ISHM: October 27 – November 2, 2017


Key Takeaways:

  • KRG President Barzani Steps Down as Kurdish Parties Clash – On October 29, longtime President of the Kurdistan Regional Government and head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party Masoud Barzani announced that he would step down effective November 1. The Kurdistan Parliament voted to distribute the powers of the presidency among government ministries, Parliament, and the judiciary, designating Masoud Barzani’s nephew and KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani as the “key person during this transitional period,” according to senior KDP statesman Hoshyar Zebari. Following the announcement, the headquarters and a radio station of rival Kurdish parties the PUK and Gorran, were reportedly attacked by activists loyal to the KDP. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called for “law and order” in response to the fighting among Kurdish parties in the Kurdistan Region. more…
  • Unaided by Rumors, ISF, Peshmerga Tensions Continue Over Border Control – Dialogue between representatives from the Iraqi Security Forces and Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga broke down earlier this week after the parties failed to reach a power-sharing agreement over Iraqi Kurdistan’s border with Turkey and Syria at Faysh Khabur in Dohuk Province. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had previously ordered a halt to military movements near the Kurdistan Region, but later reasserted the need for Iraq’s international border crossings, oil pipelines, and air traffic to be under federal authority. The Faysh Khabur crossing is critical to the Kurdistan Region as most oil exports to Turkey pass through the area. One headline by British newspaper The Independent suggested that Abadi’s move to control Faysh Khabur marks an end to semi-autonomy for the KRI – a claim that was widely taken out of context across social media this week. more…
  • Date Fixed for National Elections – Iraq’s Council of Ministers put forward May 15, 2018 as the official date of the next round of Parliamentary elections for Iraq, three days later than the date originally proposed by the Independent High Electoral Commission. In a statement, the Council pledged that the government will provide a secure environment and return IDPs to their places of origin ahead of the vote. more…
  • Tillerson: U.S. Will Stay in Iraq Until ISIS is Defeated – In testimony before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that U.S. forces “will remain in Iraq until ISIS is defeated” and suggested that the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force grant U.S. forces the right to remain in Iraq even if Iraqi authorities ask them to leave. Tillerson added that “we are there also at the invitation of the Iraqi government and that [Prime Minister Abadi] has given to me no indication he is in any particular hurry to have us depart.” The comment by the Secretary comes a week after he suggested that Iraqi Shia militias are populated by Iranians, which was highly criticized by the militias and refuted by Abadi. more…
  • ISF Make Measured Progress in Western Anbar – Iraqi Security Forces and the Iraqi Army’s elite Counter-terrorism Service made measured progress toward clearing ISIS militants from western Anbar Province this week. Forces cleared several villages west of Rawa and east of Qa’im as the U.S.-led international coalition provided air support. Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve, suggested that ISIS fighters are surrendering more easily in the last geographic area held by ISIS in Iraq. “We have not seen this fight to the death that we saw in Mosul, and I think it is attributed much to their morale,” he said. more…
  • Amid Growing Need, World Bank Approves Aid Package; Ninewa Governor Ousted – On October 31, the World Bank approved US$ 400 million in financial assistance for water and sanitation, electricity, health, transportation, and municipal services projects in areas recently cleared of ISIS militants. The funding is intended to attract private sector participation. Cities in Salah ad-Din, Diyala, Anbar, Kirkuk and Ninewa Provinces continue to reel from ISIS devastation and displaced families face special challenges as winter approaches. Meanwhile, the Ninewa Provincial Council voted to oust Governor Nawfal al-Aakoub over allegations of corruption and waste of public funds – a problem that continues to plague areas struggling to rebuild. 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.

KRG President Barzani Steps Down as Kurdish Parties Clash

On October 28, the Kurdish Gorran Party threatened to begin a region-wide strike to force the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) administration to resign. Gorran spokesperson, Shursh Haji, explained that there are several mechanisms to form an interim government to bypass the current one. One way is by creating a massive civil strike that would force the government to resign and create a “national salvation government.”

