ISHM: December 2 – 8, 2016

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Key Takeaways:

  • Iraqi Security Forces Continue to Progress Slowly in Mosul, Despite Reinforcements – The Iraqi Army deployed the 43rd Brigade from Baghdad to Mosul, where efforts to clear the city of ISIS militants have been underway since October 17. The Iraqi Ninth Armored Division entered al-Alam Hospital in the Wahda neighborhood of eastern Mosul where soldiers have come across heavy enemy fire. The Iraqi Army, assisted by Iraq’s elite Counterterrorism Service and U.S.-led international coalition airstrikes, are progressing slowly through the eastern part of the city, while ISIS capitalizes on the extensive network of tunnels and IEDs hidden throughout Mosul during its two year occupation. Despite the slow pace of progress, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said on December 5, that he expects military operations to be complete before U.S. President-elect Donald Trump takes office on January 20, 2017, emphasizing ISF readiness and capability. more…
  • Popular Mobilization Units Surround Tal Afar, Interdicting ISIS Militants Fleeing Mosul – Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Units have completely surrounded the city of Tal Afar, 67 kilometers west of Mosul, and secured large swaths of land west of Mosul that could be used as exit points for ISIS militants looking to flee to Syria. Reuters reported on December 7 that the positioning of the PMUs and their strategy to prevent ISIS from fleeing to Syria is the result of Iranian influence and a sign of support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Strategy for clearing ISIS from other cities in Iraq has traditionally involved Iraqi forces approaching in a horseshoe, intentionally creating a safety corridor for ISIS militants to flee urban areas. more…
  • IDPs Heavily Impacted by Fight for Mosul Slow to Evacuate – Traumatic injuries among civilians from Mosul and its surrounding areas increased seven-fold from late November to early December, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The majority of injuries are from gunshots, landmines, shelling, mortar fire, and IEDs. IEDs continue to be of urgent concern for IDPs attempting to return to their homes south of Mosul that were recently cleared of ISIS militants. In one report, two family members visiting their home for the first time since fleeing ISIS violence in 2014 were killed by an IED rigged to the home’s front door. NGOs have expressed concern that returns to recently cleared areas are premature and dangerous. more…
  • Fight for Hawija Ramps Up as ISIS Violence Intensifies – According to the UNHCR, military operations to clear Hawija – the last ISIS-controlled district in Kirkuk Province – are intensifying as families continue to flee the district ahead of the military offensive. The city has been occupied by ISIS since June 2014, but was passed over in the rush to clear ISIS from Mosul. Civilians in Hawija face a shortage of food, water, and medicine, indiscriminate violence, summary executions, and abductions by ISIS. According to a source with a local popular militia, ISIS abducted 55 civilians from Hawija and forcibly transferred them to another location on December 2. Tribal leaders have called on the Iraqi Government to expedite plans to clear the city, noting the dire humanitarian situation there. more…
  • Airstrike Accidentally Targets Civilians in Qa’im as Anbar Officials Consider Slowing Returns – On December 8, Speaker of Parliament Salim al-Jabouri announced that an airstrike targeting the ISIS-controlled town of Qa’im in western Anbar Province, accidentally killed and wounded numerous civilians. According to varying reports, the airstrike hit a busy market and as many as 130 were killed. The strike was not conducted by U.S. forces, according to Colonel John Dorrian, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition. As many as 60,000 people are held in Qa’im under ISIS control. Elsewhere in Anbar Province, local government officials are considering delaying returns to Fallujah and nearby villages due to the presence of IEDs, mines, and booby-trapped homes. 28,000 displaced families have already returned to Fallujah since it was cleared of ISIS militants in June, but 35% of IDPs from cleared cities have not returned due to lack of services and insecurity, according to the Anbar Provincial Council. more…
  • Parliament Passes Budget Despite Some Kurdish Objection – On December 7, Parliament passed Iraq’s 2017 budget with the unanimous vote of 186 Members of Parliament (the 142 other Members of Parliament, including all Kurdistan Democratic Party Members [KDP] abstained from the vote). A major point of contention for the legislation involved allocations for Iraqi Kurdistan, which ultimately received 17% of the federal budget. The KDP objected to the number, suggesting it is less than half of what is required to fund civil servant salaries and the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga. Another KDP complaint left unresolved involved expectations to cut oil production in the region as part of a recent OPEC agreement as previously reported in ISHM. Minister of Natural Resources for the KRG, Ashti Hawrami, said that he did not “envision much impact on the KRG” from the OPEC agreement, suggesting that the KRG may not comply with Baghdad’s reduction requests. 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.


Iraqi Security Forces Continue to Progress Slowly in Mosul, Despite Reinforcements

On December 2, an anonymous security source in Ninewa Province reported that the 43rd Brigade of the 11th Iraqi Army Division was deployed on December 1, from Baghdad to Mosul in an effort to reinforce Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in the Akhdir neighborhood in eastern Mosul.

On December 3, aerial pictures taken by The Stratfor Center for Strategic and Security Studies showed four destroyed bridges in Mosul that were taken out to prevent the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants from transporting supplies and militants easily from one side of the city to the other. Stratfor claimed that the strikes had not intended to inflict heavy damage to the bridge in order to allow ISF the ability to quickly repair the bridge and move troops to the western side of the city. But the destruction of the bridges make it harder for civilians to flee the city, where at least 1 million civilians remain. Traffic jams or ISIS blockades currently restrict access across Mosul’s one open bridge, leading out of the city.      

