ISHM: March 9 – 15, 2018

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Key Takeaways:

    • Abadi Seeks to Further Consolidate PMUs; General Killed in Clash – On March 8, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi introduced a proclamation incorporating members of Popular Mobilization Units into the Iraqi Security Forces, granting them the same salary as members of the military, subjecting them to the same laws, and granting them access to military schools and institutes. The decree builds on a 2016 law that places PMUs under the Prime Minister’s authority and steps taken after the end of major operations against ISIS in late 2017 to eventually dissolve the PMUs. On March 13, Commander of the 57th Brigade for the Protection of the Prime Minister, Army Brigadier General Sharif al-Morshedi, was killed in a clash between the ISF and the Saraya al-Salam PMU outside the city of Samarra, in Salah ad-Din Province. Six suspects were arrested following the exchange of gunfire, which is still under investigation. more…
    • Abadi Reopens Airports in Iraqi Kurdistan – On March 13, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced that the airports in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq would be reopened to international travel and that flights would resume to Erbil and Sulaimania within a week. The airports were closed to international traffic within days of the September 2017 referendum on Kurdish independence. Iraqi and Kurdish politicians, UN leadership, and the international community welcomed the reopening of the airports which will now be under the control of the Ministry of the Interior, rather than the Kurdistan Regional Government. more…
    • President Masum Will Not Ratify Federal Budget – Iraqi President Fuad Masum has refused to ratify the 2018 federal budget based on “constitutional, legal, and financial violations of some of the articles.” The President released a seven page document enumerating his objections, which he claimed are not based on reduced allocations to the Kurdistan Region. Masum, a Kurd who served as the first Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region in the 1990s, was accused by some Members of Parliament of acting out of deference to the KRG. The budget passed Parliament last week over strong objection from Kurdish politicians. According to the Iraqi Constitution, the budget will be ratified without Masum’s consent after 15 days. more…
    • Turkey Toughens Stance on PKK in Northern Iraq – The Committee on Security and Defense in the Iraqi Parliament refuted the statement released by Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu last week, which suggested that Iraq and Turkey would conduct joint cross-border military operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) members after the Iraqi elections in May 2018 (as previously reported in ISHM). Member of Parliament Majid al-Gharawi said that external military action within Iraq’s borders are a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty. Two days later, the Turkish Air Force destroyed 18 PKK targets in northern Iraq, and later in the week Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to “crush insurgents in northern Iraq soon.” Turkish incursion into Iraq to target PKK members has been a longstanding issue between the two countries. more…
    • Eleven Thousand Remain Missing from Mosul – Ninewa Province Police Colonel Bassem Ali al-Hajjar reported that 11 thousand people from Mosul remain missing since ISIS entered the city in 2014. Hundreds of remains have been found throughout the city, but the new estimate indicates the extent to which fatalities are likely to have occurred. Family members have called on the Iraqi government to intervene and assist in the search for those missing. IED and rubble clearing operations, particularly in the city’s western half, are expected to take several years. more…
    • OPCW Certifies Iraq Has Met Chemical Weapon Commitments – The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) declared that Iraq has met its obligations toward the eradication of chemical weapon stockpiles and destruction of production facilities. Director-General of OPCW, Ambassador Ahmet Uzumcu, released a statement congratulating the Iraqi government on its progress. 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.


Abadi Seeks to Further Consolidate PMUs; General Killed in Clash

On March 8, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi introduced a decree formalizing the inclusion of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) into the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). According to the decree, PMU members (primarily Iran-backed Shia militias) would have the same rights as the members of the military. The decree states that PMU members would receive the same salary as military members, and be subjected to the same laws. Additionally, PMU members would gain access to military schools and institutes. The Iraqi Parliament passed a law in 2016 to bring the militias into the state apparatus, with the PMUs answerable directly to the Prime Minister. The 2016 law allowed the PMUs to maintain their command structures separate from the nation’s police and military. This decree appears to be a step towards formalizing the PMUs as members of the Iraqi military. The PMUs have played an important role in the fight and defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), and its members are still deployed in many Sunni areas that suffered heavy fights during the war against ISIS.