On October 28, Diller Mouti, leader in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party, announced that the Kurdistan Regional Parliament received a message from KRG President Masoud Barzani. He did not reveal any content of the message, but said it will be discussed and voted on in the Kurdish Parliament the next day. Rumors and speculations arose that Barzani may be stepping down. Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) member Nazim Harki said that Barzani was asked to step down many times, but that security and political conditions had prevented him from doing so. Member of the Kurdistan Regional Parliament, Salar Mahmoud, said that Barzani will distribute his presidential powers. He explained that Barzani did not intend to continue his position past November 1, the date that had been set for election in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). However, the elections have been postponed by eight months, which would have implied that Barzani stay in office past November 1.

On October 29, the head of the Islamic Union of Kurdistan party in the Kurdistan Regional Parliament, Babacar Heldana, decided to resign from his position as head of the bloc. His deputy, Behzad Zebari, took over as head of the party in the Kurdistan Regional Parliament. The reason for Heldena’s resignation was unclear.

On October 29, the Kurdistan Regional Parliament held a closed session with full participation. Among other matters, the Parliament was expected to talk and vote in response to a message by KRG President Masoud Barzani, the contents of which had not been revealed to the public at the time of the meeting. During the meeting, Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Jaafar Emaniki, expelled the Kurdish Gorran Party from the Parliament hall for a 24-hour period because they were making “chaos.” A reporter said that the Parliament was forced to postpone its meeting by one hour because of the chaos. .

On October 29, KRG President Masoud Barzani announced that he would step down effective November 1. He revealed his resignation in a message to the Kurdistan Regional Parliament, which held a closed session to discuss it before publicizing the news. In his message to Parliament, Barzani called for “an urgent meeting to avoid the absence of a legal vacuum in the duties and powers of the President of the [KRI].” He noted that the Parliamentary and presidential elections were scheduled to be held on November 1, but, on October 14, the Parliament decided to extend the parliamentary and governmental terms in office by two legislative sessions (eight months) and the elections were suspended. In this context, he “refused” to continue as President of the KRI after November 1.

On October 29, in response to head of the KDP Masoud Barzani’s “refusal” to continue as KRG President, the Kurdistan Regional Parliament voted on five articles within a draft law to transfer the powers of the presidency to the KRG, the Kurdistan Regional Parliament, and the Supreme Judicial Council, according to their competencies. The Kurdish Gorran Party and the Islamic Union of Kurdistan refused to vote on some of the material. The law passed with 70 votes in favor and 23 against.

On October 29, dozens of protesters stormed into the Kurdistan Regional Parliament building during a parliamentary session. Some protesters said they wanted to punish the Member of Parliament (MP) who insulted KRG President Masoud Barzani. Gunshots were heard at the scene and some MPs barricaded in their offices. Speaker of the Parliament Yusuf Mohammed condemned the protesters, which he called “thugs and anarchists”. He said: “This group is trying to attack the legislative authority and distort the face of the Kurdistan region to the international community and our friends.” There was chaos in the Parliamentary session, and Deputy Speaker of Parliament Jaafar Emaniki decided to expel the Gorran party from the Parliamentary building for 24 hours.

On October 29, an anonymous source reported that KDP supporters had burned the offices of the PUK and Gorran as well as Ashti Radio in Zakho, in Dohuk Province. The source also alleged that the attackers were shouting pro-Barzani slogans while burning the buildings.

On October 29, the Security Council of Kurdistan declared the need to “maintain security and not allow the anarchists to create strife… The most severe punishment is imposed on anyone trying to attack any headquarters.” The KRG responded in a statement saying they will “not allow any abuses on party headquarters and governmental and political institutions.” They warned to take action against violators.

On October 30, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called for law and order in Erbil and Dohuk, in response to the heightened tensions between Kurdish parties following KRG President Masoud Barzani’s decision to discontinue his presidency. Abadi said his government was closely following the developments in the KRI and stressed that “the federal government is keen to stabilize the situation in all provinces of Iraq and work for the citizens and protect their interests.”

On October 30, KRG President Masoud Barzani met with French and German ambassadors to discuss recent political and security developments. During the meeting, Barzani explained that “the citizens of Kurdistan and the Peshmerga forces will defend strongly the dignity and prestige of Kurdistan” if Baghdad continues to threaten them, noting that the Iraqi Constitution does not allow the resolution of political disputes with military force.

