ISHM: September 29 – October 5, 2017

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Key Takeaways:

  • Referendum Tensions Relax, For Now, Aided By Calls from Sistani – Despite longstanding concern over potential fallout of the September 25 referendum on Kurdish independence, tensions between Erbil and Baghdad seemed to diminish over the past week. On September 29, influential Shia cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani openly opposed Kurdish secession, but called on the Iraqi government to respect the rights of the Kurds – a call widely praised by Kurdish parties. Shia factions in Baghdad have encouraged a hard-line stance against the Kurdistan Regional Government, but Sistani’s endorsement opens the door to negotiation by reducing the potential political cost to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. Abadi has said that negotiations will not take place unless the KRG annuls the results of the referendum. Among the only tangible retaliatory impacts of the referendum so far remains the closure of Kurdish regional airports in Erbil and Sulaimania to international flights – though international flights are permitted to transit in Baghdad and continue on to those destinations. Meanwhile, the Independent High Electoral Commission for the Kurdistan Region announced that elections for Kurdish Presidential and Parliamentary elections will be held on November 1. more…
  • Iraqi Security Forces, Peshmerga Continue Cooperation Toward Hawija – Iraqi Security Forces and Popular Mobilization Units have made rapid progress in clearing several dozen villages surrounding Hawija of ISIS militants and on September 29, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the beginning of the “second phase” of the operations. As of October 3, the ISF are reportedly within one mile of the city center. ISIS has controlled Hawija in Kirkuk Province since 2014 and it remains among its last occupied urban areas in Iraq. Despite concern that the Kurdish independence referendum last week may stoke conflict between security forces and the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga during the operations, no such instances were widely reported. The Peshmerga are actively receiving dozens of families fleeing the city, many of whom are being detained and are suspected of ISIS affiliation. On October 3, the UN reported that 12,500 individuals have fled the city in recent weeks, and estimated that 78 thousand still remain. In separate operations in nearby Salah ad-Din Province, U.S. Army Specialist Alexander Missildine was killed on October 1 when a roadside bomb exploded near his vehicle. Missildine is at least the 13th U.S. soldier killed in operations to counter ISIS in Iraq and Syria. more…
  • Revered Former President Jalal Talabani Dies at 84 – On October 3, former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani died in Germany at age 84. A prominent Kurdish politician and founder of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Talabani was the first President of Iraq in the post-Saddam era, serving from 2005 to 2014 when his health began to deteriorate. Talabani, known as “Mam” or “Uncle,” was widely revered across Iraq and his passing elicited messages of condolence from the international community. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared three days of mourning in memory of the late President. more…
  • Despite Saber Rattling, Iran and Turkey Await Next Steps for the KRI – Fearing separatist Kurdish movements in their own countries, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei met on October 4 to denounce Iraqi Kurdish independence aspirations. Both nations conducted military exercises on their respective borders with the Kurdistan Region of Iraq in the days prior to the independence referendum on September 25 and both have threatened economic sanctions on the Kurdish region. However, borders with the KRI remain open and the oil pipeline through the KRI controlled by Turkey continues to flow, for now. more…
  • New Reports Released on Toll of Operations in Mosul – Several reports issued this week shed more light on the levels of destruction and devastation that continue to plague Mosul nearly three months after it was cleared of ISIS militants by Iraqi Security Forces and U.S.-led international coalition partners. The UN Environment Programme outlined the effects of more than 11 million tons of conflict debris in the city and heavy air pollution due to oil well fires and arson of sulfur stockpiles. According to estimates released by the U.S. coalition, an estimated 1,200 to 1,500 Iraqi security personnel were killed in action in the city between October 2016 and July 2017 and an additional 8,000 were wounded. On October 4, Reuters published several testimonies of Moslawis who risked their lives to serve as informants for Iraqi and coalition forces. Efforts by UNOCHA, the U.S., EU, and Germany during the UN General Assembly in September raised US$ 292 million in pledges for humanitarian and stabilization efforts from donor countries. Despite the efforts, only 57 percent of the Humanitarian Response Plan for Iraq has been funded. more…
  • Airstrikes Continue Over Anbar – U.S.-led international coalition and Iraqi airstrikes continued to target ISIS convoys, IED factories, and munitions stockpiles in Anbar Province this week. Efforts in the western Anbar cities of Qa’im and Ana have become increasingly more aggressive as the ISF seek to secure the border area with Syria. Operations led to 8,500 new displacements, according to the International Organization for Migration, bringing the total number of IDPs from western Anbar to nearly 55 thousand. 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.


