ISHM: June 16 – 22, 2017


Key Takeaways:

  • Aid Agencies Struggle to Keep Up with Mosul Exodus – As Iraqi Security Forces push into ISIS’s bastions in Mosul’s Old City, the rate of civilian displacement has sharply increased. Approximately 150,000 civilians are trapped in remaining militant-held neighborhoods. As fighting intensifies, the UN expects 120,000-150,000 civilians to flee, worsening a situation that the UN’s Iraq Humanitarian Coordinator Lise Grande has called “beyond the worst case scenario” for IDPs; the UN planned for 750,000 displaced civilians, but to-date over 860,000 people have fled. Humanitarian responders have struggled to provide aid for growing numbers of IDPs, and lack sufficient transportation, food, water, or shelter to meet rising need. To manage civilian outflow, the UN has coordinated with the ISF to allow a maximum of 20,000 people to flee Mosul per day. Conditions inside ISIS-held Mosul are deteriorating as summer temperatures climb and security forces employ indiscriminate munitions, including rockets and artillery. Civilians remaining in Mosul’s Old City lack food and water; ISIS snipers continue to execute those caught attempting to flee across ISF frontlines. more…
  • ISIS Destroys Famed al-Nuri Mosque; CTS Advances into Mosul’s Old City – On June 21, ISIS militants destroyed Mosul’s al-Nouri Mosque – with its famous “hunchback minaret” constructed in 1172 – in a controlled demolition. In 2014, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his first speech in occupied Mosul at the mosque, and control of the site would have been a major strategic and symbolic victory for the Iraqi forces. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi described ISIS’s actions as an “official announcement of their defeat.” The explosion came after the Iraqi Army’s Counter-Terrorism Service made rapid gains into the last ISIS-held areas of Mosul’s Old City. The advance marks the final phase of the nine-month operation to liberate Mosul from the militants. Forced to navigate narrow streets, defuse numerous IEDs, and protect an estimated 100,000-150,000 civilians still trapped by ISIS, the ISF has advanced slowly. more…
  • PMUs Reach Iraq/Syria Border – On June 17, a combined Iraqi Army and PMU force cleared ISIS militants from Anbar Province’s strategic Al-Walid border crossing into Syria, approximately 450 kilometers west of Ramadi. These forces were supported by U.S.-led international coalition and Iraqi airstrikes. The crossing, previously held by ISIS, is part of the highway from Baghdad to Damascus, and is located near a U.S. military base across the border in Syria. One day after these operations concluded, a PMU senior political advisor announced that PMU forces would remain at the border. more…
  • Local Forces Thwart Attacks in Diyala – On June 19, an Iraqi airstrike killed 10 ISIS militants in northern Diyala Province, conducted using intelligence gathered by PMU forces in the area. The strike comes as security in Diyala slowly deteriorates. Since the start of Ramadan, provincial security officials claim they have thwarted six ISIS attacks; many suicide attacks conducted in the province have been conducted by ISIS’s so-called “cubs of the Caliphate” brigades, which comprise young children. more…
  • Prime Minister Abadi Meets with Regional Leaders; Iran Pushes Support of Shia PMUs – Over the past week, Prime Minister Abadi traveled to Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Kuwait. In light of the ongoing Qatar dispute, Abadi’s itinerary reflected his statements that “Iraq will not be party to any dispute between the countries.” Importantly, while in Tehran, Abadi met with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who warned Abadi against taking any actions to weaken the PMU. Khamenei further criticized the U.S., advising Abadi not to trust the Americans because “they and their regional allies (Saudi Arabia) have created ISIS with their money and do not wish to fully eliminate them” in Iraq. more…
  • International Community Pushes Back on Kurdish Independence Referendum – Following the declaration by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) that an independence referendum would be held on September 25, the majority of regional and international actors have criticized the decision. However, Iraqi Kurdish leaders continue to push forward on the vote. Barzani responded to the widespread criticism by stating that, “we cannot wait to solve all the problems in the Kurdistan region…it cannot be postponed” and further criticized international players for their opposition to what is the “legitimate right of [the Kurdish] people.” 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.