On March 9, the movement of Asaib Ahl al-Haq expressed its reservations on the decision of the Council of the Ministers to include PMUs in the ISF. Naim al-Aboudi, spokesman for Asaib Ahl al-Haq, said that “we believe the Iraqi government should maintain its independence from the [PMUs] and not integrate it with the security forces.” Aboudi added that if the PMUs would be integrated with the security forces “they will lose their faith through which they had liberated their land.”

On March 11, ISIS militants killed two PMU members and wounded six. The attack was carried out on the road between Daquq and Tuz Khurmatu in Salah ad-Din Province. ISIS militants burned two of the PMU vehicles, and it not clear whether ISIS suffered any fatalities.

On March 12, an anonymous source reported that ISIS militants carried out an attack against PMU members in southwestern Mosul, leaving four of them dead and three injured. The source said that the terrorists stole PMU weapons, as well as one of their vehicles.

On March 12, ISIS militants carried out several attacks, killing a total of 25 people. A police colonel said that a group of terrorists set up a fake checkpoint and killed fifteen PMU members on the main road of the Amerli District, approximately 200 kilometers north of Baghdad in Salah ad-Din Province. A police officer reported that an unidentified gunman attacked a civilian vehicle in Daquq, approximately 50 kilometers south of Kirkuk, killing three people. A resident of the al-Hadar District, southern Ninewa Province, said that unidentified gunmen dressed in military uniforms attacked the house of the Mayor of Musheirfa, killing seven people. These attacks came a month after ISIS took responsibility for the killing of 27 PMU members in Hawija.

On March 13, Ali al-Husseini, spokesman for the PMUs’ Northern Axis, denied the media’s report of PMU members being killed on March 12 during another ISIS ambush that took place in the Amerli District, approximately 200 kilometers north of Baghdad in Salah ad-Din Province. Husseini said that the events were still under investigation.

On March 13, an anonymous source reported clashes between the ISF and Saraya al-Salam forces, a militia formed by influential Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in 2014 in response to ISIS expansion on Iraqi territory. The clashes happened just outside the city of Samarra, in Salah ad-Din Province, following a verbal confrontation. Commander of the 57th Brigade for the Protection of the Prime Minister, Brigadier General Sharif al-Morshedi, was killed in the gunfire which is still under investigation.

On March 14, following the clashes in Samarra, Mohammed al-Karbouli, a member of the Iraqi Security Council, called on Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to withdraw the militias from the western provinces and replace them with the army and police forces. Karbouli said that “the clashes between Abadi’s protection [forces] and some armed factions in Samarra illustrates the truth of what has been happening for a long time in the Sunni provinces and how their children suffer from the [oppressive] power of these factions.” Karbouli added that they have been warning against the impact of the presence of these factions on the elections,” noting the fears that the pressure of the armed factions on the residents of the western provinces will make them vote for another side.

On March 14, the Iraqi Security Information Center announced the arrest of six suspects in relation to the killing of Brigadier General Sharif al-Morshedi in Samarra. The released statement said the matter was still under investigation.


Abadi Reopens Airports in Iraqi Kurdistan

On March 9, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met with the former Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Barham Salih. Abadi and Salih discussed the situation between Baghdad and Erbil, and Abadi reportedly told Salih that the airports in the KRI would be open to international flights before Nowruz (an annual Kurdish holiday occuring on March 21). The airports in the KRI have been closed to international flights since last September, which many believe to be political retribution for the Kurdish referendum for independence.

On March 10, Aref Rushdi, an advisor to the Political Bureau for the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), announced that the absence of unity between the Kurdish Members of Parliament (MP) in the Iraqi national Parliament was negatively affecting the region. Rushdi said that the parties were currently only “working for their own interests.”

On March 10, Masoud Barzani, former President of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), accused the Iraqi federal government of continuing to violate the agreement between Baghdad and Erbil. He said, “after a history full of suffering, the people of Kurdistan remain marginalized.” Barzani’s pronouncement came on the 48th anniversary of the first agreement between the KRI and Iraqi Central Government, the Convention of March 11, 1970.