Referendum Tensions Relax, For Now, Aided By Calls from Sistani

On September 29, influential Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called on the Iraqi government to preserve the constitutional rights of the Kurdish people and not to harm them. “The political developments can not negatively affect the Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen,” he said in a speech, and he insisted on more communication. Sistani is the most prominent Shia cleric in Iraq. He is often named the most influential figure in post-invasion Iraq; his influence extends much beyond Iraq’s boundaries. Following the referendum for independence of the Kurdish Region of Iraq (KRI), the Iraqi government decided to sanction the KRI by closing its international borders. On September 30, the Kurdish Parliament welcomed Sistani’s initiative to calm the situation.

On September 29, international air traffic to and from the KRI airports in Sulaimania and Erbil ceased, in accordance with the Iraqi government’s request. On Wednesday, September 26, the Iraqi government decided to ban international flights to the KRI if control over the airports in Erbil and Sulaimania was not surrendered to the federal authority’s supervision. Almost all foreign airlines suspended their flights to the KRI, following Iraq’s official request. Only two airlines, Lufthansa and Australian Airlines, still have trips planned for after the ban, and have not yet decided whether to cancel them. The travel ban does not apply to domestic flights, so travelers could fly to Sulaimania and Erbil from other airports in Iraq, mostly from Baghdad.

On September 29, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi clarified that the decision to control KRI airports and borders is not intended to “starve” the KRI citizens by siege or to prevent supplies. Abadi explained that the demand to supervise the airports is “according to the Constitution and as is the case in all Iraqi airports in other provinces and as is the practice in all countries of the world.” He added that the decision is “not a punishment,” and is intended to prevent smuggling and corruption.

On September 30, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) spokesman Sven Dzia called the Iraqi government’s decision to suspend international flights to the KRI a “collective punishment and siege.” He explained that the ban has negative humanitarian implications such as impeding medical care for Peshmerga forces injured in the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and preventing humanitarian organizations from reaching the much-in-need Yazidi population. Additionally, he commented that the ban is a barrier of trade with the rest of the world. “It violates the basic civil and human rights of the people of Kurdistan to move and travel,” he claimed, citing the Iraqi Constitution, Chicago Convention on Civil Aviation, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

On September 30, Minister of Transport and Communications of the KRG Mouloud Murad declared that KRG authorities will not accept any Iraqi government personnel arriving at the airports of Sulaimania and Erbil. The KRG is deciding to ban Iraqi government personnel from its airports in response to the Iraqi government’s decision to ban international flights to those airports. Murad described the Iraqi government’s ban as political rather than legal.

On September 30, during a KRG parliament session, head of the Kurdistan KDP bloc in the Kurdish Parliament Omid Khoshnaw called to preserve the Kurdish areas outside the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), basing his claim on the fact that Peshmerga forces fought  “with their blood” to “liberate” those areas from ISIS and protect them. The Peshmerga have been a dependable force in fighting ISIS since 2014, which allowed the KRG to increase their territorial control by 40% beyond the borders of the KA.

On October 1, Secretary General of the Arab League Ahmed Aboul Gheit called Iraqi Vice President Iyad Allawi to express support for Allawi’s initiative to resolve the crisis in Iraq. “I am ready to support the initiative and coordination with the Secretary-General of the United Nations,” Gheit said, according to a statement. Allawi launched a national initiative on September 25 to address the Iraqi crisis over the Kurdish aspirations for independence, and warned other countries not to interfere with Iraq’s internal affairs.