Aid Agencies Struggle to Keep Up with Mosul Exodus

On June 16, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that over 100,000 people are still trapped in western Mosul and are effectively being used as human shields by Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants. Civilians that remain are living in conditions of “penury and panic”without access to food, water, or fuel. UNHCR representative, Bruno Gredo reported that “the civilian population is being moved by fighters to be used as human shields, and… ISIS snipers continue to aim at people trying to flee. They are both risking their lives if they stay and if they flee.” Gredo warns  that civilians face an increased risk as the fight for Mosul nears its end. Due to the urban environment of the battlefield, which is essentially a labyrinth, fighting will have to be done on foot and house to house, exponentially increasing the risk faced by civilians trapped in the city. So far there is an estimated 667,000 people who have been displaced from Mosul, 635,000 of whom are from the western Mosul. The UNHCR has built 13 new camps so far in northern Iraq to accommodate this exponential number of displaced people who have escaped Mosul over the past few months.

On June 16, the UNHCR reported a significant increase in internally displaced persons (IDP) and in civilian injuries due to fierce fighting in western Mosul, Ba’aj and Tal Afar. The UNHCR reports that more civilians are now arriving at the Mosul Woods screening site, as opposed to the Hammam al-Alil site. A total of 8,778 new arrivals were recorded at Mosul Woods, while arrivals at the Hammam al-Alil site dropped to about 2,000. Most civilians being admitted to these camps are coming from the neighborhoods of Shifaa and Zanjili in western Mosul. It is reported that an increasing number of civilians who arrive have been wounded, primarily because ISIS snipers target those who attempt to flee the city.

On June 16 the UNHCR reported on concerns regarding the procedure used at the Hammam al-Alil screening site to identify suspected supporters of  extremist groups. The site lies approximately 25 kilometers from western Mosul, and processes over two thousand civilians each day.  Officials explained that people’s names are run through a database of suspected affiliates of extremist groups, and that if triggered, their name would be cross-checked with a second list containing identifying details. If the name appears on both lists, the suspect would be taken to Hamdaniya to be tried in court. If convicted, the individual is then transferred to Baghdad to serve his or her sentence. Despite the reassurance from officials that suspects are treated fairly, families of those detained argue that there is a stark absence of information provided, including holding location and charges faced.

On June 16, Lise Grande, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, expressed her concern for civilians who remain trapped in Mosul. The UN estimates that 150,000 civilians remained trapped, and that ISIS militants are continuing to use civilians as human shields and executing those trying to flee the city. Grande expects the battle over the Old City in Mosul to begin within days, amidst desperate living conditions. The UN estimates that about 120,000-150,000 people will flee the city as fighting intensifies. 860,000 people have fled Mosul already, which according to Grande, “was beyond the worst case scenario,” because the UN only expected 750,000 people to flee. The UN is working in coordination with Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) to keep fighting levels at a conservative level, ensuring that no more than 20,000 flee the city per day.  This is done in order to help the humanitarian community to accommodate the large number of civilians escaping the conflict. On average, about 8,000-15,000 civilians are fleeing the city per day. Grande stressed the extreme difficulty faced to those attempting to escape the Old City, as ISIS militants have surrounded the city with “concrete walls shaped like upside down “T”s” and placing snipers alongside these walls to shoot at those trying to escape. Grande reconfirms that civilians who are escaping the city are being targeted, stating that  “the reason we know that they’re being shot at by snipers and not crossfire is because they’re being shot in the back.”

On June 18, Save the Children, an international NGO that protects children’s rights, estimated that 50,000 children in western Mosul are in grave danger, as fighting there enters what is expected to be its most deadly phase yet. The NGO warns all parties in the conflict to take feasible precaution to minimize civilian and children casualties, and refrain from using explosive weapons. Ana Locsin, of Save the Children noted that, “As the fighting gets even fiercer in the narrow Old City streets, children are surrounded by danger and have nowhere to hide or escape. They are running out of food and water, and face violence wherever they turn. The impact of artillery and explosive weapons is likely to get even more deadly and indiscriminate, putting vulnerable children at greatest risk.” Save the Children urges for the establishment of safe routes out of the city, as families who are attempting to flee the city are unable to do so due to heavy bombing, ISIS snipers, landmines, and explosives.

