- Uptick in ISIS Violence, Bombings Across Iraq – A series of ISIS bombings in Baghdad left approximately 113 civilians dead on January 2, hours after French President Francois Hollande arrived in the capital to meet with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. The deadliest attack occurred at a busy market in Sadr City – an impoverished and predominantly Shia neighborhood of Baghdad that has witnessed deadly bombings and insurgency – killing an estimated 24 to 35 people and wounding 67. Two subsequent blasts at Jawadir and Kendi Hospitals killed another 18 people. The violence in the capital came one day after ISIS gunmen and ISIS-driven vehicle-based IEDs killed seven policemen at a checkpoint in the southern city of Najaf. On January 3, a member of the Baghdad Provincial Council stated that security forces had foiled additional attacks in the capital, but this claim failed to silence criticism that not enough had been done to prevent the previous day’s attacks and others like them over the past year.
- Security Forces Now Control 70 Percent of Eastern Mosul – On January 5, Lt. General Talib Shaghati, a commander in Iraq’s elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), told PUKMedia that Iraqi forces have cleared 65-70 percent of eastern Mosul of ISIS militants. Three days earlier, Iraqi forces announced the launch of the “second phase” of the battle for eastern Mosul. Iraqi forces have yet to enter the city’s more populated and older western half, although the CTS did join with another elite unit, the Rapid Response Division, on December 31 to form a joint front for this eventual offensive. The country’s Special Forces have borne the brunt of urban combat inside Mosul since the launch of operations to clear the city began on October 17, and many units are fighting at depleted strength. Meanwhile, ISIS resistance across northern Iraq remains stiff. On January 2, ISIS militants attacked three checkpoints in Sharqat and Baiji, cutting off part of the strategic road roughly halfway between Baghdad and Mosul and killing 16 Iraqi soldiers.
- More IDPs Flee Mosul, Hawija – On January 4, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) reported that the number of civilians fleeing Mosul has “increased by 50% from 1,600 people to 2,300 people [per] day” in the week after the second phase of the operation to clear Mosul of ISIS militants began. Over the past week, the Iraqi Army evacuated 300 displaced families from northern Mosul and received over 1,500 IDPs from the neighborhoods of al-Quds, al-Wahda, and al-Mithaq in the city’s eastern sector, bringing the total count of IDPs from Mosul to nearly 150,000. In neighboring Kirkuk Province, from January 2-4, Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces received over 1,000 women, children, and elderly fleeing Hawija, 55 kilometers southwest of Kirkuk City. In a year-end press release, UNAMI noted that approximately 6,878 civilians were killed across Iraq in 2016 (although this estimate excludes Anbar Province totals for certain months).
- Prominent Iraqi Journalist Kidnapped, and Released – On December 27, prominent and outspoken Iraqi journalist Afrah Shawqi al-Qaisi was kidnapped from her home in Baghdad by unknown gunmen posing as members of the Iraqi Security Forces. The incident sparked widespread protests by her colleagues in Baghdad, and Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi ordered an immediate investigation. Al-Qaisi, an employee of Iraq’s Culture Ministry, is well-known for writing critically of government corruption and the power wielded by Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs). The day before her kidnapping, she published an article decrying armed groups that “act with impunity” in Iraq, as well as criticizing an Interior Ministry officer who had physically assaulted a school principal in front of students and staff for failing to punish a student who had argued with his daughter. On January 4, one week after her kidnapping, al-Qaisi was released. Details regarding the incident or its perpetrators remain unclear, although many have blamed certain PMUs for trying to intimidate those critical of their activities – an allegation refuted by PMU leaders. In his weekly address, Prime Minister al-Abadi said the kidnapping was “politically motivated.” Iraq remains one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists, according to press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders, which ranked it the 158th worst country for journalists out of 180.
Please note: This week’s edition of ISHM is an abridged version of our weekly publication due to the holiday season and research team transitions. We will return to our regular schedule on Thursday, January 12.
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.
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.