ISHM: March 24 – 30, 2017

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Key Takeaways:

  • Hundreds of Civilian Casualties in Western Mosul Blamed on Coalition Airstrikes – On March 17, U.S.-led international coalition warplanes carried out airstrikes on a suspected ISIS location in the al-Jadida neighborhood of western Mosul. The airstrikes leveled multiple buildings, and likely caused the deaths of an estimated 101 to 263 civilians. Both Iraq’s Defense Minister Irfan Hiyali and U.S. Central Command have ordered inquiries into the incident. On March 28, Lt. General Stephen Townsend, commander of Operation Inherent Resolve, told reporters that “if we did it – and there is a fair chance that we did – it was an unintentional accident of war, and we will transparently report it to you when we’re ready.” A sharp rise in civilian casualties in Mosul has outraged several Iraqi politicians and members of the public – most of whom do not accept an alternative narrative circulating in the Iraqi media that ISIS IEDs are responsible for the March 17 incident. According to Iraqi Army Brig. General Thaer Mosawi, 3,864 civilians have been killed in western Mosul since operations to clear that part of the city began on February 19. Protocol for authorizing airstrikes changed after December 26, 2016, when U.S. military advisors were embedded with Iraqi Army units at the front lines in Mosul. Authority for airstrikes was shifted to coalition troops at the front lines and eliminated the need for clearance from upper brass in Baghdad. This change in authorization, the increasing closeness of combat with ISIS militants, and the ISIS tactic of using civilians as human shields will continue to greatly endanger civilians in Mosul if rules of engagement are left unchanged. more…
  • Security Forces in Mosul Regroup as More U.S. Troops Deploy – Mindful of increasing international pressure to reduce civilian casualties in western Mosul, Iraqi Security Forces slowed their advances into the that part of the city this week. On March 27, 240 troops from the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, NC deployed to Iraq. The deployment includes two Army infantry companies and one platoon equipped to dismantle roadside IEDs. The troops will join the nearly 5,000 U.S. troops already stationed in Iraq for force protection and advise-and-assist missions. more…
  • Despite Improved Security, Eastern Mosul Remains a Target – Despite being ostensibly clear of ISIS militants, and attempts at a return to some semblance of normalcy, civilians in eastern Mosul remain vulnerable targets. On March 26, ISIS militants fired three mortars on the Nabi Younis covered market in eastern Mosul, killing 13 adults and two children. Running water and electricity are scarce or non-existent and residents are cramped in tight quarters with family who have fled western Mosul, or whose homes have been destroyed. Desperate to flee the even more violent western half of the city, dozens of civilians – including children – are killed each day as they attempt to cross from the west to the east, either by security forces fearful that the fleeing civilians are ISIS militants, or by ISIS militants themselves. Officially, the Iraqi Government is continuing to urge civilians in the west to remain in their homes rather than attempt to flee – an increasingly difficult request as food and water supplies dwindle to nothing and nearby fighting intensifies. (For more on conditions in eastern Mosul, see our recent trip report by EPIC’s Matthew Schweitzer.) more…
  • Kurdish Flag Flies in Kirkuk, Civil Servants Pay Suspended – On March 28, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) announced that it would raise the Kurdistan region’s flag over government facilities in Kirkuk. This action sparked anger from Iraqi officials; in response, acting Iraqi Finance Minister and Member of Parliament, Abdul Razzaq al-Issa, canceled the paychecks of Kirkuk’s government employees. One day after the flag raising, hundreds of Turkmen residents protested the act by flying Iraqi and Turkmen flags. Yet, despite these protests, on March 29 the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) parliamentary bloc congratulated Kirkuk Provincial Governor Najmaddin Karim for the Kurdish flag-raising, with KRG Vice President Qubad Talabani extending special congratulations to the entire province. Kurdish officials’ actions in Kirkuk come as relations between the KRG and the Iraqi government remain tense. On March 28, KRG Minister of Health Rekawat Hamarshid reported that the Baghdad government had allegedly withheld medicine and medical supplies to Iraqi Kurdistan, precipitating an “immediate and serious” crisis amidst the ongoing influx of internally displaced persons to areas under KRG control. more…
  • Violence Continues on Diyala, Salah ad-Din Border; Allegations of Chemical Weapons Use Emerge – On March 28, ISIS militants launched six mortars at the village of Mubarak al-Farhan, near Baquba on the Diyala/Salah ad-Din border. According to Uday al-Khaddran, Mayor of nearby Khalis, the mortars caused “cases of suffocation among some civilians as a result of strange gases,” and “all evidence indicates that the missiles were carrying a [toxic] chlorine gas.” Although the allegation has not been verified, ISIS militants have used chemical weapons with varying degrees of potency against civilian populations elsewhere in Iraq. 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.