On June 19, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), warned that there is nowhere safe for civilians in Mosul.  The ICRC reported that those remaining in the Old City could die amid the intensified fighting , however those escaping the city are risking their lives as they are open targets for ISIS militants. ICRC physiotherapist at the Mosul General Hospital, Guido Versloot, reported that most patients admitted in the past week have been children. Regarding those being treated at the hospital, Versloot said: “A lot of children, a lot of civilian casualties that we see here. Most of them, during the flight out of Mosul, were injured, or some of them even coming back to their house that should be safe, and there were still explosives in the house. But most of them are fleeing and on the way out they get injured.” Most patients at the hospital are being treated for blast and gunshot wounds. Versloot emphasised the urgency to not only treat physical wounds but emotional and psychological ones as well, because many children have seen and experienced unspeakable acts and require serious psychological care.

On June 20, Christos Stylianides, the European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management released a statement that civilians urgently need protection during the final stage of the battle over Mosul. Stylianides noted that the one of the primary humanitarian concerns  in Mosul is the protection of families who are still trapped within the city: “Protecting the lives of tens of thousands civilians is more than ever a necessity for humanity in this conflict…The EU remains fully committed to supporting the Iraqi people and the authorities at this crucial time. Together, all our efforts must focus on ensuring civilians are protected”

On June 21, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report documenting humanitarian abuses by the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga onto civilians. Forces are stopping thousands those fleeing ISIS  at security checkpoints, some of which are on the front lines.  Those detained are held for up to three months based on “general security concerns,” and in many cases, are being denied access to humanitarian assistance: in response  HRW reiterated the fact that the KPG are obligated to to facilitate immediate and unimpeded humanitarian assistance to all civilians in need, and to allow IDP sto reach safety.  The majority of civilians detained come from the cities of Hawija and Tal Afar, which are respectively 60 kilometers south, 55 kilometers west, of Mosul. One man who was held at a checkpoint in Maktab Khalid, which is  on the front lines of a battle against ISIS, said: “I spent those three days scared that ISIS would kill all of us, and, at the same time, that my children would freeze to death. Those three days were the most horrible days of my life.” Another man described how his six-month year old died   while his family waited to cross through the checkpoint due to a lack of milk.  Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East Director at HRW stated that “All armed forces in Iraq should be doing their utmost to help civilians reach safety, and to get food, water and medicine…the situation will become even more urgent when anti-ISIS forces begin operations to retake Hawija and Tal Afar.” Furthermore, under international law, all parties in the conflict must take all possible measures to evacuate the civilian population from the vicinity of fighting and military objects and protect all civilians from harm.

On June 21, the Iraqi Ministry of Migration and Displacement announced that more than 700,000 civilians have been displaced since the beginning of offensives in western Mosul. In a statement, the ministry urged all authorities and ministries “to make best efforts to return life back to normal in the western side of the city…Residents of western Mosul cannot stay at camps, while most of the districts were liberated months ago.” The battle over western Mosul has been ongoing since February 19, 2017.

On June 22, UNICEF released a statement, warning that more than five million Iraqi children are in desperate need of aid in Iraq, as they continue to witness horror and violence during the ongoing war. UNICEF describes the war as one of the most brutal in modern history: not only are children witnesses to the horrors, but are forced to partake in the abductions and killings of others.  Additionally, over 4,650 children have been separated from their families, and more than  1,000 have been killed since 2014.

