ISHM: December 16 – 22, 2016

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Key Takeaways:

  • Security Forces Face Mounting Challenges in Mosul – Operations to clear the city of Mosul of ISIS militants have slowed considerably over the past week as the area experienced heavy rains and as Iraqi Security Forces in the city conduct a “planned operational refit,” according to the Deputy Commander for the U.S.-led international coalition Brigadier General Matthew Isler. The “refit” includes making repairs to vehicles, resupplying ammunition, and readying forces to continue. Although U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter had suggested in early December that the recapture of Mosul was ‘possible’ before President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration on January 20, Commander of the U.S. effort in Iraq Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend told reporters at the Pentagon that, “We’re just going to let it go at the pace” of the Iraqi military as “they’re the ones doing the fighting and the dying.” U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, Ambassador Brett McGurk, indicated in a press conference the fight for Mosul could last for months. Iraqi Army units and the elite Iraqi Counterterrorism Service currently hold 40 of 60 neighborhoods in eastern Mosul. Popular militias operating west of the city are focused on holding desert territory between Mosul and surrounding Tal Afar, 63 kilometers to the west, to prevent ISIS militants from fleeing toward Syria. more…
  • Humanitarian Situation in Mosul Continues to Deteriorate – The humanitarian condition in Mosul remains in steep decline as critical food and water shortages compound already serious risks to public health. In a phone interview with The New York Times, Abu Noor, a resident of western Mosul, said that “ISIS members have become like mad dogs, and every member has the power of immediate execution.” Nevertheless, the Iraqi Government has not reversed its recommendation that civilians in Mosul remain in their homes for fear that they will be caught in the crossfire between security forces and ISIS militants. As one resident of a recently cleared neighborhood in eastern Mosul said, “the government forces said stay in your houses, but our houses are without electricity or water. We are amid hell.” On December 20 and 21, the UN reported that at least four aid workers and seven civilians were killed and 40 others injured by indiscriminate mortar fire as they waited in line for emergency assistance in eastern Mosul. The UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande, said following the attacks that “the killing of civilians and aid workers violates every humanitarian principle…we call on authorities to ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice and account.” Conditions in Mosul are not likely to improve for several months as Iraqi Security Forces make slow progress in clearing ISIS militants. more…
  • Displacements from Kirkuk Province as Violence in Hawija Continues – On December 16, the UNHCR reported that IDPs from Salah ad-Din, Anbar, and Diyala provinces, sheltering in Kirkuk, were issued with notifications to leave the area by December 20. To compel returns from both camp and non-camp communities, identify documents were confiscated, and IDPs were threatened with forced removal to the Daquq checkpoint. Protection monitors reported that as a result of the threats, 24 families are believed to have fled. The UNHCR intervened, requesting a moratorium on forced returns in light of harsh winter weather conditions, and instability in the regions to which the IDPs are expected to return. Forced displacement from Kirkuk has been an ongoing problem as part of an unstated policy on repopulating the area with Kurdish civilians and forcing Arabs, especially Sunni Arabs, from the territory. The displacement crisis comes as the security and humanitarian condition in Hawija continues to deteriorate. Hawija has been occupied by ISIS since June 2014, but was passed over in the rush to clear ISIS militants from Mosul. Since August 1, over 54,000 (mostly Sunni Arab) IDPs have fled Hawija. more…
  • 2017 Aid Plan Released – The UNHCR published its 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan for Iraq and updated statistics related to Iraq’s ongoing security and humanitarian crisis. All as a result of ISIS violence, these figures include a reduction in agricultural production by 40%, contributing to a total of 2.9 million people who are currently food insecure; the damage to or destruction of 23 hospitals and more than 230 primary health facilities; nearly 3.5 million school-aged Iraqi children who attend school irregularly or not at all as a result of destroyed school facilities (for more on the conditions of public education in Iraq, see our recent report); and 8.3 million people who lack consistent access to clean water and sanitation. more…
  • Zebari’s Ouster, PMU Law Made Official – Ousted Finance Minister Hoshyar Zebari lost an appeal in Iraq’s Federal Court challenging his ouster as Finance Minister by Parliament on September 21. The 6-3 decision by the Court sets a precedent for votes of no confidence. Zebari waned that a “power vacuum” in the government’s institutions is being instigated by certain factions of Parliament. Currently, the Defense, Finance, Interior, and Trade and Industry Minister positions are vacant. Prime Minister Haider al-abadi said he plans to submit names of candidates to fill the positions after the new year. Separately, Iraqi President Fuad Masum formally approved of a law passed by Parliament on November 26, legalizing state-sanctioned Popular Mobilization Units. The law has been condemned by Sunni Arabs and certain minority groups who cite instances of Shia PMU abuse of Sunnis and minorities. more…
  • World Bank Approves New Loan as Iraq Seeks Economic Diversification – On December 21, the World Bank confirmed the approval of a nearly $1.5 billion loan to Iraq, bringing the group’s commitment to nearly $3.4 billion. World Bank Director the the Middle East, Ferid Belhaj, said that Iraq is a “unique case” as it remains engaged in “structural, deep, far-reaching reforms” while fighting a brutal war against ISIS. The loan aims to support government efforts to diversify its industries apart from oil. The following day, the Ministry of Industry announced a project to rehabilitate iron and steel production plants in Basra that could develop tens of thousands of jobs for Iraqi citizens. Prior to the 1991 Gulf War, Basra was an industrial hub in Iraq, home to factories and laboratories that produced paper, fertilizer, iron, and steel. 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.


Security Forces Face Mounting Challenges in Mosul

On December 15, leadership within the Jihad Brigade popular mobilization unit (PMU) reported that PMU militia forces repelled an Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) attack on their position in an unnamed area west of Mosul. PMU forces claimed they destroyed four vehicle-based improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) and killed at least nine ISIS militants.