On October 1, Iraqi Vice President Osama Najafi blamed the badly-written Iraqi constitution for the occurrence of the referendum for independence of the KRI. The Iraqi constitution was written in a way that was “urgent and wrong,” he said in a televised interview, explaining that it led to sectarian policies by the previous government, which led to the emergence of extremism. Najafi advocated for creating a new partnership that would include the Kurds in the political process, and to resolve the crisis internally, but with international support.

On October 1, Khalil Ibrahim, Member of the Kurdistan Referendum Council, announced the council’s decision to dissolve and form a new political council “to deal with the results of the referendum.” Ibrahim also welcomed the initiative of Grand Ayatolla Ali al-Sistani to calm the crisis.

On October 2, trade between the KRI and the rest of Iraq resumed after five days of suspension. Hundreds of trucks made their way from Baghdad to Sulaimania. Iraq placed sanctions on the KRI for holding a referendum for independence over the Iraqi government’s objection.

On October 2, the political leadership of the KRI (representatives of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, and the Kurdistan Islamic Union) released a statement in support of Grand Ayatolla Ali al-Sistani’s initiative, and declared their readiness to conduct direct dialogue with the Iraqi government. “The initiative is an important step to preserve the principles in terms of protecting peace and social security and renouncing violence and threats,” the statement said. On September 29, Sistani called on the Iraqi government not to harm the Kurdish people and insisted on more communication following the referendum.

On October 3, Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, restated the UN’s call for Baghdad and Erbil to settle the referendum issue based on the Iraqi Constitution. Dujarric also stressed the urgency of providing aid to Iraqi and Syrian refugees for the coming winter.

On October 3, the Independent High Electoral Commission of the KRI announced the completion of preparations for holding elections for the KRI parliament and president on November 1. The timeline for party alliances was set from October 3 to October 6. Election campaigns are to begin on October 15.

On October 3, Kurdish deputies left the Iraqi parliament hall in Baghdad in the middle of the session. Ahmed Haji, Member of Parliament (MP) of the Kurdistan Islamic Group, explained that they left in protest of the provocative nature of introduction to the session. “If we accept this introduction, we will consider the citizens of the region traitors,” he said.

On October 3, during session of the Iraqi Parliament, 102 MPs signed to adopt a proposal to prevent Kurdish MPs who participated in the referendum for independence of the KRI to enter Parliament and attend Parliamentary sessions. Speaker of the Parliament Salim al-Jabouri refused to receive the signatures. Jabouri stressed the need not to prejudice the Kurdish people. “The parliament is keen not to touch upon the decisions of the Kurdish brothers as a people,” he said, while reaffirming that everyone should recognize Iraq’s unity and cohesion. He called on the Kurdish MPs to participate in the next parliamentary session.


Iraqi Security Forces, Peshmerga Continue Cooperation Toward Hawija

On September 28, Al-Furqan, an Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS)-affiliated news source, released a recording attributed to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The recording was the first in nearly a year; Baghdadi’s last recording came right before the start of the operation to clear Mosul. The date of the recording is unknown, but Baghdadi makes reference to North Korea’s threats to the United States and Japan. In his speech, Baghdadi encourages ISIS militants to continue fighting. “Viva soldiers caliphate and kindle the flames of war against your enemy and take them and Astzrohm in every observatory and revived the enthusiasm and courage.”

On September 29, Iraqi President Haider al-Abadi announced the beginning of the second phase of the offensive to clear ISIS from Hawija and its surroundings. “We are liberating every inch of land,” he declared, and praised the achievements of the Iraqi forces. The first phase of the operation in Hawija was divided into two “steps,” and completed between September 21 and 24. Hawija, in Kirkuk Province, is one of the last standing ISIS strongholds in Iraq.

