ISHM: March 17 – 23, 2017


Key Takeaways:

  • Prime Minister Abadi Visits DC Ahead of International Coalition Conference – Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is in Washington, DC to attend the 68-nation “Ministerial Plenary for the Global Coalition Working to Defeat ISIS” hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Immediately following a private meeting with President Donald Trump on March 20, Abadi said that the new administration is working more decisively to support Iraq than the previous administration, but expressed concern at the President’s proposed budget cuts to U.S. aid and diplomacy – cuts which starkly contradict any signs of such increased support. On March 22, Secretary Tillerson said that after operations to defeat ISIS are complete, focus will shift to stabilization, including restoring water and electricity, clearing land mines, rebuilding infrastructure, and engaging in diplomatic efforts to solve “underlying political and sectarian disputes that helped ISIS to flourish.” It was not immediately clear how the State Department will accomplish those aims while faced with a 28% reduction in its budget. Also on March 22, Tillerson announced a plan to establish safe zones in Iraq and Syria to “allow refugees to return home.” The plan has been sharply criticized by members of the international community who doubt the ability of Turkey, Russia, and Syria to yield sovereignty, and suggest that the measure would require refoulement – a violation of international law. more…
  • Cordon Tightens in Western Mosul – Iraqi Security Forces continued to make measured progress in western Mosul over the past week as ISIS militants and trapped civilians are slowly being corralled into a smaller portion of the city. After a pause in operations due to weather, Iraqi Federal Police cleared the al-Siraee Souk and al-Adala Street in Old Mosul, Rapid Response units targeted the al-Yabisat, Ras al-Khour and Bab al-Beyd neighborhoods, the Iraqi Army’s elite Counter-terrorism Service cleared the al-Risala neighborhood and the Nablus apartments, and airstrikes continued to target ISIS positions in and around the city. Meanwhile, Popular Mobilization Units and the Iraqi Army’s Ninth Brigade are continuing to clear the area surrounding Badush, approximately 15 kilometers west of Mosul. more…
  • Casualty Rates Rise in Western Mosul; PMU Involvement in Screenings Alleged – Over 270,000 IDPs are currently displaced from Mosul, with an estimated 9,000 new IDPs fleeing the western side of the city each day. Nearly 600,000 civilians remain trapped in that half of the city, where ISIS militants are using families as human shields. The number and severity of civilian casualties has risen sharply as fighting between ISIS militants and security forces becomes increasingly close. A surgeon with Doctors Without Borders said on March 22 that “every case we receive is severe, and almost every day we have to deal with mass casualties…I’m shocked by the number of families dismembered by this war.” On March 19, Human Rights Watch alleged that, despite Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s insistence on keeping Popular Mobilization Units out of the Mosul operation, some PMUs are conducting informal security screenings on civilians accused of sympathizing with ISIS. Certain PMUs were repeatedly condemned for committing acts of indiscriminate violence and detaining civilians without cause during operations to clear ISIS militants from Fallujah in May 2016 (as previously resorted in ISHM). more…
  • ISIS Sleeper Cells Targeted in Anbar, Diyala, Salah ad-Din Provinces – Iraqi Security Forces assisted by PMUs and tribal fighters conducted raids on ISIS sleeper cells in Anbar, Diyala, and Salah ad-Din Provinces. In Anbar, security forces arrested 10 suspected ISIS members in Rutba and Ramadi, and in Salah ad-Din, Provincial Governor Ahmed Abdallah praised civilian contributions that led to the arrest of an ISIS cell responsible for a March 15 IED attack that killed seven and wounded 43 others. U.S.-led international coalition and Iraqi airstrikes also targeted several suspected ISIS positions in Diyala and Anbar. more…
  • Militants Question Allegiance to ISIS? – Though unverified, two separate media reports suggest that ISIS militants in Kirkuk and Diyala Provinces may be increasingly dissatisfied with ISIS leadership. The Diyala Security Council reported on March 17 that ISIS recruitment is suffering as a result of security force advancements and ramped up airstrikes. An anonymous source in Kirkuk Province said that some ISIS leaders in Hawija have renounced Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and are instead declaring allegiance to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. more…
  • New UNAMI Youth Program Encourages Cooperation, Dialogue – On March 18, over 100 youth from Najaf, Karbala, Babil, and Qadisiyah Provinces participated in the “Iraq Youth and Coexistence” forum organized by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). The new forum aims to “give a voice to youth for their crucial role in charting the road to peaceful co-existence in a future Iraq.” Participants from various ethnic backgrounds deliberated on post-conflict issues regarding reconciliation and a path for national unity. Similar forums in Diyala, Sulaimania, Baghdad, Kirkuk and Salah ad-Din Provinces will take place in the coming months. 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.