On December 15, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, Ambassador Brett McGurk, reported that over 17,000 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria have killed at least 75% of ISIS militants, reducing ISIS’s “battle ready” fighters to between 12,000-15,000 militants. McGurk claimed that U.S. officials estimated that the U.S.-led international coalition killed 50,000 ISIS militants since 2014, and claimed that ISIS is having trouble “replenishing its ranks” due to tighter surveillance and border measures in many countries, which has stemmed the flow of foreign fighters. While the Obama administration has done a lot to hamper ISIS, McGurk noted that the Trump administration will inherit the fight against ISIS.  

On December 16, an anonymous local source in Ninewa Province reported that ISIS militants were searching and confiscating different materials such as pens, watches, and other small devices in front of mosques before weekly Fridays prayers. The source claimed that this action by ISIS militants comes after security forces said government agents and supporters were able to infiltrate the city and gather intelligence on militants within the city. ISIS militants were looking for “secret cameras” on small devices after a video came out showing ISIS movements.

On December 16, spokesman of the Interior Ministry, Brigadier General Saad Maan, reported that four ISIS militants were arrested when they were found hiding in the al-Zahra neighborhood in eastern Mosul. Maan claimed that the detainees confessed to be ISIS militants when they were caught by security forces.  

On December 16, Deputy Commander of Operations in Ninewa Province, Lieutenant General Abdul Amir Rasheed Jarallah, reported that security forces killed 174 militants and destroyed 13 VBIEDs in Ninewa Province, repelling an attempt by ISIS to regain territory in the province. Security forces managed to kill 22 ISIS militants and destroy two VBIEDs in the village of al Arij, 18 kilometers south from the center of Mosul, while attempting to clear improvised explosive device (IEDs) from roads and houses. Security forces came in contact with ISIS militants while trying to clear IEDs from the al-Entisar, al-Salam, al-Tamim, Hay Al-Noor, and al-Bakr neighborhoods in eastern Mosul, killing 127 ISIS militants, as well as the Baewiza neighborhood in northern Mosul, killing 152 ISIS militants and destroying 11 ISIS vehicles.

On December 16, an anonymous PMU source reported that ISIS was “pushing” its foreign fighters and suicide bombers west of Tal Afar, 67 kilometers west of Mosul, claiming that these actions were being undertaken in an attempt to conserve and consolidate ISIS forces as security forces inflict heavy casualties on ISIS militants within Tal Afar. The source reported that over 150 villages had been cleared of ISIS militants around Tal Afar since the operations began in November 2016.

On December 17, an anonymous local source in Ninewa Province reported that the “financial brain” of ISIS financial transactions, Abu Qatada al Qahtani, went missing along with important financial files and names of ISIS leadership in Iraq and Syria. The source claimed that, whether Qahtani is alive or not, the loss of such an important financial leader is a serious blow to ISIS. A later report on December 20, reported that an ISIS newspaper circulating in western Mosul requested that Qahtani be captured dead or alive for fleeing the area. An anonymous source in Ninewa Province claimed that militants raided his house in the al-Tub area in western Mosul.   

On December 17, Chairman of the Security Committee in Ninewa Province, Mohammed al Bayati, reported that security forces had “tightened its grip” on all “lines of communication” by surrounding ISIS militants in the province. Bayati claimed that not only is Tal Afar, 67 kilometers west of Mosul, cordoned off, but ISIS militants are now unable to flee to Syria.  

On December 18, media connected with the Joint Special Operations Command reported that an ISIS leader named Abu Ayyub al-Mufti, was killed by Mosul residents in the east of Mosul. While intelligence sources confirmed that he was killed by Mosul residents, they did not include how he was killed or the location of his death.

On December 18, Deputy Commander of Operations in Ninewa Province, Lieutenant General Abdul Amir Rasheed Jarallah, reported that ISIS militants attacked Iraq security forces (ISF) with two VBIEDs, booby traps, and militant forces in an unnamed area in northern Mosul. Security forces repelled the attack, killing eight militants and destroying the VBIEDs. Jarallah claimed that security forces will continue dismantling IEDs and other explosive devices in the area.

On December 18, commander of the Iraqi Counterterrorism Service (CTS), Lieutenant General Abdul Ghani al-Asadi reported that CTS forces controlled 40 districts in the city of Mosul and claimed that the “collapse” of ISIS militants on the eastern side of the city was due to the success of military operation within Mosul. Asadi claimed that ISF will reach the Tigris River and begin operations on the western side of the city in the next few days.

On December 18, leadership within ISIS reported that they would reward up to US$ 1 million to whomever killed 23 year old Danish foreign Kurdish Peshmerga fighter Joanna Palani. Palani faces a six month prison term in Denmark for violating a travel ban to certain countries in the Middle East. Palani, born into a refugee camp during the Gulf War, left college and joined the People’s Protection Unit (YPG) and then the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters under the U.S.-led international coalition on June 6, 2015.

On December 18, The New York Times reported that the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, Ambassador Brett McGurk, stated that previous operations in Iraq and Syria to clear ISIS militants from cities took months to accomplish and that eventually ISIS militants would “exhaust” their supply of ammunition and fighters. “In Mosul, we don’t know when that will come. It could come very soon, it could come a couple months from now, but our momentum will be sustained and we’ll provide relentless pressure on the enemy throughout Mosul,” McGurk reported. Commander of the combined joint task force Operation Inherent Resolve, Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, during a press conference at the Pentagon, gave reporters no indication on when Mosul would be completely retaken from ISIS militants, but claimed that the Iraqis were engaged in discussion on how to “inject new energy” into the fight. “We’re just going to let it go at the pace” of the Iraqi military, General Townsend said. “They are the ones doing the fighting and dying.” The Mosul operation has been unlike any other in Iraq. As ISF has fought ISIS neighborhood to neighborhood, Iraqi troops have uncovered sophisticated ISIS bomb manufacturing facilities that have stunned researchers and troops, indicating that the road to clear ISIS militants from Mosul may be a long time in the future.