Hundreds of Civilian Casualties in Western Mosul Blamed on Coalition Airstrikes

On March 17, U.S.-led international coalition warplanes carried out airstrikes on a suspected Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) location in the al-Jadida neighborhood in western Mosul. According to residents of the area, the airstrikes flattened multiple buildings, and resulted in the deaths of a contested number of civilians. Various sources put the fatalities at anywhere from 101 to 263 dead. Maj.Gen. Maan al-Saadi of the Iraqi Special Forces stated that his men had called for the airstrike, and an official Operation Inherent Resolve release acknowledged that “the Coalition struck ISIS fighters and equipment, March 17, in west Mosul at the location corresponding to allegations of civilian casualties.” As of March 26, Joint Operations Command stated that media reports were “great exaggerations and misrepresentations” of the death and destruction, reporting that most of the casualties that did occur were caused by ISIS suicide-and vehicle based improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), as well as booby-trapped houses. Brig. Gen. Mohammad Mahmoud, Civil Defense Chief of Mosul, insisted that at least one house, said to be damaged by a booby trap, sustained damage consistent with an airstrike. On March 27, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi stated that the preliminary government findings contradicted rumors circulating on what happened. Some military commanders stated that damage was caused by a missile hitting a VBIED positioned by ISIS, but no crater consistent with such an explosion was found on the street.  

On March 24, Iraqi Vice President Osama Najafi berated the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and U.S.-led international coalition for increasing numbers of civilian casualties in western Mosul, saying “the intensity of the fighting against Daesh terrorists does not pardon officials and leaders of moral responsibility and humanity to the growing number of victims of the innocent civilians who were forced to stay in their areas by the terrorist organization.” He called for the cessation of air strikes and excessive use of missiles and artillery in heavily populated areas, especially as cold weather exacerbates the need for humanitarian aid in the city. The incident has produced outcry from other Iraqi politicians and members of the public, many of whom do not accept the official narrative blaming ISIS for the deaths and damage. The complaints are focusing on the use of excessive munitions in the densely-populated neighborhoods currently being cleared by the ISF. One civilian related that ISIS snipers will climb onto the roofs of occupied civilian homes, which the coalition will then attack in such a way as to completely destroy the building, killing any residents. A resident of the neighborhood questioned the tactic, asking “Why, just because of one Daesh, kill everyone?” A Member of Parliament for Ninewa Province, Farrah Sarraj, demanded an investigation into the incident, seeing “flaws and shortcomings in military plans,” suggesting that the military focuses on victory to the extent that civilian safety becomes secondary.

On March 24, Lise Grande, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, expressed deep concern over the massive number of civilian casualties that resulted from the U.S.-led coalition airstrike that hit the al-Jadida neighborhood in western Mosul on March 17. She stated, “We are stunned by this terrible loss of life and wish to express our deepest condolences to the many families who have reportedly been impacted by this tragedy,” adding “International humanitarian law is clear. Parties to the conflict — all parties – are obliged to do everything possible to protect civilians. This means that combatants cannot use people as human shields and cannot imperil lives through indiscriminate use of fire-power.” She concluded stating, “Everything must be done to avoid civilian casualties.”

On March 25, Iraqi Defense Minister Irfan Hiyali ordered an immediate inquiry into the emerging reports of civilian deaths in Mosul caused by U.S.-led international coalition airstrikes. House Speaker Salim al-Jabouri also called for an emergency meeting of Parliament on Saturday to discuss the “massacre.”

On March 25, the World Health Organization (WHO), Federal Ministry of Health, and the Ninewa Department of Health opened a trauma field hospital in Athba,15 kilometers from western Mosul. The WHO with support from the World Food Programme also airlifted 15 additional ambulances to the field hospital to facilitate faster patient referrals. The WHO reported that a total of 1,296 trauma cases have been treated at the Bartalla Field hospital, Emergency, West Emergency, and Shikhan hospitals since February 18. Of those, 76% were civilians, 28% were children under the age of 15, and 35% were women. Since the Mosul operated started on October 17, 2016, a total of 5,333 trauma cases were recorded, of which 57% were civilians and 29% were children under the age of 15. In addition, the WHO reported that 141,990 individuals from western Mosul were “identified in various locations of displacement including camps, emergency sites and out-of-camp locations” between February 25 and March 25. According to authorities in Hamam al-Alil, 30 kilometers south of Mosul, over 189,000 individuals transited through the area between February 18 and March 24.