On October 30, the U.S. Department of State released a statement commending KRG President Masoud Barzani’s decision to not to seek an additional term as president and the Kurdistan Regional Parliament’s decision to distribute the presidential authorities to other institutions. The statement described Barzani as ”a historic figure and courageous leader of his people, most recently in our common fight to destroy ISIS.” It mentioned that the U.S. now looks forward to engaging with KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani. It called to resolve the issues between the KRG and the Iraqi government immediately, and reiterated the U.S.’s continued support for Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in fighting ISIS and ensuring stability in Iraq.

Unaided by Rumors, ISF, Peshmerga Tensions Continue Over Border Control

On October 27, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and Kurdish Peshmerga entered a ceasefire. The ceasefire was announced by the U.S.-led international coalition early Friday morning. However, Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), later corrected the initial announcement, saying that the ceasefire was not official, although “both parties are talking with one another.” He declined to comment on the details of the agreement, but said that the International Coalition will stop the fighting between the ISF and Peshmerga and mediate between Baghdad and Erbil to resolve their dispute. Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani’s media office said that the ceasefire is holding, and that “diplomatic efforts are underway to set a date for talks to start between Erbil and Baghdad.” A day earlier, the KRG announced its readiness to “freeze” the results of the referendum, and called for an immediate cease-fire for an open dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad.

On October 27, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi gave the order to stop military movement for 24 hours in order to “give way to a technical team” of ISF and Kurdish Region of Iraq (KRI) forces. Their purpose, he said, was “to work on the ground to deploy Iraqi federal forces in all disputed areas as well as in Faysh Khabur and international borders immediately to prevent the clash and bloodshed among the people of one nation.” Faysh Khabur is an Assyrian town, in Dohuk Province of Iraq, located four km from the three-way border crossing between Iraq, Syria and Turkey. The halt of military movement may have been related to the reports about an unofficial ceasefire earlier that day. On October 16, the Iraqi government begun mobilizing the ISF with the intention to re-deploy federal troops in all disputed territories and international border-crossings.

On October 27, the Saudi Foreign Ministry expressed support of the KRG’s decision to accept dialogue with the Iraqi federal government “under the umbrella of the Iraqi Constitution.” They mentioned that the Saudi Arabia is following the developments in Iraq “with great interest,” and it renewed its position supporting a peaceful resolution of the Baghdad-Erbil conflict and perseverance of Iraq’s territorial integrity.

On October 27, in response to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s decision earlier that day to stop military movements for 24 hours, Vice President of the Security Council of Kurdistan, Nazim Harki, expressed hopes that Abadi’s decision was a step to begin dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad. “Listen to the calls of the international community to conduct dialogue,” he called on Abadi, “the Peshmerga forces do not want confrontation with Iraqi forces.”

On October 27, Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary‑General of the United Nations, announced that civilians are continuing to flee their homes in Erbil, Ninewa, and Dohuk Provinces. More than 175,000 people have been displaced, many of whom have been displaced multiple times. Humanitarian partners are monitoring the situation and are providing aid where they are able.

On October 27, a military official announced that ISF had retaken the port of Rabia border crossing between Syria and Iraq, in northern Ninewa Province. Ninewa Province Service departments began repairing the infrastructure of the buildings at the crossing, including the needed restoration of water and electricity. ISF reached Rabia on October 25. The crossing was controlled by members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), who fled before ISF’s arrival.

On October 27, Duraid Hikmat, an advisor to the Governor of Ninewa, said that hundreds of Christian families in the Ninewa Plains fled their homes due to indiscriminate shelling by Peshmerga forces. Hikmat claimed that the Christians were “paying the tax” on the conflict between Baghdad and Erbil for several years, and suggested that “the best solution is to turn the Ninewa Plain into an independent province with international protection.” Ninewa Plains is a large territory in Ninewa Province that lies to the east of Mosul and the Tigris river. It is the historic homeland of the Assyrian people and most of its current inhabitants are Assyrian Christians. There was an influx of Assyrians to the Ninewa Plains as a result of attacks on Christians in other parts of Iraq in 2008-2010, and then an ethnic cleansing of Assyrians from the Ninewa Plains by Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in 2014. After ISIS was cleared from the territory, Assyrian political parties asked the European Union and United Nations Security Council to support the creation of an Assyrian self-administered province in the Ninewa Plains.