On December 19, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Brigadier General Saad Maan, reported that police near Mosul arrested three ISIS militants that were attempting to gain intelligence information on ISF in the Gogjali area in eastern Mosul. No further information was given about the incident.  

On December 19, Iraqi army officer, Captain Iyad Ziad, reported in a press statement that security forces pushed into the al-Mazare area after clearing ISIS militants from the al Wehda neighborhood in eastern Mosul. During the operation Ziad claimed that ISF killed 14 ISIS militants, including four suicide bombers, and will be attempting to retake the al-Salam hospital shortly.   

On December 19, Iraqi army officer, Captain Amir Wathiq, reported that four Shia PMU militia forces were killed when ISIS militants fired mortar shells into the Abu Senam, a city west of Mosul near Tal Afar. The attack also resulted in the destruction of two vehicles belonging to the al-Hashd al-Shaabi PMU.

On December 19, U.S. Central Command reported that the U.S.-led international coalition conducted five airstrikes near Hawija, 57 kilometers west of Kirkuk; Kisik, 46 kilometers west of Mosul; Tal Afar, 67 kilometers west of Mosul; and Mosul. The strikes targeted ISIS artillery, buildings, and vehicles.

On December 20, Pentagon Press Secretary, Peter Cook, reported during a press conference at the Pentagon that operations to clear ISIS militants from Mosul have been “unexpectedly difficult” due to the “dense urban terrain” within the city. Cook claimed that ISF managed to clear ISIS militants from 20% of the city and reaffirmed the United State’s continual support for Iraq in Mosul. A later report in Iraq by the Al-Hashd PMU, reported that operations to clear ISIS from Mosul could take longer than expected, despite optimism from Iraqi officials on a near victory. A senior commander of the al-Hashd PMU, Hadi al-Ameri, was seen on a television interview on the battlefield claiming “those that believe that the battle of Mosul is going to end quickly are deluded.” Some Iraqi officials claim that ISF managed to clear 40 out of 60 districts in the eastern side of Mosul.  

On December 20, an anonymous source in Ninewa Province reported that ISIS militants launched two separate counterattacks against PMU militia al-Hashd PMU near Tal Afar, 67 kilometers west of Mosul, and ISF in the village of Azba, 20 kilometer south of Mosul. Al-Hashd forces managed to repel the attack and kill 10 ISIS militants and destroy three ISIS vehicles during the counterattack. Militia sources claim that the counterattack actually weakened ISIS, allowing PMU forces to advance closer to Tal Afar. A source from the Iraqi federal police in Azba claimed that ISIS was heavily bombarded at the Ghazlani military base near the village. Federal Police Chief in Ninewa Province, Captain Raed Shakir Jawdat, claimed that the bombardment resulted in “dozens” of ISIS militants deaths. A later report on December 21, reported that federal police killed two militants and destroyed 2 vehicles during an ISIS suicide attack in the Palestine neighborhood in the south of Mosul.

On December 20, an anonymous source in Ninewa Province reported that the presence of supposed ISIS militants wearing all black were concerning parents after the disappearance of multiple, young teenage boys. The source claimed that ISIS was suffering from a lack of recruits and might be forcing teenage boys to join ISIS through abduction, social media, or mosques.

On December 21, Deputy Commander for the U.S.-led international coalition air forces, Brigadier General Matthew Isler, reported that Iraqi forces battling ISIS in Mosul have entered into a “planned operation refit” in one of the first major pauses of the operation. Operating on a timeline driven by ISF, Isler claimed that the pause will allow security forces to repair vehicles, resupply ammunition, and prepare for the next stages of the operation. Iraqi authorities have increasingly restricted news media and access to the frontlines and do not publish Iraqi forces’ casualty figures, but reports from the Iraqi military’s war media cell has reported “no changes on all axes” despite reports of progress in the east by the CTS.

On December 21, an anonymous local source in Ninewa Province reported that a drone strike killed ISIS prison official, Abu Talha al-Afri, and two of his assistants on the al-Dawasah road in western Mosul. No further information was given in the report.

On December 21, an anonymous local source in Ninewa Province reported that ISIS militants paid an older women to have a six year old girl blow herself up in a crowd of IDPs in a ISF controlled area in eastern Mosul. The bombing resulted in zero casualties.  

On December 22, the Reuters News reported that three ISIS VBIEDs detonated in the Gogjali district in eastern Mosul. As reported in ISHM, ISF retook the Gogjali district on October 31, 2016. Reuters claimed that at least two civilians had been killed and 20 wounded, including soldiers, according to local police, health officials, and an anonymous source. The Washington Post reported that at least 15 civilians and eight policemen were killed in the attack. A later report by Iraqi News claimed that two VBIEDs detonated in the Gogjali district and another in the al-Zohour district in eastern Mosul. The report by Iraq News claimed that 20 people were killed and at least 30 others were injured as a result of the blast.    

On December 22, the Iraqi Ministry of Defense reported that 20 ISIS leaders and 50 ISIS militants were killed when the Iraqi Air Force targeted a gathering of ISIS leaders in the village of Tal Abtah, 73 kilometers southwest of the center of Mosul. In the same report, the Iraqi Ministry of Defence claimed that the Military Intelligence Directorate was able to shell a cache of weapons that included Katyusha rockets and Iraqi military uniforms in the al-Shallalat area in northeastern Mosul. Similarly, security force in southern Mosul managed to seize 45 IEDs that were going to be used to block any advancement made by ISF.


