Qasim al-Araji, met with his Saudi Arabian counterparts in order to discuss border control efforts to counter terrorism and drug trafficking between the two countries. Araji stated that the meeting focused on the “strengthening the security and stability of the region.”


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

Casualties Due To IEDs July 14-20

The following table includes both civilian and security forces who were either injured or killed due to improvised explosive devices (IEDs), vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), or suicide attacks.
DateLocationDeathsInjuries
07/20/17al-Murra al-Kobra, southwest of Kirkuk35
07/19/17al-Muqdadiya, 25 km northeast of Baquba01
07/19/17Western Mosul85
07/19/17Sabaa al-Bour, northern Baghdad
10
07/18/17al-Hura, northern Baghdad11
07/18/17Old City, Mosul13
07/16/17Nahrawan, southeast Baghdad35
07/16/17Sheikh Baba region, 70 km southeast of Baquba01
07/15/17Mushtal district, eastern Baghdad17
07/15/17al-Th'aliba district, northern Baghdad10
07/14/17Ibrahim bin-Ali neighborhood, west of Baghdad11
07/314/17Sharwain basin, 45 km east of Baquba02
07/14/17Ali Sirai village, 125 km north of Baquba06

 

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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