On March 10, Iraqi President Fuad Masum said that the September referendum for independence in the KRI was unsuccessful. He said, “The referendum in Kurdistan was not a way to declare the independence of the region, because independence is not a subjective desire, but it is an issue related to the status and the regional countries as well.” However, Masum placed blame on both sides, saying “The government of the [KRI], as well as the federal government, bear responsibility for the decision of the referendum, because they have not reached a solution to the political differences between the two governments.”

On March 11, Qubad Talabani, Deputy Prime Minister for the KRG, announced that the KRG had implemented all of Iraqi Prime Minister’s conditions for the reopening of Kurdish airports. According to Talabani, the KRG had also provided all of the necessary information on the payrolls for employees in the Ministries of Health and Education in the KRI.

On March 12, Qubad Talabani, Deputy Prime Minister for the KRG, reported that the KRG was implementing “radical” reforms. Talabani also disclosed that the Iraq Governance and Performance Accountability Program (Takamul), a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) program, would be opening an office in the KRI to help oversee these reforms and ensure good governance in the region. Talabani said, “We want to apply decentralization in the administration of the state and provide the best services to citizens. Support and joint action by the US government proves that KRG reforms are radical reforms and not just slogans.”

On March 12, reports circulated that there had been an agreement between Baghdad and Erbil about the demarcation of the border between the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and greater Iraq. However, the Joint Operations Command denied these reports.

On March 13, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General (SRSG) for Iraq, Ján Kubiš, welcomed the announcement of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to reopen the international airports in the Kurdistan Region to international flights. This decision followed the response of the regional authorities to restore the federal authority to the airports in Erbil and Sulaimania Province.

On March 13, Governor of the Central Bank of Iraq Ali al-Alaq met with Rebaz Mohammad, the Minister of Finance for the KRI, and other officials in the Ministry to discuss the payment of salaries for employees in the Ministries of Health and Education in the KRI. Alaq announced that the salaries would be paid before Nowruz (an annual Kurdish holiday occuring on March 21) and that the bank would make payment after receiving permission from Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

On March 13, Al-Hayat newspaper reported that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi would be announcing the reopening of the KRI airports. A source for the newspaper disclosed that “Abadi will meet hundreds of Kurdish police officers from the officials at the two airports, after the transfer of administrative responsibilities to the Iraqi Interior Ministry.”

On March 13, Omid Mohammed, a spokesman for the Ministry of Transport and Communications in the KRI, reported that the KRG had not received any messages from Baghdad about the reopening of airports in the region. However, the Director of the Sulaimania airport announced that the airport was awaiting customs clearances from the Iraqi Parliament.

On March 13, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced that the airports in the KRI would be reopened and that flights could resume within a week. Abadi also reported that there would be a higher committee to oversee the administration of the airports and to ensure federal compliance.

On March 13, KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani welcomed the reopening of the airports in the KRI. However, Barzani continued to speak out against the federal budget, which he called “treachery.” He noted that problems between Baghdad and Erbil were not only about the budget and airports, and said that the KRG hoped to address remaining issues after the elections.

On March 13, Iraqi President Fuad Masum welcomed the decision to reopen airports in the KRI while also calling for full cooperation to address issues with the payment of salaries of employees in the KRI. Masum highlighted the necessity of returning life in the KRI to normal.

On March 14, Iraqi Interior Minister Qassim Araji travelled to Erbil to reopen the airports in Erbil and Sulaimania. He was accompanied by a number of officers.

On March 14, Massoud Barzani, former President of the KRG, tweeted that, while the reopening of the airports was a good step, the problems between Erbil and Baghdad were not limited to the airports and the budget. In his tweet, Barzani said that “the problems between Baghdad and Erbil are historical, political, national, humanitarian, economic and constitutional.”

On March 14, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that the federal government had reached a “new chapter” with the KRI and that “we want to increase cooperation, not differences.” However, Abadi also discussed the budget saying, “the Kurdistan region exports 300 thousand barrels of oil daily, so they will pay part of the salaries of regional staff, and we pay the other part.”