On March 25, Iraqi Army Brig. Gen. Thaer Mosawi reported that a total of 3,864 civilians have been killed in western Mosul since operations to clear that part of the city began on February 19. He also reported that field hospitals in and around Mosul have received 22,000 cases since operations to clear the city began on October 17, 2016.

On March 26, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, when questioned about the March 17 airstrike in west Mosul, stated that “there is no military force in the world that has proven more sensitive to civilian casualties.” However, individual Iraqi politicians and military leaders have observed a change in how the coalition operates in the past few months, a change which some believe may affect civilians in Mosul. Gen. Ali Jamil, part of the Iraqi Special Forces, told The New York Times that calls for airstrikes are being responded to more quickly, noting that this means less time for risk assessment of the area. This change in response time is likely in part due to a directive issued by Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend on December 26, 2016, moving many U.S. military advisors closer to the units they are embedded with in Mosul. This proximity, along with another directive issued a few weeks ago, has made calling in airstrikes more straightforward. Spokesman for the U.S.-led international coalition, Lt. Col. John Dorrian, explained that the directives enabled in certain coalition troops “to call in airstrikes without going through a strike cell,” cutting out layers of bureaucracy and the need to go through Baghdad for approval. It appears the motive behind the tactical shift is increased responsiveness to ISF needs and therefore swifter advances through Mosul. Saadi, the Special Forces Lt. Gen, expressed a feeling of inevitability that such collateral damage will occur while fighting “the most dangerous terrorist organization in the world.” According to Foreign Policy, “the U.S. military is not yet planning on making any changes to the way it carries out attacks.”

On March 26, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi commented on the progress of the ISF and U.S.-led international coalition fight against ISIS, claiming that the terrorist group will be defeated in a manner of weeks. Abadi also discussed former U.S. President Barack Obama’s hands-off approach to fighting ISIS, claiming that Obama only became involved when ISIS occupied 40% of Iraq and he had no other choice. These comments come after the recent 68-country meeting on the conflict with ISIS. United States President Donald Trump is also calling on coalition partners to contribute more materially and financially to the fight. Peter Szijarto, a Hungarian politician, commended President Trump for his more aggressive approach, and vowed to support the coalition by dedicating an extra 50 soldiers to the effort, bringing his country’s total to 200. American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also made an effort to resolve the structural problems contributing to ISIS recruitment and terrorism in general, arguing that a military only solution would be temporary and that a more holistic approach is required. Tillerson’s claims starkly contrast with Trump’s more security focused approach. Although Tillerson seems to be following the more holistic Obama model, Trump’s aggressively militaristic approach has left an impression on Abadi, who offered that the current administration is more prepared to take ISIS seriously. Unnamed Iraqi officials interviewed at the conference also suggested that although externally no grievances are being aired, Trump’s initial travel ban, which included Iraq, is still causing bad blood between Iraqi and American officials, and could pose a problem in the long-run.

On March 26, an unnamed local municipal official in Mosul reported that as many as 240 bodies were recovered from the site of the U.S.-led coalition airstrike that hit the al-Jadida neighborhood in western Mosul on March 17. Other eyewitness accounts indicate that 200 bodies were recovered, and the Iraqi military reported that 61 bodies were recovered from the rubble. Reports of the events of March 17 also differ. Iraqi officials reported that civilians deaths were the result of a boobytrap that caused a building to collapse. Other accounts indicate that the U.S.-led coalition airstrike targeted a large truck bomb near the building, triggering a larger explosion that collapsed the building. Details of the incident are difficult to confirm as the battle between ISIS militants and the ISF rages on.  

On March 27, the Pentagon released a statement claiming that it was not going to tighten the rules of engagement for United States forces. Witnesses in Mosul have claimed that a recent American airstrike killed at least 200 people. Part of President Donald Trump’s campaign promise was to loosen the rules of engagement, claiming that it was crippling United States’ forces ability to fight. The statement claimed that the Pentagon was viewing over 700 different airstrikes to come to a conclusion about what transpired. On January 28, a Presidential Memorandum ordered a new plan to deal with ISIS, one which would include “recommended changes to any United States rules of engagement and other United States policy restrictions that exceed the requirements of international law regarding the use of force against ISIS.” However, multiple senior officials, including former Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, have said that there have been no “major changes” to policy in Iraq.

