ISHM: April 27 – May 3, 2018

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Key Takeaways:

  • Candidates, Election Officials Targeted Ahead of May 12 Elections – On April 28, Hassan al-Muhajir, a spokesman for ISIS, warned that anyone running for office during the parliamentary elections would be a target of the militant group. The following day, Najim al-Hasnawi, a candidate for the State of Law Coalition, was killed during a tribal conflict in Baghdad, and Qaim al-Zubaidi, director of finance for the PMU was killed by unidentified gunmen near his home in the Mashtal District, also in Baghdad. On May 1, Director of the Diyala Province Electoral Commission, Ahmed Mazban al-Azzawi, survived an assassination attempt in Bahriz, south of Baqubah, after a gunman opened fire on his vehicle. Also on May 1, leader of the Fatah Alliance, Jassim al-Saadi, escaped an assassination attempt after gunmen attacked his convoy in the Habibiya District of Baghdad. Although the security situation remains tenuous, the UN reported that “politicians in Iraq are working constructively with each other ahead of the [May 12] elections,” noting the significant difference between the last elections in 2014 and this cycle. more…
  • ISIS Claims Responsibility for Attack North of Baghdad – On May 1, ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack on civilians in Tarmiyah District, approximately 60 kilometers north of Baghdad in Salah ad-Din Province, which left at least 22 dead and 10 others wounded. Iraqi Security Forces responded to the attack and blocked off access to the area. Jan Kubis, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Iraq, condemned the attack, saying that “terrorist sleeper cells continue to mount sporadic attacks, despite the defeat of their main military structures.” more…
  • U.S. Closes Land Component Headquarters, Shifting More Responsibility to ISF – The U.S.-led international coalition signaled the end of major combat operations against ISIS in Iraq by announcing the “deactivation” of its land forces command headquarters. U.S. Army Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, said on Twitter that “the composition and responsibilities of [OIR] continue to evolve but [the] mission [is] unchanged: defeat ISIS.” Several thousand U.S. troops are expected to remain for the foreseeable future to assist with training Iraqi Security Forces. Jane Arraf with NPR reported that “Americans [in Iraq] believe that [the Iraqi military] is in a better position to [defend Iraq] than they have been in the last few years,” but realize that Iraqis need jobs and development assistance to secure a more lasting peace. more…
  • World Bank Program Supports Job Creation; IOM Releases Report on Social Cohesion Challenges – The Iraqi government and the World Bank signed two memoranda, launching the US$ 300 million Social Fund for Development and an emergency project to support social stability and the unemployed. World Bank Representative Yara Salem said that the program launch “coincides with Iraq’s transition from the financial crisis and the war against terrorist organizations to achieving development, creating jobs, and enhancing the readiness of reconstruction and reinvestment.” Separately, the International Organization for Migration published its Social Cohesion Program Annual Report, which seeks to mitigate tension among IDPs, returnees, and host communities. more…
  • Washington Post: Intercepted Messages Detail Qatari Ransom Payments to Militias – An unidentified foreign government provided the Washington Post with text and voicemail messages shared among Qatari officials as they discussed hostage payments for the release of nine members of the Qatari royal family and 16 others kidnapped in Iraq in 2015. The hostages were released in 2017, and the newly released messages suggest that in addition to the US$ 275 million ransom paid to the kidnappers, the Qatari government paid US$ 150 million to groups and individuals acting as intermediaries in the negotiation process, including Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps leadership and U.S.-identified terrorist organizations Kataib Hezbollah and the al-Nusra Front. 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.


Candidates, Election Officials Targeted Ahead of May 12 Elections

On April 26, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (SRSG) for Iraq, Ján Kubiš visited Ramadi, Anbar Province, calling on Iraqis to seize the opportunities of the upcoming parliamentary elections to “make their voices heard and effect positive change.” Kubiš discussed the electoral preparations in the Province with the Governor, Provincial Council Chairman and the head of the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) Anbar Office. He said, “Elections are a pillar of the democratic process. This is the opportunity for Iraqis to vote and decide their own future by making the choice of their own representatives who will work for security, stability and prosperity […] I’m encouraged by the preparations for the elections, and I cannot stress enough the importance of youth and women participation as a critical force in the society that can bring positive change.” Kubiš visited Mosul in Ninewa Province and Najaf recently, and plans more visits to other Provinces  in the coming days.

