ISHM: February 17 – 23, 2017

Key Takeaways:

  • Mosul Airport Cleared, Western Operations Move Forward as Violence Flares in the East – On February 23, Iraqi Security Forces, including Federal Police and Rapid Response teams assisted by U.S.-led international coalition airstrikes successfully cleared Mosul Airport and the neighboring former army base of Ghazlani of ISIS militants. Although ISIS destroyed the airport’s runway, the large swath of land the airport occupies just south of the city’s western half will be a strategically important staging area as efforts to clear the rest of western Mosul ramp up. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of operations to clear western Mosul on February 19. Popular Mobilization Units are covering cleared areas to the west of the city, Federal Police to the south, and Iraqi Army from the east and north. In eastern Mosul, which was ostensibly cleared of ISIS militants two weeks ago, ISIS sniper, drone, and IED attacks continue to plague returnees, particularly along the banks of the Tigris River. The Iraqi Army and its elite Counter-terrorism Service (and, according to EPIC’s sources, certain PMUs), are continuing their attempts to keep eastern Mosul clear of ISIS. more…
  • Aid Delivery Resumes in East Mosul as Residents, Agencies Brace for West Operations – The UN reported that aid delivery has resumed to all parts of eastern Mosul, where residents and returnees continue to experience outsized need. Aid was temporarily halted last week after certain neighborhoods along the Tigris River were declared too dangerous for aid workers. In western Mosul, the humanitarian situation is dire even ahead of military operations to clear that half of the city of ISIS militants. Lise Grande, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq said on February 18, that “the battle hasn’t started, but already there is a humanitarian crisis.” Food staples are “virtually unattainable” while bags of flour cost upwards of US$ 130 per bag. UNHCR estimates that 250,000 individuals could be displaced as a result of impending military operations in the west, and Save the Children has urged Iraqi Security Forces to establish safety corridors out of the city. Since operations to clear Mosul began in October 2016, the Iraqi government policy has been to encourage residents to shelter-in-place. more…
  • PMUs Progress Toward Tal Afar, Continue to Interdict Supply Lines – ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi reportedly made several changes to ISIS leadership in Tal Afar, 63 kilometers west of Mosul, following a failed ISIS-led offensive against Popular Mobilization Units on February 12. Sources reported that deference is shifting to Arab (rather than non-Arab foreign) militants for leadership positions inside the ISIS-held city. PMUs continue to surround Tal Afar and are interdicting supply lines between the city and Mosul. On February 22, U.S.-led international coalition airstrikes destroyed several IED factories there, killing at least 20 ISIS militants in the process. more…
  • Defense Secretary Visits Baghdad; Iraq Vet McMaster Named National Security Adviser – On February 20, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to discuss military cooperation and planned missions after Mosul is completely cleared of ISIS militants. In a press conference, Mattis suggested that the U.S. military presence in Iraq will not end immediately following operations in Mosul, and opined that Iraqi Security Forces, Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga, and Popular Mobilization Units have matured over the past few years, leading to an increase in their capability to secure cleared territories. Mattis also said that the U.S. is not “in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil,” an often ignored campaign promise of President Donald Trump to seize Iraq’s oil in exchange for military assistance. Also on February 20, President Trump appointed Lt. General H.R. McMaster to be his National Security Advisor. McMaster has a long history of wartime service in Iraq, and is often acknowledged as one of the architects of the 2007 surge in U.S. military presence and for prioritizing civilian protection. more…
  • Coalition Airstrikes Continue in Anbar, Kirkuk, and Diyala Provinces; Turkey Targets PKK – U.S.-led international coalition airstrikes continued to target ISIS militants and convoys in Anbar, Kirkuk, and Diyala Provinces this week. On February 21, the Security and Defense Committee in Iraq’s Parliament released a report detailing the recent escalation of bombings and kidnappings in Anbar Province over the past several weeks, and called for better monitoring of inter-province roads. The Diyala Provincial Council made it clear that they would resist any attempts to relocate security forces out of that province to Salah ad-Din, citing ongoing ISIS insurgents that require all available resources to combat. The border between Diyala and Salah ad-Din has seen a significant uptick in ISIS activity after operations to clear Mosul of ISIS militants began last October. On February 20 and 22, Turkish planes attacked Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK) encampments in Dohuk and in northern Erbil Province, near Iraq’s border with Iran. Those airstrikes have not been condoned by the Iraqi government, who have repeatedly told Turkey to respect Iraq’s sovereignty. more…
  • KRG Looks to Streamline Civil Service, Cut Down on Waste – The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) announced a wave of hiring of staff who will be responsible for ensuring that government wages and benefits will be paid only to those eligible to receive them. The KRG Ministry of Finance is also considering updates to its pension programs that would prevent ineligible staff members from receiving pensions. Separately, on February 21, the KRG and Russian oil giant Rosneft finalized a purchase and sale contract, presenting a new market for Kurdistan’s crude oil exports. 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.