Humanitarian Situation in Mosul Continues to Deteriorate

Dec. 16 Dec. 17 Dec. 18 Dec. 19 Dec. 20 Dec. 21 Dec. 22
Total IDPs 99,384 101,766 103,872 104,424 106,692 107,304 108,624
Daily Net Change +2,520 +2,382 +2,106 +552 +2,268 +612 +1,320

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 16, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that the humanitarian conditions in newly retaken areas of Mosul are poor in terms of security and lack basic services. Returnees in the southern parts of Nanaah village report the presence of unexploded ordnance inside unoccupied houses and in unmarked open areas, exposing children and adults alike to danger. Returnees also report that the supply of food, kerosene and potable water is scarce and infrequent. In addition, government offices and institutions like hospitals and schools are yet to reopen. UNHCR continues to advocate for returns to be voluntary, safe and dignified and for the provision of services in such areas that make the returns sustainable. UNHCR notes the establishment of a committee in Hasansham and Khazer camps comprising of camp management, a representative of the Prime Minister’s office and a representative of the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga to examine return requests by internally displaced persons (IDPs).

On December 17, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 183 total injuries among IDPs from Mosul seeking treatment at health centers between December 9 and 15, many of which were the result of gunshots or improvised explosive devices (IEDs). WHO reported 605 total referrals to health centers during the reporting period for injuries, complications from pregnancy or delivery, mental and psychosocial trauma, poor nutrition, and other conditions.

On December 18, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that the Hashed al-Jabour militia within the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) executed at least four men suspected of affiliation with Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) without any judicial proceedings. The executions reportedly took place in Shayalat al-Imam village, 70 kilometers south of Mosul in the northern Salah ad-Din Province, and witnesses told HRW that Iraqi Security Forces were present and did not intervene to stop the executions. The PMU were legalized by Iraqi Government on November 26, as reported in ISHM, in legislation that has been criticized by some due to a record of human rights abuses by some militias within the PMU.

On December 18, Reuters News reported on civilian casualties in and around Mosul. While Iraqi authorities do not release statistics about those killed or wounded in the Mosul campaign, in what Reuters called “an effort to maintain morale”, dozens of wounded civilians are evacuated each day to the hospital in Erbil, approximately 75 kilometers southeast of Mosul. The UN warned last month that casualties were overwhelming the capacity of government workers and international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) working in the area, and since then the situation has deteriorated further. There were 685 injuries reported between December 5 and 11, mainly from gunshots, mines, and indirect fire. One seven year-old boy in Erbil Hospital was critically injured by shrapnel from an ISIS mortar attack in his neighborhood in Mosul, and two of his brothers were killed in the attack.

On December 18, The New York Times reported on conditions in Mosul. According to Abu Noor, a resident of western Mosul who spoke to the Times via telephone, “ISIS members have become like mad dogs, and every member has the power of immediate execution.” Civilians who attempt to flee the violence in Mosul risk not only execution by ISIS, they face being caught in the crossfire: 54 year-old Umm Ussam was shot through the neck by an ISIS sniper when she tried to flee her home, and another civilian Saleh Hassoun told the Times how his daughter and granddaughters were killed when they detonated an IED set by ISIS. Though a few evacuations of civilians were facilitated by Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) recently, the Iraqi Government has not reversed its earlier recommendation that civilians stay in their homes. Conditions in Mosul are degenerating rapidly as food, medicine, and other necessities become scarce. One resident of a newly cleared neighborhood in eastern Mosul told the Times “the government forces said stay in your houses, but our houses are without electricity or water. . . We are amid hell. We don’t know when we will be bombed, or if ISIS will return to kill us.”

On December 18, a group of Moslawi women formed a Facebook page titled “Women of Mosul”, to publicize the challenges facing women in Mosul, facilitate dialogue about the status of women in post-ISIS Mosul, and advocate for women’s rights. The page is led by female engineers, professors, teachers, interpreters and translators, and other educated women of Mosul.

On December 19, the Ministry of Displacement and Migration reported that the number of IDPs displaced from Mosul and surrounding areas since military operations began on October 17 reached 120,680. Alternatively, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported the same day the number to be 104,424.

On December 19, UNHCR reported on challenges to humanitarian assistance for the people of Mosul. Residents in recently cleared areas in eastern Mosul still lack access to clean drinking water, which was reportedly cut off by ISIS militants on November 25. Many are relying on newly dug wells and rainwater collection for their water supply. UNHCR and humanitarian partners continue to deliver water to 15 neighborhoods in eastern Mosul city, delivering approximately 450,000 litres of water per day to serve approximately 45,000 people. However, it is clear that efforts need to be increased to meet the needs of all affected people. Food shortage in the city remains a concern as well, and difficulties distributing food and aid packages to residents of Mosul was compounded between December 12 and December 18 by heavy rain. The weather also resulted in flooding in camps, potentially contaminating drinking water supplies, and the drop in temperatures poses a threat to already vulnerable IDPs.

On December 20, spokesman for the Combined Joint Task Force of Operation Inherent Resolve, Colonel John Dorian, reported that ISIS developed a game that rewards children for pronouncing certain words such as ‘grenade’ and ‘rocket’ and for coming up with ways to destroy a western landmark, including the use of a commercial airliner. Dorian claimed that rehabilitation programs must be created for children brought up in ISIS controlled areas to counter ISIS’s radical extremism.  