On March 27, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi led a meeting with United States Army Chief of Staff Mark Mele to discuss United States involvement in Iraqi military operations and the use of force that could affect civilians. One of the more significant developments from the meeting was a discussion about ISIS’s use of human shields, a tactic they use to deter airstrikes and increase collateral damage from operations. Although not explicitly stated, the meetings also likely addressed a recent bombing that reportedly killed approximately 200 civilians in Mosul. While the United States has not taken responsibility for the bombing, U.S. President Donald Trump has made promises to loosen the rules of engagement, and many believe the United States to be responsible for the incident.  

On March 28, Amnesty International called on the Iraqi government and U.S.-led coalition to “immediately launch an independent and impartial investigation into the appalling civilian death toll” resulting from an alleged U.S.-led coalition airstrike on the al-Jadida neighborhood in western Mosul on March 17. Donatella Rovera, Senior Crisis Response Adviser at Amnesty International, stated “The high civilian toll suggests that coalition forces leading the offensive in Mosul have failed to take adequate precautions to prevent civilian deaths, in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law,” adding that, because the Iraqi government has urged civilians to shelter-in-place, the U.S.-led coalition “should have known that these strikes were likely to result in a significant number of civilian casualties” especially in the densely populated neighborhoods of western Mosul.

On March 28, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) reported that at least 307 civilians were killed and another 237 wounded between March 17 and March 22. The most deadly incident occurred when a U.S.-led coalition airstrike targeting ISIS sniper positions allegedly hit a building in the al-Jadida neighborhood in western Mosul on March 17. ISIS militants reportedly forced 140 civilians inside the booby-trapped building and used them as human shields. High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein stated, “The conduct of airstrikes on ISIL locations in such an environment, particularly given the clear indications that ISIL is using large numbers of civilians as human shields at such locations, may potentially have a lethal and disproportionate impact on civilians.” Between March 23 and March 26, shelling, VBIEDs and ISIS snipers killed at least 95 civilians in the Risalah, Nabils, Uruba, and Sainaah al-Qadimah neighbourhoods in western Mosul. Reports of ISIS militants using civilians as human shields, or targeting fleeing civilians continue to flood out of western Mosul. High Commissioner Zeid stated, “ISIL’s strategy of using children, men, and women to shield themselves from attack is cowardly and disgraceful. It breaches the most basic standards of human dignity and morality. Under international humanitarian law, the use of human shields amounts to a war crime,” adding “And shooting civilians in the back as they flee for their lives is an act of monstrous depravity.”  

On March 28, Lt. Gen. Townsend reported that Brig. Gen. Matthew Isler is heading up a credibility inquiry into the incident, and stated that “If we did it – and there’s a fair chance that we did – it was an unintentional accident of war, and we will transparently report it to you when we’re ready.” According to a U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) report to the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, “the investigation will look at command-and-control, the munitions employed and the fusing for those munitions.”

On March 28, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that the new Athba field hospital, 15 kilometers from western Mosul, received 36 patients the day after it opened on March 25. Of those treated on that day, 30 were civilians, 39% of whom were women, and 53% of whom were children under the age of 15. The field hospital features two operating theatres and 56 beds, and can treat general emergency cases, fractures, obstetric surgery, and general wound management. In the coming days, the hospital will expand to accommodate an additional operating theatre and 20 more beds.

On March 30, U.S. Secretary of Defense under the Obama administration, Ash Carter, spoke at a forum at Harvard University explaining that he did not see any major changes in the Mosul operation since President Trump took office. He stated, “I don’t see overall major changes and I certainly hope they stay on the path that we set because I think that’s the right path.” He declined to comment on the incident in which a U.S.-led coalition airstrike allegedly hit a building full of civilians in western Mosul on March 17; however, he “stressed the importance” of conducting an investigation into the matter.


Security Forces in Mosul Regroup as More U.S. Troops Deploy

On March 25, the Military Intelligence Directorate reported that airstrikes in western Mosul killed multiple, mostly Arab, Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) leaders. The Iraqi Air Force strikes targeted an ISIS site in the al-Thura neighborhood of the Baaj area slightly west of Old Mosul.

On March 26, Lt. Gen. Abdul Amir Yarallah, Operations Commander for Mosul, announced that Counter-terrorism forces (CTS) cleared the al-Arabiya neighborhood and the industrial district of west Mosul. In addition, CTS troops cleared the southern neighborhood of Wadi al-Ain and Rajim al-Hadid, and the Ninth Armored Division cleared the Badush cement factory and Badush Dam, 20 kilometers northwest of Mosul.

On March 26, a prominent Tunisian ISIS explosives expert known as Abu Hamza died in an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion in Tal Afar, 70 kilometers west of Mosul. The militant and four of his assistants died in a two-story apartment building which they were attempting to booby trap.