ISIS Destroys Famed al-Nuri Mosque; CTS Advances into Mosul’s Old City

On June 18, Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) began to move into the Old City in Mosul, where over 100,000 Iraqi civilians are believed to be trapped with the last several hundred Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants still left in the city. The announcement marks the last phase in a nine-month long battle by the ISF, affiliated Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), and a U.S.-led international coalition to retake the city from ISIS militants who seized it in June of 2014. The enormous number of civilians, coupled with narrow streets, booby traps, and entrenched ISIS positions, will likely both slow the PMUs’ progress and increase the number of human casualties. One Iraqi commander was hopeful about the possibility of liberating the city before the end of Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday commemorating the end of Ramadan, which begins on June 25. Most analysts believe the fight will stretch on for several more weeks.

On June 19, a blast from an improvised explosive device (IED) in western Mosul killed one French and one Iraqi Kurdish journalist. Two more people were reportedly injured by the explosion. The fight to retake Mosul has claimed the lives of at least three journalists since 2016, according to Reporters Without Borders.

On June 21, The New York Times released a brief documentary of the fight to retake Mosul, using footage by a journalist embedded with an Iraqi military unit fighting in western Mosul. The video shows the emotional and physical toll of the constant fighting on Iraqi forces, as soldiers work to identify IEDs and capture sniper nests in the midst of an urban environment still packed with civilians.

On June 21, ISF soldiers uncovered a former ISIS explosives laboratory in western Mosul. The building reportedly contained several tons of copper, and hundreds of kilograms of ammonium nitrate and iron filings to construct IEDs.

On June 21, the Iraqi Air Force (IAF) conducted an airstrike within the Old City of Mosul that reportedly killed 13 ISIS militants. The Iraqi military and the U.S.-led international coalition have been reluctant to use explosives in the Old City, due to the high population density of civilians and the structural weakness of many Old City building. The coalition often relies on artillery and airstrikes to clear entrenched positions where they feel the risk to civilians is minimal.

On June 21, ISIS destroyed the al-Nuri mosque and its famous “hunchback” minaret that has been an icon of the Mosul skyline since its construction in 1172. The organization’s decision to blow up the historic landmark came after a relatively rapid advance by Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Services (CTS), to within 100 meters of the building less than 24 hours after entering the Old City on June 20. Control of the iconic mosque, where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his first speech in occupied Mosul in 2014, would have been a major strategic and symbolic victory for the Iraqi forces. ISIS claimed an U.S. airstrike was responsible for the destruction, but a video released by the U.S.-led coalition shows the mosque being blown up from the interior. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi described ISIS’s actions as an “official announcement of their defeat.” In addition to the loss of life and human rights abuses, ISIS’s rule across parts of Iraq and Syria has been characterized by a loss of the nation’s cultural heritage, as militants have looted or destroyed landmarks across the region.

On June 22, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced in a press conference that he believed Mosul would be completely cleared of ISIS’s presence in “a few days.” Prior to moving into the Old City, most political and military leaders had estimated the operation would take take several weeks, but the CTS has moved relatively quickly through the Old City.

PMUs Reach Iraq/Syria Border

On June 16, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS)’s leadership was reported to be fleeing to the city of Mayadin in the Deir al-Zour Province of Syria, across the border from Iraq’s Ninewa Province. The report indicated that the development was a result of Iraqi forces’ success in clearing most of Mosul from ISIS control, coupled with Syrian-led forces closing in on the organization’s de-facto capital, Raqqa.

On June 17, the Iraqi Army and affiliated Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) recaptured the strategic Al-Walid border crossing into Syria, with air support from the U.S.-led international coalition and the Iraqi Air Force, according to an Iraqi military statement released June 17. The crossing, previously held by ISIS is a part of the highway from Baghdad to Damascus, and is located near a U.S. military base across the border in Syria. The Al-Walid crossing also holds symbolic importance, as it was the site of an influential 2014 ISIS propaganda video titled “Breaking of the Borders,” in which militants bulldozed the checkpoint and delivered a message that their new so-called caliphate was erasing old political borders. Iraqi government control of the Syrian border reduces ISIS militants’ mobility and capacity to engage in attacks within Iraq.