On December 3, The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that they received confirmation from several reliable sources that leadership within ISIS asked military and security leadership within the Al-Raqqah State in Syria and Jaysh al-Sham to come to Iraq and choose the “Caliph successor of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as Caliphate of Muslims.” Numerous unverifiable reports suggest that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi might be dead or “in mortal danger.” In November, ISF reported that Baghdadi fled the city of Mosul with 150 human body shields to Tal Afar, 67 kilometers west of Mosul. Later in November, spokesmen for the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq PMU claimed that al-Baghdadi escaped Tal Afar as well. The current location of al-Baghdadi is unknown.

On December 3, The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) took note on statements issued by the War Media Cell of Iraq’s Joint Operation Command that the criteria used to report on military casualties in Iraq were “exaggerated,” “false,” and unverified. Due to the nature of the conflict and it’s location, UNAMI claimed that there are very few reliable, independent sources.  Because of the numerous problems in obtaining verifiable figures, UNAMI reported that they will discontinue the publication of military casualty figures until a “sound methodology” for verification is established. However, civilian casualties will continue to be reported and are subject to rigorous methodology based on a range of sources, claimed UNAMI.

On December 3, an anonymous military source claimed that reports that ISF were withdrawing from areas cleared of ISIS militants were untrue, and pointed to the “betrayal of impaired souls” who were cooperating with militants within the city to get information. Another contradictory report by an anonymous military source in Ninewa Province commented that ISF were withdrawing “to avoid civilian loses” and that ISIS had regained some areas. The sources expected that ISF would regain control of those areas shortly. A series of attacks by ISIS militants, starting on the night of December 2, has rocked security forces in the east and south of Mosul. An anonymous military source claimed that 20 ISIS militants infiltrated the al-Zuhur neighborhood in order to attack security forces, but Security forces responded to the infiltration and killed all 20 militants. ISIS still controls about three-quarters of territory in the city.  

On December 3, an anonymous source in the Iraqi Counterterrorism Service (CTS) reported that 13 ISIS militant were killed, including ISIS leader Talaat Ahmed Fathi, in a failed ISIS attack on CTS forces in the Aden District in eastern Mosul. Accurate intelligence enabled CTS forces to erect several ambush points and repel the attack.        

On December 4, Deputy Commander of Operations in Ninewa Province, Lieutenant General Abdul Amir Rasheed Jarallah, reported that the 16th Infantry Division cleared ISIS militants from the villages of Qara Tappa, Kuri Ghariban, Darawish, and Abu Jarbuah, 15 kilometers northeast of the center of Mosul. Jarallah claimed that security forces inflicted heavy losses on ISIS militants.   

On December 4, Deputy Commander of Operations in Ninewa Province, Lieutenant General Abdul Amir Rasheed Jarallah, reported that ISF cleared Judaydah al-Kabirah, and Sijill al-Mudif; three villages to the east of Sharqat, 106 kilometers north of Tikrit. Jarallah claimed that Salah ad-Din ISF Brigades have taken 60 villages on the east coast of Sharqat.

On December 5, Commander of the CTS, Abdul Wahab al-Saadi, reported that CTS forces killed the ISIS “oil minister,” named Abu Azzam, during a security operation in an undesignated location in Ninewa Province. While security forces have taken back numerous oil fields and refineries, oil is still considered one of ISIS’s main revenues sources in Iraq.  

On December 5, ISF reported that they arrested a top ISIS financial official named Abu Yasser at a border checkpoint between Syria and Iraq, based on information from the Iraqi Secret Service. Yasser, appearing before the Central Investigating Court, claimed that ISIS receives remittances from numerous countries including France, Norway, Russia, Switzerland, Bosnia, Denmark, Turkmenistan, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. These remittances, that have increased from 2015, are a major source of revenue for ISIS.  An aspiring lawyer, Yasser was forced by ISIS to handle ISIS financial claims and admitted that goods were being transported through Turkey to ISIS held territory for the purpose of distributing income to ISIS fighters and other administration “necessities.”

On December 5, ISIS’s Furqan Media Foundation released a speech naming Abdul-Hasan al-Muhajir as the successor to Mohammad al-Adnani who was killed in a U.S.-led international airstrike on August 30. Al-Muhajir is now considered second in command to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as official “spokesman” for ISIS. ISIS called upon its members to “fight on” and argued that current conditions were a “divine test,” separating the believers from “others.” The message also threatened Turkey and Iran, and encouraged more terror attacks around the world.

On December 5, U.S. Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, emphasized that he expects military operations to clear Mosul of ISIS militants to be completed before President-Elect Donald Trump takes office on January 20, 2017. Carter claimed that operations to clear Mosul of ISIS will be “violent,” but suggested that ISF are equipped and trained for any potential conditions they may encounter.      

On December 6, Deputy Commander of Operations in Ninewa Province, Lieutenant General Abdul Amir Rasheed Jarallah, reported that the Iraqi Ninth Armored Division entered the Al Salam hospital in the Wahda neighborhood in the east of Mosul. Operations have begun to clear the hospital of ISIS militants and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). A Reuters News report on December 7 claimed that Iraqi troops withdrew from the hospital after they were attacked by six suicide based improvised explosive devices (SBIEDs) and “heavy enemy fire” from ISIS militants, giving up some of ISF’s biggest gains in the seven week campaign to reclaim the city from ISIS militants. The U.S. led international coalition reported that it conducted an airstrike on a building in the hospital complex where ISIS militants were engaging ISF at the request of ISF. An anonymous military officer reported that when they initially entered the neighborhood there was little resistance, but once they gained control of the hospital “the gates of hell opened wide.” The officer claimed that 20 soldiers had been killed and 20 vehicles were destroyed, but these reports cannot be verified.       

