ISHM: February 23 – March 1, 2018


Key Takeaways:

    • Integrity Commission Issues Arrest Warrants for Ninewa Governor, Others – Iraq’s Integrity Commission issued arrest warrants for Ninewa Governor Nofal Hammadi and several municipal officers of Samarra on allegations of corruption and reopened an investigation into Member of Parliament Ares Ahmad on allegations of fraud. Hammadi was removed from office on November 1 of last year by the Ninewa Provincial Council and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, but has refused to step down ever since. The crackdown on corruption is expected to intensify as national elections approach in May. more…
    • According to Foreign Minister, Iraq Considering Purchase of Russian Defense System – Following a meeting of the Iraqi-Russian Intergovernmental Cooperation Commission in Moscow this week, Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari suggested that Iraq is interested in acquiring the Russian S-400 air and missile defense system and that the largest obstacle for overcoming such an acquisition would be objection by the United States. A spokesman for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi denied that any such deal between Iraq and Russia is under consideration, and that such deals are determined by the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, not Jaafari. When asked about possibility of the defense system deal, U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert referenced the 2017 CAATSA law that imposes sanctions on Russia, and suggested that Iraq could face “repercussions as a result” of any such deal. more…
    • Rumors Cause Alarm in Kirkuk; KRI Airports Will Remain Closed – Rumors spread across social media this week suggested that ISIS was in control of large swaths of land on the outskirts of Kirkuk City and that Iraqi Security Forces and popular militias were withdrawing from the territory. The rumors prompted the ISF to close the Kirkuk-Sulaimania road out of concern that a wave of residents would attempt to flee the area. Kirkuk Governor Rakan al-Jabouri called the rumors “baseless” and Iraqi Army spokesman Yahya Rasool denied any intention of security forces to leave Kirkuk Province. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi suggested the formation of a Joint Operation Command with the participation of Iraqi Security Forces and the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga in Kirkuk Province to reassure citizens and counter any increase in ISIS activity in the region. Separately, the Iraqi government extended the embargo on international flights to and from airports in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq for an additional three months. The embargo has been in place since shortly after the September 2017 referendum on Kurdish independence. more…
    • IRC Publishes Report on IDP Returns – The International Rescue Committee, Danish Refugee Council, and Norwegian Refugee Council compiled a report on issues hampering IDP returns based on interviews with IDPs in Anbar Province that took place from November 2017 to January 2018. The report, titled The Long Road Home, found that 84 percent of IDPs felt safer in camps than in their places of origin and that half of those interviewed had homes that were still severely damaged or totally destroyed. The report also made suggestions for addressing forced returns and is available here. more…
    • Oil Drilling Resumes in KRI; Bidding for Majnoon Discussed at Iraq Petroleum Conference – U.S. oil giant Chevron announced this week that it would resume drilling operations at the Sarta 3 well in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The company suspended operations there in mid-October amid tensions between the federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government following the September 2017 referendum on Kurdish independence. During the Iraq Petroleum Conference in Berlin this week, Director of the Iraqi Oil Ministry’s Licensing and Contracts Office Abdul Mahdi al-Ameedi, said that Iraq is in talks with Chevron about increasing production at the Majnoon oil field in Basra Province – one of the world’s largest. Chevron, Total, and PetroChina may form a consortium to take over the field from Royal Dutch Shell, which plans to exit the field when their contract expires in June. A formal bidding process for the Majnoon field contract will be held at that time. 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.

Integrity Commission Issues Arrest Warrants for Ninewa Governor, Others

On February 24, Member of Parliament (MP) for Ninewa Province Nayef al-Shammari called for a decision to allow voters in Ninewa to vote at any polling station. Citing the exceptional obstacles facing voters in Ninewa, al-Shammari said, “these families are far from the centers [for voting] that have been set for them, therefore, this situation will deprive them from participating in the elections.”

On February 24, Al Sumaria reported that Iraqis were increasingly worried about fraud in the upcoming elections. According to the article, “The political and popular circles are also concerned about the rigging or manipulation of the results because of the spread of political money in the poor areas of southern Iraq and the liberated areas in the north, west and center of the country.” Ali al-Badri, the Deputy for Diwaniya Province, asserted the existence of “deals and bargains” within the Electoral Commission in his province.

On February 26, the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court ruled that the decision to suspend the membership of MP Mohammed al-Tai was unconstitutional. According to the Supreme Court, such a decision was in violation of Parliament Law No. 49 of 2007, and Article 18 of its rules of procedure. Al-Tai’s membership was suspended by Speaker of Parliament Salim al-Jabouri several weeks ago along with several other Kurdish MPs after he was accused of disrupting a Parliamentary session. The MPs were suspend for boycotting Parliamentary sessions in order to prevent a reading of the Budget Law as previously reported in ISHM.