On June 18, a senior political advisor to the PMUs that liberated the Al-Walid crossing announced that their forces would remain at the border until they deemed it secure, regardless of whether or not Iraqi border guards arrived to assume control, as they are expected to do so in the coming weeks. The announcement comes while the security situation at the crossing remains delicate: The Syrian Democratic Forces, just across the border, reportedly do not trust the Iranian-backed PMUs, as they have stated that they will shoot on sight if they cross the border. ISIS attacks being planned within Syria remain a threat to Iraq’s security. Meanwhile, it is unclear how willing the PMUs will be to cede authority or voluntarily leave the area after Iraqi military forces arrive.

On June 18, security forces arrested 16 alleged ISIS members who had infiltrated a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) outside of Tal Afar, 75 kilometers west of Mosul. Those arrested were accused of participating in previous ISIS battles against the ISF, but the report did not specify if they were deserters or still working with ISIS.

On June 20, anonymous sources in Tal Afar, 75 kilometers west of Mosul, confirmed that ISIS militants were preparing for a long siege of the city, constructing walls of cars to block off streets and slow advances by Iraqi forces. The report comes as the ISF enters the final stages of clearing Mosul from ISIS control and begins to turn its attention to the remaining ISIS-controlled cities in Iraq.

On June 20, an aerial bombardment reportedly killed six ISIS leaders in Tal Afar, 75 kilometers west of Mosul, including the military commander for the district of Tal Afar. Over 2000 ISIS militants are believed to remain in the city, which is one of the last urban outposts of the organization in Iraq.

Local Forces Thwart Attacks in Diyala

On June 19, Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) reportedly killed 10 Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants in a missile strike in the north of the Diyala Province. The missiles destroyed a vehicle traveling through the Makhoul mountains, and the strike was a joint operation relying on Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU) intelligence.

On June 19, Iraqi Member of Parliament Furat al-Tamimi of the Diyala Province, revealed that most of the recent suicide attacks in his province have been conducted by children, or “cubs of the caliphate” as ISIS refers to them. In one recent case, on June 18, security forces killed a boy who was wandering near a heavily populated market in Kara Tepe, 115 kilometers northeast of Baqubah, with a suicide vest strapped to his chest.The attacks are a product of a broader ISIS program of recruiting, brainwashing, and weaponizing adolescents and children. While Diyala has had success in thwarting many of these attacks, the children rarely survive once they have been identified as possessing a bomb.

On June 20, a spokesman for the Diyala police forces announced that they had successfully thwarted six ISIS attacks since the start of Ramadan, primarily by suicide bombers. ISIS attacks generally increase in frequency and intensity during Ramadan, exemplified by a major suicide attack in Musayyib, 85 kilometers south of Baghdad, killed 31 last week. The border between Diyala and Salah ad-Din has been a target of frequent Iraqi airstrikes in recent weeks against ISIS bases. Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blasts and militant assaults on military checkpoints have claimed several lives in the past week.

On June 21, the Diyala Province security committee announced that security forces would begin immediately arresting and investigating anyone in the province found to have a drone without official permission. The committee chairman, Sadiq al-Husseini, attributed the decision to Diyala’s security situation and the dangers posed by “extremist groups.” ISIS militants frequently outfit drones with grenades and other explosives to attack military targets.

On June 21, the Governor of the Salah ad-Din Province, Ahmed Abdullah, declared that Salah ad-Din would not allow IDPs into the province if they had familial connections to ISIS militants, citing security concerns. He rejected a plan to transfer some IDPs from Ninewa into Salah ad-Din, while emphasizing the bravery and vigilance of Salah ad-Din’s security forces in protecting residents from violence.

Prime Minister Abadi Meets with Regional Leaders; Iran Pushes Support of Shia PMUs

On June 18, Iraqi Vice President Iyad Allawi accused Qatar of seeking to divide Iraq by encouraging the establishment of what some call a Sunni Region, stating that “Qatar has adopted a [divisive] project in Iraq…which is an interference into Iraqi affairs.”  He further noted that he is ready “for a constructive dialogue on the stabilization of the region” among Tehran, Ankara, and Baghdad.  

