ISHM: March 23 – 29, 2018

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Key Takeaways:

  • PKK Withdraws from Sinjar, Erdogan Continues to Threaten Turkish Intervention – On March 25, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the start of a Turkish military operation in Sinjar, Ninewa Province, against members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Iraqi Joint Operations Command immediately denied the presence of Turkish forces and on March 27, Iraqi Army Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Othman al-Ghanmi, visited Sinjar to inspect the recently deployed 15th Iraqi Army Division and Yazidi protection units. Ghanmi said after his inspection that “the Iraqi Army is in full control of Sinjar and the border with Turkey.” PKK militants have allegedly withdrawn from Sinjar toward al-Hasakah in northeast Syria and Qamishli on the Turkish border. Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to send the Turkish military into Sinjar, and continues to conduct airstrikes in Iraqi Kurdistan against PKK positions. Mayor of Sinjar, Mahma Khalil, warned this week that the city will turn into “the second Afrin [Syria]” if Turkish troops are deployed there, adding that “the [prospective] entry of Turkish troops is worse than the PKK presence.” Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a phone call with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim that “Iraqi security forces have been instructed not to allow the presence of foreign fighters in the border region.” more…
  • Kurdistan Teachers, Civil Servants Demand Salary Payments – Thousands of teachers, healthcare workers, and other civil servants throughout the Kurdistan Region of Iraq began protesting on March 25 over the non-payment of their salaries by the Kurdistan Regional Government. The massive protests in Erbil, Sulaimania, Dohuk, and Halabja continued throughout the week. Demonstrators are demanding that a compulsory savings system enacted by the Kurdistan Parliament in February be repealed and full payments resume. KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said on March 28 that “the salaries of the staff of the region will be distributed monthly,” despite KRG concern over insufficient federal budget allocations for the region. The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq expressed concern over reports of excessive force against demonstrators in the KRI, stressing that authorities are “responsible for ensuring that this right [to protest] is respected.” more…
  • Candidates, Coalitions Sign ‘Electoral Charter of Honor’ Ahead of May Elections – Representatives of some political coalitions signed an “Electoral Charter of Honor” drafted by the United Nations, western experts, and Iraq’s Electoral Commission to help guide the campaign process leading up to provincial elections slated for May. The Charter includes a pledge to forbid sectarian or ethnic speech, violence, and voter intimidation, and to ensure a peaceful transfer of power following the election’s outcome. Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Iraq, Jan Kubis, congratulated Iraqi parties on the signing, saying that “the credibility of the democratic process lies in the integrity of the electoral process.” Several Members of Parliament were less enthusiastic and denounced the document as “ink on paper” because it is not legally binding. Approximately 7,200 candidates are vying for 328 seats in Parliament. more…
  • Interior Ministry Touts Improvements in Baghdad Security – According to information gathered by Alsumaria, the improving security situation in Baghdad has led to the removal of 70,000 concrete barriers from streets, closure of 281 security checkpoints, and reopening of 900 roads in the Iraqi capital, mostly within the past two years. The Ministry of Interior is credited with security and intelligence operations which have eliminated sleeper cells and helped to secure Baghdad’s city limits. more…
  • Iraq, Saudi Arabia Sign Air Transportation Agreement – On March 27, Iraqi Transportation Minister Kazem Hamami and his Saudi counterpart, Nabil al-Amoudi, signed an air transportation agreement in Riyadh which will increase the operation of cargo and passenger aviation. The first commercial flight between Saudi Arabia and Iraq since 1990 took place in October 2017 as part of a larger rapprochement between the two neighbors. 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.


PKK Withdraws from Sinjar, Erdogan Continues to Threaten Turkish Intervention

On March 23, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) announced the withdrawal of its fighters from the Sinjar District, in Ninewa Province. The PKK released a statement saying that its troops had completed their task in Sinjar District and they would completely withdraw from it. The statement clarified that the decision to withdraw followed the request of the Iraqi government and a group of Yazidis, adding that the security situation of the district is now settled. The statement also read that the PKK fighters faced violent attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Sinjar and that they responded to a request for help from the resident Yazidis, preventing ethnic cleansing practices in the Sinjar District and the surrounding areas.