Prime Minister Abadi Visits DC Ahead of International Coalition Conference

On March 21, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met with numerous United States officials in Washington DC, including President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. In addition, Abadi will hold meetings with international institutions to secure aid for Iraq. Abadi is in Washington to attend the 68-member international coalition meeting hosted by the U.S. State Department on how to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and next steps after its defeat. Abadi’s main goal this trip is to secure his relationship with Trump, whose support he will need to decisively and swiftly defeat ISIS. In comments made after the meeting, Abadi confirmed that Trump has promised to increase military support for Iraq’s battle against ISIS, and that his next step would be to secure post-ISIS aid so as to rebuild with greater efficacy. In a White House press release, the United States affirmed its commitment to Iraq after ISIS is defeated, and called for increased cooperation in the energy sector. Abadi also commended the United States for removing Iraq from the most recent travel ban order, claiming it was a sign of the strong relationship between the two countries. Abadi then discussed the progress of the U.S.-led international coalition against ISIS, claiming that the battle was in the “final stages.” Abadi expressed some worry at Trump’s most recent budget, which sharply slashes funding for the U.S. State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which will make the rebuilding process more difficult. After the initial meeting, Abadi spoke at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), where he stated that U.S. support will “not only continue, but accelerate” and that the current administration is willing to act more decisively and support Iraq to a greater extent than the previous one. Abadi concluded by saying that terrorism needs to be fought on multiple grounds, defeating it militarily is not enough.

On March 21, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell criticized President Donald Trump’s budget proposal, calling cuts to the U.S. State Department “inappropriate.” Trump’s budget reduces funding for the U.S. State Department by 28%. One of the casualties of the cuts will be United States assistance for Iraq. Over the last several years, direct humanitarian aid from the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to Iraq has hovered around US$ 78 million per year. This figure does not include funds to the UN and its partner agencies such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme (WFP). A significant portion of this funding goes toward humanitarian issues and democracy promotion. It is likely that as funding is reduced, the U.S. role in Iraq will become more securitized, and proactive solutions will become increasingly less feasible. This move sharply contrasts with some of the Trump administration’s acknowledgements that ameliorating conditions in Iraq will require non-military solutions.

On March 22, the National Alliance, Iraqi Parliament’s governing coalition, demanded clarification from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on his meetings with United States officials. The National Alliance claimed that they had not been informed of any specific agreements or policy specifics discussed during the meetings, and urged Abadi to inform them so they can begin drafting legislation to affirm any deals.  

On March 22, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued a statement claiming that most of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s lieutenants have been killed and that he would be next. Tillerson’s comments follow the new American administration’s more bellicose rhetoric and moves to rapidly increase military contributions to the fight against ISIS.  

On March 22, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued a statement at the 68-nation “Ministerial Plenary for the Global Coalition Working to Defeat ISIS” conference in Washington D.C. stating, “When the forces of ISIS and Daesh tune into their TVs and their computer monitors, they will see the strength of a combined 68 nations and organizations. Together, we share a resolve to deal ISIS or Daesh a lasting defeat.” Tillerson reflected on the progress the coalition made in the past year noting, “the flow of foreign terrorist fighters into Syria and Iraq is down 90 percent over the past year,” adding that seventeen coalition members have made efforts to reduce ISIS’s online recruiting capacity by “producing content in five languages to counteract ISIS’s propaganda,” yielding a “75 percent reduction of ISIS content on the internet in one year.” Tillerson also praised the coalition for pledging over US$ 2 billion for “humanitarian, stabilization, and de-mining needs” for Iraq in 2017, funds that were pledged in July 2016 under the Obama administration. Tillerson also outlined the three major phases of the operation against ISIS in Iraq. The current phase is one “characterized by major military operations” with the goal of defeating ISIS through military force. Once ISIS is defeated militarily, operations will shift to the second phase which focuses on stabilization efforts including restoring water and electricity, clearing land mines, rebuilding infrastructure, and diplomatic efforts to solve the “underlying political and sectarian disputes that helped ISIS to flourish.” The final phase focuses on normalizing life and society in Iraq which will require reinvigorating civil society organizations and continuing reconciliation efforts. Tillerson also noted that the U.S. provides 75% of military resources for the fight against ISIS and 25% of humanitarian resources. He called on the coalition to increase their support saying, “the circumstances on the ground require more from all of you. I ask each country to examine how it can best support these vital stabilization efforts, especially in regard to contribution of military and financial resources.” Finally, Tillerson outlined “countermeasures” that the coalition must adopt for a sustainable victory against ISIS. First, in-country counterterrorism and law enforcement efforts must be reinforced. Second, intelligence sharing among different domestic agencies and coalition agencies must take place with greater pace. Third, Muslim community leaders and partners must “combat” ISIS’s warped ideology. Finally, ISIS’s online presence, particularly through social media, must be erased. Tillerson concluded by stating, “As allies dedicated to defeating a common enemy, we should strive to understand and respect one another’s perspectives and adopt the ideas that will achieve our mission. Most of all, now is the time to strengthen our shared commitment to security and invest in a fight in which we all have a stake.”