On December 21, UNHCR reported on the planned return of Iraqi refugees in Syria. According to UNHCR, approximately 800 Iraqi refugees who fled Mosul will be relocated from al-Hol camp in Syria’s Hassakeh Province, approximately 12 kilometers west of the Iraqi border, to al-Alam IDP camp, approximately 11 kilometers north of Tikrit in Salah ad-Din Province, which reached capacity on December 20. The return was coordinated by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and “central authorities”. The means of the return and situation upon return do not comply with UNHCR criteria for voluntary returns. UNHCR will monitor the process and advocate with relevant authorities to prevent forced returns. The returnees are expected to arrive in al-Alam camp in the coming days.

On December 21, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) published its annual report on the number of journalists detained worldwide. According to RSF, ISIS militants have held 10 journalists and media contributors – all Iraqis – for nearly two years in Mosul. ISIS took control of all of Mosul’s media when it seized the city in 2014. Details about the condition of the journalists held in Mosul were not given in the report.

On December 21, the Director of IDP Camps in Erbil, Amin Obeid, announced that three women and one child displaced from Mosul were injured in a fire that broke out in Khazar IDP camp in Erbil Province when a heater exploded in a tent. The injured IDPs were transferred to Erbil Hospital for treatment. The Governor of Erbil, Nawzad Hadi Mawlood, reportedly established a committee to investigate the incident and made plans to visit the camp and observe the conditions there.

On December 21, the Minister of Displacement and Migration, Jassim Mohammed, announced the return of 1.5 million people to their places of origin in areas cleared of ISIS militants since returns began in 2014. Mohammed added that IDP camps have capacity for 120,000 IDPs, while the number of IDPs from Mosul and Hawija has reached 125,000, admitting that camps were over capacity by approximately 5,000. However, the IOM reported that 107,304 IDPs were displaced from Mosul and its environs since October 17 as of December 21, and UNHCR recorded a total of 54,300 IDPs who fled Hawija since August 1 alone, which would make the number of IDPs from Mosul and Hawija at least 161,604.

On December 22, the UN issued a statement condemning the killing of civilians and aid workers in two separate incidents in eastern Mosul city. In the 48 hours prior to the UN statement, four aid workers and at least seven civilians lined up for emergency assistance were killed by indiscriminate mortar fire, with up to forty others injured, according to initial reports. Lise Grande, coordinator for the UN Assistance Mission to Iraq, said “People waiting for aid are already vulnerable and need help. They should be protected, not attacked. All parties to the conflict–all parties–have an obligation to uphold international humanitarian law and ensure that civilians survive and receive the assistance they need.”

On December 22, HRW reported that armed groups in Iraq affiliated to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) have recruited children under the age of 15. HRW documented 29 cases in northern Iraq in which Kurdish and Yazidi children were recruited by two armed groups: the People’s Defense Forces (HPG), which is the armed wing of the PKK, and the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBŞ), which is also connected to the PKK. In two cases the armed groups reportedly abducted or seriously abused children who tried to leave their forces. HRW called on the HPG and PKK to denounce child recruitment and hold those involved accountable, and urged the central Iraqi Government, which HRW alleges has paid salaries to YBŞ forces, to put pressure on the group to demobilize child soldiers.

On December 22, IOM reported that 76% of the 108,624 IDPs displaced from Mosul and surrounding areas since military operations began on October 17 were sheltered in official IDP camps, 14% were sheltered in private settings or critical shelter arrangements such as relatives’ homes or abandoned buildings, and 9% were sheltered in emergency sites. The vast majority of IDPs from Mosul are internally displaced in camps in Ninewa Province.

On December 22, Amnesty International reported on the challenges in accessing medical care facing civilians injured in the conflict in and around Mosul. With few or no functioning or accessible hospitals in Ninewa Province, the best option for wounded civilians is to travel to hospitals in Erbil Province. While Erbil is only 80 kilometers east of Mosul, getting there can be almost impossible for residents of Mosul. Only those who obtain a special permit from the KRG can enter the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), and even then it is difficult or impossible for their relatives to join or visit them. With limited transportation, many who attempt the trip to Erbil on foot get caught in the crossfire between ISF and ISIS and do not make it to a hospital. Even though only some of those injured in the conflict in Mosul have been evacuated to Erbil, hospitals there have been overwhelmed by the large number of casualties.

On December 22, the UN’s Iraq Child Protection Sub-Cluster (CPSC) reported that approximately 40,000 people in the outskirts of Mosul were forcibly removed from their homes by ISIS and relocated to strategic positions since military operations began on October 17, and tens of thousands were reportedly used as human shields by the group. Approximately half of the IDPs displaced from Mosul are children. CPSC also expressed concern about recruitment of children by armed groups, as well as the sexual exploitation of young girls by these groups. CPSC reported that throughout Iraq, 3.6 million children are at a great risk of death, injury, sexual violence, abduction or recruitment into armed groups, and are in dire need of protection assistance.

On December 22, the Minister of Displacement and Migration, Jassim Mohammed, announced the arrival of 1,400 IDPs at al-Alam camp, approximately 11 kilometers north of Tikrit in Salah ad-Din Province, who were returned to Iraq from al-Hol camp in Syria’s Hassakeh Province, approximately 12 kilometers west of the Iraqi border. The transfer of these IDPs was coordinated by the KRG and the Ministry of Displacement and Migration and facilitated by buses provided by the Ministry of Transportation. According to Mohammed, this return is the fourth of its kind in the past two months: a total of 3,813 Iraqi refugees sheltering in al-Hol camp have been returned to Iraq. Mohammed did not comment on whether these returns were voluntary, but on December 21 the UN expressed concern that this latest transfer did not comply with UN standards for voluntary returns.