On September 29, the United Nations (UN) Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) announced that over 7,000 people have been displaced thus far due to the offensive to clear ISIS from Hawija District, with many more expected. The current number of civilians remaining in Hawija is unknown, but estimates are around 78,000.

On September 29, Iraqi Lieutenant General Mizher al-Azzawi reported that the fifth division of the Iraqi Security Force (ISF) repelled an attempted ISIS attack near Zarka bridge (on route 55 between Tuz Khurma and Tikrit), destroying three Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIED). He added that ISIS failed in all their confrontations against ISF near the Zarka bridge, unable to prevent ISF’s advancement. ISIS conducted several attempts to regain control of the bridge after its capture by the ISF a week earlier.

On September 29, the Military Media Cell reported that the combined forces of the federal police, third and fourth brigades, and PMUs successfully completed clearing ISIS from Abbasi area (17 km west of Hawija), Kirkuk Province. The same forces also cleared 11 additional villages in that area that day.

On September 29, Iraqi Air Force strikes in Hawija killed 96 ISIS “terrorists” and destroyed 13 ISIS vehicles. One of the vehicles was loaded with explosives.

On September 30, an anonymous source reported that the Peshmerga had received 3,000 civilians fleeing Hawija. Of those, most were women, children, or elderly. The source added that the Peshmerga receives many civilians fleeing daily and checks their names against a list to prevent ISIS supporters from entering cleared territory.

On September 30, the Secretary-General of the Badr Organization, Hadi al-Ameri, announced that the Olas oil fields in Salah ad-Din Province had been cleared of ISIS. A day earlier, an anonymous source had reported that ISIS had set fire to two oil wells at Olas. Ameri stated that his forces will now head to Hawija to join the operations there.

On October 1, a Pentagon spokesperson reported that an IED hit a U.S. military vehicle, killing one and injuring another. Spec. Alexander W. Missildine, age 20, from Texas, died in Salah ad-Din Province, two weeks into his deployment in Iraq. The name of the injured soldier was not released. Since 2014, 13 U.S. personnel have been killed in Iraq, including Missildine, according to the Pentagon.

On October 1, the New York Times published an article describing the encounter between ISIS affiliates fleeing Hawija and the Peshmerga forces in Kirkuk, to which the former surrendered. While many civilians have fled Hawija recently, the weekend of September 29 to October 1 was the first time a large number of fighting-age men from Hawija sought refuge with the Kurdish forces. Over 300 “aged” men were held as suspects in the Kurdish intelligence headquarters in Dibis District alone, northwest of Kirkuk city, while more arrive every day. About 90 percent of the men who arrive are suspected as ISIS affiliates and are interrogated aggressively. According to female Kurdish soldiers, most men deny they were ISIS fighters and most women routinely admit they were from ISIS families. The men that do confess to being affiliated with ISIS often claim they were cooks, coordinators, or other non-militant roles. The Kurdish interrogators assured the suspects that they will have a list of names to identify everyone who is affiliated to ISIS, and they encouraged those who are affiliated with ISIS to confess. “We knew we could trust the Kurds,” one of the arrivals thanked a Kurdish official, who promised not to hurt the suspects’ families or pride. The Sunni people fleeing Hawija feared the Shia Militias who are participating in the efforts to clear ISIS from Hawija. “We hear they just kill us,” one of the suspects said. The Peshmerga forces are not active in the offensive in Hawija, but they are supporting and cooperating with the ISF in their effort by opening the roads, sharing intelligence on ISIS positions, and handling ISIS fighters who come their way. The cooperation with the ISF in the fight against ISIS has not hinged despite the controversial referendum for independence of the Kurdish region a week earlier.

On October 1, an anonymous source divulged that ISIS had burned three of its most prominent headquarters in Riyadh, a city in Hawija District. The headquarters are believed to have contained information about the identity of ISIS militants.