On March 26, the Military Media Cell announced that Iraqi Air Force strikes killed 14 militants at an ISIS camp in the as-Sharjikhana neighborhood in western Mosul. The airstrike also killed a militant known as Abu Ansari, a so-called military prince of the organization.

On March 27, an additional 240 troops from the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina will deploy to Iraq within the next 36 hours. The deployment includes two Army infantry companies and one platoon “equipped to clear away roadside bombs,” and the troops will support the nearly 5,000 American troops already deployed to Iraq. The troops will not engage in combat; however, they will be stationed in “dangerous areas” and will “protect the United States’ continuing effort to advise and assist Iraqi forces” as they progress further into western Mosul.

On March 27, fighters in the Badr Organization, a large Shia Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU), repelled an ISIS attack on the west side of Mosul. While not specifying the location of the attack, the Organization reported killing 43 militants and destroying at least 10 vehicles, including an armored bulldozer and a tank.

On March 27, Ninewa PMUs repelled an ISIS attack on the town of Qamishilyah, 40 kilometers southwest of Tal Afar, destroying six vehicle-based improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs). The militants appeared to attempt to break through the blockade of PMU forces preventing ISIS militants from fleeing to Syria.

On March 29, Iraqi F-16s carried out airstrikes on three ISIS headquarters near the towns of Hadar (85 kilometers southwest of Mosul) and Ba’aj (125 kilometers west of Mosul). The airstrikes destroyed a weapons warehouse, as well as killing an undetermined number of militants.

On March 30, Operations Commander for Mosul Lt. Gen Abdul Amir Yarallah announced that the Ninth Armored Division of the ISF cleared the town of al-Sabuniyah, 15 kilometers west of Mosul. The Ninth Armored Division has been approaching Mosul from the northwest, clearing towns as they advance.


Despite Improved Security, Eastern Mosul Remains a Target

March 24 March 25 March 26 March 27 March 28 March 29 March 30
Total IDPs No data No data  279,024 No data  286,020 No data  287,250
Daily Net Change No data No data +5,304 No data +6,996 No data +1,230

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

On March 24, former Green Beret Loren Schofield spoke about the GoFundMe campaign he launched in February to raise money for the families of fallen Iraqi commandos from the Iraqi Counterterrorism Service (CTS). Schofield helped train Iraqi counterterrorism troops between 2007-08 and tracked their progress in the Mosul operation. He launched the “Raise the Black” campaign in February and exceeded his initial goal of raising $4,000 for families of fallen counterterrorism troops. The logo for the campaign features a black flag with a skull and arrows– a homage to the Special Forces insignia. Schofield noted, “The goal is to steal the fear away from the black flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS),” adding “The fact that CTS trucks are black. They wear black uniforms. That is how they are known now.” Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and an expert on counterinsurgency, applauded the campaign. He stated, “I think it is a positive message that these Iraqi Special Operations won’t be forgotten,” adding “All too often in our past we’ve abandoned our allies.”

On March 24, western Mosul residents who escaped the city reported that ISIS militants are opening fire on civilians as they try to flee. Faris Khader, a western Mosul resident who recently escaped, stated “The snipers are professional, they do not care. Anybody that moves, they kill.” He noted that an ISIS sniper was positioned on the roof of his home when an airstrike hit, adding “There are many people dead under the rubble. Some in my family died. Nobody can take the bodies out.” Bashar Hazem, a 43-year-old from western Mosul, fled the city with his two brothers, one of whom was badly injured. He noted that ISIS militants targeted them as they fled, and that militants shot three women in their group as they tried to flee.

On March 24, the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) reported that the Qayyarah Airstrip emergency site, located 73 kilometers south of Mosul, now hosts nearly 50,000 internally displaced persons (IDP) from Mosul and the surrounding area, making it one of the largest IDP camps in Iraq. With support from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), the DRC will position an additional 200 tents at the camp for a maximum capacity of 60,000 individuals.

On March 24, Reuters reported that markets have reopened in eastern Mosul and that life is starting to return to a semblance of normal. Street vendors sell fruits and vegetables from carts, stores sell SIM cards and mobile phones which were previously outlawed under ISIS rule, and workers clear the streets of debris and rubble. Despite this progress, reminders of ISIS violence are everywhere. Unemployment is high in eastern Mosul, and those who can find work do so by clearing the streets of debris and rubble or de-mining buildings or land. Running water and electricity are scarce and residents are cramped living in tight quarters with family who fled western Mosul, or whose homes were destroyed in the fighting. Residents also report that the psychological damage from living under ISIS rule remains. Loay Jassem, a 21-year-old eastern Mosul resident, told Reuters that ISIS militants killed his mother in front of his six-year-old sister. A group of boys reported that ISIS militants killed a disabled child in front of them.