Displacements from Kirkuk Province as Violence in Hawija Continues

On December 16, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Salah ad-Din, Anbar and Diyala provinces, sheltering in Kirkuk, were issued with notifications to leave the area by December 20. To compel returns from both camp and non-camp communities, identity documents were confiscated, and IDPs were threatened with forced removal to Daquq checkpoint. UNHCR protection monitors in Kirkuk report that as a result of the threats, 24 families are believed to have left Laylan camp to their areas of origin. The IDPs report that a significant number of locations in their places of origin have either been destroyed, are still considered unsafe, or are under Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU) control, increasing the likelihood of secondary displacement. IDPs also reported that those with school children would need some time to initiate their transfer from school. UNHCR intervened with authorities requesting a moratorium on all forced returns in light of the harsh weather conditions and the situation in IDP areas of origin.

On December 17, a security source in Kirkuk Province reported that ISIS militants kidnapped 43 civilians from Hawija, 55 kilometers southwest of Kirkuk City, to be forcibly transferred to an unknown location. It is possible that these civilians will be used as human shields by ISIS.

On December 18, UNHCR reported that on December 17, 360 IDPs who fled Hawija through the Hamreen Mountains arrived at al-Hayakel in Salah ad-Din Province. Local authorities are planning to transport them to UNHCR’s al-Alam camp, approximately 11 kilometers north of Tikrit in Salah ad-Din Province. On the same day, 12 IDPs including women and children were reportedly wounded and one killed by an IED as they fled Hawija towards Kirkuk. 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 violence as well as a shortage of food, water, and medicine. As of December 19, a total of 54,300 IDPs fled Hawija since August 1, an increase of 3,300 IDPs from the 51,000 IDPs recorded on December 12.

On December 19, a security source in Kirkuk Province reported that Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces received 853 IDPs fleeing ISIS violence in Hawija, 55 kilometers southwest of Kirkuk City, at Makteb Khaled security checkpoint, approximately 20 kilometers southwest of Kirkuk City. The source reported that the IDPs would be transferred to IDP camps after receiving clearance by security officials.

On December 20, UNHCR reported that al-Alam IDP camp, approximately 11 kilometers north of Tikrit in Salah ad-Din Province, reached capacity at 2,800 IDPs after another group of IDPs from Hawija were transported to the camp. UNHCR reported that a second al-Alam camp is being prepared to receive 2,400 IDPs in coming weeks. Al-Alam camps 1 and 2 also received IDPs transferred from Jad’ah IDP camp in Qayyarah, 65 kilometers south of Mosul in Ninewa Province, which has exceeded capacity. Along with overcrowding in IDP camps, UNHCR expressed concern about trauma among civilians, including post-traumatic stress in the youth population, and the incidence of unaccompanied children in camps.

On December 21, UNHCR reported on the planned return of Iraqi refugees in Syria. According to UNHCR, approximately 800 Iraqi refugees who fled Mosul will be relocated from al-Hol camp in Syria’s Hassakeh Province, approximately 12 kilometers west of the Iraqi border, to al-Alam IDP camp, approximately 11 kilometers north of Tikrit in Salah ad-Din Province, which reached capacity on December 20. The return was coordinated by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and “central authorities.” UNHCR stated that the means of the return and situation upon return do not comply with the organization’s criteria for voluntary returns. UNHCR will monitor the process and advocate with relevant authorities to prevent forced returns. The returnees are expected to arrive in al-Alam camp in the coming days.

On December 22, leader of the al-Hashd al-Shaabi PMU in Kirkuk province, Jabbar al-Mamouri, claimed that an airstrike targeted what he called the ISIS “war council” in Hawija, 55 kilometers west of Kirkuk. While Mamouri did not release any details on who conducted the strike and how many ISIS militant were killed in the strike, he did claim “the strike was very successful and killed many ISIS leader.” Mamouri claimed that cooperation with the people of Hawija have contributed to “quality” strikes on ISIS militants in Hawija.

On December 22, an anonymous local source in Kirkuk province reported that two ISIS militants were killed and five wounded when a clash broke out between unidentified gunmen and militants near Hawija, 55 kilometers west of Kirkuk. ISIS militants have seen a rise in popular unrest in Hawija since they took control of the city in June 2014.   

On December 22, a security source in Kirkuk Province reported that 240 IDPs fleeing violence in ISIS-controlled Hawija, 55 kilometers southwest of Kirkuk City, arrived at a checkpoint northwest of Kirkuk City. The source stated that the IDPs will undergo security screenings by Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga before being relocated to IDP camps or private settings. As conditions in Hawija deteriorate, more and more IDPs flee to camps in Kirkuk Province, which are already strained by the number of IDPs they support.


2017 Aid Plan Released

On December 16, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) published its 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan for Iraq. The plan reported that more Iraqis are vulnerable now than any time in the recent conflict: poverty rates in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) have doubled and unemployment has tripled in many communities. Payrolls for government employees have been cut or delayed. Agricultural production has declined by 40 per cent, undermining the country’s food sufficiency, and hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to migrate to urban areas for jobs and support. Based on assessments conducted in the last months of 2016, 2.9 million people are currently food insecure, forced to rely on severe and often irreversible coping strategies. The number of health consultations performed in health clinics has increased eightfold and around 23 hospitals and more than 230 primary health facilities have been damaged or destroyed. Schools in the governorates impacted by Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) are forced to convene three sequential sessions to cope with the increased number of students. Nearly 3.5 million school-aged Iraqi children attend school irregularly, or not at all, and more than 600,000 displaced children have missed an entire year of education. 10.3 million people require health care, 8.9 million protection support and 8.3 million water and sanitation. About 4.7 million people need shelter and household goods while 3.5 million children need education support. Social tensions are expected to impact at least 4.7 million people.