On December 6, a commander of the CTS, Brigadier General Haider Fadhil, reported that CTS forces found a large cache of weapons, ammunition, and rockets in the al-Zuhur neighborhood in northeast Iraq. Fadhil claimed that security forces seized around 107 rockets during the operations. Currently, CTS forces are situated on the al-Shilalat road in north Mosul, waiting for reinforcements to arrive and besiege the western side of the city.

On December 6, Commander of the CTS, Lieutenant General Abdul Wahab al-Saadi, reported that CTS forces have pushed into the al-Barid neighborhood in the north of Mosul. Saadi reported that security forces managed to clear large areas within the neighborhood and kill at least 10 militants, but the presence of civilians are continuing to slow the movement of CTS forces.

On December 6, an anonymous security source in Salah ad-Din reported that ISF, with support from PMU militia forces, cleared ISIS militants from the village of Qanus,17 kilometers north of Sharqat. The source claimed that ISIS sustained heavy casualties during the operation.  

On December 7, U.S. Commander of the Second Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, Colonel J. Patrick Work, issued a statement reporting that the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division will arrive in Iraq with 1,700 soldiers in the beginning of 2017 for a nine month tour, relieving the Second Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division of their duties in Iraq. Work claimed that his men “are psychologically ready for the mission and will be in the right place at the right time.”


Popular Mobilization Units Surround Tal Afar, Interdicting ISIS Militants Fleeing Mosul

On December 2, a popular mobilization unit (PMU) militia source reported that the PMUs have encircled on four sides the city of Tal Afar, 67 kilometers west of Mosul. The multi-factional PMUs reported that they are working together to eliminate any exit points out of the that could be used by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants. The source commented that the PMU militias will open up safe passageways for displaced people and families to flee from the city.

On December 3, Secretary-General of the Badr Brigade, Hadi al-Amiri, claimed that PMU militia forces have almost fully secured the area between Tal Afar, 67 kilometers west of Mosul, and Mosul. Amiri reported that his Badr Brigade forces are surrounding the outskirt of Tal Afar and ISIS militants are fleeing towards the Syrian border.

On December 4, leadership in the Badr Brigade reported that they repelled an ISIS militant attack in the village Eayan al-Hessan, a village near the Tal Afar Airport, 67 kilometers west of Mosul. During the attack, the Badr Brigade managed to seize eight vehicles, destroy a vehicle based improvised explosive device (VBIED), and inflict heavy losses on ISIS militants.

On December 6, an anonymous PMU source in Ninewa Province reported that 38 ISIS militants were killed when the Iraqi army aerial component targeted a gathering of ISIS militants in Tal Abtah, 48 kilometers southwest of Tal Afar. The strike also resulted in the destruction of three ISIS vehicles and weapon caches. A later source claimed that an airstrike targeting the same area killed 14 ISIS militants and destroyed three vehicles.

On December 6, PMU officials reported that the village of Abtah, 48 kilometers southwest of Tal Afar, was cleared of ISIS militants. The PMU officials reported heavy fighting between ISIS militants and PMU militias in the area.

On December 7, Reuters News reported that Iran was an instrument in fundamentally changing Iraqi strategy in operations to clear ISIS from Mosul. Reuters claimed the initial campaign strategy called for Iraqi forces to create a horseshoe shape around the city, allowing ISIS militants a corridor to flee Mosul for Syria. Such a strategy has been used to clear ISIS from numerous other cities in Iraqi. But Reuters News claimed an anonymous source reported that Iranian officials lobbied for Iranian backed PMU forces to be sent to the western side of Mosul to close off any corridors that ISIS could use to flee to Syria and exacerbate problems for Iranian backed Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, who is currently engaged in a civil war in his country. Documents by numerous humanitarian organizations before operations in Mosul began suggested that camps be created in Kurdish-controlled regions for over 90,000 expected refugees, but an anonymous humanitarian worker claimed that “Iran didn’t agree and insisted that no safe corridors be allowed in Syria.” The worker continued that Iran wanted the whole region west of Mosul to be a “kill box.” PMU spokesman, Karim al-Nuri, accused the U.S. of allowing ISIS militants to flee Mosul to Syria and claimed that “Iran has no interest here,” referring to statements that suggested Iran was behind the decision to employ PMUs west of Mosul. But critics suggest that PMUs could us western Iraq as a “launchpad” to assist ally, Assad, and gain an arc of Iranian influence across the Middle East.

On December 8, PMU leadership reported that PMU militias forces managed to clear ISIS from the village of Tel Abtatan, 72 kilometers southwest of Mosul. The PMU source claimed that militants continuously tried to keep security forces from clearing IEDs from building and roadways by using suicide attacks.


IDPs Heavily Impacted by Fight for Mosul Slow to Evacuate

Dec. 2 Dec. 3 Dec. 4 Dec. 5 Dec. 6 Dec. 7 Dec. 8
Total IDPs 77,826 77,784 79,998 81,108 82,068 83,988 82,698
Daily Net Change +780 -42 +2,214 +1,110 +960 +1,920 -1,290

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) Displaced from Mosul and Surrounding Areas Since Military Operations Began on October 17.
Source: International Organization for Migration (IOM).