On March 25 the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that on March 23 and March 24, over 26,000 IDPs arrived to Hamam al-Alil, located 30 kilometers south of Mosul, many of whom were wounded. Of those, over 19,000 departed to Gogjali camp on the outskirts of eastern Mosul, Qayyarah Airstrip emergency site 73 kilometers south of Mosul, and Nargizlia camp located 43 kilometers northeast of Mosul. The UNHCR reported that, despite availability at Nargizlia, relocation to the camp has been limited. IDPs cite lack of information about the camp and its available plots as the main reason why they do not relocate there. In addition, many IDPs are choosing to wait until the new Hamam al-Alil 2 camp opens, rather than relocating elsewhere, so that they can remain close to western Mosul in order to facilitate a swift return to the city.

On March 26, ISIS militants fired three mortars on the Nabi Younis covered market in eastern Mosul, killing 13 adults and two children. The first mortar hit a shop selling perfume, which then burst into flames, killing 11 adults and one child. The second two mortars fell in the same area an hour later, killing two adults and one child. Police officers reported that the mortars badly burned “many” civilians, most of whom are not expected to survive.

On March 27, The New York Times reported that the Iraqi government and the U.S.-led coalition dropped leaflets over western Mosul, urging civilians to remain in their homes rather than fleeing into the crossfire. Residents in western Mosul reported that Iraqi special forces were perched on rooftops, within earshot of civilians hiding in their homes, and that ISIS militants employed the same strategy. The U.S.-led coalition airstrike that killed hundreds of civilians in the al-Jadida neighborhood in western Mosul on March 17 reportedly targeted ISIS snipers positioned on rooftops. American military officials stated that the civilians deaths were the result of a building collapse days after the airstrike hit the neighborhood, alleging that ISIS militants destroyed the building. However, survivors reported that the airstrike brought the building down. While investigations are still underway, the incident could be one of the worst civilians death tolls in a U.S.-led coalition airstrike in Iraq to date.

On March 27, an anonymous security source reported that ISIS militants burned down a blood bank and 12 medicine warehouses in western Mosul. The blood bank, located near the Ninewa Health Department, was the “main center for the exchange of blood in the province.”

On March 28, a civilian in western Mosul, Jasim, told the Independent via mobile phone, “The Iraqi army, the federal police, and counter-terror forces shoot anyone coming from the western side as there is curfew at night and they believe anyone coming from the western side must be a Daesh fighter,” suggesting that ISIS militants are not the only danger to civilians attempting to flee western Mosul. He reported that “dozens of civilians are killed every day, including children. Yesterday, two children were killed by a mortar shell of the Iraqi Army coming from the eastern part.” Jasim risked his life by communicating via mobile phone to the Independent. ISIS militants have imprisoned or executed people in the past for using a mobile phone. Shortly after Jasim spoke with the Independent, he was injured in a drone attack from an unknown source. He had hoped to take his mother to eastern Mosul but it was too dangerous to cross the river. He noted, “Three people were killed in our neighbourhood trying to cross the river to the eastern side. They were shot dead by the snipers,” adding “Daesh have snipers who cover the river bank between the 5th and 6th bridges” close to where Jasim lived.

On March 28, New York Times photojournalist Ivor Prickett captured the “battlefront and humanitarian crisis” in western Mosul in photographs. Prickett reported that, shortly after the U.S.-led coalition airstrike hit a building full of civilians in the al-Jadida neighborhood in western Mosul on March 17, families buried their dead and started fleeing the city. Civilians trekked through rubble and debris, and passed unexploded vehicle-based improvised explosive devices (VBIED) and ISIS corpses as they made their way out of the neighborhood. Prickett reported that there could be as many as 500,000 civilians still trapped inside Mosul and at least 2,000 ISIS militants entrenched in the city. Many civilians have heeded the government’s request to shelter-in-place, but as food and water shortages continue to dwindle, some civilians must make the decision to stay and risk starvation or risk being caught in the crossfire as they flee the city. Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU) fighters oversee government food aid distribution in western Mosul; however, Prickett described the distribution as “taking place irregularly and very often descending into chaos as desperate people fight for bags of rice and sugar.” Prickett also observed that families are not able to properly bury their loved ones, as often the process is interrupted by additional airstrikes or mortar fire. Prickett spoke with a family whose two young children were killed by an airstrike that hit a nearby house. The children might have survived if medical teams were more accessible in western Mosul. Residents in western Mosul who are unable to flee live in constant fear of airstrikes, mortar fire, snipers, and car-bombings. Prickett noted that, even if the ISF can clear western Mosul of ISIS militants permanently, it will “forever be the place where coalition airstrikes killed dozens of people seeking safety; where families left so many dead behind while fleeing the terror of ISIS; where victory looked like destruction.”