On March 24, the Secretary-General of the Ministry of Peshmerga of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Jabar Yawar, demanded that the Iraqi federal government prevent Turkey from violating KRG sovereignty over its territories. Yawar added that Baghdad should stand against the Turkish Army penetrating the Kurdistan Region of Iraq’s (KRI) territories and airspace. On March 22, four people died in the Iraqi Balakati District, approximately 155 kilometers northeast of Erbil, following Turkish airstrikes.

On March 24, Haydar Qasim Shesho, the founder of the Protection Force of Ezidkhan (HPE) in the Sinjar District, called on the Iraqi Ministry of Defense to form a joint force to protect the Sinjar District. Shesho also warned against the “delayed” implementation of the PKK forces’ decision to withdraw from the district and said that “we need to enforce this decision directly.” Shashu said that the formation of a defense force supported by the Iraqi federal government and approved by the KRG would be the best solution, since “the people of Sinjar belonging to the PKK will remain in any case in the district, so the withdrawal of some leaders or a change of power does not serve the region in anything.” The HPE is also known as the Protection Force of Sinjar (HPS), Sinjar Defense Unit, or Sinjar Protection Force. It is was founded in 2014 by Haydar Shesho in response to the Yazidi genocide perpetrated by ISIS. It is the biggest Yazidi militia, but not the most active one. The HPE claims to be an independent and indigenous militia in the Sinjar District salaried by the Iraqi federal government. In March 2017, the HPE announced joining the Peshmerga forces and taking orders from the KRG.

On March 25, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the start of a military operation in Sinjar, Ninewa Province, against elements of the PKK during a speech to his supporters in the Turkish city of Trabzon. He said that “military operations have started there,” adding that “we are fighting terrorists at home and abroad, we are not a country of occupation and our main goal is to fight terrorists.” Erdogan’s statement comes despite the announcement made by the PKK on March 23 concerning the withdrawal of its forces from Sinjar District “after completing their mission in the district.”

On March 25, the Iraqi Joint Operations Command denied the presence of foreign forces on the Iraqi border, hours after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the launch of a military campaign against PKK elements in Sinjar. The statement read that “the security situation in Ninewa, Sinjar and the border area is under the control of the Iraqi forces,” denying that any foreign troops have crossed the border in those areas.

On March 25, the Mayor of Sinjar, Mahma Khalil, warned that the city will turn into “the second Afrin,” following Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s announcement of launching a military campaign against PKK elements in the area. Khalil said that “the federal government is responsible for maintaining the borders of the country and we have appealed to all the parties concerned to intervene because the entry of the Turkish troops is worse than the PKK presence,” adding that they do not wish for what happened in Afrin to repeat itself in the Sinjar District. Khalil pointed out that “at the same time, the elements of the PKK are not honest as they declare withdrawal in public but deal with it in a secret way, and they must exit.”

On March 25, an eyewitness reported that a civilian was wounded following a Turkish airstrike in Dohuk Province. The eyewitness said that “Turkish warplanes attacked border areas belonging to the Dohuk Province,” pointing out that “they targeted a group of villagers who were collecting wild herbs” and “a young man was wounded by the shelling.”

On March 26, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey’s intelligence chief would meet an Iraqi official to discuss an Iraqi military operation in the northern Sinjar region, Ninewa Province, where Ankara said Kurdish PKK militants have established a base. The Iraqi Joint Operations Command, shortly after Erdogan’s statements, denied the crossing of any foreign forces across the border to Ninewa and Sinjar, and stressed that the security situation in these areas is under the control of Iraqi forces. Erdogan also said Turkey will do “what is necessary” if the Iraqi government operation in Sinjar fails.

On March 26, the security adviser to the Command of Joint Operations in Iraq, Saeed al-Jiyashi, confirmed the withdrawal of PKK forces from the Sinjar District and the redeployment of Iraqi Army members to replace them. Jiyashi said that “the fifteenth division of the Iraqi Army redeployed to Sinjar and seized the land and the border between Iraq and Syria, taking responsibility for the whole of Sinjar. There is no PKK or any non-Iraqi formation.” Jiyashi also added that media reports of Turkish forces crossing the Iraqi border are inaccurate, as “the Turkish forces did not and will not enter Iraqi territory.” He said that Turkish forces were only moving towards the Iraqi border while remaining in Syrian territory.

On March 26, Turkish warplanes launched airstrikes targeting areas in the Soran District of the KRI. The amount of casualties and material damage caused by the airstrikes were unknown.