On March 22, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced a plan to establish “interim zones of stability,” or safe zones, in Iraq and Syria to “allow refugees to return home” rather than seeking safety in the U.S. or Europe. President Trump expressed his support for safe zones as they are a “means of stemming the tide of refugees flooding into Europe and other Western countries;” however, the plan has faced serious criticism from humanitarian partners and other U.S.-led coalition members. Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva noted, “Our line was always that we should comply with international law on refugees and the protection of refugees,” adding that complying with international law is impossible if refugees are forced to remain in their countries. In addition to the humanitarian implications of establishing safe zones in Iraq and Syria, there are serious political problems with this measure as well. Safe zones in both countries would require cooperation between Turkish and Kurdish forces which is not likely to take place given their tenuous relationship. In addition, establishing safe zones could require additional Western troop deployment, a measure that has not been looked upon favorably. Brian McKeon, former Under Secretary of Defense for policy in the Obama administration explained that a safe zone in Syria “in theory assumes some agreement on the part of the Russians, Turks, and possibly Syrians to yield sovereignty, or you don’t have agreement,” adding “The number of assets it would take to defend against potential attacks would likely be to the detriment of the counter-ISIL campaign.” However, the idea of safe zones has support from other top figures in the Trump administration including General Joseph Votel, Head of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). He noted that the idea is “viable” especially in “areas that have already been secured where we’ve already got humanitarian and stabilization activities ongoing.”

On March 22, the U.S. State Department released a statement on American-Iraqi security cooperation, discussing the interactions between the two countries under the Strategic Framework Agreement. The report stated that the U.S. has approved over $22 billion of foreign military sales (FMS) to Iraq since 2005. Items purchased under the agreement in 2016 included 36 F-16s, 24 helicopters, and 146 battle tanks. The report also covered loans and training covered by the U.S. government.

Cordon Tightens in Western Mosul

On March 17, the Iraqi Federal Police announced that, after a pause in Mosul operations due to bad weather, troops have cleared al-Siraee Souk and al-Adala street in Old Mosul. Federal Police Chief Raed Shakir Jawdat reported that Federal Police and Rapid Response units targeted the Ras al-Khour and Bab al-Beyd neighborhoods.

On March 18, Iraqi Police Captain Yunis Muhammad accused Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants of allegedly using chemical weapons when shelling three neighborhoods in eastern Mosul. Muhammad  reported that 12 civilians were injured when missiles containing “highly toxic gasses” hit neighborhoods in cleared neighborhoods of eastern Mosul. As of March 22, no outside aid organizations reported any chemical attacks.

On March 19, Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) cleared the village of al-Howidarat and the Malootha area south of Badush, 15 kilometers northwest of Mosul. The same day, Military Intelligence announced that air strikes on Mosul’s west side killed six foreign ISIS leaders, including British, French, and Russian nationals.

On March 19, Hadi al-Amiri, a Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU) leader in Ninewa Province, reported that PMU troops will soon completely control the area between Tal Afar and Tlul Atishana, which is roughly 10 kilometers west of Mosul. He also praised the Ninth Brigade of the Iraqi Army for their progress in clearing the area around Badush, nine kilometers northwest of Mosul.