On December 16, the Regional Food Security Analysis Network published a report on the impact of ISIS on the Iraq’s agricultural sector. According to the report, ISIS’s occupation is estimated to have reduced Iraq’s agricultural production capacity by at least 40% and ended agricultural subsidies to farmers in ISIS-held areas. Furthermore, where ISIS lost territory, they employed a scorched-earth strategy, destroying agricultural infrastructure and resources as they retreated. Up to 80% of wheat and barley fields in some provinces were lost, and an estimated 80% of sheep and goats, 50% of cows, and 90% of poultry were lost due to ISIS occupation. Despite losses and destruction, the report suggests that there is a great potential in agriculture to support the most vulnerable populations and the overall economy of Iraq. The report offered policy recommendations, suggesting crop diversification, increased support to small farmers, and the temporary restoration of protective measures and agricultural subsidies temporarily to encourage domestic production and consumption in the short term.

On December 19, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported on humanitarian conditions for children in Iraq and its efforts to improve them. UNICEF’s Iraq Reporting and Monitoring Mechanism verified 171 grave violations of child rights affecting 435 children (317 boys, 95 girls, and 23 gender unknown) between January and November in Iraq. Killing and injuring was the most commonly reported violation. Children comprise 4.7 million of the 10 million Iraqis affected by violence and poor humanitarian conditions in Iraq, many of them internally displaced. As a result of displacement and other factors, 3.5 million school-age children are out of school. To address this, UNICEF supported ten Temporary Learning Spaces (TLS) across camps hosting IDPs newly-displaced from Mosul and surrounding areas in November, and completed the rehabilitation of 100 schools in Anbar and Baghdad provinces, improving the learning environment for nearly 60,000 students. Since January, 440,526 internally displaced children (including 177,229 girls) have received stationery, books, school bags, recreation items and other materials to support learning. UNICEF also provided psychosocial support services to 21,557 IDP children in November.

Baghdad: On December 20, the Ministry of Planning announced it has received a grant from the European Union (EU) worth US$ 89 million. The money will be put towards restoration of stability of cleared areas as well as funding 15 infrastructure projects. The projects will focus on providing jobs for the unemployed, giving small loans to citizens in order to set up small businesses, and preventing terrorist organizations from recruiting young people. The grant is part of the EU “strategy” in Iraq and Syria to help with the elimination of the so-called Islamic State, to normalize life in the region, and to expedite the return and rehabilitation of displaced persons.

On December 21, the Minister of Displacement and Migration, Jassim Mohammed, announced the return of 1.5 million people to their places of origin in areas cleared of ISIS militants since returns began in 2014. Mohammed added that IDP camps have capacity for 120,000 IDPs, while the number of IDPs from Mosul and Hawija has reached 125,000, admitting that camps were over capacity by approximately 5,000. However, the IOM reported that 107,304 IDPs were displaced from Mosul and its environs since October 17 as of December 21, and UNHCR recorded a total of 54,300 IDPs who fled Hawija since August 1 alone, which would make the number of IDPs from Mosul and Hawija at least 161,604.

On December 22, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN announced a new project restoring irrigation to 250,000 hectares of farmland, which will enable some 200,000 people from Mosul and across Iraq to earn an income for the first time since ISIS took over their cities and villages in 2014. Through the cash-for-work component of the project, FAO will support vulnerable families who need money for daily needs, while simultaneously restoring agricultural capacity in Iraq. 3,000 individuals are enrolled in the project thus far.


Zebari’s Ouster, PMU Law Made Official

On December 17, a Member of Parliament (MP) for the Turkmen front Hassan Turan threatened to file a lawsuit against the Ministry of Immigration in order to stop the establishment of IDP camps on land belonging to Turkmen, and specifically in Kirkuk. In a press conference, Turan stated the federal government is making decisions related to the allocation and distribution of lands without taking into account the specificity and sensitivity of ownership. Turan called for the government to find alternative land on which to build the IDP camps.

On December 17, an MP for Parliament’s Security and Defense Committee Iskander Watout accused Turkey of preventing the transit of planes from entering Iraq that are loaded with weapons and materials to aid in the ongoing military operations in Mosul. During an interview with Al Sumaria news, Watout said “the Turkish government decided several months ago” to prevent any plane carrying weapons or ammunition from Russia or other countries from entering Iraqi airspace, which Watout described as a “hostile” attitude towards the war against ISIS. Watout admonished the Iraqi government for not having a clear position on this “act of aggression.”

On December 17, a member of Parliament’s Committee on Economics and Investment Jawa al-Bolani called for the formation of a “higher council for financial crimes” in Iraq. Al-Bolani said he believes the current state institution’s procedures are “not sufficient” to prevent fraud or the manipulation economic operations in the country. He continued, noting that there is a need to take serious steps at a higher level to “prevent smuggling of funds, which may cause foreign exchange loss or may be a way to finance terrorist groups.”

On December 19, President Fuad Masum formally ratified the law legalizing PMU forces, which was approved by Parliament on November 26. Masum stressed the law honors everyone who contributed in the defense of Iraq, including volunteers and PMU members. As previously reported in ISHM, Parliament voted to fully legalize state-sanctioned PMUs and recognize them as an independent military force. The law was quickly condemned by Sunni, Arab politicians since certain Shia militias have long been accused of abuses against minority Sunni in Iraq.

On December 20, former Finance Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, lost an appeal in the country’s Federal Court fighting his removal as Finance Minister by a vote of no-confidence in Parliament on September 21 (as previously reported in ISHM), which he called unconstitutional. The former minister lost his appeal 6-3. Zebari reacted on Twitter, tweeting that after “13 years working for the new Iraq,” he is now just a “private citizen.” The veteran 62-year-old politician warned of a “power vacuum” in the Iraqi government’s “key institutions” earlier this year, saying the entire Council of Ministers of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was being targeted through Parliament’s decision to remove Ministers. Currently the Defense, Finance, Interior, and Trade and Industry Minister positions are vacant. Prime Minister al-Abadi has said he plans to submit names of candidates to fill the positions after Parliament returns from its month-long recess.