On December 2, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that the movement of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from areas of conflict remains controlled by authorities and armed groups. UNHCR has received reports that more than two hundred displaced families are stranded in the Shalalat area, 12 kilometers northeast of the center of Mosul, after fleeing direct fire and mortar shelling of their villages. The families were reportedly unable to access safety after withdrawal of government forces from the area, and were simultaneously denied permission to return to their villages of origin after they were cleared of Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants. Despite repeated interventions by UNHCR for safe passage for the families, they remain stranded in the open with limited access to humanitarian assistance. Recently displaced families from areas in Mosul district report that the most vulnerable persons including the aged, disabled and very young are unable to flee. Factors such as the presence of snipers, lack of mobility, lack of resources, and destroyed or blocked bridges and roads also make safe passage inaccessible. IDPs also report that the lack of access to basic food and water is increasingly becoming a factor for fleeing in addition to direct fire and shelling.

On December 2, Reuters News reported on the plight of civilians whose homes and villages in cleared areas around Mosul have been booby-trapped by fleeing ISIS militants. Khedr Selim, a returnee to the Bashiqa subdistrict of Ninewa, 19 kilometers northeast of the center of Mosul, reported that two former neighbors visited their house for the first time since fleeing in 2014 and were killed by a bomb rigged to the front door. This is not an uncommon occurrence. The explosives used by ISIS were designed to kill, not maim, according to Mohammed Salam of the international Mines Advisory Group. Of 25 civilian casualties from explosives in the Khazer area in recent months, 16 died. Despite security concerns, Selim explained that many IDPs are rushing to return to homes in areas recently cleared of ISIS militants: “It’s dangerous here. The explosives need to be cleared from the town before we can even clean up the rubble, let alone come back to live. But we can’t stay away much longer. We’ve been renting elsewhere for two years and I haven’t found work. Money is running out and we need to get home.” Another factor motivating returns is local government officials’ encouragement of returns, a practice criticized by international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), which have expressed concern that these returns are premature and endanger civilians.

On December 4, UNHCR reported that the majority of newly displaced families from inside Mosul are sheltering in the Iraqi government’s Khazar camp in Erbil Province, which received more than 1,400 IDPs between December 1 and 3. IDPs cited food and water shortages as well as insecurity due to mortar attacks, shelling, bombing and snipers as reasons for their displacement from Mosul. IDPs also reported protection concerns including family separation, missing civil documentation, and difficulties in relocating people with medical conditions or disabilities. Conditions in Khazar camp are not ideal, however; Khazar camp reached maximum capacity on November 27 and food and supply shortages have been reported by IDPs.

On December 4, the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) announced they would begin receiving complaints from civilian activists concerning “disappearances” of activists involved in demonstrations in Iraq. OHCHR has also established monitoring and investigative teams as well. OHCHR has received several reports of these disappearances, but stated they have no precise statistics on the number of activists affected.

On December 5, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that trauma injuries among civilians from Mosul and its surrounding areas increased 7-fold since the previous reporting period (November 21 through 27), with 410 injuries mainly from gunshots, mines, shelling and mortar fire. IDP protection remains a priority concern as well, especially with a lack of identification documents among IDPs and family separation. 115 unaccompanied girls and boys were registered for follow up with social workers, and over 57,600 people were reached with protection services since October 17.

On December 6, Al Jazeera reported on why Mosul residents are not fleeing despite the dire humanitarian conditions within the city. At the beginning of operations to clear Mosul of ISIS militants, the Iraqi government urged residents not to flee, dropping leaflets instructing them to stay at home, as previously reported in ISHM. But seven weeks into the operation, the dangers of this strategy are apparent. Civilian casualties are increasing, food is running out, and many aid agencies are unable to make distributions so close to the front lines. In cleared areas in eastern Mosul troops secure neighborhoods street by street, marking searched houses with green spray paint and restricting road access. The army does not allow cars in attempts to prevent VBIEDs. This means the only way to get injured civilians out now is in a hand-drawn cart, according to one resident. It takes 90 minutes to reach the nearest medical station this way. Despite these insecure circumstances, many residents say they will not leave, as they perceive conditions in IDP camps to be even worse. Some wish to protect their property, as ISIS has a habit of inhabiting and booby-trapping abandoned homes. Additionally, despite some ISF-assisted evacuations of citizens in Mosul, the Iraqi Government has yet to reverse its official recommendation for residents of Mosul to remain in their homes.

On December 7, Mosul Eye reported on conditions within the city of Mosul via Twitter. According to the statements, there is a serious shortage of food in the city, with the price of a half kilogram of rice reaching 12,000 Iraqi dinar (approximately US$ 10.15), which residents cannot afford. Residents displaced from their homes by ISIS violence who were unable to evacuate the city moved into “wrecked” homes in western Mosul and are living in insecure conditions. Water supplies cut off by ISIS on November 25 remain inaccessible.

On December 8, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that 83% of IDPs displaced due to the conflict in Mosul were sheltered in emergency camps, 15% were sheltered in private settings, such as the home of a relative, or critical shelter arrangements, such as an abandoned building. 1% of IDPs were sheltering at screening centers and 1% were in Emergency Sites. The IOM also reported that the vast majority of IDPs from Mosul and surrounding areas were internally displaced within Ninewa Province.

On December 8, Foreign Policy reported on the thousands of Iraqi IDPs who have escaped ISIS-controlled areas by hiring smugglers, paying between $200 and $1,000 per person depending on the area. Little is known about who the smugglers are and how they are able to operate and evade capture. The smugglers are hired to help IDPs navigate minefields and IED-ridden roads leading away from ISIS-occupied territories. Foreign Policy’s interviews with a dozen internally displaced Iraqis from Islamic State areas, Kurdish security sources, and aid workers indicate that the smugglers are mostly entrepreneurial locals, but that some may have connections to ISIS. One security officer suggested that ISIS militants are willing to risk retribution by ISIS if it means they can make extra money. Foreign Policy suggested that the smuggling business may be ISIS’s latest money-making operation.