On October 28, Canada temporarily suspended its military assistance to Iraq because of the fighting between Iraqi forces and the Peshmerga. “The Canadian military will resume their assistance as soon as things become clear about the relations between the Iraqi security forces and the main priorities and tasks that must be carried out as part of the fight against an oppressive organization,” said Canadian Ministry of Defense spokesman Dan Le Petitier.

On October 29, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi received a phone call from British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson. The two politicians discussed the recent victories achieved by the ISF on terrorism and the deployment of forces in disputed territories. According to the report, Abadi explained to Johnson that the crisis would worsen if the Iraqi government did not impose its control over the oil pipeline crossings to Turkey. He added that a peaceful solution for Iraqis to live together in one country would not be achieved without a deterrent force to prevent the situation from worsening. Thus, “the federal authority should impose its control over the whole country.”

On October 29, an ISF delegation met with a delegation of the Peshmerga in Ninewa, in the presence of a representative from the U.S.-led international coalition, to negotiate the return of Kurdish forces to 2003 borders (known as line 36) and to hand-over control of border crossings. No agreement was reached on either subject. Lieutenant General Othman Ghanimi, chief of staff of the Iraqi Army, said that there was “acceptable progress” and “common understanding on some points.” The negotiator that arrived with the Peshmerga forces delivered a document with a number of demands during the meeting. Iraqi President Haider al-Abadi announced a 24-hour cease of movement the day before to allow the negotiators to meet. The ISF and Peshmerga also reached an unofficial ceasefire that preempted the meeting.

On October 30, an anonymous source disclosed that a Kurdish journalist, Arkan Sharifi, had been killed in Kirkuk Province. Sharifi was a cameraman for “Kurdistan TV” and was killed when unknown assailants stormed his house and stabbed him.

On October 30, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) released a statement condemning the killing of a journalist in Kirkuk Province as well as the violence and intimidation against members of the Kurdistan Regional Parliament and political offices in the KRI. UNAMI praised the KRG and the Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC) for asking citizens to remain calm and peaceful.

On October 30, a second day of negotiations for the deployment of Iraqi forces in the disputed territories and international border-crossings in Iraq began between representatives of the ISF and the Peshmerga forces, with attendance from the U.S.-led international coalition. The U.S. urged the Iraqi government and the Kurdish authorities to resolve the crisis between them.

On October 30, several news agencies reported that the ISF and Peshmerga agreed to a joint administration of the crossing in Faysh Khabur. The town is on the border of Dohuk and Ninewa Provinces, and marks an important border crossing between Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. The AFP News Agency reported that the agreement came about peacefully and without fighting.

On October 30, the NGO Coordination Committee for Iraq (NCCI), a group of 159 nongovernmental organizations, released a statement regarding the recent unrest in Iraq. NCCI reminded the Iraqi and Kurdish governments of their obligations to “[r]espect the right for people to move freely and access safety and assistance; respect the laws of armed conflict and to avoid any attacks on civilians or civilian infrastructure; refrain from any escalation of violence and pursue a peaceful resolution for the contested areas of Iraq which is inclusive of all citizens.” NCCI also stressed the need for all actors in Iraq to allow humanitarian partners to provide necessary services to civilians in need. They requested that the Iraqi and Kurdish governments “[s]upport NGOs to obtain the appropriate documentation required to deliver lifesaving humanitarian assistance, including: NGO registration, residency and visa permits, and access letters; consolidate NGO registration and accelerate the process to obtain long-term visas and residencies for staff; facilitate the procurement and movement of humanitarian supplies, including medical supplies, to reach those affected by the crisis.”