On March 20, Iraq’s Interior Ministry denied reports that ISIS militants kidnapped members of Iraq’s Federal Police Force in Mosul as well as other members of Iraq’s security community. The ministry’s denial comes after media reports suggested that ISIS captured the officers. The statement called the reports “fabricated” and “made up.” Whether this is a denial for PR reasons or one with legitimacy is unknown.

On March 20, PMU forces cleared the village of al-Damarji, situated five kilometers west of Mosul on the way to Badush. PMUs also continued to clear the Badush area, with fighters taking control of a housing complex in Badush on Monday.

On March 21, PMUs repelled an ISIS attack in the Badush area, 15 kilometers northwest of Mosul. PMU fighters killed 77 ISIS militants in the battle.

On March 21, Counter-terrorism troops cleared al-Risala neighborhood and the Nablus apartments in western Mosul. The advance coincides with the deployment of Federal Police snipers to the buildings around al-Nouri Mosque, in preparation for the ISF advance on the mosque.  

On March 21, an ISIS mortar attack killed six civilians and injured another 15 in the New Mosul area on the west side of the city. An anonymous source reported  that all of the dead were from the same family, suggesting  that the militants targeted specific homes.

On March 22, Special Operations Commander Lt. Gen. Abdul Amir Yarallah announced that the ISF Ninth Armored Division cleared the villages of al-Yassin and Arhila, 20 kilometers northwest of Mosul. The ISF also declared control of the Badush bridge on Wednesday.

On March 22, the Iraqi Air Force destroyed the so-called “Islamic Police” station of ISIS in the Baaj area, 165 kilometers southwest of Mosul. Anbar PMUs stated that PMU intelligence provided to the ISF made the precision airstrikes possible. Strikes were also carried out in western Mosul, killing 14 militants and destroying six ISIS vehicles.

On March 23, the ISF cleared al-Yabisat neighborhood in western Mosul. The same day, Federal Police Captain Raed Shakir Jawdat released a list of accomplishments that the Federal Police have achieved since the ISF operations in west Mosul began, including killing hundreds of terrorists and handing out around 26,000 food baskets to civilians.

Casualty Rates Rise in Western Mosul; PMU Involvement in Screenings Alleged

March 17 March 18 March 19 March 20 March 21 March 22 March 23
Total IDPs No data No data  260,616 No data  270,546 No data  273,720
Daily Net Change No data No data +5,736 No data +9,930 No data +3,174

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) Displaced from Mosul and Surrounding Areas Since Military Operations Began on October 17.

On March 17, The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Qatar’s Red Crescent Society (QRCS) officially opened a field hospital located in Hamam al-Alil, 30 kilometers south of Mosul. The hospital has a 50 beds, an emergency department, two operating theatres, and a post-operative care center. An x-ray unit, two electric generators, a laboratory unit, pharmacy, sterilization until, and a blood bank will be installed soon with funding from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), QRCS, and the Government of Kuwait. Ten general practitioners, 10 specialist surgeons, two anesthetics, 42 other medical staff members, and 25 non-medical staff members now work at the field hospital. Of those, many were once under Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) control in Mosul. Dr. Yousef Muayad, a general practitioner and pediatrician who graduated from Mosul University in 1994, once served as the head of administration in Mosul’s main Salam hospital which was under ISIS control until eastern Mosul was cleared. He stated, “We were prisoners in a large prison and working in the hospital with ISIS rules and regulations was quite challenging,” adding, “I saw myself as a prisoner who could only move within a certain periphery.”

On March 18, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that, between March 7 and March 18, a total of 307 new casualties were recorded at Trauma Stabilization Points in and around eastern Mosul, bringing the total number of casualties for the western Mosul operation to 1,051 cases. In the same reporting period, a total of 111 trauma cases were recorded at the Bartell, Emergency, West Emergency, and Shikhan hospitals, bringing the total number of trauma cases to 634 since February 18. Of the trauma cases, 70% were civilians and 26% were children under the age of 15. Since operations to clear Mosul began on October 17, 2016, a total number of 5,057 trauma cases were recorded and of those, 56% were civilians and 26% were children under the age of 15. The WHO cited that the unstable security environment in newly accessible areas of western Mosul continues to be a major barrier to access to health services. In addition, the severe shortage of safe drinking water in western Mosul is a major threat to civilian health as there are potential risks of outbreaks of waterborne illnesses.