On March 26, official security sources said that the PKK withdrew from most of the Sinjar District. This comes after the announcement of Saeed al-Jiyashi, security advisor to the Command of Joint Operations in Iraq, confirming the PKK withdrawal from the Sinjar District.

On March 27, Iraqi Army Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Othman al-Ghanmi, visited the Sinjar District in Ninewa Province. According to the statement released by the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Ghanmi was accompanied by senior officials of the Ministry of Defense and inspected the fifteenth division of the Iraqi Army stationed there, the Yazidi units, and the border between Turkey and Iraq. Ghanmi said to the Iraqi Media Network that “the Iraqi Army is in full control of Sinjar and the border with Turkey.”

On March 27, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi stated that Iraqi armed forces will prevent Kurdish militants based in northern Iraq from carrying out cross-border attacks against Turkey. Abadi’s office quoted him saying “Iraqi security forces have been instructed not to allow the presence of foreign fighters in the border region” during a phone call with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.

On March 27, the Turkish Army announced that it killed 41 PKK militants during an airstrike in the Qandil mountains, approximately 170 kilometers east of Erbil in the KRI. Turkish news agencies quoted Turkish Air Force officials saying that the airstrike was carried out after receiving information about PKK elements planning attacks against Turkish military bases.

On March 28, Turkish fighter jets bombed a bridge in the Amadiyah District, Dohuk Province. Turkish warplanes also targeted villages in the Shaladzi area, north of Dohuk Province.

On March 28, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis released a statement saying that the PKK presence in Sinjar poses a threat to Turkey and that the U.S. “wants to see the withdrawal of the PKK from the region.” He said that the PKK represents a threat “against Turkey in Sinjar, which is directly on the other side of the border in Iraq,” adding that the U.S. classifies the PKK as a terrorist organization. When asked if the U.S. would support a Turkish military operation in Iraq against PKK elements, Mattis said he would not provide any information on future operations.

On March 29, an anonymous source reported that all Syrian, Turkish, and Iranian members of the PKK in northern Iraq withdrew from Sinjar, toward Syria. The source said that approximately 500 fighters left Sinjar toward Al-Hasakah in northeast Syria, and Qamishli on the Turkish border.


Kurdistan Teachers, Civil Servants Demand Salary Payments

On March 25, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) released a press statement that it is ready to “reconsider” the decision to cut salaries of civil servants, despite what the KRG describes as limited funding from Baghdad. (In February, Baghdad allocated 318 billion Iraqi dinars (approximately US$ 267 million) per month for the region, but the KRG claims that it needs a total of 900 billion Iraqi dinar monthly (approximately US$ 759 million) to cover its 1.2 million public servants.) The KRG leadership announced that “the meeting [of KRG Council of Ministers] decided that if Baghdad continues to spend 318 billion dinars per month, and add its oil revenue to the regional allocation, the KRG would consider the decision to cut salaries of employees of Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI),” noting that “the KRG will reveal in the coming days its internal imports, oil resources and U.S. aid and how it will be disbursed.” The Presidency of the Kurdistan Region last week announced that the Ministry of Finance of the KRG will not be able to pay the full salaries of all employees of the KRI with the allocation funds provided by the federal government in the budget of Iraq 2018, even with changes it made to the payment and pension system instituted on February 27 (as previously reported in ISHM).

On March 25, demonstrators, reportedly numbered in the thousands, in Sulaimania and Erbil Provinces demanded the abolition of a compulsory savings system for salaries of civil servants enacted by the Kurdistan Parliament on February 27, but recently put into effect. The demonstration conducted by doctors, teachers, and other civil servants announced a strike at several hospitals and health centers. The demonstrators threatened to continue demonstrations and sit-ins and expand the scope of protests until they would have an answer from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

On March 25, in Sulaimania Province, a crowd of doctors, teachers and other government employees established tents in front of the city court to continue the protest demanding that the KRG pay the salaries of employees in full. The protesters confirmed that their goal is to continue to pressure the KRG to respond to their demands, indicating that they had asked employees of Erbil and Dohuk Provinces to join their protests. One of the protesters interviewed by Alsumaria, said that “the citizens have lost confidence in the authority of the Kurdistan region to address their situation. The government has sufficient financial resources to improve the salaries of employees, but seeks to keep citizens in this situation to continue in power.”