On December 20, Alsumaria News reported that the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDP-I), located in Koysinjaq, 56 kilometers east of the city of Erbil, was bombed with two explosive devices that detonated in front of headquarters. The report by Alsumaria claimed that five people were killed and six wounded as a result of the two blasts. Party leader of the KDP-I, Khalid Azizi, claimed that the Islamic Republic of Iran was responsible for the bombing. “Terrorism is sewn into Iran, but terrorism does not scare the KDP,” announced Azizi at the burial site of the five victims of the bombing. “We will not respond to the enemy with terrorism.” Azizi claimed that Iran attacked the headquarters as the party was marking the assassination day of their founder, Abdul Rahmam Ghassemlou in 1989 by what many suspect as Iranian backed agents.    

On December 22, the provincial council in Diyala confirmed it plans to enact a law that “rejects sectarianism.” The law would be the first of its kind in the country and aims to achieve “social reconciliation” and to ward off the dangers of strife that feed extremism. The law would need to be formally approved by the council before becoming a law. Since 2006, Diyala has suffered for years from heavy violence that has resulted in the death thousands of people in the province.


World Bank Approves New Loan as Iraq Seeks Economic Diversification

On December 16, Speaker of Parliament, Salim al-Jabouri beseeched the government not to continue solely relying on oil revenue, especially with the current low prices. He called on the government to devise initiatives that will improve the economic situation, stressing the need to move investments and expand the work of the private sector. He continued, saying how he hoped the government would see the current situation as an opportunity to come up with creative solutions to the economic crisis. Al-Jabouri made the comments during his speech at an event held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

On December 19, oil prices rose as a weak dollar and the postponement of the new Libyan oil exports strengthened expectations that there will be a reduction to oil supply in 2017. Experts hope to see the continued increase of oil prices when OPEC members and independent producers like Russia decrease oil output by 1.8 million barrels per day in January as the OPEC agreement reached on November 30 goes into effect.

On December 20, the State Organization for Marketing of Oil (SOMO), the largest, state-owned, oil producing company in Iraq, notified its customers that Iraq will abide by the OPEC deal to cut production in 2017. Iraq has agreed to reduce production by 200,000-210,000 barrels per day (bpd), but the expansion of the state’s new oil deal with China out of the Basra province, 532 kilometers south of Baghdad, has oil experts worried Iraq might not follow through on the agreement. OPEC members and independent producers like Russia agreed on November 30 to cut oil production by 1.8 million bpd in order to try and stabilize oil prices, which have been dramatically low since 2014.

On December 21, the World Bank confirmed it has approved a new loan to Iraq that is worth US$ 1.485 billion. The loan is to help Iraq lessen the impact of low oil prices on the economy and shoulder the cost of military operations in Mosul against ISIS militants. The new loan aims to support government efforts to rationalize spending, improve energy efficiency, and enhance government-owned companies. In an interview with Reuters, the World Bank Director for the Middle East, Ferid Belhaj, discussed how Iraq is an “unique case” since it is engaged in “structural, deep, far-reaching reforms at the same time as fighting a brutal war against a destructive force.” The new loan brings the World Bank’s engagement in Iraq to nearly US$ 3.4 billion.

On December 22, the Ministry of Industry announced it has reached an agreement with the local government in Basra, 532 kilometers south of Baghdad. The deal will pave the way for developing the industrial sector in the province, including the rehabilitation of the iron and steel production plants, which have been stalled for years. Revitalising this industry could provide tens of thousands of jobs for citizens and help Iraq diversify its economy, which has greatly suffered from the historically low oil prices and increased defense spending to combat terrorism. Before the Gulf War in 1991, Basra was an industrial hub in Iraq, home to many factories and laboratories that produced paper, fertilizer, iron, and steel.

On December 22, Egyptian Oil Minister, Tariq al-Mulla reported his country is seeking to reach an agreement with Iraq to import crude oil directly, starting in the first quarter of 2017. Mulla made the remarks on the sidelines of the ongoing Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) meeting that is being held in Cairo. He stated the target import numbers for Egypt would be around one million to two million barrels per month. If Iraq were to make new deals to export oil in 2017, it could possibly go against the agreement it made to limit production along with all OPEC members and independent producers, like Russia, in order to combat the historically low prices and the glut of oil on the market.


DateLocationDeathsInjuries
12/22/16Area, South of Baghdad02
12/22/16Area, South of Baghdad02
12/22/16Khalidiya, East of Ramadi 07
12/22/16al Shuala, Northern Baghdad00
12/21/16Area, 35 kilometers west of Ramadi27
12/21/16Baghdad Al Jadeeda, East Baghdad 02
12/21/16Maysaloon Square, East Baghdad05
12/21/16al Za’franiya, Southeast of Baghdad04
12/21/16al Muhit, Northeast of Baquba 20
12/21/16al Shuhada, Southern Baghdad14
12/20/16Koysinjaq, East of Erbil 33
12/20/16Koysinjaq, East of Erbil 23
12/19/16Tuz Khurmatu, East of Tikrit 20
12/19/16Jisr Diyala, Southern Baghdad18
12/19/16Dora, South Baghdad03
12/18/16Habibiya, East Baghdad13
12/18/16Halabsa, West of Fallujah25
12/17/16Iskan, Northwest Baghdad 0Unknown
12/17/16Hawija, Southwest of Kirkuk111
12/17/16Oil Pipeline, Southeast of Baghdad00
12/17/16Abu Saydah as Saghir, Northeast of Baquba12

 

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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