On March 14, Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi called the reopening of airports in the KRI a positive step. He added that “the next steps should be directed towards resolving the file of salaries of employees of the Kurdistan region as soon as possible,” and called for timely solutions “to close the file of the dispute once and for all.”


President Masum Will Not Ratify Federal Budget

On March 9, Zana Said, a Member of Parliament (MP) representing the Kurdish coalitions in the Iraqi national Parliament, accused Parliament of passing the budget without a majority. He said, “the budget law that was voted in [Parliament] represented great disappointment to the citizen in the Kurdistan region [and] was not acceptable or fair.”

On March 10, Iraqi President Fuad Masum said that the presidency would discuss the “technical mistakes and constitutional imbalance” in the budget before approving it. However, Masum said that the discussion would not address the allocations to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) in the budget.

On March 12, Mansour al-Baiji, a Member of Parliament (MP) for the State of Law Coalition, reported that the budget would be ratified after 15 days even if Iraqi President Fuad Masum had not signed off on it. Baiji explained that, according to the Iraqi Constitution, Masum has 15 days to ratify the budget and, if he did not, the budget would be considered ratified regardless. Baiji also accused Masum of siding “with the people of his skin” in not already ratifying the budget.

On March 13, an anonymous source reported that Iraqi President Fuad Masum would not ratify the 2018 budget law. Later that day, Masum explained that there were 31 points within the budget that contradicted current legislation. He said, the budget rebalancing requires “…legal and financial experts to study and scrutinize in detail [and] to diagnose the most important constitutional, legal and financial violations of some of the articles, items or paragraphs that need to be addressed before ratification.”

On March 13, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi gave a speech about issues facing Iraq, such as the airport reopening, payment of salaries for the KRI, Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), and the budget. About the unratified budget Abadi said, “no one has the right to suspend the general budget of the country after the vote by [Parliament], and we hope to receive the copy of the budget from the Presidency of the Republic [for it] to be effective.”

On March 15, the office of Iraqi President Fuad Masum released his objections to the 2018 budget. The seven page document explains why Masum did not ratify the budget.


Turkey Toughens Stance on PKK in Northern Iraq

On March 9, the Committee on Security and Defense in the Iraqi Parliament refuted the statement released by Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu on March 8, suggesting that Iraq and Turkey would conduct joint cross-border military operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) elements after the Iraqi parliamentary elections of May 12, 2018. Majid al-Gharawi, a member of the Committee on Security and Defense, said that “this talk is unacceptable” and that any military action within Iraq’s borders would be an infringement of Iraqi sovereignty. He added that “on the other hand, the Iraqi government should prevent the presence of any opposition forces to the neighboring countries,” so that they would not have any argument for interfering in Iraqi affairs. Gharawi explained that border control is a task of the Iraqi government only and no other country should intervene, no matter the level of coordination with said country.

On March 11, the Turkish Air Force destroyed 18 PKK targets in northern Iraq. According to the sources, the Turkish warplanes carried out the airstrikes in the areas of Hakurk, Zaab, Ghara, Matina, and Basian, all in Dohuk Province.

On March 12, Bekir Bozdag, spokesman for the Turkish government, released a statement concerning the talks with the Iraqi government about a possible joint military operation against the PKK in northern Iraq. Bozdag said that “the talks with the Iraqi government were positive and the Iraqi government has reached a common understanding with Turkey against the terrorist organization. Under this understanding, the Iraqi side will firmly keep fighting terrorism.” Bozdag did not give a timeline for the start of the operation, but said that “everyone will know that it started when they will see our warplanes and our fighters.”

On March 14, Shahuz Husain, President of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria, said during a press conference in Erbil that “Turkey is aiming for the military occupation of Afrin with the help of ISIS and its militants,” adding that “we will not stand idly by and we will continue to defend Afrin.” He said that Turkey is using prohibited weapons in Afrin, with the support of Russia and that Turkey’s ultimate goal is to “impose control over all Kurdish lands from Afrin to Kirkuk.” He pointed out that “thousands of Kurds in Afrin are being killed and displaced.”