On March 25, 15 Members of Kurdistan’s Parliament (MPs) signed a memorandum addressed to the KRG leadership, calling for an extraordinary session of Parliament as soon as possible to abolish the compulsory saving system for salaries of government employees. The Presidency of the Kurdistan Region announced last week that the Ministry of Finance of the KRG would not be able to pay the salaries of all employees of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) with the allocations provided by the federal budget for 2018.

On March 26, demonstrations seeking to repeal the salary system reforms continued into the second day as teachers and other government employees throughout the KRI demanded the payment of their salaries in full, stressing the continuation of the protests until they get an answer to their demands. The demonstration expanded to Erbil, Sulaimania, Halabja, and Dohuk Provinces and its sub-districts.

On March 27, demonstrations continued throughout KRI, and a Kurdistan media organization, Nalia Radio and Television (NRT), claimed that their journalists were prevented by the security forces from recording the events. It was reported that Abbas Mohammed, the head of the Kurdistan Islamic Group bloc in the Erbil Provincial Council, was detained. Security forces also prevented journalists from covering the demonstration in Erbil. NRT reporters said the security forces attempt to detain them. This came two days after an NRT reporter and two camera men were injured while covering protests and had their equipment confiscated.

On March 27, an MP of the Gorran Party, Hoshyar Abdullah, called on the Iraqi federal government to instruct the KRG to stop the policy of a compulsory savings system for salaries of employees “immediately.” He noted that the share of the provincial budget is enough to distribute the full salaries of civil servants on time.

On March 28, demonstrations of teachers and government employees continued for the fourth day throughout the KRI. The teachers and government employees in the provinces of Sulaimania, Halabja, Erbil, and Dohuk are protesting the decision of the KRG to withhold mandatory salaries of employees.

On March 28, Prime Minister of the KRG, Nechirvan Barzani, announced during a press conference that the KRG is taking action toward changing the salary system of civil service employees, noting that the KRG is working to end the compulsory saving system. Barzani said that “the salaries of the staff of the region will be distributed monthly, every thirty days.” He also added that the KRG would make every necessary effort to maintain security in its cities, noting that some parties were trying to exploit the demonstrations to fulfill their own agendas.

On March 28, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) expressed concerns over reports of excessive force against the demonstrators in the KRI. UNAMI Public Information Office stated that the right to peacefully protest is a fundamental human right and is a cornerstone of democracy. UNAMI stressed that “the authorities are, therefore, responsible for ensuring that this right is respected and protected and that the citizens are allowed to exercise it in safety and dignity.” The public is equally responsible for ensuring that their right is exercised responsibly and lawfully, by refraining from violence and the destruction of public and private property. UNAMI welcomed an announcement by Kurdistan Region authorities that these allegations will be investigated.

On March 29, demonstrations seeking the repeal of a salary withholding policy continued into the fifth day. The Teachers’ Union in Dohuk Province announced an end to their protests after the KRG agreed to reduce the size of salary cuts. The union considered the decision a positive step towards ending the compulsory savings system for civil servants.


Candidates, Coalitions Sign ‘Electoral Charter of Honor’ Ahead of May Elections

On March 18, the Iraqi Integrity Committee issued an arrest warrant for the former Governor of Ninewa Province, Atheel al-Nujaifi. In January 2018, the Court of Misdemeanors sentenced him to three years’ imprisonment for “exploiting” his position, money laundering, and extortion, and allowing Turkish troops to enter Ninewa Province in 2015.