On March 29, a roadside bomb on the bank of the Tigris River in western Mosul killed or wounded 11 civilians as they tried to flee an ISIS-occupied area of the city. The explosion killed seven civilians and wounded four others including women and children. An anonymous source reported that the ISF later evacuated the dead from the area.  

On March 30, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that 287,250 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 13,530 IPDs since March 23. Fifty-nine percent of IDPs from Mosul and the surrounding area are housed in emergency camps, 26% live in private settings, 14% live in emergency sites, and 1% live in critical shelter arrangements. Cumulatively, 367,878 IDPs have been impacted by the crisis in Mosul since it began in October 2016. However, to date 80,628 IDPs have returned to their homes.


Kurdish Flag Flies in Kirkuk, Civil Servants Pay Suspended

On March 24, Kurdish Security Forces arrested two men and seized their cache of weapons in the Banji Ali neighborhood of Kirkuk City. The suspects possessed TNT, Katyusha rockets, Kalashnikov rifles, and other assorted weapons and equipment.

On March 25, an improvised explosive device (IED) killed three ISIS militants and wounded 3 others on the road to Hawija, 60 kilometers southwest of Kirkuk. It is unknown who planted the IED by the road, which is still under Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) control.

On March 28, the Kurdish Minister of Health Rekawat Hamarashid reported that the Iraqi government’s “alleged decision” to withhold medicine and medical supplies from Iraqi Kurdistan could lead to an “immediate and serious” crisis amidst the ongoing influx of internally displaced persons (IDP) to the region. Iraqi Kurdistan now hosts as many as 1.8 million Iraqi IDPs and Syrian refugees. Hamarashid stated, “Baghdad has not been particularly helpful in the past in regard to supply of medicine, but the government is now considering reducing the supply by almost 50 percent, which will lead to severe shortages if the decision is implemented.” The alleged cuts were discovered last month when a government document was leaked to the media. The document allegedly recommends that Baghdad “withhold nearly half of the needed drugs to Kurdish stores” and makes reference to the ongoing oil revenue dispute between Baghdad and Erbil. Hamarashid told Rudaw reporters that the Kurdish Ministry of Health planned to appeal to the international aid organizations to directly send medical aid to the Kurdistan region stating, “We will tell them that we have been providing not only the growing population in Kurdistan with the needed drugs, but also the millions of refugees currently living in the region. And that has been tremendously difficult due to the financial crisis here. Not only did Iraq not provide assistance, but they are also trying to reduce the little help they have offered us.”

On March 28, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) announced that it was going to raise the flag of the Kurdish region over its governmental facilities in the Kirkuk province. While ostensibly this would not seem to be a shocking decision, the Kurdish people do not have full autonomy and such public displays of separation from Iraq upset the status quo. This coincides with the announcement that March 28th will be a national holiday for the Kurds. Lastly, Kirkuk Governor Najmadeen Karim announced the official government writings will include Kurdish translations. It appears that as the fight against ISIS enters its last stages, Kurdish politicians are planning ahead for a push toward Kurdish autonomy. In response to the raising of the Kurdish flag, Member of Parliament and the Acting Minister of Finance, Abdul Razzaq al-Issa, canceled the paychecks of Kirkuk’s government employees. When Kurdish authorities contacted Issa’s office, they received no response.

On March 28, the Governor of Kirkuk, Najmadin Karim, held a meeting with his province’s security committee to address concerns of Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) activity. One partial solution to preventing ISIS attacks is to work on constructing a more sophisticated and interdependent relationship between the security service and local community. The participants also suggested that local police forces should expand intelligence sharing with federal security and military forces.