Mosul Airport Cleared, Western Operations Move Forward as Violence Flares in the East

On February 18, U.S.-led international coalition forces carried out airstrikes on a five-story building in a hospital complex in west Mosul, a known Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) headquarters. The Coalition emphasized that the airstrikes received approval from the Iraqi government, and that “intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance efforts” were used to determine that “ISIS did not use the building for any medical purposes and that civilians were no longer accessing the site,” pointing out that such use of a medical facility broke the international Law of Armed Conflict. Al-Sumaria News reported that the attack killed at least 62, mostly foreign, militants.

On February 19, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the initiation of the operation to clear west Mosul, emphasizing the priority of protecting civilians. The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are moving in from the south and southwest and made quick initial progress, clearing villages such as Athba, al-Kinteera, and al-Abiyad, (10 kilometers south of the outskirts of Mosul) and clearing an important power plant. The plan to clear western Mosul also includes Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU) operations to cover and clear areas to the west of the city, including Tal Afar, and the Iraqi Army moving in from the north.

On February 19, an anonymous local source in western Mosul reported that militants closed off many of the alleys in the city, preventing access for civilians and concentrating ISIS forces in the tight areas. The alleys in old areas of the city have been a cause of concern for ISF and U.S.-led international coalition forces, as many are not wide enough to allow vehicles to pass through, which will make clearing them more dangerous and difficult.

On February 19, Commander Raed Shakir Jawdat announced that, by the end of the first day of the operation to clear western Mosul, the ISF killed 79 militants, destroyed at least 30 improvised explosive devices (IEDs), collapsed three tunnels, cleared eight villages and a power plant, and seized various types of projectiles. As the ISF advanced, dozens of ISIS militants fled toward Syria, despite efforts by ISIS leadership to deter desertion by punishing the crime with death.

On February 20, Kurdish Anti-Terrorism Forces in conjunction with the U.S.-led international coalition carried out an operation targeting ISIS locations in Ninewa Province. The attack reportedly killed over 30 militants, including the so-called ISIS Minister of Health, Dr. Abu Hassan al-Homsi.  

On February 20, PUK Media reported that ISF Intelligence officers have over 300 informants in ISIS territory in western Mosul. The informants call or text in reports on sniper and IED locations while trying to avoid being detected by ISIS militants, who have been known to kill civilians for using their mobile phones at all. Other difficulties, such as ensuring that the informants are not in fact double agents and trying to maintain the anonymity of sources, complicate matters.

On February 20, a local source reported that ISIS circulated an order for all members to burn personal information or other data that the ISF or coalition forces could find useful. The anonymous source stated that ISIS leaders were fearful of information leaks leading to the destruction of other cells or discovery of ISIS collaborators.

On February 21, an anonymous source reported the sound of large explosions from Ghazlani, an ISIS camp in the southwest of Mosul. The source reported seeing cars speeding away from the area carrying bodies and wounded militants.