Fight for Hawija Ramps Up as ISIS Violence Intensifies

On December 2, an anonymous security source in Kirkuk Province reported that five Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants were killed by security forces as they tried to plant improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on a road to Hawija, 55 kilometers west of Kirkuk, in an attempt to inhibit internally displaced people from fleeing ISIS controlled areas. The source claimed that a number of the IEDs exploded, but there were no casualties.

On December 2, a source within the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) reported to Al Sumaria News that ISIS militants abducted 55 civilians from Hawija and forcibly transfer them to another location. It is probable that these civilians will be used as human shields by ISIS, since the group has frequently employed this strategy in the past.

On December 4, UNHCR reported that more than 200 IDPs arrived in al-Alam district, 10 kilometers northwest of Tikrit in Salah ad-Din Province, between December 1 and 3 after fleeing violence in ISIS-controlled Hawija, 55 kilometers west of Kirkuk City in Kirkuk Province. Newly displaced families reported insecurities along their route, including improvised explosive devices (IEDs) which resulted in two casualties, including a child, who received treatment in Kirkuk. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that more than 47,000 people are currently displaced from Hawija since August 2016, when military operations intensified. Large displacement movements from Hawija have been recorded in Erbil, Kirkuk and Salah ad-Din Provinces. Hawija has been occupied by ISIS since June 2014 but was passed over in the rush to clear ISIS from Mosul. Civilians in Hawija face a shortage of food, water, and medicine, as well as violence.

On December 5, UNHCR reported that military operations to retake Hawija, the last ISIS-controlled district in Kirkuk Province, are intensifying and families continue to flee the district ahead of the military offensive. Approximately 1,100 individuals were displaced from Hawija, 55 kilometers west of Kirkuk City, on December 4, a significant increase from previous days. Most of the families were received in Tikrit, 160 kilometers northwest of Baghdad in Salah ad-Din Governorate. Over 8,000 families (some 48,200 persons) are currently displaced from Hawija since August 2016, with  mostly families being sheltered in camps in Kirkuk Province, or in critical shelters such as public or unfinished buildings in Salah ad-Din Province. UNHCR’s new Laylan 2 camp in Kirkuk Province started to receive new arrivals from Hawija. The camp, which will have capacity for 1,000 families, is 82% completed and already shelters 233 IDPs who arrived from Hawija between December 1 and 4. Other camps in Kirkuk Province are now full.

On December 5, an anonymous security source in Kirkuk reported that 22 ISIS militants were killed and 14 injured during a U.S.-led international coalition airstrike targeting a gathering of ISIS militants in central Hawija, 55 kilometers west of Kirkuk.

On December 5, an anonymous source in Kirkuk Province reported that ISIS arrested 35 former intelligence and Iraqi army civilians in various areas in the Zab area, 30 kilometers west of Kirkuk. The source claimed that they were arrested on charges of spying and cooperating with security forces. The civilians were taken to an unknown location.

On December 5, an anonymous security source in Kirkuk Province reported that ISIS executed six people from Hawija, 45 kilometers west of Kirkuk, on charges of cooperating with security forces and encouraging families to escape conflict areas. ISIS also executed five family members for unknown reasons by opening fire on them as they passed on a road near the Hamrin Mountains.

On December 6, an anonymous security source in Kirkuk Province reported that the director of Baba-Kurkur radio in Kirkuk, Mohammed Thabet al-Obeidi, was killed by an “unidentified” gunman in the al-Uruba neighborhood in the city of Kirkuk. Security forces have opened up an investigation to determine the identity of the armed attacker.

On December 6, Kirkuk police arrested 135 suspects during a large scale security operation, mainly in the Al Uruba and Al Nasr neighborhood in Kirkuk. The suspects, arrested on terrorism charges, were mainly internally displaced people (IDPs) who did not have identification or official housing approvals. Security forces reported that they confiscated a Kalashnikov rifle during the operation.

On December 6, the head of the Tribal Council in Kirkuk Province, Abdul Karim al-Azzawi, urged the Iraqi Government to expedite plans to clear Hawija of ISIS militants, noting the dire humanitarian situation in the district, 55 kilometers west of Kirkuk City. Al-Azzawi reported that ISIS militants recently executed 30 civilians in Hawija on charges of cooperating with the Iraqi Government. Outside the threat of violence, civilians in Hawija face severe shortages of food and medicine; al-Azzawi explained that the price of a bag of flour in the district has reached over 1 million Iraqi dinar. Hawija has been occupied by ISIS militants since 2014, and plans to clear the city have stalled in the past.

On December 7, an anonymous security source in Kirkuk Province reported that “unidentified gunmen” kidnapped an unknown number of civilians in Tuz Khurmatu, 90 kilometers east of Tikrit. The source claimed security forces rushed to the scene after receiving an anonymous tip and carried out search and raid operations in the vicinity. Security forces made no arrests in response to the security operations.

On December 8, an anonymous security source in Kirkuk Province reported that an Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga soldier was killed when an ISIS sniper shot him in Daquq, 45 kilometers south of Kirkuk. The soldier was taken to a hospital for treatment, but died of his injuries later that day.


Airstrike Accidentally Targets Civilians in Qa’im as Anbar Officials Consider Slowing Returns

On December 2, Mayor of Fallujah, Issa Sayyar Al Isawi, reported that security forces would begin security operations to address Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) remnants in two areas of the al-Shuhdaa district, southern Fallujah. Isawi claimed that the operations will fully secure the city of Fallujah and allow internally displaced persons (IDPs) to return to the area over the next few days.