On February 28, the Integrity Commission announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for Nofal Hammadi, Governor of Ninewa Province. Hammadi’s warrant is for alleged corruption. Hammadi was removed from office for corruption on November 1 by the Ninewa Provincial Council and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. Abdul Qadir Shingali, the Deputy Governor of Ninewa from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), was assigned to replace Hammadi as the acting Governor of Ninewa until the legal actions were finalized or a new Governor was chosen. However, Hammadi refused to step down and continued to function as Governor.

On February 28, the Integrity Commission issued arrest warrants for the head of the local council for Samarra, four members of the council, and the director of the municipality of Samarra. According to a statement released by the Commission, the warrants were issued because plots of land were leased in a way that violated the law.

On March 1, the Integrity Commission appealed the closure of the lawsuit against a Member of Parliament on the Committee on Oil and Gas, Ares Abdullah Ahmad. According to the lawsuit Ahmad falsified an academic document and submitted it to the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC). The court noted that the document was a forgery and overturned the original decision to close the case. Recently, Parliament voted to require candidates for Parliament to hold a university level degree or equivalent.

According to Foreign Minister, Iraq Considering Purchase of Russian Defense System

On February 22, Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said that Iraq is close to signing a memorandum with Russia on lifting visa requirements for Iraqi passports. The ministry spokesman Ahmed Mahjoub said that “The Foreign Minister will go to Russia leading an Iraqi delegation to the seventh meeting of the Iraqi-Russian committee. The delegation will renegotiate the previous agreements between the two countries and what has been achieved in the previous period.”

On February 23, Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) responded to U.S. pressure on the Iraqi government to return U.S.-made tanks and military vehicles to the Ministry of the Defense, after the U.S. allegedly labeled PMUs “armed militias outside the formations of the Iraqi government.” Hashim al-Moussawi, spokesman for Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, said that “the U.S. forces are not entitled to demand the disarmament of any state institution, especially since the PMUs are subjected to the orders of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.” He added that “we consider the American message as provocative and interfering with Iraqi affairs and they have neither mandate nor jurisdiction over any Iraqi institution.” He also said that if the U.S. believes that the tanks were stolen from the Iraqi Army when they entered Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) territories, it happened alongside U.S. forces, adding that the U.S. is attempting to weaken the PMUs’ image and destroy them, but they did not succeed. Last week, the Daily Beast published an article reporting that the U.S. demanded that the Iraqi government retrieve nine U.S.-made M-1 Abram tanks that had fallen into the hands of Iran-backed Shia militias (as previously reported in ISHM).

On February 23, Heather Nauert, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, spoke about potential consequences for Iraq buying weapons from Russia. In response to a question on the possibility of Baghdad acquiring an S-400 air defense system, Nauert said that “we are communicating with governments all around the world, such as Iraq and others, about the CAATSA law, and making those governments aware of how they could run afoul of the CAATSA law and the potential repercussions as a result. So we made it clear to all of those – all of – many of the countries that we work with – information about our new law.” She added that she did not know whether the deal had been signed or not. The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) is a law that imposes additional sanctions on Russia, North Korea and Iran. In creating enhanced sanctions unders CAATSA, Congress also issued additional implementation requirements and corresponding deadlines for the Department of State and the Treasury Department. These obligations mandate that the agencies identify prospective sanction targets, issue more detailed guidance on the details of sanction enforcement, and observe deadlines for reporting on the progress of CAATSA’s implementation. How the CAATSA law would impact an Iraq-Russian deal was not immediately clear.

On February 26, spokesperson for the Iraqi Government Saad al-Hadithi said that buying armaments was an independent decision. Hadithi said, “the decision on this subject is a technical decision to be determined by the Ministry of Defense as a sectoral body that takes over this file and is not subject to political considerations.” Hadithi also denied that the U.S. had warned Iraq about the potential arms deal with Russia.

On February 28, Iraqi Minister of Foreign Affairs Ibrahim al-Jaafari said that Iraq is considering the possibility of buying Russia’s S-400 air and missile defense system, following a meeting of the Iraqi-Russian Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technological Cooperation. Jaafari said that the issue of purchasing the air defense system was being studied very carefully and that when a final decision is made, it would be announced. He added that Iraq has the right to search for the best opportunities to strengthen its defense after paying the price in the fight against terrorism.