On February 21, a local source in western Mosul reported that ISIS is sending its elite units to the areas of its defenses that have collapsed under the recent attacks by the ISF. The organization appears to be attempting to fill in holes and tighten defenses, especially in Old Mosul.

On February 21, Federal Police announced that the town of Abu Saif, south of Mosul, is cleared of ISIS militants. The town is strategically important, as it is about two kilometers south of the Mosul Airport., which the ISF has prioritized clearing the airport in order to repair and use the runways to receive supplies for the rest of the operation.

On February 22, an anonymous source reported intense airstrikes on an ISIS convoy headed the Mosul Airport, destroying at least 10 vehicles. The source suggested that the convoy was made up of elite ISIS forces, and that the airstrikes caused an unknown number of ISIS casualties.

On February 22, ISIS militants arrested at least 20 civilians after graffiti condemning the ISIS organization appeared on walls in three neighborhoods of western Mosul. An anonymous source reported that after the raids, the civilians were taken to undisclosed locations. One example of the graffiti declared “Fall Islamic State Daesh.”

On February 22, Col. John Dorrian, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, stated that American advisors to the ISF operation in Mosul have been involved in combat, in that they have been fired at by militants and returned fire. A U.S. Department of Defense official later reported that Americans have been wounded in the fight for Mosul. On February 23, the Iraqi government clarified that Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi has not given authorization for any foreign troops to be involved with combat in Mosul.

On February 23, a multi-pronged attack by the ISF on the Mosul Airport resulted in the rapid clearing of the large area. U.S.-led international coalition forces focused airstrikes on the airport to soften ISIS defenses as the ISF maneuvered into positions around the airfield. On Thursday morning, Federal Police and Rapid Response forces advanced from multiple directions, backed by helicopters and heavy artillery. According to BBC reporter Quentin Sommerville, who is embedded with the ISF, the fight took four hours and was accompanied by ISIS mortar fire from further in western Mosul. Despite the destruction of the landing strips, the airport is still of strategic importance in securing the southern roads.

On February 23, Lt. Col. Thaer Kanani, commander of the second brigade of the Counter-Terrorism Services (CTS), announced that the former army base of Ghazlani was completely cleared of militants. Directly adjacent to the Mosul Airport, the area has required a relatively slow advance by the ISF due to IEDs left behind by militants.

Aid Delivery Resumes in East Mosul as Residents, Agencies Brace for West Operations

Feb. 17 Feb. 18 Feb. 19 Feb. 20 Feb. 21 Feb. 22 Feb. 23
Total IDPs No data No data 159,936 No data 160,560 No data 161,730
Daily Net Change No data No data -366 No data +624 No data +1,170

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

On February 17, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that a cumulative total of 217,764 individuals have been displaced as a result of operations to clear Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants from Mosul which began on October 17, 2016. Approximately 57,000 IDPs have since returned. Since January 2014, nearly three million Iraqis have been displaced from their communities, and in that same period, nearly half have returned to their communities of origin. IOM Iraq Chief of Mission Thomas Weiss stated that internally displaced persons (IDP) return to their communities when they feel that it is safe to do so, however, many recently returned individuals still need food assistance, access to health facilities, shelter rehabilitation, and access to employment in order to return to their normal lives. In towns like Gwer, 50 kilometers south of Mosul, IOM is the only humanitarian organization working with returnees. IOM works with community members to help them find employment or income generating activities, rebuild infrastructure, and re-open schools.

On February 17, Reuters reported that ISIS used a complex in eastern Mosul to train orphans, Shia Muslims and Yazidis ages three through 16, to become “cubs of the caliphate”- child soldiers and informers. Math textbooks used “imagery of warfare” and English textbooks used words such as “army, bomb, and sniper” to teach the alphabet. A former orphanage worker claimed that girls were often taken to the facility and married off to other ISIS militants. Many of the older boys were sent to Tal Afar to received “intensive military training” and were instructed to guard an airfield outside of the city shortly after operations to clear Mosul of ISIS militants began on October 17, 2016.