On March 19, Human Rights Watch reported that, despite Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s commitment to keeping the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) out of the Mosul operation, the PMU are allegedly conducting informal security screenings for civilians fleeing the city. Human Rights Watch interviewed three men claiming that PMU fighters screened them at an informal site. The men reported that several others were detained at the site and taken to an undisclosed location. Allegedly, there were no Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) soldiers present. Other reports indicate that the Imam Ali Battalion detained at least 10 men from March 9 to March 11, and handed them over to the ISF. Human Right Watch expressed concern for the “utter lack of coordination” between the Iraqi government and the PMU with regard to screening and detaining civilians fleeing Mosul. Human Rights Watch urged Abadi to make it “crystal clear” to the PMU that they “should stop all screening and detention,” and that “anyone responsible for unlawful detention should be prosecuted.”   

On March 19, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that, between March 15 and March 18, nearly 5,000 internally displaced persons (IDP) passed through the Hamam al-Alil screening site per day, an increase of 18% compared to the previous week. To address the rapid pace of displacement, the UNHCR has started construction of the as-Salamiyah 2 camp, located 10 kilometers south of Hamam al-Alil, which will host up to 60,000 IDPs upon completion. In addition, the Hamam al-Alil camp 2 will be able to receive 6,600 IDPs starting on March 24 and will be able to host 30,000 IDPs upon completion. UNHCR also reported that other countries in the region host over 250,000 Iraqi refugees, and the al-Hawl IDP camp, located 266 kilometers east of Mosul in Syria, hosts over 14,000 Iraqis. The UNHCR requested US$ 578 million to support Iraqi refugees in the region for 2017, of which only 4% has been funded. In addition to this funding, the UNHCR needs US$ 212 million to support Iraqi IDPs from Mosul in 2017, including US$ 37 million for the nine weeks.

On March 19, the Iraqi government reported that nearly 180,000 civilians have fled western Mosul since operations in that part of the city began on February 19, 2017. An additional 300,000- 320,000 civilians are expected to flee the city in the coming weeks. UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq Lise Grande noted, “The humanitarian operation in western Mosul is far larger and far more complex than in the east,” adding “The main difference is that tens of thousands of families stayed in their homes in the east—in the west, tens of thousands are fleeing.” She describes the efforts to create more space in IDP camps as a “race against time,” and warned that if the number of civilians fleeing exceeds the pace of new plot construction, then the situation “could deteriorate very quickly.” Grande concluded by stating, “We’ve been planning and preparing for the Mosul operation for months. But the truth is that the crisis is pushing all of us to our limits. We’re going to be doing the best we can to ensure the people who need assistance receive it.”

On March 20, Reuters interviewed western Mosul residents who recently fled the city. Mohammad Ali, a 50-year-old from western Mosul, reported that he and his family were turned away from Hamam al-Alil camp, located 30 kilometers south of Mosul, after 18 hours of walking because the camp was full. Other residents reported similar experiences as the pace of displacement exceeds the pace of new plot construction. Bushra Mohammed Ali, who fled western Mosul with his sister and two daughters, explained that he planned to travel to eastern Mosul rather than stay in an overcrowded IDP camp. While water scarcity is still a major problem in eastern Mosul, residents who are able to stay with family there, tend to do so. A 30-year-old western Mosul resident named Waddah noted that he planned to take his family to live in eastern Mosul with his cousin. He explained that the arrangement was “not ideal,” but that it was better than living in a “cold, crowded camp.” Waddah expressed fear for his relatives who are still trapped in western Mosul saying, “I’m scared for my family still inside. They don’t call every day because they can’t. Every time they don’t, I worry that something has happened to them.”

On March 20, Reuters reported that ISIS militants are forcibly recruiting civilians in western Mosul to join their ranks and defend ISIS positions against the ISF. Ali, a former government worker and resident of western Mosul, told Reuters that he hid his sons in his basement for fear that they would be forcibly recruited. Yassin, a butcher who recently escaped the city, noted that residents in western Mosul stopped going to mosques for fear that ISIS militants would kidnap them and force them to fight against the ISF. Federal Police intelligence officer, Captain Ali al-Kinani reported that federal police officers arrested “dozens” of civilians in western Mosul who were forced to fight with ISIS militants adding, “Many families that fled the fight asked our troops to help their sons. Some young men hiding inside their houses are still waiting for our forces to secure their neighbourhoods and rescue them.”