On December 2, an anonymous source in Anbar Operations Command claimed that ISIS militants transferred heavy weapons and military vehicles from Rawa, 172 kilometers northwest of Ramadi, to Syria in an attempt to avoid being targeted by Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). ISIS gained control of Rawa in June 2014, but security operations by joint security forces have pushed ISIS from a majority of cities and villages in eastern Anbar and are progressing into western Anbar.

On December 2, mayor of Rutba, Ismad al-Dulaimi, reported that ISIS targeted the city, 176 kilometers west of Ramadi, with four mortars shells. ISF responded with a heavy artillery bombardment and forced the terrorist to flee the area. The mortar attack led to no casualties.

On December 3, commander of the Amiriyah Brigade PMU, Brigadier Khamis al-Issawi, reported that PMU militia forces are supporting ISF and police in the daily collection of dozens of IEDs from houses within Amiriyah Fallujah, 23 kilometers south of Fallujah. Issawi claimed that security forces are detonating the improvised explosive devises (IEDs) outside the city in order to prevent civilian casualties.

On December 3, an anonymous military source reported that the U.S.-led international coalition dropped leaflets over the city of Rawa, 172 kilometers northwest of Ramadi, and Qa’im, 220 kilometers northwest of Ramadi. The leaflets asked citizens to stay away from ISIS headquarters, because they are prone to unexpected airstrikes. Later, a related source claimed that a U.S.-led international coalition airstrike killed 11 ISIS militants during an airstrike on an IED factory.

On December 3, an anonymous source in Anbar Province reported that six ISIS militants were killed when a vehicle based improvised explosive devices (VBIED) exploded in an IED factory in Ramadi. The explosion resulted in the destruction of four VBIEDs that were going to be used to attack security forces in the region.      

On December 4, Iraq Seventh Division Commander, Major General Naumann Abdul Zubai, reported that two suicide based improvised explosive device (SBIEDs) attempted to infiltrate the Iraqi military headquarters on the Baiji road, north of Haditha, 160 kilometers west of Ramadi. Security forces in the area reported that the suicide bombers detonated their explosives before they entered the headquarters. Zubai claimed that no Iraqi troops were killed in the attack.

On December 5, a local source in Anbar Province reported to Al Mada Press that mines, IEDs, and booby-trapped homes remain a serious threat to returnees to the city of Fallujah, 53 kilometers west of Baghdad in Anbar Province. The source reported that as casualties due to ISIS’s scorched earth policy increase, local government officials are considering delaying returns. Local government officials previously encouraged IDPs to return, despite security concerns.

On December 5, the Director of the Department of Displacement and Migration in Anbar Province, Mohammed Rashid, announced the return of more than 113,000 displaced families to their areas of origin in the province since returns began. According to Rashid, 57,000 displaced families returned to Ramadi, 28,000 returned to Fallujah, 7,000 returned to Garma, 8,000 returned to Khalidiya, 2,376 returned to Haditha, 1,535 returned to Rutba, and 7,710 returned to Hit. Rashid noted that a large number of the families had been displaced since 2014, when Anbar Province was swept by ISIS occupation.

On December 6, clan elders of Albu Jasim, 10 kilometers northwest of Ramadi in Anbar Province, announced the initiation of returns to Albu Jasim, noting that 300 displaced families, or approximately 1,800 individuals, were being processed by security officials in order to return to the area. They added that the area, which was cleared of ISIS militants in October, was cleared of IEDs as well.

On December 6, an anonymous local source in Anbar Province reported that security forces did not fully address IEDs, other explosive devices, and general security concerns in the southern areas of Fallujah, such as Al-Shuhdaa and the Nuaimiya area. The source noted that in the Shuhdaa area, ISIS is using tunnels and walls to plant IEDs in different areas. The local governments of Fallujah commented that they want to delay IDP returns in the south to “ensure the safety of civilians in residential areas.”

On December 6, Anbar Police Chief, Major General Hadi al-Rzayej, reported that security forces arrested 22 people suspected of terrorism in the city of Habbaniyah, 29 kilometers east of Ramadi. Habbaniyah, a large tourist city, was the target of the security operations because of the risk of ISIS militants returning with large influxes of IDPs to the area.

On December 7, the intelligence officer of the al-Somoud brigade in the PMU, Nazim Aljughaifi, reported that ISIS militants infiltrating into Anbar Province have decreased by around 50 percent after losing territory in the Province in 2016. Originially, there were approximately 40 militants and nine VBIEDs coming into Anbar daily but Aljughaifi claimed that ISIS militants now are fleeing to Syria and are unable to conduct large-scale attacks in the area.        

On December 7, the Anbar Provincial Council announced that 35% of IDPs from cities cleared of ISIS militants in Anbar Province have not returned due to lack of services and insecurity in the province. The Council stressed that rehabilitation projects are underway but underfunded, resulting in a lack of electricity, potable water, and safe roads, among other concerns.

On December 8, Commander of the PMU militias in Anbar, Sheikh Saad Alsamarmd, reported that ISIS executed 10 people, including 4 police officers, by firing squad in Anah, 160 kilometers northwest of Ramadi. Alsamarmd claimed that ISIS would not allow the victim’s family members to remove the bodies. ISIS has increased civilian executions as security forces inflict more casualties in Anbar Province and Mosul.       