On February 17, Jihan, a teenage girl, described her family’s escape from western Mosul to a Handicap International social worker. In 2016, Jihan’s home was hit by a missile, blinding her younger brother and covering Jihan with burns. Jihan’s mother, Sheima, stated that, even without her children’s’ deteriorating health, it was impossible to continue living in western Mosul, adding “every day we saw public executions and we were always wondering when it was going to be our turn. We lived in constant fear.” Jihan and her family first fled to eastern Mosul and then on December 29, 2016, they escaped to Hassan Sham camp, located 32 kilometers east of Mosul. Despite the safe conditions at the camp, Jihan described living there as “far from ideal.” Jihan wants to return to school, but must work to support her family, despite the fact that her burns leave her in constant pain. Handicap International is an independent organization that works with local partners to operate programs in “health and rehabilitation and social and economic integration.” In Iraq, Handicap International launched an emergency rehabilitation mission to meet the needs of disabled Iraqis after ISIS militants took control of Mosul in June 2014.

On February 18, residents in western Mosul revealed that ISIS militants are hoarding food and doling it out in small amounts to families who agree to spy on neighbors that ISIS suspects of collaborating with Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). In the Bab al-Tob neighborhood in western Mosul, ISIS militants recruited three families for what residents call the “food for information” program. As a result, ISIS militants arrested eight young men on suspicion of collaborating with ISF. One resident noted, “These are poor families. Hunger pushes them to abandon their principles.” Rice, flour, sugar, baby formula, and other staples are “virtually unattainable,” while bags of flour still available for sale cost US$ 130 per bag.

On February 18, the Iraqi Air Force dropped “millions” of leaflets over western Mosul in anticipation for the beginning of operations to clear that side of the city of ISIS militants. The leaflets provided recommended procedures for how to prepare for the upcoming operations and provided a warning to ISIS militants to “lay down their arms.”

On February 18, the UN reported that conditions in western Mosul continue to deteriorate, even though operations to clear the city have not started. The UN reported that western Mosul’s 750,000 to 800,000 residents face severe shortages of drinking water. Peter Hawkins, UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) Representative in Iraq stated that three out of five individuals in western Mosul rely on untreated water for cooking and drinking. Supply routes to western Mosul have been disrupted since November 2016, resulting in skyrocketing fuel prices which has forced some of the most vulnerable civilians in Mosul to burn clothing, trash, plastic, and furniture to stay warm. Lise Grande, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq stated that hundreds of thousands of civilians may be trapped inside the city as operations to clear it of ISIS militants begin adding, “The battle hasn’t started but already there is a humanitarian crisis.”

On February 19, an anonymous source reported that “urgent evacuations” of “dozens” of ISIS families occurred as operations to clear western Mosul of ISIS began. The specific neighborhoods where the families were fleeing from and to are unknown.  

On February 19, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced that it will resume humanitarian missions in eastern Mosul following a brief suspension of activities due to security and safety concerns. The UNHCR also reported that a “small number” of returnees to eastern Mosul have left the city and returned to IDP camps. Civilians in eastern Mosul still face water and electricity shortages, destroyed homes and infrastructure, and a precarious security environment when they return to the city. Finally, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced that operations to clear western Mosul of ISIS militants are underway, emphasizing the importance of ensuring safety for civilians in the city. The narrow and densely populated streets of western Mosul pose a significant challenge to U.S.-led coalition forces..

On February 20, the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Kai Mykkänen in Finland announced that the government of Finland will allocate EU€ 500,000 (approximately US$ 530,000) to the Finnish Red Cross to implement humanitarian projects in Iraq. Funds will be used primarily to send aid workers and supplies to hospitals in and around Mosul. Finland estimates that 11 million Iraqis are in need of humanitarian assistance and plans to allocate more funds to support humanitarian projects in Iraq.