On March 20, the Minister of Displacement and Migration, Jassim Mohammed, reported that, cumulatively, over 355,000 people have been displaced from Mosul and the surrounding area since operations to clear the city of ISIS militants began on October 17, 2016, and nearly 81,000 have returned to their homes. The Ministry of Displacement and Migration estimates that 181,000 individuals are currently displaced from western Mosul and that 61% of displaced individuals are housed in IDP camps, and 38% are housed in host communities. The remaining one percent of IDPs were not accounted for in the ministry’s report.  

On March 21, Shafaaq News reported that the ISF are working to evacuate civilians from western Mosul, noting that nearly 600,000 civilians remain trapped inside western Mosul. Reuters reported that ISIS snipers positioned in the Old City prevented the ISF from successfully evacuating civilians. Brigadier General Saad Maan noted, “There are lots of snipers on top of the buildings in the Old City around the al-Nuri Mosque. We need to evacuate the families from inside as they using them as a shield when we are advancing on the mosque.” In addition to the threat of being caught in the crossfire, civilians in western Mosul face land mines, mortar fire, car bombs, and booby traps.

On March 21, the UNHCR reported that the Hamam al-Alil transit screening site has received on average 9,000 IDPs from western Mosul each day in the last week, with a total of 161,346 IDPs received at the screening site since February 19. Over 700 families returned to eastern Mosul from Hassan Sham M2 and U3 camps, located 32 kilometers east of Mosul, and 245 families returned to eastern Mosul from Khazar M3 camp, located 47 kilometers northeast of Mosul. These returns freed limited space in all three camps, however, the rate of displacement from western Mosul rapidly outpaces the rate of returns to eastern Mosul.

On March 22, residents of the Wadi al-Hajar district, to the south of Mosul, staged a protest calling on the Iraqi government to reopen the Mosul General Hospital more quickly, or at the very least, its emergency functions. They are urging the government to speed up because as ISIS is corralled into smaller and more densely packed areas of Mosul, civilians casualties will inevitably increase.  

On March 22, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, reported that its teams in and around Mosul received a total of 1,800 patients needing urgent care in the last two months alone. Of those, 83% of patients needed treatment for “conflict-related trauma.” MSF also reported that since the beginning of February, they have assisted 100 births and 80 caesareans. In addition to trauma cases, MSF has also reported cases of child malnutrition. Dr. Isabelle Defourny, MSF Director of Operations noted, “The need for emergency medical care has risen drastically,” adding “It is urgent that malnutrition treatment be provided to meet the needs, and that those displaced from western Mosul receive adequate food aid when they arrive.”

On March 22, two MSF surgeons described their experiences working in an MSF field hospital just south of Mosul. Since the hospital opened on February 19, it has received more than 915 patients including 190 “red cases” in need of urgent, lifesaving treatment. Of the total cases, 241 were women and 240 were children under the age of 15. Dr. Reginald, a 66-year-old Belgian surgeon, worked in Syria, Liberia, Angola, and Cambodia, but noted that the situation in Mosul was unlike anything he had ever experienced. He stated, “In the operating theatre, every case we receive is severe and almost every day we have to deal with mass casualties,” adding “As I finish my six-week assignment, I’m shocked by the number of families dismembered by this war. By the number of mothers and fathers that begged us to save their sons or daughters as they were the only family members left alive. I’m impressed by the strength of the Iraqi people and by the generosity and hard work of our Iraqi colleagues. We could do none of this work without them.” Dr. Ahmed, an Iraqi orthopaedic surgeon, described the story of a young Iraqi boy whose leg was nearly amputated by a mortar. He stated, “For two hours we did orthopaedic surgery, then my colleague did a laparotomy for another hour. But during the night, the boy died.” He concluded, “We try to do everything we can, but sometimes it’s not enough.”

On March 23, civil defense teams discovered 120 civilian corpses among the rubble in the New Mosul neighborhood in western Mosul. Ninewa provincial council member Hossam El Din al-Abbar noted that ISIS militants were responsible for the civilian deaths as they often use civilians as human shields. Abbar also urged authorities to form technical teams to remove the bodies from the rubble and provide a proper burial.