On October 30, British reporter Patrick Cockburn published an article on Independent after an exclusive interview with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, titled: “Iraq to end decades-old policy of semi-independent rule in Kurdistan, says PM.” The title of Cockburn’s article is intriguing however misleading. Abadi did not say that Iraq means to end the autonomous status of the KRI. Nothing Abadi said implied intentions to dismantle the powers of the KRG or other authorities that are integral to the self-ruling region; he even mentioned in the interview that he would allow the existence of the Peshmerga as a force that is independent from the ISF. The self-rule of the KRI is guaranteed in the Iraqi Constitution, and the law in the KRI is independent from Iraqi law so long as it does not conflict with the Constitution (see Articles 113 and 137). In his article, Cockburn derives his assertion that Iraq will “end semi-independent rule” in the KRI on Iraq’s intention to control its international border-crossings. “All border crossings in and out of Iraq must be under the exclusive control of the federal state,” he quoted Abadi saying. Specifically, Abadi refers to the KRI’s border-crossings with Turkey, including oil pipelines, and international flights to the KRI. While the implementation of these controls would put the KRI one step backwards from the full independence much of its population seeks, it would be far from ending semi-autonomy in the KRI.

On October 31, the Iraqi Parliament held its regular session, headed by Salim Jabouri and in the presence of 166 Members of Parliament. During the session, the Parliament voted to extend its legislative term by 30 days. Additionally, they voted not to allow the opening of any security headquarters or the presence of any non-federal forces in Kirkuk Province and other disputed areas. Finally, the Iraqi Parliament voted to criminalize the raising of the Israeli flag and other Zionist symbols inside Iraq.

On October 31, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned the killing of a Kurdish journalist in Kirkuk. Alexandra El Khazen, head of RSF’s Middle East desk, said, “[w]e condemn this murder and called for a prompt and impartial investigation by the Iraqi authorities with the aim of identifying the perpetrators and their motives. The current political differences in this part of the world must not blind us to an unacceptable reality, namely crimes of violence against civilians and, in this case, the cold-blooded murder of a journalist.” RSF also noted that Kurdish news agencies had been harassed repeatedly since ISF took over the disputed areas.

On October 31, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced that the Iraqi Government “will soon be able to pay the salaries of the Peshmerga and employees of the Kurdistan region.” The Iraqi Government withheld payments for government employees in the KRI since the KRG began exploiting the oil reserves in its vicinity independently. The salary payments have been one of the outstanding issues of dispute between the KRG and the Iraqi Federal Government in recent years.

On November 1, in an interview with Alsumaria News, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi rejected there is any intent on behalf of the federal government to besiege the people in the KRI. “The federal government wants to control the border,” he explained, pointing out that Article 110 of the Iraqi Constitution gives federal authorities exclusive powers over the international borders.

On November 2, the KRG Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs condemned a statement by the Iraqi Joint Operations Command, saying that “it demonstrates Iraq is not interested in allowing the technical negotiations team  between Erbil and Baghdad to reach an agreement.” The Kurdistan Regional Government Representation in the United States publicized this statement, which was translated from Arabic to English. It claimed that the Peshmerga negotiating delegation had deliberately wasted time to allow them to strengthen their defences, and it threatened to resume military operations against the Peshmerga. The Kurdistan Regional Government Representation in the United States wrote that “it appears that dialogue has collapsed. The KRG and its security forces fear that a major attack by Iraqi military and [PMUs]… is imminent.” Additionally, the KRG Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs publicized the proposal they offered the Iraqi government on October 31. The contents are as follows:

  1. “Ceasefire on all fronts
  2. Continued cooperation and joint security and military mechanisms between Peshmerga Forces and the Iraqi Army for the ongoing war against ISIS
  3. Deploy joint forces in all disputed territories until the relevant Constitutional Articles are implemented
  4. Begin political negotiation and form committees, including administrative, legal and military, under the auspices of the US-led Global Coalition and in accordance with the Iraqi Constitution
  5. Deploy combined forces of Peshmerga,Iraqi Army and representatives of the US-led Global Coalition in Fishkhabour — as a good-will gesture and trust-building exercise, that ensures a limited and temporary arrangement until an agreement is reached in accordance with the Iraqi Constitution.”

Notably, while many news agencies quoted the statement by the Iraqi Joint Operations Command from the Kurdish source, our team at EPIC could not find the original statement in Arabic from an Iraqi military or governmental source.