On February 21, ISIS militants demolished five houses belonging to civilians in western Mosul who fled after being forced to join ISIS’s ranks and fight against the ISF in eastern Mosul. An anonymous source also reported that family members related to those who fled were detained and interrogated.  

On February 21, the UNHCR estimated that nearly 250,000 additional individuals could be displaced as a result of operations to clear western Mosul of ISIS militants. UNHCR currently has eight camps open and one under construction in Hamam al-Alil, 20 kilometers south of Mosul. Once completed, the new capacity at Hamam al-Alil will house 84,000 individuals. The government of Iraq will house IDPs from western Mosul in spare capacity in camps in the east while new capacity is built in the south. The UNHCR also reported that conditions in western Mosul are rapidly deteriorating. Nearly half of all food stores in western Mosul are closed and civilians report food, medicine, and fuel shortages that leave them burning furniture, plastic, and clothing to stay warm.

On February 21, Save the Children, a non-governmental organization based in the United Kingdom, urged Iraqi Security Forces to ensure that safe escape routes are established as operations to clear western Mosul progress. Civilians inside western Mosul must make the difficult decision to stay in the city or flee and risk being caught in the crossfire or killed by ISIS militants. Residents report that civilians, even women and children, are killed if they try to escape the city. Safe escape routes will be essential as more families decide to flee the city.

On February 22, the Iraqi government, in cooperation with the Iraqi Journalists Syndicate, the Ministry of Defense, and the Ministry of Interior, formed a special council tasked with investigating and clarifying the fate of nearly a dozen disappeared journalists in Mosul. Evidence suggests that at least 14 journalists were killed in 2016, however, other claims suggest that some disappeared journalists may still be alive either in ISIS detention in Iraq, or transferred to Syria.  

On February 22, federal police officers evacuated 480 families from the al-Yarmouk village west of Mosul as operations to clear western Mosul of ISIS militants progress. Villages south of Mosul will host the families.

On February 23, the IOM reported that 161,730 IDPs are displaced from Mosul and the surrounding area since operations to clear the city of ISIS militants began on October 17, 2016, a net increase of 1,428 IPDs since February 16. Sixty-two percent of IDPs from Mosul and the surrounding area are housed in emergency camps, 19% live in private settings, 18% live in emergency sites, and 1% live in critical shelter arrangements. Cumulatively, nearly 224,000 IDPs have been impacted by the crisis in Mosul since it began in October 2016. However, to date over 62,000 IDPs have returned to their homes.

PMUs Progress Toward Tal Afar, Continue to Interdict Supply Lines

On February 18, an anonymous local source reported that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made significant changes to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) leadership structure in the Tal Afar area, following the failed ISIS offensive on February 12. The source reported that Baghdadi chose a new governor and security commander for the city, stating that many of the new leaders are Arab rather than foreign militants.

On February 18, Director General of Yazidi Affairs in the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs within the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Khairi Buzani, stated that the fate of over 3,500 Yazidis abducted from Sinjar is still unknown, despite progress in clearing the area of ISIS militants. In August 2014, ISIS militants invaded Mount Sinjar, 128 kilometers west of Mosul, killing at least 5,000 Yazidi men and boys and abducting nearly 7,000 Yazidi women and girls. Those who could escape fled higher in the mountains only to be faced with severe food and water scarcity and exposure to the elements.

On February 20, an ISIS drone carrying explosives killed two civilians and wounded five others when it suddenly dropped on them. The civilians live west of Mosul, and it is thought that the aircraft were headed toward Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU) positions further west.

On February 22, Ahmed al-Asadi, a spokesman for the PMUs, announced that the PMUs had cut off the main road between Tal Afar and Mosul, restricting ISIS movement between two of their last Iraqi strongholds in Iraq. Asadi reported that the 26th Brigade, a PMU division, had also arrived al-Shahji (10 kilometers southwest of Mosul) to protect the route. PMUs have also taken control of the town of al-Sharia, northwest of Tal Afar.  