On March 23, practitioners at the Bartella field hospital, located 20 kilometers east of Mosul, spoke about child victims who are treated at the field hospital. Chris, a volunteer nurse from California, cared for a young boy who was injured by an ISIS mortar while playing soccer during a lull in the fighting. The mortar “sprayed shrapnel into his lower legs and virtually severed them.” Both of his feet had to be amputated. A 12-year-old boy was paralyzed from the waist down after shrapnel cut through his stomach. Another boy was brought to the hospital “barely alive” but bled to death before doctors could treat him. Despite reports indicating that the operation to clear western Mosul will take a slower pace to prevent civilian casualties, casualty rates remain high. A mobile hospital in the Ninewa Plains operated by the non-governmental organization (NGO) Samaritan’s Purse, the WHO, and the Iraqi Ministry of Health, has received over 1,000 civilian casualties since it opened in January. Civilians fleeing western Mosul report that airstrikes continue to be a major threat. Reports indicate that airstrikes in Mosul have killed as many as 3,500 civilians since operations began on October 17, 2016.

On March 23, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that 273,720 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 18,840 IPDs since March 16. Sixty-three percent of IDPs from Mosul and the surrounding area are housed in emergency camps, 27% live in private settings, 9% live in emergency sites, and 1% live in critical shelter arrangements. Cumulatively, 350,142 IDPs have been impacted by the crisis in Mosul since it began in October 2016. However, to date 76,442 IDPs have returned to their homes.

On March 23, the Military Media Cell issued a statement reiterating the ISF’s commitment to following the rules of engagement. The statement follows reports of hundreds of civilian deaths in airstrikes in western Mosul on March 22, with varying numbers of casualties reported. Also on Thursday, the Military Media Cell condemned unspecified “great disservice” perpetrated by media outlets, saying that some people wanted to hurt the military establishment with “cheap words,” and vowed to take legal action against media groups reporting harmful information about the military.

ISIS Sleeper Cells Targeted in Anbar, Diyala, Salah ad-Din Provinces

On March 17, militants attacked the home of a Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU) leader in Tarmiyah, 30 kilometers north of Baghdad. The attack killed Sheikh Latif al-Jari, head of the al-Mushaheda militia,  two of his body guards, and injured two of the Sheikh’s family members.

On March 17, Anbar Security Forces arrested 10 suspected members of Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) sleeper cells across the province. Multiple units, including tribal forces, made the arrests, which occurred in the areas of Rutba, Ramadi, and multiple smaller towns in the east of the Anbar.

On March 17, Intelligence and Counterterrorism forces arrested members of the terrorist cell responsible for the March 15 suicide-based improvised explosive device (SBIED) explosion that killed 7 people and wounded 43 others. The governor of Salah ad-Din, Ahmed Abdallah, praised civilian contributions to the investigation, emphasizing the importance of civilians in security efforts.

On March 18, Iraqi air strikes in the Mutibija region on the border of Diyala and Salah ad-Din Provinces killed ISIS official Abu Qaqaa. The same day, ISF air strikes also killed the ISIS official in charge of the so-called “division of mortars” for the Mutibija area.

On March 18, vice president of the Salah ad-Din Provincial Council, Ahmed al-Azzawi, stated in an interview that two of the major reasons for security breaches in the province are lack of support for local police and the presence of four different leaders issuing orders on logistical processes of security forces. The same day, PMU spokesman Ahmed al-Asadi stated that there is no “collapse” of security in Salah ad-Din, and cited political conflicts as a contributing factor to confusion among security forces in the province.

On March 18, volunteer clean up crews near an IDP camp in Khanaqin (110 kilometers northeast of Baquba) discovered unexploded bombs while sweeping the area prior to Nowruz, the Iranian New Year. The police removed the bombs and reminded camp residents to report any suspicious objects.

On March 18, the 22nd Brigade of the Iraqi Army discovered a cache of ammunition and explosives in an underground bunker in the Tarmiyah area, 30 kilometers north of Baghdad. An anonymous security source said that ISF found the bunker, located in an orchard, following a tip made to security forces.

On March 20, Sharhabeel al-Obeidi, Director of the al-Baghdadi District of Anbar Province, called for the reopening of police stations in the region. He expressed need for additional security in the area and concern that the police stations have not been opened, despite the area is no longer under ISIS control.  

On March 20, Iraqi Army troops seized 185 explosive devices found in raids on multiple locations in the Ramadi District of Anbar Province. The ISF also found a number of other weapons on site and arrested two suspected terrorists.