On March 24, representatives of some of the various political coalitions signed an “Electoral Charter of Honor” mediated by the United Nations and western experts to guide the campaign process leading up to provincial elections slated for May. Special Representative of the United Nations (U.N.) Secretary General for Iraq Jan Kubis congratulated Iraqi political parties and blocs on the signing of the Electoral Charter of Honor. Kubis said that “the credibility of the democratic process lies in the integrity of the electoral process. Thus, an effective Charter of Honor is essential to conducting elections in a free, fair, impartial, transparent and credible manner.”  The Charter includes a pledge to forbid sectarian or ethnic speech, violence, or the use of threats to compel voting. The Charter stipulates that voter files must be maintained by a neutral party and not used for campaigning prior to voting. Signatories pledged a peaceful transfer of power and the formation of a new government following the election’s outcome. Representatives of Iraq’s High Electoral Commission and the United Nations Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) drafted the charter. Some members of the Iraqi Parliament and representatives of political blocs expressed their disappointment in the document. Hasan Turan, MP for the Turkmen Front, said that “while we see this document as important in principle, I do not expect to abide by it,” adding that “we need legally binding guarantees to turn them into texts which hold accountable those who violate them” and that “the mere signing will be nothing but smoke in the eyes.” Siham al-Moussawi, MP for the Badr bloc, stated that “this document will not succeed” because electoral campaigns are based on candidates quarreling with each other and “most political parties have electronic armies prepared and financed for this purpose.” Mohammed al-Karbouli, MP of Anbar Province, said that “this document will not succeed because in Iraq we are used to not abide by anything we sign, whether it is treaties of honor, political or governmental programs.” Two other MPs, Ibrahim al-Sumaidai of the Baghdad alliance, and Iyad al-Samawi of al-Fatah, affirmed that the Charter “will remain ink on paper.”

On March 26, the Iraqi Accountability and Justice Commission summoned 620 candidates for Parliament to clarify and confirm some restrictions and information concerning their personal records, including former Defense Minister Khaled al-Obaidi. The commission is tasked with investigating any candidate’s personal background and identifying whether they had any illicit affiliations or any connections to the dissolved Ba’ath Party. Accountability and Justice Commission Member Faris Bakoo said, “It does not necessarily mean removing the candidate from the race—but it is a regular process that has happened before.” The name of the former Minister of Defense Khaled al-Obaidi was among those summoned. Bakoo denied allegations that members of the commission have received bribes in exchange for removing restrictions on former members of the Ba’ath Party seeking to run. For the upcoming May elections, approximately 7,200 candidates are slated to fill 328 seats in Parliament.

On March 28, Member of Parliament Farik Sheikh Ali announced that he withdrew from signing of the Electoral Charter of Honor. Sheikh Ali added that “the reason for my withdrawal came because most of the heads of [the political] blocs did not attend.”


Interior Ministry Touts Improvements in Baghdad Security

On March 25, the spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior Major General Saad Maan confirmed that a fire broke out in Baghdad. He said that the fire broke out in an electric material storehouse situated in Masbah Street, Karrada District in Baghdad. He added that more details about the incident would be released later.

On March 26, Alsumaria published an infographic about the progress achieved in security and urban reconstruction in the city of Baghdad. Since the security situation of the Iraqi capital started improving in 2013, 70,000 blocks of concrete have been removed from the streets and 900 roads have been reopened. Additionally, 281 checkpoints have been removed, 50% of which in the past two years. The Ministry of the Interior has activated security and intelligence plans, eliminating sleeper cells and securing Baghdad’s city limits.

On March 29, Transportation Minister Kazem Hamami announced that river taxis will operate between the Adhamiya and Qadiriyah neighborhoods in Baghdad along the Tigris River. The goal of implementing the taxi route is to alleviate traffic congestion.


Iraq, Saudi Arabia Sign Air Transportation Agreement

On March 27, the Iraqi Ministry of Transportation announced that Iraq signed an air transportation agreement with Saudi Arabia in Riyadh, adding that the agreement is part of Iraq’s “openness to the world.” Transportation Minister Kazem Hamami signed the agreement with his Saudi counterpart, Nabil al-Amoudi, which will “activate the operation of flights of national carriers and other airlines between the two countries.” The first flight between Saudi Arabia and Iraq since 1990 took place in October, 2017 as part of a larger rapprochement between the two neighbors.


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

DateLocationDeathsInjuries
03/29/2018Rawa, 204 kilometers north of Ramadi02
03/28/2018Ramadi02
03/28/2018Mahmudiyah, 32 kilometers south of Baghdad03
03/26/2018Arab Ejbur, 16 kilometers south of Baghdad03
03/25/2018Khalidiya, 17 kilometers east of Ramadi00
03/25/2018Qa'im, 275 kilometers northwest of Ramadi13
03/25/2018Kirkuk04
03/24/2018 (first hand account)Baiji, 132 kilometers north of Samarra01
03/24/2018Tarmiyah, 56 kilometrs north of Baghdad12
03/24/2018Mansouriyah, 46 kilometers northeast of Baqubah13

 

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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