On February 22, ISIS leaders in Tal Afar imposed a curfew in the city, following the placement of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by unknown agents at the homes of multiple militant leaders. The organization also issued a kill order for a man known as Abu Osama, the leader responsible for the former army base of Ghazlani near the Mosul Airport, who fled the fighting south of Mosul yesterday.

On February 22, airstrikes destroyed three IED-producing plants in Tal Afar, and killed 20 ISIS militants in the process. The Iraqi Air Force hit the location six times, based on information provided by the Iraqi General Directorate of Information and Security. The day before, a number of manufacturing buildings in West Mosul were targeted by the ISF, destroying ISIS workshops and killing and wounding militants.

On February 23, PMUs repulsed an attack by militants west of Mosul. A PMU leader, Sami al-Masoudi, reported that ISIS unsuccessfully attacked a PMU position, resulting in the deaths of 32 militants.

Defense Secretary Visits Baghdad; Iraq Vet McMaster Named National Security Adviser

On February 19, commander of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, Lt. General Stephen Townsend, praised Iraqi soldiers for their commitment to civilians during the operation to clear Mosul. Support from the 65-nation coalition is mainly via training and equipping Iraqi soldiers, providing advisors, and conducting airstrikes, however American and British Special Forces are closer to the frontline than previously reported. To date, the coalition has conducted more that 10,000 airstrikes in Iraq, the majority of those currently focusing on Mosul and the surrounding areas. However, the coalition continues to support the ISF in other hot spots of ISIS activity in the country. Operation Inherent Resolve activities in Iraq cost an average of US$ 12.6 million per day.

February 20, Defense Secretary James Mattis held a press conference in Baghdad stating that he did not anticipate the Iraqi government asking the coalition to leave as soon as Mosul is cleared of ISIS, but remained unwilling to put a timeline on the process of foreign troop withdrawal from Iraq. Mattis also opined that the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), Peshmerga, and Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) have matured over the past few years, suggesting that there will not be a similar security vacuum such as the one which led to the swift movement of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) through Iraq in 2014. Mattis met with multiple heads of state on a security-focused diplomatic trip, and met with regional President Masoud Barzani of Iraqi Kurdistan on February 18, and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Minister of Defense Arfan al-Hayali on February 20.

On February 20, United States President Donald Trump appointed Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster to National Security Adviser (NSA). Lt. General McMaster has a long history with Iraq, and is known for his unconventional thinking and strategy. Lt. General McMaster helped to turn around the Iraq War at the height of its sectarian conflict by advocating for the United States’ military surge. Lt. General McMaster’s appointment likely comes as President Trump seeks to reconstruct the United States’ strategy in the battle against ISIS.

On February 21, Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend suggested that in the aftermath of the campaign to clear Mosul of ISIS, the Iraqi government will not ask the United States military to vacate Iraq. Lieutenant General Townsend, head of the U.S.-led Operation Inherent Resolve, claimed that the battle against ISIS is complex and that a successful outcome demands an integrated coalition. Additionally, United States’ Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to discuss military cooperation and planned missions after Mosul is completely cleared of ISIS.

Coalition Airstrikes Continue in Anbar, Kirkuk, and Diyala Provinces; Turkey Targets PKK

On February 17, Khadr al-Obeidi, Secretary of the Diyala Council, stated that the Provincial Council would resist any attempts to move local security sources out of Diyala. The statement follows reports that a regiment of Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) would be moved to Salah ad-Din Province to the west, The reports cited the significant problems Diyala is facing including insurgent, criminal, and tribal unrest that require all forces available.

On February 17, ISF intelligence officer Nazim al-Jughaifi announced that airstrikes killed Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) official Mahmuda Hayani in Qa’im. Hayani was the man responsible for security in the ISIS-controlled border city, located 350 kilometers west of Ramadi.