Date Fixed for National Elections

On October 31, Iraqi President Fuad Masum welcomed the decision by the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) to set the date of elections for the Iraqi Parliament on May 12, 2018. The IHEC arrived at this decision on October 22, shortly after its four members had been selected into their position. Previously, the elections were set for early April.

On October 31, the Iraqi Prime Minister Information Office reported the outcome from the Council of Ministers regular meeting that day. The Council decided that elections for the Iraqi Parliament would be held on May 15, 2018, three days later the than the date proposed by the Independent High Electoral Commission. The Office mentioned that this date considers the need to return IDPs to their regions, implementation of an electronic voting system, and the need to separate political parties from armed wings.

Tillerson: U.S. Will Stay in Iraq Until ISIS is Defeated

On October 27, United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made a comment about Iraq’s relationship with Iran in response to a question from a reporter in Geneva. He said that the U.S. was telling Iraq that they must “develop the capacity to stand on your own and resist that [Iranian] influence.” He continued by distinguishing Iraqis from Iranians: “Iraqis are Arab. Iraqis are not Persian. So whether it’s Iraqi-Sunni or it’s Iraqi-Shia, it’s Iraqi-Shia Arabs. They’re not Persians.” Tillerson suggested that Iraqis should reconnect with their “longstanding tribal brothers,” the Saudis, instead of relying on their connection with Iran.

On October 27, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry rejected U.S. State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert’s comment on Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, in which she called him a terrorist. In a press conference a day earlier, Nauert was asked to comment on “Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the head of Kata’ib Hizballah, whom Treasury designated a terrorist in 2009 for attacking U.S. and Iraqi troops, has just opened a recruiting station in Kirkuk.” Nauert confirmed that Muhandis was considered a terrorist. In contradiction, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry statement said that Muhandis is a deputy chairman of the Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU), which is “an inseparable part of the Iraqi forces,” fighting legally by the Iraqi Parliament’s approval and guided by the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, the Iraqi Prime Minister.

On October 28, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq expressed surprise at the recent “offensive” and “insulting” rhetoric towards PMUs made by several U.S. officials, such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Department of State Spokesperson Heather Nauert. The council said that “such statements put America in an internal crisis, to change the balance of power, which affects the unity and stability of Iraq and serves the extremist Takfiri and separatist groups… Iraq seeks to confirm its role as a factor of security and stability for the whole region after the great victories.”

On October 28, Iraqi Deputy of State of Law, Member of Parliament (MP) Alia Nasif, criticized the U.S. after U.S. State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert called Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the leader of Kata’ib Hezbollah, a “terrorist.” Nasif said the U.S. had “double standards” because it “[turned] a blind eye to Barzani’s crimes when he ambushed the Iraqi army in Makhmour, and all his past violations and abuses… and after all he was not classified by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist. [Muhandis] is [classified as] a terrorist despite all the victories he has waged in the war against Daesh. According to any criteria, the accusation of terrorism is attributed to an Iraqi citizen who defended his country.”

On October 28, commander of the U.S. forces in Iraq, Gen. Paul Funk, said that U.S. troops need to be ready to stay in Syria and Iraq for the long-term. After ISIS’s defeat, he said there would still be a need to “confront the remnants of the organization and prosecute militias and limit their influence in the region.” U.S. troops could continue to provide training and assistance to local forces on the ground.

On October 30, Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of the U.S. Central Command, expressed “deep admiration” for Iraqi forces and support for the steps taken by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to impose federal authority and control over Iraq’s borders. Votel and his delegation met with Abadi in Baghdad to discuss the progress of the ISF in fighting ISIS.

On October 31, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee that U.S. forces will “remain in Iraq until ISIS is defeated.” Tillerson was answering the question: under what legal authority will U.S. forces remain if the Iraqi authorities asked them to leave? His answer indicated that the U.S. forces have the right to stay until the fight against ISIS is concluded, under the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), even if Iraq wanted the U.S. to leave. However, Tillerson added that “we are there also at the invitation of the Iraqi government and that [Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi] has given to me no indication he is in any particular hurry to have us depart.”