On October 1, the leadership of the operations in Hawija announced that it had cleared 16 villages of ISIS as well as the southern part of the Hamrin mountains. With this accomplishment, the leadership declared that it had completed the first step of the second phase to clear Hawija. An anonymous source also disclosed that airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition during this phase had killed a prominent ISIS member and two of his brothers.

On October 2, officials confirmed that ISIS had set fire to three oil wells near Hawija. The Olas oil field was one of the main sources of income for ISIS. Colonel Mohammed al-Jubouri said that ISIS had ignited the wells in order to provide cover from airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition. The state-run North Oil Company announced that sending in their crews to contain the fires would be risky because ISIS may have left behind improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

On October 2, Hadi al-Amiri, a leader of a Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU), announced that Rashad, in Hawija District, had been cleared of ISIS control. The forces then began clearing the city of IEDs. The operation to clear Rashad had begun on September 29.

On October 2, an anonymous source reported that Abu Karim Iraqi, responsible for an ISIS combat unit, was killed in an airstrike in Kirkuk Province. That same day, six other ISIS members, including Abu Omar, were killed in airstrikes in Hamrin.

On October 2, Sami al-Masoudi, a leader of a PMU, declared that Hawija would be cleared of ISIS in a few days. “The liberation of the Rashad area and the Rashad airport was easy, and in a few days Hawija will be completely liberated,” Masoudi said. However, he noted that IEDs and VBIEDs were making progress more difficult.

On October 3, the United Nations (UN) reported that the number of civilians who had fled Hawija had risen to 12,500. However, the UN estimates that 78,000 people are still remaining in the area.

On October 3, the ISF continued their operation to clear Hawija. The ISF has been using a three axis approach to clearing the city. In total, the ISF has cleared 20 villages on the outskirts of Hawija as they approach the center of Hawija.

On October 3, the military information cell announced that the ISF had cleared 35 villages in Hawija District. These successes came in the second step of the second phase to clear Hawija. Later that day, the Secretary-General of the Badr Organization, Hadi al-Ameri, reported that the number of villages cleared since the beginning of the offensive on Hawija, on September 21, is between 90 and 100 villages.

On October 4, the ISF declared that they were one kilometer from the center of Hawija. The process of clearing Hawija has been moving rapidly. According to Jabbar al-Mamouri, a leader of a PMU, “the liberation of Hawija will not be long, and we will announce the final victory on the organization.”

On October 4, Lieutenant General Abdul Amir Rashid Yarallah listed the victories of the ISF in the operation in Hawija. These victories were: 98 cleared villages, retaking of the Rashad airport, control of the road between Tikrit and Kirkuk, and 2400 km of cleared territory. He also listed the ISIS losses and placed the number of ISIS militants dead at 196.

On October 4, an anonymous source reported that a prominent ISIS explosives maker was killed on the outskirts of Hawija by an IED while attempting to booby-trap a side street. Additionally, thirteen other ISIS members were killed by coalition airstrikes in Hawija.


Revered Former President Jalal Talabani Dies at 84

On October 3, former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani died in Germany at age 84. Talabani was the first Iraqi President in the post-Saddam era. He was replaced by Fuad Masum in 2014. Talabani was one of the most prominent Kurdish figures in contemporary Iraqi history. Among the Kurds, he was nicknamed “Mam Jalal” (meaning Uncle Jalal) since his youth. In the 1950s, he was a founding member of the student union of Kurdistan within the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), and he was promoted to the KDP’s central committee in 1951, when he was 18 years old. In 1975, he founded the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and its armed movement in 1976. He continued to lead the PUK party through Saddam Hussein’s era, although he was forced to leave northern Iraq to Iran in 1988, among the hundreds of thousands of Kurds forced to exile when Saddam Hussein launched the deadly “Anfal Campaign” against the Kurds. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, he was appointed to the Iraqi interim government, and then served as President of Iraq from 2005-2014. He suffered a stroke in 2012, after which his political involvement began to fade due to failing health.