On February 28, Saad al-Hadithi, a spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, denied reports that Iraq is considering a proposal to purchase the Russian S-400 missile defense system, which had been brought up by Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari during a visit to Moscow. The Security and Defense Committee in Parliament was divided on the purchase plan, given the domestic economic crisis and heavy foreign debt. Proponents argue that the Russian system is comparatively less expensive and that Iraq is in need of a defensive system, citing 28 airstrikes that occured over the past three years. Jaafari later made a statement on his website, confirming that “Iraq will take advantage of the opportunity to purchase a missile defense system from Russia, and we will overcome any possible difficulties in closing the deal.” Last August, U.S. President Donald Trump signed The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) against Russia, Iran and North Korea. Jaafari said that objections from the U.S. would be the biggest obstacle for the purchase.

Rumors Cause Alarm in Kirkuk; KRI Airports Will Remain Closed

On February 23, the Minister of the Peshmerga, Karim Sinjari, expressed the Ministry’s readiness for any coordination the U.S. might want. The Ministry of the Peshmerga released a statement saying that Sinjari met with U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Robert Karem, U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad Douglas Silliman, the Deputy Minister of the Peshmerga Sarbst Lezkin, and a group of Peshmerga officers. The statement added that during the meeting they discussed the relations between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the U.S., and between U.S. forces and Peshmerga forces, as well as the U.S. financial and military support to Peshmerga forces and how to continue with it. Sinjari thanked the U.S. and the international coalition. The issues between Baghdad and Erbil stemming from the September 2017 referendum on Kurdish independence were also brought up during the meeting, where Karem and Silliman discussed the U.S.’s continuous efforts to bring Baghdad and Erbil closer.

On February 24, an anonymous source said that Iraqi Security Forces closed the Kirkuk-Sulaimania road. The source added that this measure was taken as a precaution against the occurrence of a migration wave from Kirkuk Province following rumors about the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) controlling large areas in the outskirts of the city of Kirkuk.

On February 24, a security source revealed that ISIS militants attacked several houses in the village of Abu Mohammed in Daquq District, southeastern Kirkuk Province. Kirkuk Province continues to experience incidents of sporadic ISIS insurgent attacks.

On February 24, Kirkuk Governor Rakan al-Jabouri issued a statement reassuring the citizens about stability and security concerns in the Province. He pointed out that the security forces’ readiness to face any threat, adding that the rumors spread on social media about the federal police and the PMUs leaving the areas are “baseless.” The Federal Police Command also released a statement saying that those rumors spread on social network websites and from news agencies affect the population of Kirkuk Province negatively, weakening the citizens confidence in the country’s institution and the Armed Forces.

On February 24, Iraqi Army spokesman for the Joint Military Command, Yahya Rasool denied any intention of security forces to leave Kirkuk Province. Rasool said that “there is no intention of withdrawing any of the security forces, whether the federal police, or the army units, or the anti-terrorism apparatus.” He added that the units have been redeployed after the withdrawal of the Peshmerga forces and that they are working to maintain security and order in the area.

On February 26, an anonymous source said that Peshmerga forces moved towards Kirkuk Province. The source said the Peshmerga moved from the central areas of Shwan and Lilan, towards the villages of Qadr Ali, Kokja, and Salay, in Kirkuk Province, and were also stationed in the city of Kirkuk. The source added that the goal of this move was for the Peshmerga forces to be ready to intervene in case of an emergency or a terrorist attack.

On February 26, Peshmerga forces met with the ISF and the PMUs. During the meeting, they agreed that the Peshmerga would withdraw from Qadr Ali and the other areas within the administrative area of Shwan, in Kirkuk Province, and that they would settle in the area of Kokja.

On February 26, the Chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council, Masrour Barzani, told reporters after a meeting with U.S. officials in Washington D.C. that the military defeat of ISIS did not mean that it has been completely eradicated from Iraq. He added that what was happening now was that the groups associated with ISIS were reappearing and were launching attacks against the ISF, particularly in Kirkuk Province, noting that the defeat of ISIS would not happen militarily. Barzani pointed out that in order to eliminate terrorist groups like ISIS it was necessary to address the factors that led to their emergence and that presently Iraq was not prepared to find an appropriate solution to such problems. Barzani said “if these factors and causes are not addressed, I think that these terrorist groups will continue to be present in Iraq and in the region.”

On February 26, the Iraqi government extended the embargo on international flights to and from airports in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) for an additional three months. The embargo has been in place since the September 25 referendum for Kurdish independence.