On February 17, Mohammad Abbas, Commander of the Second Brigade of the 43rd Battalion of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), stated that his forces dismantled an ISIS minefield in the Samarra area, 120 kilometers north of Baghdad. Abbas also reported that PMU forces continue to sweep for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and other ISIS weapons, and warned that “remnants of war” threaten everyone.

On February 17, Kamal Kirkuki, a Peshmerga official, announced that U.S.-led international coalition airstrikes killed seven ISIS militants and destroyed two vehicles in the Dibs area, 45 kilometers northwest of Kirkuk City. Kirkuki added that the Peshmerga received information that the location was a former ISIS sniper post, and then relayed the information to the international coalition.

On February 18, nearly 500 displaced families refused to return to their homes in Abu Awad and Abu Bakr, two villages 63 kilometers north of Baquba, despite having “official security approval” to do so. The families worry that the area is not secured, as there has been a significant ISIS presence on the border between Diyala and Salah ad-Din Provinces. However, Muhammad Davan Obeidi, President of the Greater Council of Villages of Diyala Province, urged families to return, noting that returns have a “positive effects in interrupting one of the most important methods of infiltration” that ISIS uses. He also stated that it was essential that returnees feel reassured that it is safe to return to their communities.

On February 19, Chairman of the Diyala Security Committee, Sadiq al-Husseini, reported that PMU fighters killed two ISIS militants attempting to sneak into a security station 95 kilometers northeast of Baquba. Diyala has seen continued ISIS attacks, as well as other security incidents including abductions and fighting between local tribes.

On February 19, the Kurdistan Security Council announced that its Anti-Terrorism Forces killed an ISIS official, known as Abu Dhar, who is under suspicion of killing four Peshmerga soldiers. Abu Dhar was a member of the Zakat Council of Hawija, one of the key towns still under ISIS control.  

On February 20, Ibrahim al-Jubouri, leader of a PMU near Baquba, survived an assassination attempt. Jubouri was inspecting PMU security check points when an IED exploded, leaving him with moderate injuries.

On February 20, eyewitnesses reported seeing Turkish airplanes carry out airstrikes on Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK) locations in northern Dohuk. The Turkish government considers the PKK a terrorist organization, and continues to use its influence in the region to target the organization. Airstrikes such as these have not been condoned by the Iraqi government, who have told Turkey to respect Iraqi sovereignty.

On February 20, Major General Mahmoud Filahi, commander of Anbar Security Forces, reported that the location a caravan of traders abducted on February 15 in the desert between Karbala and Anbar is still unknown. The group, traveling in trucks on the road between Ramadi and Rahaliyah, a region reported to have no security presence, were kidnapped by ISIS militants.

On February 21, the President of the Judicial Council of Hit, Mohammad Mohammadi, announced a comprehensive curfew in the city, located 65 kilometers northwest of Ramadi. The curfew is a precaution to avoid ISIS attacks on civilians. Also on Monday, one soldier was killed and two others injured in an ISIS attack on the road between Hit and Baghdad.

On February 21, the Security and Defense Committee in Iraq Parliament released a report detailing the recent escalation of bombings and kidnappings in the Anbar province over the last several weeks. This report likely comes as a response to recent protests in Baghdad that criticized the Iraqi government for failing to keep its citizens safe. The report suggested a reorganization of prisons and “weapons-free” cities (whether this means demilitarization or gun control measures is unclear, as the report is not specific in this regard). The report also calls for more safety technology near roads, particularly cameras and radar for detecting IEDs, and more investment in hiring and training security and intelligence officers.

On February 22, Turkish forces carried out airstrikes against PKK encampments in the Qandil Mountains in northern Erbil Province, near the border with Iran. No civilian casualties were reported, but a witness said that the hour long attack caused panic among the area’s residents.

On February 22, two of the 16 traders abducted by ISIS in Anbar Province were released today, after ransoms of $4,500 each were paid. The truck drivers were part of a convoy of trucks that was traveling through the al-Rahaliyah region, 90 kilometers southwest of Fallujah.