On October 4, spokesman for the Kurdistan Regional Government Sven Dzia announced a week of mourning in the Kurdish Region of Iraq (KRI) for the passing away of Jalal Talabani, former President of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). The decision of the mourning was ordered by current President of the KRG Masoud Barzani. The flags of Iraq and Kurdistan will be lowered for the week.

On October 4, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared three days of mourning in Iraq for the death of Jalal Talabani, and he sent his condolences to the Iraqi people for the death of their late president. Following Abadi’s announcement, the Iraqi Parliament decided to postpone their session, which they had scheduled for the next day, to Saturday, October 7, in respect of the three days of mourning.

On October 4, the leaders in the international community expressed condolence over the death of former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. The White House released a statement saying the U.S. “remember him as a national and a true partner that has played a key role in Iraq’s transition from Saddam Hussein’s tyranny to constitutional democracy today.” In a tweet, British Prime Minister Theresa May called Talabani a “great leader of his people and all of Iraq.” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani released a statement of condolence saying the region lost a great leader and a friend. Leader of Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq Ammar al-Hakim called Talabani “a great leader” who played a major role in building Iraq. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly phoned Jalal’s wife and son. Former U.S. President, George W. Bush, and former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who both took leading roles during in the invasion to Iraq in 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein, also expressed condolences. Bush said in a statement: “He saw the potential of a free and united Iraq. And he worked tirelessly to deliver peace and liberty to his people. I was honored to work with him and fortunate to have spent time in his presence.” Blair wrote: “I met him often both in Iraq and London and found him always a source of wisdom, determination and humanity. He had the best interests of his people at heart and helped steer Iraq through turbulent times both as a leader of the Kurdish people and as President of Iraq.”


Despite Saber Rattling, Iran and Turkey Await Next Steps for the KRI

On September 29, Turkish Defense Minister Noureddine Janchaeli confirmed that the Iraqi government is planning to monitor the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) international border crossings in coordination with Turkey and Iran. On September 24, the Iraqi government called on all countries of the world to deal “exclusively” with federal authorities on Iraqi borders, and requested the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to surrender all its border crossings and airports.

On September 30, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke against secession of the KRI in a Justice and Development party conference. He stressed that Ankara is working with Baghdad and Tehran to prevent the Kurds in northern Iraq from drawing its own borders, and argued that the Kurds are not part of the history of the territory. He added that Turkey’s concern “has nothing to do with the people in northern Iraq, but we were greatly disturbed by raising the Israeli flag there,” and he addressed Kurdish leaders: “there is a difference between independence and putting yourself in the hands of the West.”

On September 30, Iran’s Ministry of Roads and Transportation issued a statement informing that it had banned shipment of oil products to and from the KRI. The statement warned “the owners of the transport companies to tolerate this decision.” Following the referendum in the KRI on September 25, Iran also decided to suspend flights to and from the KRI.

On October 3, Turkish Foreign Minister Jawish Oglu set a condition for returning to normal relations with Erbil: cancel the results of the referendum for secession of Kurdistan. “It is not too late, Barzani’s administration can still take a step to deal with it,” he said. He also noted that the border crossings between Turkey and Iraq in the KRI must be administered by Iraqi authorities of the federal government.

On October 3, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reiterated Iran’s objection to the referendum for independence of the KRI, which was held last week, and warned of the serious instability that it will cause in Iraq. He added that “the referendum will not be in the interest of our Iraqi Kurdish friends who have achieved much since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and can achieve more through negotiations within the framework of constitutional legitimacy in Iraq…We have been and will always be friends of the Kurds. We have a Kurdish component in Iran and our relations with them are excellent. We also have excellent relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government and we were among the first to help them when they were attacked and threatened.”

On October 3, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to impose new sanctions on the KRI. In a press conference, he talked about how Turkey’s security is affected by the crises in Syria and Iraq, and so Turkey is concerned about Syria and Iraq’s internal affairs. To date, however, pipelines through the KRI to Turkey are continuing to flow with oil and borders remain open.