On February 28, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi agreed to form a Joint Operation Chamber with the participation of the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces in Kirkuk Province. The decision seems to have been a consequence of the security regression around and inside Kirkuk Province, and the increase of ISIS armed attacks against the ISF and PMUs in the area. However, the spokesman for the Ministry of the Peshmerga, Brigadier General Halgurd Hikmat, commented on the news saying that “we were not informed of the formation of an operation chamber in Kirkuk with the participation of the Peshmerga Forces.”

IRC Publishes Report on IDP Returns

On February 25, Human Rights Watch claimed that Iraqi security forces were routinely denying relatives of suspected Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) members the security clearance needed to obtain identity cards and other documents, a violation of international human rights law. Iraqis lacking full civil documentation can readily be deprived of their basic rights. Deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, Lama Fakih said, “Iraq’s security forces are marginalizing thousands of families of ISIS suspects by depriving them of the basic documents they need to rebuild their lives.” Lawyers helping applicants recover identification documents said that they witnessed intelligence officers arrest their clients without providing details about the arrests in Mosul. The lawyers and government officials knew of no provision in Iraqi law that prevents these families from obtaining their civil documentation, and they called on the government and Prime Minister to remove the obstacles.

On February 26, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) received US$ 19 million from the Japanese government for 2018, of which US$ 15 million was for assisting the displaced and returning people in Iraq and US$ 4 million was for responding to Syrian refugees. Mr. Fumio Iwai, Ambassador of Japan to Iraq, said: “It is the fourth year in a row since Japan started the assistance for vulnerable Iraqi and Syrian people affected by conflict through its Supplementary Budget. […] The assistance to UNHCR comes as part of the new package of humanitarian and stabilization efforts to Iraq amounting to approximately [US]$100 million.” The fund will help the humanitarian response in maintaining emergency assistance and protection for people who remain in camps.

On February 27, the Governor of Dhi Qar Province, Yahya al-Nasri, announced the collapse of houses in the province due to flooding and he stressed that the collapse did not result in any casualties. Rain has also downed trees and electricity poles, which led to power outages in large parts of the province. Nasri said the service sector was doing its best to recover the power and drain the rainwater from flooded streets in Nasiriya.

On February 27, the Assessment Capacities Project reported that 4.1 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraq require shelter. Flooding in central and northern Iraq has led to shelter damage in IDP camps. Over 200,000 people in 24 camps have been affected. Shelters were destroyed in 16 camps and assessments to determine the full extent of the damage are ongoing.

On February 27, the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) compiled a report, The Long Road Home, which included interviews with people living in displacement camps in Anbar Province from November 2017 to January 2018. The report found that 84 percent of internally displaced persons (IDPs) felt safer in their current camps than back home. One percent reported knowing that they had homes to return to, more than 50 percent report that their houses were damaged or totally destroyed, and 16 percent reported that their attempts to return had been blocked by security forces. Based on these findings, the report provided recommendations to prevent premature returns and promote safe, voluntary, dignified, and durable solutions to displacement across Iraq. According to the report, the government should ensure Iraq’s National Policy on Displacement is effectively passed into law and implemented across all provinces. The humanitarian agencies and international community should work with the Iraqi government to uphold IDPs’ civil rights, ban actors at all levels from forcing IDP returns, and scale up multi-sectoral assessments and area-based humanitarian coordination in areas of return.

Oil Drilling Resumes in KRI; Bidding for Majnoon Discussed at Iraq Petroleum Conference

On February 20, the U.S. multinational oil giant Chevron announced that it would be resuming  its oil drilling operations in the Sarta 3 well in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). The company suspended operations in the KRI in mid-October after the  independence referendum sparked tensions between the federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

On February 23, Shafaaq News quoted an article from The Economist that reported that the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) had smuggled around US$ 400 million out of Iraq and Syria during its retreat from the territory. ISIS was able to build up cash reserves by selling oil from the fields it captured, taxing and robbing the people it ruled, and stealing an estimate of USD $ 500 million from Iraqi banks. According to this report, much of the cash has ended up in Turkey, where intelligence officials believe it is being stored for future operations, invested in gold and used to keep ISIS sleeper-cells active. ISIS has also laundered its cash reserves by investing in legitimate businesses in the region. In Iraq, ISIS has used middlemen to buy farms, car dealerships, hotels, and hospitals. Weak institutions and widespread corruption make it hard for Iraq to address the problem and the several ministries who have tried to block terrorist financing have had little success. Politicians also benefit from the black market, and potential whistleblowers do not come forward fearing ISIS has spies inside the government. In addition to this, ISIS also has the ability to generate cash and profits from kidnappings, smugglings, and extortions.