On March 22, ISF fighters killed at least 13 ISIS militants while shelling a road between the town of al-Duloiya and the Mutibija airport. Among the dead were local leaders and a number of foreign fighters.

On March 22, Iraqi Air Force airstrikes killed and wounded dozens of ISIS militants in multiple locations in Anbar Province. The strikes also destroyed an ISIS IED lab and warehouse.

Militants Question Allegiance to ISIS?

On March 17, the Diyala Security Council reported increasing anarchy among Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) ranks in the al-Mutibija region on the border of Diyala and Salah ad-Din Provinces. Sadiq al-Husseini, head of the Council, stated that Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) advances across the country, as well as the targeting of ISIS leaders by ISF and U.S.-led international coalition airstrikes, are amplifying the internal rifts in the organization and delegitimizing ISIS recruitment rhetoric.  

On March 19, an anonymous local source in Kirkuk Province reported that local ISIS leaders allegedly renounced Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, saying that he had failed them. The source specified that the leaders in question were Arab or Iraqi, and said that they proceeded to declare allegiance to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

On March 22, sixty-six families returned to their homes in the small village of Qara Tepe in southwest Kirkuk Province after being displaced for “a few months.”

On March 22, Najim al-Din Karim, Governor of Kirkuk Province, urged the Iraqi Government to begin operations to clear Hawija, located in southwest Kirkuk Province, stressing that Peshmerga forces are prepared to assist in the offensive. The Governor also took the opportunity to ask Baghdad to rebuild houses and infrastructure in areas already cleared of militants, and to provide basic services for returning Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

New UNAMI Youth Program Encourages Cooperation, Dialogue

On March 18, nearly 115 people ages 18-35 from Najaf, Karbala, Babil, and Qadisiyah Provinces participated in the “Iraq: Youth and Coexistence” forum organized by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). The forum aimed to “give a voice to youth for their crucial role in charting the road to peaceful co-existence in a future Iraq.” Iraqis from different ethnic backgrounds deliberated on post-conflict issues regarding reconciliation and national unity. Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General (DSRSG) for Iraq for Political and Electoral Affairs, Mr. György Busztin, spoke at the forum noting, “There must be comprehensive and frank discussions with all segments of society to address the legacy of the past and the current threat of terrorism and extremist views in order to build a stable future for Iraq. Youth are the ones to ensure coexistence remains and takes root in this country.” The forum in Najaf is the third in this series. Forums in Diyala, Suliamania, Baghdad, Kirkuk and Salah ad-Din Provinces will take place in the coming months.

On March 18, the Chaldean Association of Iraq announced that 250 Christian families returned to the town of Telskuf, a small Assyrian town 31 kilometers north of Mosul. The head of the Chaldean Association, Safa Sabah Hindi, stated that the association received donations to rehabilitate homes and instal generators in the town to better facilitate returns.

On March 19, an official of the Abducted Yazidis Bureau, Hussein Qaiada, reported that ISIS militants are holding and training “more than a thousand” Yazidi children in “secret camps” to prepare them to fight in ISIS ranks. In a press conference, Qaiada called on the international community to rescue the kidnapped children and support rehabilitation and reintegration programs for vulnerable Yazidi youth.

IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

03/23/17Bakri, West Baghdad12
03/22/17Nahrawan, East of Baghdad04
03/22/17Shaab, Northern Baghdad01
03/22/17Abu Gharib, West of Baghdad15
03/21/17Hamrin Mountains, near Baiji
03/13/17Nuaimiya, South of Fallujah21
03/21/17Rashidiyah, North Baghdad02
03/21/17Basateen, North Baghdad01
03/20/17Radwaniyah, Southwest of Baghdad02
03/20/17Taji, North of Baghdad14
03/20/17Amil, South Baghdad1331
03/20/17Al-Furat, Southwest of Baghdad11
03/19/17Ekrekof, Northwest of Baghdad12
03/18/17Dibs, Kirkuk Province01
03/18/17Tuz Khurmatu, Salah ad-Din Province04
03/18/17Madain, South of Baghdad03
03/18/17al-Daeniya pass, East of Baquba23
03/18/17Abu Gharib, West of Baghdad13
03/17/17Dora, South Baghdad01
03/17/17Suwaib, Southwest of Baghdad12
03/22/17Arab Jabour, South of Baghdad13


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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