On October 4, Russian President Vladimir Putin opposed an oil embargo on the KRI during the Russian Energy Week 2017 forum in Moscow, where he is expected to meet Saudi Arabia’s King Salman to discuss cooperation in energy. Putin warned not to “provoke” the situation, following the referendum for independence of the KRI. “This will affect global energy markets, and the prices will go up. But I think few are interested in that,” he explained. The Iraqi government and Turkey threatened to restrain trade from the KRI, including oil exports, if the latter do not surrender all border-crossings to the Iraqi government and cancel the results of the referendum. Putin further mentioned that, historically, Russia has had “good relations” with the Kurds. However, he added that Russia is being careful not to aggravate the situation: “Everything that is happening inside a country is its own affairs.” Putin met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week in Ankara. Russia and Turkey’s relationship reportedly strengthened following cooperation in the Syria Crisis.

On October 4, Iranian Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei held a joint news conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Tehran, Iran. Khamenei talked elaborately against the Kurdish aspiration for secession from northern Iraq. “Turkey and Iran must take necessary measures against the vote,” he was quoted as saying, referring to the referendum for independence of the KRI. Furthermore, Khamenei blamed the U.S. and Israel, claiming that they benefit from the referendum. “America and foreign powers are unreliable and seek to create a new Israel in the region,” he said. Erdogan blamed Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad, for orchestrating the referendum together with the Kurds. “There is no country other than Israel that recognizes it. A referendum which was conducted by sitting side by side with Mossad has no legitimacy,” Erdogan said. The leaders mentioned that their countries would discuss oil trades from Iran to Turkey to replace oil trade to Turkey from northern Iraq.


New Reports Released on Toll of Operations in Mosul

On September 28, the United Nations (UN) Environment Programme released a report of the environmental damage done to Mosul by the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). There are currently 11 million tons of conflict debris in Mosul. Additionally, many areas have had air pollution due to oil well fires and arson of sulphur stockpiles. The Ninewa Environment Directorate that had previously overseen the area was disbanded by ISIS and the office was set on fire. Mosul University’s College of Environmental Sciences and Technology was also abolished and destroyed. Furthermore, ISIS weaponized water management systems through actions such as creating a drought by blocking water flows.

On September 29, the U.S.-led coalition stated that 1,200-1,500 Iraqi security personnel were killed between October 2016 to July 2017 in the operations to clear ISIS from Mosul. Approximately 8,000 more were wounded. Iraqi forces usually do not release figures about their own loses in battle. ISIS considered Mosul as the capital city of their caliphate; losing it was their greatest defeat. Mosul was under ISIS control for three years.

On September 29, Mercy Corps shared the story of residents in Mosul after the end of the operation to clear the city of ISIS. According to Mercy Corps, of the 1.5 million affected, most people are struggling to meet even their most basic needs. Mercy Corps has been in Mosul providing aid and cash since November 2016, a month after the operation to clear Mosul began.

On October 1, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released a humanitarian bulletin that provided an update on the situation in Iraq. The bulletin established that thousands of people were being displaced in areas where fighting took place and were facing immense hardships on the road to safety. Additionally, the bulletin revealed that representatives from OCHA, Iraq, the EU, the U.S., and Germany held an event called “Saving Lives, Protecting Lives And Re-building Lives: Developing A Common Agenda With And For The Iraqi People” that raised US$ 292 million in pledges for humanitarian and stabilization efforts. These pledges are greatly needed; as of the end of September, only 57 percent of the Humanitarian Response Plan for Iraq has been funded.

On October 2, the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC) of the World Food Programme (WFP) released a situation report of their work in Iraq. ETC has been providing internet capabilities to humanitarian organizations working in camps throughout the country. Additionally, ETC has been working with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to host a radio tower to provide updates to humanitarian organizations.