On March 29, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’s parliamentary bloc offered their congratulations to the Kirkuk Province for raising the Kurdish flag over government buildings. Qubad Talabani, the Kurdish Regional Government Vice President also extended his congratulations to the Kirkuk province, recalling that Kurdish leader Mam Jalal has been advocating for Kurdish rights in Kirkuk since 1992. The Kirkuk province has been a contentious issue between Erbil and Baghdad. During Saddam Hussein’s reign, the region underwent an Arabization process. Since Hussein’s fall, the Kurds have been trying to re-appropriate the province as a historic territory, which would necessitate de-Arabization. On the same day, dozens of Turkmen protested against the decision to raise the Kurdish flag over government buildings. The protesters gathered in Kirkuk City, waiving Turkmen flags and chanting slogans, stressing that the decision was unconstitutional and illegal.


Violence Continues on Diyala, Salah ad-Din Border; Allegations of Chemical Weapons Use Emerge

On March 24, Turkmen Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU) fighters repelled an Islamic State in Syria and al-Sham (ISIS) attack on the town of Jerdaghli, 80 kilometers northeast of Tikrit. The attack killed five civilians and wounded another seven, killed two PMU fighters and 10 militants, and wounded of seven more militants. On March 26, Abu Rida al-Rajjar, a commander in the Turkmen PMU, attributed the freedom of movement militants have in the province to a lack of air support.  

On March 24, the Iraqi Ministry of Defense announced that the Iraqi Air Force received four new American F-16s at Balad Air Base in Salah ad-Din Province. The planes are part of the Strategic Framework Agreement that governs American involvement in Iraq.

On March 25, the Diyala Security Council reported that ISIS sleeper cell activity has fallen by 80% in five Diyala regions. The decrease in terrorist activity is in comparison to 2016 numbers, and is attributed to “special efforts of the security institution.”

On March 26, four Diyala PMU members went missing from a security checkpoint near Hamrin Lake, 58 kilometers northeast of Baquba, and are currently being searched for. The same day, PMU fighters shot down an ISIS drone in the same area.

On March 27, the Diyala Organization for Human Rights discovered a mass grave in Saadiya, 60 kilometers northeast of Baquba, containing corpses of ISIS victims. Peshmerga forces recently detained an ISIS militant who confessed the location of the grave during an interrogation. Taleb al-Khazrangy, head of Diyala Organization for Human Rights, posited that the grave could contain nearly 100 dead civilians. Reports indicate that 100 civilians went missing in June 2014 when ISIS militants overran Saadiya. Khazrangy reported that the Diyala Organization for Human Rights is working with the Peshmerga to identify the victims and provide proper burials.

On March 27, unknown assailants attacked an ISIS vehicle in Sharqat, an ISIS-held area of Salah ad-Din Province, killing one militant and wounding two others. A local source suggested this incident was significant, as it is reportedly the first instance of such an attack targeting an ISIS security unit.   

On March 28, ISIS militants located on the border of Diyala and Salah ad-Din Provinces launched six mortars at the village of Mubarak al-Farhan in the Mutibija area. Uday al-Khaddran, the Mayor of nearby Khalis (15 kilometers north of Baquba), stated that the mortars injured one child and caused “cases of suffocation among some civilians as a result of strange gases.” The next day, Khaddran asserted that “all available evidence indicates that the missile was carrying a (heavily toxic) gas chlorine,” and that requests for medical teams had not been answered.  

On March 28, ISF troops in Diyala Province, in conjunction with PMU fighters, seized a cache of weapons during an operation in the Zour Basin, 45 kilometers northeast of Baquba. The troops found various types of munitions and explosives, and was based on information civilians provided to the ISF.

On March 29, Diyala police found a suicide belt holding multiple kilograms of explosives and five Katyusha rockets in agricultural areas of the province. Diyala Police Chief Maj. Gen. Jassem Al- Saadi reported that greater communication between civilians and the ISF have facilitated raids such as this one, as locals are able to report suspicious activity and findings to police for investigation.


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

DateLocationDeathsInjuries
03/29/17West Mosul154
03/29/17Southern entrance to Baghdad 1019
03/28/17Shaab, Northeast Baghdad03
03/28/17Jisr Diyala, South Baghdad02
03/28/17Hor Rajab, South of Baghdad01
03/27/17Radwaniyah, Southwest of Baghdad02
03/27/17International highway, 160 kilometers West of Ramadi0?
03/27/17Tarbil Border Crossing, Anbar03
03/26/17Latiyfa, South of Baghdad04
03/26/17AShurta al-Rabia, Kirkuk Province10
03/26/17Dibs, Kirkuk Province02
03/26/17Nabi Yunis Souk, East Mosul213
03/26/17Amiriyat, South of Fallujah01
03/25/17Andalus, North Baghdad12
03/24/17Al-Firat, Southwest Baghdad02
03/24/17Amin, East Baghdad02
03/24/17Hor Rajab, South of Baghdad12

 

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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