ISF Make Measured Progress in Western Anbar

On October 27, Eighth Army Division Commander Maj. Gen. Abdul-Hussein Sawadi reported that forces were on their way to Qa’im (350 km west of Ramadi) to clear those areas of ISIS militants. The eighth division of the Army killed 25 ISIS militants in their approach. Later that day, the command of operations announced that ISF had retaken the Qa’im Cement Factory.

On October 27, Colonel Jamal Shahab Mahlawi announced that his forces had cleared Jabbab and al-Husayn west of Rawa. By later that day, forces had cleared a total of three villages west of Rawa.

On October 27, the command of operations in western Anbar Province reported that 43 km of the Akashat-Qa’im road had been retaken. During the operation, forces also destroyed three vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) and 100 improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Forces also took control of an Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) communications center.

On October 28, Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), reported that ISIS was increasing its defenses on the Iraq-Syria border in Rawa and Qa’im. However, Dillon noted that the ISIS fighters the coalition had been encountering were different than those they previously fought against. “We have not seen this fight to the death that we saw in Mosul, and I think it is attributed much to their morale,” he said.

On October 29, an anonymous source reported that ISIS militants had dropped their weapons and fled across the border into Abu Kamal, Syria. According to the source, “a preacher made calls through loudspeakers to the mosques in al-Qa’im urges his elements not to escape and whoever escapes is considered to be contrary to allegiance and traitor to the organization and will punish the fugitive the most sanctions.”

On October 30, the counter-terrorism service (CTS) joined other ISF to prepare for the battle for Qa’im. The units that joined were the same ones that fought in the battle for Mosul. The CTS forces have been specially trained to fight in the desert.

On October 31, the ISF began an operation to clear Obeidi, east of the ISIS stronghold of Qa’im. An anonymous source reported that the U.S.-led international coalition was providing air support for the operation. During the operation, the ISF cleared the villages of Al-Khaseem and Rafda as well as the phosphate complex in the area. An anonymous source reported that forces were conducting inspections of the complex and clearing mines. Later that day, an anonymous source reported that the operation had been completed.

On October 31, Lieutenant General Abdul Amir Rashid Yarallah reported that the ISF had retaken the first and second Akkaz fields in western Anbar. Yarallah said, “the villages of Umm al-Waluf, Hussein al-Ali and Umm Tinh have been liberated and the forces are continuing to advance towards their targets.”

On November 2, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released an article about Iraqi security officials in Anbar preventing IDPs from returning to recently cleared areas for alleged ISIS ties and forcing premature returns on other IDPs. “While Iraqi forces confront serious security concerns, just being a family member of someone linked to ISIS or having lived under ISIS is not enough to represent a real threat,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW. “Authorities should allow those who aren’t an actual security risk who want to go home to do so in peace and respect the right of people who don’t feel safe to live where they wish.”

Amid Growing Need, World Bank Approves Aid Package; Ninewa Governor Ousted

On October 27, the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) released their monthly civilian casualty report for the month of September. CJTF-OIR received 302 new reports of civilian casualties from airstrikes, in addition to the 344 open reports from last month. Of these, CJTF-OIR were able to investigate 127 of the reports. Of these, 16 reports were assessed credible, which totaled 51 unintentional civilian deaths. Since the beginning of the operation, CJTF-OIR estimates that there have been a total of 786 civilian deaths.

On October 28, a roundtable of Iraqi politicians, tribal representatives, religious leaders, academics, and civil society activists met in Basra to discuss the National Settlement after ISIS. Ali Abbas, of the reconciliation committee, said, “National Settlement is a necessity we cannot ignore…No doubt it is difficult and complicated. But is it impossible? No. It can be achieved if there is a will and awareness.”

On October 31, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released a factsheet about the situation in Iraq. In September, 2,874 IDPs received cash assistance and 102,876 received shelter assistance.

On October 31, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) requested information for projects to fund that focused on IDPs in Ninewa Province. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Douglas Silliman said, “This initiative will allow the U.S. government to work hand-in-hand with organizations and private companies to help communities persecuted and displaced by violence to build a stronger future.” The funding is intended to help create partnerships to address the IDP situation in Ninewa.