On February 22, a local source reported that ISIS militants are extorting money on a monthly basis from the owners of a manufacturing plant.  When Diyala security forces discovered this, they threatened to prosecute the company if it did not stop paying the militants. Security forces stated that cooperating with ISIS would result in punitive measures and urged locals to report sleeper cells.

KRG Looks to Streamline Civil Service, Cut Down on Waste

On February 21, the Netherlands guaranteed US$ 270,000 to the Economic Reform Roadmap, a joint project between the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and the World Bank. The main goal of the aid package is to facilitate economic development and diversification in Kurdistan. A secondary goal of the package is to reform the Kurdish public sector, which some observers have claimed is bloated and detrimental to economic development in Kurdistan.

On February 21, the KRG and Russian oil company Rosneft signed a crude oil agreement, finalizing a crude oil purchase and sale contract between the two parties. An anonymous Kurdish official commented on the deal, claiming that it presents new markets for Kurdish crude oil exports and can serve as a benchmark for future foreign direct investment.

On February 22, the KRG announced a new wave of government positions for its compliance staff. The compliance staff is responsible for ensuring that government employee wages and benefits are honored. The Kurdish Ministry of Finance is also considering unspecified updates to its pension program for government employees. Previous development packages suggest that many of these changes will focus on eliminating bloated staff rosters as well as intra-government corruption. Lastly, the KRG believes that after its recent oil deals, it will have enough funding to maintain these new programs.

On February 22, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Iraq’s Foreign Minister, met with Marie-Claude Bebo, Canada’s Minister of International Development, to discuss Canadian-Iraqi relations and Canada’s assistance in Iraqi economic development. Jaafari requested Canadian investment in oil, irrigation, and electricity, and Bebo stressed the importance of a strong Iraqi state in the fight against ISIS. Toward the end of the meeting, Jaafari requested that Canada appoint an ambassador to Baghdad, emphasizing the need for Canada to increase its diplomatic presence in Iraq as a prerequisite to further cooperation.

On February 22, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’s (PUK) Leadership Council will convene a meeting to finalize the party’s agenda for 2017. Led by Korsat Rasul, the PUK’s deputy to the Secretary General, members of the PUK and other political committees will discuss financial and political corruption in Kurdistan, among other policy concerns.

IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

02/23/17Tarmiyah, North of Baghdad24
02/22/17Firat, Southwest of Baghdad02
02/23/17Khalis, North of Baquba49
02/23/17Khan, North Baghdad14
02/23/17Radwaniyah, Southwest of Baghdad14
02/23/17Rustamiyah, Southeast of Baghdad01
02/17/17Ikrkuf, West of Baghdad03
02/22/17Bakri, West of Baghdad13
02/22/17Hamrin Mountains, South of Hawija 36
02/22/17Tuz Khormatu, South of Mosul11
02/21/17Baladiyat, East Mosul22
02/21/17Taji, North of Baghdad04
02/21/17Amiriyah, West Baghdad12
02/21/17Ghadir, East Baghdad01
02/21/17Diyala Bridge, Southeast of Baghdad
02/21/17Tarmiyah, North of Baghdad02
02/20/17Bob al-Sham, Northeast of Baghdad02
02/20/17North of Muqdadiyah01
02/20/17Abu Gharib, West of Baghdad14
02/19/17Al-Zohur, East Mosul1?
02/19/17Nabi Yunis, East Moul1?
02/19/17al-Said Abd Allah, South of Baghdad14
02/19/17Hor Rajab, South of Baghdad02
02/19/17Sabaa al-Bour, North of Baghdad02
02/19/1745 Kilometers North of Baquba11
02/19/17Al-Baghdadi, North of Ramadi30
02/19/17al-Bisateen, North of Baghdad03
02/18/17Madain, South of Baghdad13
02/18/17Nahrawan, East of Baghdad02
02/18/17Taji, North of Baghdad04
02/18/17Abu Gharib, West of Baghdad12
02/17/17Sha'ab, Northeast Baghdad02


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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