On October 3, Refugees International (RI) published an issue brief about Iraqi women being detained by Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). Women who are believed to be associated with ISIS are being taken to detention centers and having their documentation seized. While some humanitarian organizations have been allowed to provide minimal aid, these organizations assert that the women are living in inhumane conditions. The humanitarian organizations have reported to RI that women are also being subjected to sexual exploitation and abuse.

On October 3, Iraq’s Ministry of Displacement and Migration announced the return of 222 Iraqi refugees from a camp in Syria to Ninewa Province. Employees at the Ministry distributed food and water. Hundreds of families fled to Syria from Ninewa to escape ISIS, and the Iraqi government is currently working to return them to Iraq.

On October 4, Reuters published an article about civilians who became informants to help the ISF retake Mosul. Some informants were taxi drivers who were able to eavesdrop on conversations in their cabs and then report it to Iraqi intelligence officials using hidden sim cards. Others were ISIS defectors. Informants who were caught were brutally murdered by ISIS militants. Officials credit the informants as being influential to ending the fighting in Mosul. However, some of the informants now say they have been unable to gain the payments they were promised.


Airstrikes Continue Over Anbar

On September 29, Commander of the Seventh Division of the Iraqi Army, Major General Numan Abdul Zobaie, reported that an aircraft bomber targeted and destroyed a convoy of six Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) vehicles fleeing the Iraqi offensive in Anbar Province, killing 45 ISIS members. The convoy was hit in the southern city of Hit (70 km west of Ramadi). The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) launched a dual-front offensive (in Anbar Province and in Hawija District, Kirkuk) to clear the last remaining ISIS-controlled territories in Iraq.

On September 30, intelligence cells of the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior found two Improvised Explosive Device (IED) laboratories in Ana District of Anbar Province. They seized the IED inventory in the factories: 279 IEDs total, including 29 “plasma” IEDs (also known as “concave” explosives, which are more complex and highly penetrative), and three explosive belts; all were ready for detonation.

On September 30, an official statement reported ISIS losses during the ISF offensive in Anbar Province September 27-28: Destruction of 39 vehicles, destruction of five VBIEDs, seizure of four vehicles, killing of 214 “terrorists,” and killing of 41 “suicide bombers.”

On September 30, intelligence cells of the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior reported that airstrikes in Qaim targeting ISIS leadership killed 43 ISIS members and wounded others. The first five airstrikes killed 20, additional airstrikes in Karbala killed 11, and 12 more were killed following an explosion of a VBIED. The statement said that most of the ISIS fighters were Arabs with foreign nationalities.

On October 1, the head of the district council of the city of Hit in Anbar Province announced that four suicide bombers from ISIS were killed when they tried to enter the city. Security forces were able to stop the bombers and the situation in Hit is stable. In another city in Anbar, three more suicide bombers were killed while hiding in a house.

On October 1, Ramadi received 1,500 food rations for IDPs in a camp 18 km from the city. Throughout Anbar, there are approximately 80 camps and 25,000 IDPs.

On October 3, the Directorate of Roads and Bridges in Anbar Province announced the reopening of the Mamoun railway bridge. The bridge was crucial to transport goods and citizens in the province. It had been blown up by ISIS when they took over the area.

On October 3, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) assisted 8,500 newly displaced people from western Anbar. According to IOM’s estimates, a total of 54,546 have been displaced from western Anbar thus far. IOM’s medical staff is providing assistance to around 1,000 people a week in Anbar.

On October 3, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other organizations released their Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM) statistics for September. According to the chart, total distributions decreased 58 percent in September; however, distributions in Anbar Province increased 33 percent. Additionally, in Hawija, the consortium assisted 18,000 individuals with 4,660 kits.


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

DateLocationDeathsInjuries
10/04/17Husseiniya area, north of Baghdad24
10/02/17Salah ad-Din Province11
10/02/17North Salah ad-Din Province, near the Makhoul mountains20
09/30/17Sharqat, Salah ad-Din Province00
09/30/17Hit (70 kn west of Ramadi), Anbar Province13
09/30/17Naimiyah, south of Fallujah40

 

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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