On October 31, the World Bank approved US$ 400 million to provide additional financing for the Iraq Emergency Operation for Development Project. The additional money will allow the project to expand to more cities cleared of ISIS militants in Salah ad-Din, Diyala, Anbar, Kirkuk, Ninewa, and Dohuk. The project currently funds activities in water and sanitation, electricity, health, transportation, and municipal services. In particular, the funding is intended to attract private sector participation in these activities. “The World Bank is committed to work with Iraqi authorities to ensure that this much-needed reconstruction takes place in a sustainable, inclusive and equitable manner to foster long term development and create opportunities for everyone,” said Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Mashreq Regional Director.

On November 1, the Ninewa Provincial Council dismissed Ninewa Governor Nawfal al-Aakoub from office. The majority of the Council accused Aakoub of corruption and waste of public funds.

On November 1, Human Rights Watch published an article about U.S. President Donald Trump’s proposed rule changes for the use of drones when targeting terrorism suspects. “Trump’s reported changes for targeting terrorism suspects will result in more civilian deaths with less oversight and greater secrecy,” said Letta Tayler, senior terrorism and counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch. On October 28, The New York Times had reported that Trump’s new rules would dismantle much of the previous Presidential Policy Guidance for drone strikes. In particular, Trump’s rules no longer require the drone strikes to be in “areas of active hostilities” or the person targeted to be a “continuing, imminent threat.” This would allow the U.S. to strike in areas not currently known to be plotting against the U.S. and to target lower-level members of terrorist groups. The new rules also replace the “near-certainty” that a target is present with “reasonable certainty” and no longer require top-level sign off on a strike. “The Trump administration’s reported widening of its rules for targeted killings opens the door for more US attacks on civilians,” Tayler said. “It also sends a message to all countries acquiring armed drones that they too can try to bend international law when taking human life in the name of countering terrorism.”

On November 1, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced that girls had gone back to school at Al-Rajaa in Ramadi. The all-girls school had been destroyed in last year’s battle for Ramadi and was filled with unexploded ordnances. However, ICRC’s demining staff went into Al-Rajaa and cleared the ordnances, allowing builders and decorators to finish repairing the damage. Al-Rajaa is the only school in Ramadi to provide a science education for girls. According to ICRC, “Al-Rajaa is the ICRC’s first access to education project in Iraq, but it won’t be the last.”

On November 1, UNAMI released the casualty figures for Iraq for the month of October. According to their statistics, 109 Iraqi civilians were killed and 237 injured as a result of terrorism and armed conflict. Baghdad was the most affected province, with Anbar and Kirkuk following. However, UNAMI has had difficulty verifying casualties in conflict areas, particularly in Anbar. Numbers for Anbar Province were collected by the Anbar Health Directorate and may not fully reflect the real number of casualties there.

On November 1, UNHCR released their Mosul Weekly Protection Update for last week. According to their information, 300,576 IDPs have returned to their areas of origin since the beginning of the Mosul operation. However, the tensions between the Iraqi government and the KRG has led to many displacements and premature returns. UNHCR expects 1.5 million people to be affected in Mosul and surrounding areas.

On November 2, UNHCR began its winter assistance program for more than 100,000 households. The majority of the aid will be cash-based so the families can decide what their most urgent needs are and address those first. “I plan to buy clothes and food for the children,” said Mohammed Ibrahim, a father of seven. “We have no money, so this help is very important for us; we really need it. Our house was destroyed back home and we have no idea how we will spend this winter.”

On November 2, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) published an article about the critical nature of educating boys in Iraq. More than 760,000 children have missed at least an entire year of schooling because of ISIS. According to the NRC, “teenage boys who become idle and disengaged from schooling, are far more likely to seek out a feeling of belonging or power through unproductive or even violent means.” To combat this, NRC has been providing extensive education programs in displacement camps throughout Iraq.

IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

11/02/17Latifiya (25 km south of Baghdad), Babil Province10
11/01/17Mosul, Ninewa Province04
10/30/17Sabaa Al Bour (24 km northwest of Baghdad), Salah ad-Din Province03
10/30/17Latifiya (25 km south of Baghdad), Babil Province05
10/29/17Nahrawan (19 km east of Baghdad), Diyala Province)12
10/27/17Nahrawan (19 km east of Baghdad), Diyala Province)02
10/27/17Baawi area, south 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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