On February 26, Hamid Hosseini, Iranian Secretary-General for the Iran-Iraq Chamber of Commerce, announced that the plan to truck oil form northern Kirkuk oil fields to Iran cannot be fully implemented at this stage due to security concerns. Hosseini said that “Iran is facing some problems to implement the agreement due to security issues,” explaining that “Iran does not have X-rays machines to scan the trucks coming from Iraq.” He added that Iran was in talks with Iraq to use their X-rays facilities. Iraq and Iran have agreed to swap up to 60,000 barrels per day of crude oil produced from Kirkuk Province for Iranian oil to be delivered to southern Iraq. Approximately 30,000 barrels per day of crude oil is to be transported by truck to Iran’s Kermanshah refinery in the first instance. Iraq and Iran are also planning to build a pipeline to carry oil from Kirkuk Province to avoid the use of trucks. This could replace the actual transport route from Kirkuk Province via Turkey and the Mediterranean.

On February 27, according to Reuters, the Director of the Iraqi Oil Ministry’s Licensing and Contracts Office, Abdul Mahdi al-Ameedi said that Iraq was in talks with Chevron Corp about the Majnoon oilfield during the CWC Group’s Iraq Petroleum Conference in Berlin, Germany. On February 1, Ahmed Abdul Razzaq, the head of a committee in charge of developing the Majnoon field said that Iraq plans to almost double its production at the oilfield (from 240,00 bpd to 450,000 bpd). Because the Royal Dutch Shell announced its intention to exit the field when its contract ends this June, “Chevron, Total and PetroChina may form a consortium later on to take over the development of the field,” Iraqi oil minister Jabbar al-Luaibi said in November last year. China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) announced that PetroChina has the intention to join this consortium. On November 27, 2017, Iraq invited foreign companies to bid for contracts to explore and develop oil and natural gas reserves in nine new blocks as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) seeks to boost its output capacity. The bidding terms will be finalised by the end of May and the ceremony to open the bids will be held on June 21. A total of 26 foreign companies are eligible to take part in this bidding, including six major international oil companies, seven Chinese companies, six other Asian companies, three Russian companies, and three Gulf companies.

On February 27, the head of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, Humam Hamoudi, met with the Chinese ambassador to Iraq, Chen Weiqing. During the meeting, Hamoudi called on Chinese companies to invest in Iraqi factories and stressed the importance of developing cultural exchanges at the university level. Hamoudi said, “It is important for China to have an imprint on the 60th anniversary of its National Day in the coming days by implementing one of the major strategic projects in Iraq to be a good message to strengthen China’s role and strengthen relations between the two countries and peoples.”

On February 27, the head of the Oil Ministry’s Licensing and Contracts Office, Abdul Mahdi al-Ameedi said on the sidelines of the CWC Iraq Petroleum Conference in Berlin, Iraq’s Basra Oil Co is preparing to tender for a water injection project vital to increase its oil production capacity if talks with Exxon Mobil fail. Ameedi said part of the delay in negotiations with Exxon and Petrochina related to initial production rates from the Nahr Bin Umar and Artawi oilfields. “In the beginning when we discussed with them, the initial production rate from the two fields was in the order of 40,000 bpd (barrels per day), but now it is more than 125,000 bpd. This will impact severely the economics of the project … it affects the economics parameter, the profit share or the profit to the company.”

On February 28, the Iraqi Oil Ministry spokesman, Assem Jihad, announced that Iraq participated in the Iraq Petroleum Conference in Berlin, Germany. The adviser to the cabinet, Kazim Mohammed, presented a paper during the conference, which reviewed the government’s economic policy and plans to develop the energy sector in Iraq. The conference reviewed the investment opportunity of the extraction and exploitation of oil fields presented by the Director of the Oil Ministry’s Licensing and Contracts Office, Abdul Mahdi al-Ameedi. The conference is organized by the international CWC Group every year and sponsored by a number of international oil companies.

IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

02/28/2018Hor Rajab, 22 kilometers south of Baghdad04
02/27/2018Arab Ejbur, 16 kilometers south of Baghdad03
02/27/2018Kubaysah, 81 kilometers northwest of Ramadi20
02/26/2018Tarmiyah, 56 kilometers north of Baghdad12
02/25/2018Arab Ejbur, 16 kilometers south of Baghdad03
02/25/2018Radwaniyah, 18 kilometers southwest of Baghdad15
02/24/2018Rashdiya, 20 kilometers northeast of Baghdad03
02/24/2018Jisr Diyala, 30 kilometers south of Baghdad13
02/23/2018Madain, 43 kilometers 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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