On March 14, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to “crush insurgents in northern Iraq soon,” after Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu had announced last week that Turkey and Iraq would launch a joint military operation against PKK elements in northern Iraq. Erdogan said that “we are looking for terrorists in northern Iraq at every possible opportunity.”


Eleven Thousand Remain Missing from Mosul

On March 9, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) appealed for US$ 26.7 million, highlighting the urgent needs of more than 700,000 Iraqis across the country – returnees, host community members, and internally displaced persons (IDPs), especially those remaining in camps or informal settings, and those who may experience secondary displacement. This appeal was part of the United Nations Migration Agency in Iraq’s 2018 Crisis Funding Appeal. IOM Iraq Chief of Mission Gerard Waite said, “The requested funding is essential to provide continued humanitarian assistance for the displaced, and to support returnees to restore social, health, housing and community infrastructure so they are able to restart their lives.” Over half of IOM Iraq’s appeal is designed to assist IDPs and returnees with seasonal shelter and non-food items. The appeal also covers support to camp coordination and camp management teams, psychosocial care, health-care services, emergency livelihoods in retaken areas, and the implementation of the Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM).

On March 11, an Iraqi police headquarters in Ninewa Province revealed that approximately 11 thousand people from Mosul remain missing since 2014. Colonel Bassem Ali al-Hajjar, an official from Ninewa police said, “Members of Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) arrested and detained more than 11 thousand of people, and security forces and the Iraqi government are unable to find them.” Thousands of bodies have been found throughout the city, but the new estimate indicates the extent to which fatalities occurred. Family members have called on the Iraqi government to intervene and search for those missing.

On March 14, the office of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced that the “Old Bridge” in Mosul opened with a large ceremony. The Old Bridge was the only remaining route open to vehicles in the centre of the city, which was then disabled in a strategic US-led coalition air strike at the end of December 2016. Abadi said on the sideline of the opening ceremony that, “The bridge was reconstructed 100 percent with Iraqi labor.” Abadi made a “promise to the people of Ninewa that the reconstruction is proceeding in full swing and restoration of stability to the province continues.”

On March 14, the Secretary-General of the Council of Ministers Mahdi Al-Alaq announced the signing of a document for peaceful coexistence, indicating that this was in honor of the martyrs and the wounded in exchange for the security and safety people enjoyed in all liberated areas today. She added that “the document emphasizes the national unity and the start of the reconstruction, and urges in deepening the understanding that the Iraqis are one body does not differentiate from each other. And Iraqi people does not weaken their determination by sedition.”


OPCW Certifies Iraq Has Met Chemical Weapon Commitments

On March 13, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) declared that Iraq had met its obligations towards eradication of its chemical arms, and OPCW granted Baghdad a certificate of recognition. The Director-General of the OPCW, Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü, released a statement congratulating the Government of Iraq on the completion of the destruction of the country’s chemical weapons remnants. OPCW said that, “in November 2017 and February 2018, OPCW’s Technical Secretariat confirmed that the four former chemical weapons production facilities in Iraq were completely destroyed.” It added that one former chemical weapons production facility in Iraq remains subject to inspection until 2028, which will be used for activities not prohibited by the OPCW as part of a joint plan with Iraq. In August 2011, the Iraqi Ministry of Science and Technology announced the implementation of its memorandum of understanding with the European Union (EU) on the elimination of nuclear facilities, confirming the signing of a long-term agreement between the Iraqi Foreign Ministry and the EU to organize areas of mutual cooperation.


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

DateLocationDeathsInjuries
03/14/2018Hit02
03/13/2018Taji, 35 kilometers north of Baghdad14
03/13/2018Tikrit, 130 kilometers southwest of Kirkuk00
03/12/2018Fallujah02
03/12/2018Tarmiyah, 56 kilometers north of Baghdad13
03/11/2018Yusufiya, 38 kilometers southwest of Baghdad14
03/11/2018Hawija, 66 kilometers west of Kirkuk20
03/10/2018Hawija, 66 kilometers west of Kirkuk16
03/10/2018Abu Ghraib, 30 kilometers west of Baghdad03

 

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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