On December 8, Speaker of Iraqi Parliament Salim al-Jabouri announced that an airstrike targeting the ISIS-controlled town of Qa’im, 20 kilometers from the Syrian border in Anbar Province, killed and wounded “dozens” of civilians, and that he is holding the Iraqi Government responsible. Reports vary, but most indicate that the airstrike hit busy markets in Qa’im. There are no confirmed casualty statistics as of yet, but one medic reported to the BBC that 19 children and 12 women were among the casualties, and the Anbar Provincial Council announced that 130 people were killed and 100 more injured. The ISIS-affiliated Amaq news agency published video, recirculated by Al Jazeera Arabic, purportedly showing the aftermath of what it called a “massacre perpetrated by Iraqi aircraft” in Qa’im. Colonel John Dorrian, a spokesman for the U.S.-led international coalition against ISIS, said on Twitter that the coalition did not conduct any strikes in the area at the time. An anonymous senior intelligence source reported to Al Mada Press that the “airstrike” was actually a VBIED created and detonated by ISIS in order to stir up “false news” and supporting the group’s propaganda campaign. The source added that actual Iraqi airstrikes in the area are “hitting their targets” and urged the media to remain “neutral and professional” in reporting the incident.

On December 8, the Anbar Provincial Council reported that 60,000 people were being held under ISIS control within the town of Qa’im, 20 kilometers from the Syrian border in Anbar Province and approximately 200 kilometers northwest of Baghdad. The Council warned that the humanitarian conditions within the town were devastating, with severe shortages of food, water, medicine, and services. The Council also pointed to ISIS’s history of using civilians as human shields and expressed concern that residents in Qa’im would be used next.

On December 8, Commander of Anbar Operations, Major General Ismail Mahalawi, claimed that three ISIS members were killed when a U.S.-led international coalition airstrike targeted a gathering of ISIS militants in an area in western Anbar. The airstrike also resulted in the destruction of two ISIS vehicles.   

On December 8, an anonymous security source in Anbar Province reported that four ISIS militants were killed when an “unidentified gunmen” attacked the gathering of militants near the Department of Tax in Rutba, 284 kilometers west of Ramadi. After the attacks, the unidentified gunmen seized their weapons and communications devices, and raised the Iraqi flag over the Department of Tax building before fleeing to an unknown location.


Parliament Passes Budget Despite Some Kurdish Objection

On December 2, sources in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) confirmed that the group will meet with independent oil producers such as Russia on December 10 to finalize the global agreement to cut oil production, which is scheduled to begin in January 2017. OPEC hopes that independent producers will follow through on the agreement to cut their production by 600,000 barrels per day in a global effort to stabilize the oil market and increase prices, which have been historically low since 2014. OPEC reached the first agreement to cut production in eight years on November 30.

On December 3, a representative of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Iraqi Parliament Sirhan Ahmed revealed that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) sent a proposal to Baghdad regarding the federal budget. The proposal discussed possible resolutions for the issues of entitlements and disputed territory. It also proposed the payment of employees’ salaries and welfare benefits in the region in exchange for 300,000 barrels of oil per day from the province’s Kirkuk region. The proposal comes after an announcement by the President of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), Massoud Barzani, that he is ready for a “fruitful dialogue” with Baghdad on the finalization of the 2017 budget.

On December 4, Parliament held a regularly scheduled session. Political blocs sparred over the possibility of granting the region of Kurdistan 17% of the federal budget, with some members of Parliament like Abdul Samad of the Shia, Islamic Dawa Party saying it should only be 13%. When the vote was finalized, it was determined Kurdistan would receive the full 17% of the budget, and that Parliament would officially “allocate federal land”, which is currently divided between Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga based on population ratios as part of a security agreement between the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Peshmerga. However, members of the KDP left budget meetings when it was revealed that none of the budget would be specifically allocated to funding Peshmerga forces. Parliament also voted to determine the price per barrel of oil in the budget to be US$ 42 and voted to impose a 20% tax on mobile phones and internet networks. Finally, Parliament voted again to postpone the vote to pass the 2017 budget.

On December 5, the price per barrel of crude oil exceeded US$ 55, which is the highest price in over 16 months. Experts link the rise to optimism over the recent OPEC deal that aims to cut production and includes non-OPEC members like Russia in the production cut.

On December 5, a member of the KDP within the Iraqi Parliament, Najiba Najib, stated that Iraqi politicians’ attitude towards Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces and Parliament’s refusal to allocate funds in the 2017 budget to the forces, sends a “clear message” that these powers are unwilling to accept Peshmerga forces as part of the Iraqi State. Najib continued, saying that “the Kurds feel marginalized” and like Kurdish rights are not “desirable” in the Iraqi state. She also noted that Peshmerga forces have fought side-by-side with Iraqi forces to defend the land but only Iraqi security forces receive any financial allocations in the budget. The KDP boycotted budget meetings on December 4 in protest of no money in the budget being allocated to help fund Peshmerga forces.

On December 5, Parliament postponed the vote on the 2017 budget until Wednesday, December 7. An anonymous source said the vote was postponed over “controversial” sections of the budget that have led to various political blocs to boycott budget meetings including KDP members over the lack of allocations to Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces and over the distribution of oil profits.

On December 5, the Minister of Natural Resources for the KRG, Ashti Hawrami, spoke at the Kurdistan-Iraq Oil and Gas conference in London. Hawrami discussed the recent OPEC deal to cut production and its possible impact on the region. He said the region has yet to hear from the Iraqi government regarding the exact proposals on output reduction. Hawrami stated he did not “envision much impact on the KRG” from the agreement, which was made on November 30. OPEC said it would agree to limit crude oil output to a maximum of 32.5 million barrels per day starting January 1 for six months. Currently, Iraq has agreed to decrease output by 200,000 barrels per day; however, there has been no discussion between the KRG and Iraq on who would cut what amount in the state. The KRG has faced an economic crisis since a dispute with Baghdad in early 2014 saw its share of the federal budget delayed. As a result, Erbil increased independent oil exports in an effort to make up for dwindling payments, a move that further strained relationships with the central government.