On June 19, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz in Mecca in order to strengthen bilateral relations in the region, and the two leaders created a coordination council to upgrade strategic ties. The trip was previously scheduled for last week, however it was postponed after critics argued that the meeting was an indication that Iraq was taking sides in the current Gulf crisis. Abadi refuted these claims, and subsequently scheduled similar trips to Kuwait and Iran, saying “Iraq will not be party to any dispute between the countries…there needs to be a shift to development and the building of new relationships, and a move away from the policy of axes.”

On June 19, the European Union (EU) foreign ministers met to consider deploying an EU Security Sector Reform Advice and Assist Team to help secure Mosul and train Iraqi security officials after the city is cleared of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). This “small step” potentially marks the “end to France and Germany’s aversion to EU involvement in the Middle East wars in the wake of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.”

On June 20, Iranian Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri announced an agreement with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi that will open an oil and gas railway line between the Iranian port of Shalamah and the province of Basra, as well as the removal of restrictions on Iranian tourists to make it easier for travelers to visit Iraq’s Shia holy sites. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi recently arrived in Tehran during his regional diplomatic tour. According to Jahangiri, relations between Iran and Iraq are “moving towards progress and growth.”

On June 21, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi concluded his diplomatic trip to Iran by meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who warned Abadi against taking any actions to weaken the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs). The PMUs are paramilitary groups fighting on the front lines against ISIS, and amount to over 60,000 fighters. Many PMUs are overwhelmingly Shia, and receive direct support from Iran. Many Sunnis allege that some PMUs are guilty of ransacking villages, murdering, and abducting the civilians. Several prominent Arab Sunni leaders have asked that the units be dissolved. During the meeting in Tehran, Khamenei further criticized the U.S., advising Abadi not to trust the Americans because “they and their regional allies (Saudi Arabia) have created ISIS with their money and do not wish to fully eliminate them” in Iraq.

On June 21, Iraq’s Speaker of Parliament, Salim al-Jabouri, met separately with both the Russian and Egyptian ambassadors to Baghdad. Throughout both meetings Jabouri emphasized the need to strengthen bilateral relations “to fight against terrorism and limit its spread.” To the Russian ambassador, he stressed the value of “Russia’s efforts in the fight against [ISIS]”; and to the Egyptian ambassador Jabouri talked about the overcoming the obstacles that stand in the way of cooperation between the Arab “brother” states.

On June 21 Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met with Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, the Prime Minister of Kuwait, to review the bilateral relations border to better reflect both of their interests. This meeting marks the end to Abadi’s regional tour, which included Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Kuwait. His statements all pertain to a theme of unity and strengthened diplomatic ties throughout the region.

International Community Pushes Back on Kurdish Independence Referendum

On June 17, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and President of Iraqi Kurdistan Massoud Barzani spoke on the phone about the upcoming Kurdistan referendum on Kurdish independence from Iraq.  Barzani expressed his willingness to negotiate with Baghdad after the vote, which is set for September 25. The majority of regional and international players openly oppose the referendum and the emerging regional Sunni alliance at this time, arguing that it will divide Iraq and weaken security in the already conflict-ridden region. Barzani responded to the widespread criticism by stating that, “we cannot wait to solve all the problems in the Kurdistan region…it cannot be postponed” and further criticized international players for their opposition to what is the “legitimate right of [the Kurdish] people.”  

On June 18, an official in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Nasreddin Cindy, said that Kurdish residents located outside of the official Kurdistan territory will participate in the upcoming referendum, stating that “the population of Kurdish areas outside the region has a right to participate in the referendum for self-determination,” and that these areas will be an important beginning to Kurdistan’s self-determination. Cindy further stressed the need for cooperation between Erbil and Baghdad, both now and in the future. Both Iraq and Kurdistan lay claim to these areas because it harbors significant populations of both Kurds and Arabs.  After the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga cleared these areas of Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), however, their government gained unofficial control.   