On December 6, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced it would be giving Iraq the second installment of its US$ 5.8 billion loan. The installment amounts to US$ 618 million that is to help restore fiscal balance in the state and to fund the economic reform program. The reform program includes measures to protect the poor, strengthen public financial management, support the stability of the financial sector, and curb corruption. The IMF agreed to the loan in July 2016.

On December 6, a Member of Parliament representing the Shia political bloc the National Alliance Hoshyar Abdullah warned against changes to the promise of 17% of the budget being allocated to the KRG, saying he believes there could be a downturn that could “threaten the political process” in Iraq. Currently, Parliament has agreed to allocate 17% of the budget to the KRG to pay for employee’s salaries in the region in exchange for oil. The allocated funding will also go to proportionally dividing up territory between ISF and Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces in accordance to population, but does not include language that specifically allocates funds to the Peshmerga forces. Abdullah stated that any changes would go against what Parliament has already promised and would damage an already fragile relationship, which could hurt Iraq’s politics long-term.

On December 6, oil prices fell, sparking fears that despite the deal made by OPEC members and non-members like Russia, there will be a glut of oil on the market through the end of 2016.

On December 7, Parliament voted to approve the 2017 fiscal budget. The vote was unanimous with all 186 Members of Parliament (out of 328 members in total) who were present at the session. The budget is estimated to be US$ 84 billion and forecasts a deficit of US$ 19 billion. Meanwhile, a barrel of oil is priced at US$ 42 and the country is expected to export 3.75 million barrels per day (bpd), including 250,000 bpd from oilfields in the Kurdish controlled region. The budget also allocated 17% for salaries of state workers and Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in the Kurdish region. Speaker of Parliament Salim al-Jabouri said the bill “does not include additional expenses” since the country is focusing on increasing austerity measures to combat the current economic crisis. Four Kurdish political blocs in Iraqi Parliament, including the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Islamic Union of Kurdistan thanked al-Jabouri and the Finance Committee for their commitment to ensuring part of the budget be allocated to secure benefits and salaries of Kurdish employees and a new and proportional division of land between ISF and Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga. However, the KDP was not pleased with the budget and refused to participate in the vote. Head of the KDP in Iraqi Parliament, Ahmed Muhsin al-Sadoun, commented that “passing the budget today has not resolved the disputed issues between the central government and the Kurdish region, including oil exports.” Al-Sadoun also criticized the budget for not even meeting “half of what is required” to fund salaries of state workers and Peshmerga forces. Representatives from the Basra Province, 532 kilometers south of Baghdad, also withdrew from the vote in protest over the government’s refusal to commit to paying overdue petrodollars. Parliament will now begin a legislative recess and reconvene in a month.

On December 7, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced he would put forth a list of candidates for the empty Minister positions (Defense, Interior, Finance, and Industry) after the month-long legislative recess. Al-Abadi said he has “no problem declaring the names” but that there are disagreements in “some ministries.” Currently the Defense, Finance, Interior, and Trade and Industry Minister positions are vacant. The Defense and Finance Ministers were voted out of office due to corruption charges in late August while the Interior Minister resigned in July after the Karradah bombing in Baghdad that killed more than 300 Iraqis. The Trade and Industry Minister resigned in July at the request of al-Abadi who had been trying to replace the Cabinet.

On December 8, Member of Parliament for the Shia, State of Law coalition, Abbas al-Bayati, said there are gaps in the general budget for 2017, which was voted into law yesterday. Al-Bayati fears the “government challenged the law.” He continued, during an interview with Al Sumaria news, saying that the “adoption of the federal budget for 2017 represents a win-win situation for the government and [Parliament]” but that it does not mean the budget benefits all involved parties. Al-Abayti stressed the budget “as a whole” is a compromise in order to balance the austerity measures. The budget passed yesterday unanimously with all 186 Members of Parliament present voting in favor of the law.


DateLocationDeathsInjuries
12/15/16Sha’ab, Northeast Baghdad01
12/15/16Sha’ab, Northeast Baghdad01
12/15/16Sha’ab, Northeast Baghdad02
12/15/16Sha’ab, Northeast Baghdad02
12/15/16Sha’ab, Northeast Baghdad01
12/15/16Sha’ab, Northeast Baghdad02
12/14/16Mansuriya, East of Baquba12
12/14/16Albu Hamdan, Eastern Baghdad10
12/14/16Washash, Central Baghdad210
12/14/16Arab Ejbur, Eastern Baghdad01
12/14/16Beirut Square, Central Baghdad00
12/14/16Arab Ejbur, Eastern Baghdad11
12/13/16Al-Ubaidi, Eastern Baghdad03
12/13/16al-Zohour, Eastern MosulUnknownUnknown
12/13/16al-Zohour, Eastern MosulUnknown Unknown
12/11/16Fallujah, West of Baghdad 06
12/11/16Fallujah, West of Baghdad 16
12/11/16Al Baiueia, Northeast Baghdad15
12/11/16Sharqat, East of Tikrit 21
12/11/16Abu Dshir, South Baghdad02
12/11/16Abu Dshir, South Baghdad03
12/10/16Al-Baghdadi, West of Ramadi 01
12/09/16Baghdad Al-Jadeeda, East Baghdad14

IMPORTANT: Reporting of IED incidents in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq are lower than usual this week, but this is not indicative of an actual decrease in IED incidents. Al Mada Press is our typical source for IED reports, but some Iraq watchers have criticized their limited coverage of IED attacks in recent weeks.

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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