On June 19, the Independent Electoral Commission issued a statement on the Kurdistan referendum, announcing that they are neither party to, nor responsible for, the vote on independence from Iraq. The Commission is in charge of the provincial and Parliamentary elections across Iraq. There was widespread confusion over who exactly was conducting the Kurdistan referendum. UNHCR spokesman Mekdad Sharifi commented, stating that the Electoral Commission offices in Erbil are separate from the federal offices.

On June 20, the Dutch Consul General in the Kurdistan Region, Janet Albert, met with the Kurdistani Secretary-General to announce Netherland’s support of the Kurdish referendum. The majority of international and regional parties have criticized the referendum, arguing that it will divide Iraq and create a security issue: opposition includes Baghdad, the U.S. State Department, Britain, the European Union, Turkey, and coalition forces.  

On June 20, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) Bloc, Bakhtiar Shaways, accused the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of poor governance. The two dominant political parties have been at odds since before the civil war in 1994.  Tensions have since been checked through a series of agreements; most recently, the PUK has offered conditional support to KDP for the Kurdish Referendum.

On June 20, President of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Massoud Barzani, met with a delegation from the Turkish consulate to discuss the upcoming independence referendum. Barzani reconfirmed that the region will continue on schedule with the vote on independence. Turkey opposes the referendum out of fear that it will lead Turkish Kurds to likewise claim independence from Ankara. While Turkey has supported Iraqi Kurdistan in the past, their allegiance has always been to Baghdad.

On June 21, Najm al-Din Karim, the Governor of Kirkuk Province, stated that since 2013 the federal government has significantly decreased their investment in the area, accusing Bagdad of “dealing with the province in accordance to political motives and agendas.” According to Karim, Kirkuk has not received money from Baghdad for years, whether through “investment and development allocations, except for what we receive from federal salaries for employees.” The region has been forced to adapt to a rapid 30% increase in population and has received over 750 thousand Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), many of whom are students. The development project which are needed to accommodate the region have amounted to 48 billion dinars (approximately US$ 41.1 million), yet since 2014 Baghdad has allocated a relief fund of only 12 billion dinars (approximately US$ 10.3 million).

On June 21, an advisor to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkey is opposed to the Kurdistan referendum, adding that “Turkey wants a united Iraq and unified Syria, and we believe that the division of Iraq would destabilize security in the region.” He additionally stated that “Turkey has problems with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Iraq and Syria, and wants to eliminate this party.” The PKK, formed in the late 1970s with Marxist-Leninist roots, has struggled to gain an independent Kurdish state within Turkey: fighting recently ignited after a two year-old ceasefire ended in July 2015. During following the failed July 2016 coup against Erdogan, Turkish security crackdown targeted the PKK.

On June 21 Iraq’s ambassador to Turkey, Hisham Ali Akbar Ibrahim Al-Alawi, stated that there is “no provision in the Constitution that speaks of the referendum” of Kurdistan to gain self-determination from Iraq.  He further noted that, “neighboring countries are opposed to the referendum and the independence of the territory of Iraq.” In response, President of the Kurdistan Region, Massoud Barzani asserted that “we will not retreat from the decision [to hold a referendum].”

IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

Casualties due to IEDs June 16-22

The following table includes both civilian and security forces who were either injured or killed due to improvised explosive devices (IEDs), vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), or suicide attacks.
06/21/17Jisr Diyala, southeast of Baghdad02
06/21/17Al-Qibla neighborhood, central Basra04
06/20/17Madayin neighborhood, south of Baghdad02
06/19/17Western Mosul
06/18/17Tuz Khurmatu, 75 km south of Kirkuk00
06/18/17Hor Rajab, south of Baghdad04
06/18/17Kara Tepe, 115 km northeast of Baquba00
06/17/17Al-Shirqat, 115 km south of Mosul20
06/17/17Khan Dari neighborhood, western Baghdad04
06/16/17Taaji neighborhood, north of Baghdad13
06/16/17Abu Khaled neighborhood, north of Baghdad04


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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