On April 27, the President of the Diyala Council, Ali Daini, said that IHEC needs to move urgently to resolve the difficulties of the participation of 60,000 internally displaced persons (IDP) in the election. Daini stressed that they have presented several official documents about this issue, but no response has been received so far. Daini said, “We have about 60,000 voters and they represent a segment of internally displaced persons and those who can not return to their areas of origin at the present time to participate in the elections for several reasons, most notably that their areas have become a ridge or the existence of security precautions.”

On April 28, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi arrived in Kirkuk Province. According to an anonymous source, Abadi was greeted by several officials of Kirkuk Province, including the Governor Rakan Jubouri. The source added that “Abadi will discuss the security and political situation witnessed by the country and by Kirkuk Province in particular.”

On April 28, a video broadcasted by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) showed ISIS militants executing two supporters of Iraqi parliamentary elections, scheduled for May 12, 2018. In the video that was posted by Amaq, ISIS’s news agency, ISIS militants shot “two of the advocates” of Iraqi parliamentary elections in Tarmiyah, approximately 60 kilometers north of Baghdad, in Salah ad-Din Province. In a voice message broadcasted on the same day, Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, ISIS’s official spokesman, accused the Iraqi government of being an agent for Iran and warned that anyone running for office during the parliamentary elections would be a target.

On April 29, Najim al-Hasnawi, candidate in the Iraqi parliamentary elections for the State of Law coalition, died in a tribal conflict in Baghdad. A security source said that “Hasnawi was killed during a tribal conflict in the Mashtal district of Baghdad,” but did not speculate on the reason for the clashes.

On April 29, unidentified gunmen attacked Qasim al-Zubaidi, director of finance of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), near his house in the Mashtal District of Baghdad. Zubaidi died hours after the attack at the hospital. The PMU leadership demanded security services to open an investigation on the attack. On May 3, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called the attack “an act of treason.”

On April 30, SRSG for Iraq Ján Kubiš traveled to Basra, as part of a tour of provinces  across Iraq to assess the election preparations and the atmosphere and to explore the needs of these areas in the post-ISIS  period and how the UN can assist. Kubis said that “this is a new period in the life of the country, a post [ISIS] period and we in the United Nations should be much more active and better focused in providing assistance for the need of the people.” Kubis met with the governor of Basra, the head of Basra Operations Command and the head of the Basra office of the IHEC to discuss, among other things, preparations for the parliamentary elections scheduled for May 12, 2018. Regarding the meeting, Kubis said “we specifically talked about young people. Many of them are returning from the battlefields. They need a perspective, they need jobs, they need a future. The United Nations should help, and this trip was to get advice from the officials in which areas we should know more, how we should refocus our activities that should be of more benefit for Basra and for its people.” Kubis also added that “we hope that we as the UN will have a good partner after the elections in the new government and will work together with us on creating better conditions that would improve the lives of the people, including in Basra, the economic capital of the country.”

On April 30, Head of the Security Committee for the Diyala Provincial Council, Sadiq al-Husseini, called for an immediate investigation into reports that the security detail for Mohammed al-Daini, a parliamentary candidate for the National Coalition, attempted to attack the Director of the Sunni Endowment Bureau in ​​Katoun (7 kilometers west of Baquba in Diyala Province). Husseini called for “an immediate investigation into the circumstances of the attempted attack and clarifying the truth about what happened in front of the public opinion.”

On April 30, the Iraqi Parliamentary Security Committee called for increasing security and intelligence efforts for protecting election candidates from assassination attempts, which are causing intimidation among both candidates and voters. Mohammed al-Karbouli, member of the Iraqi Parliamentary Security Committee, said that “these attempts aimed at terrorizing everybody as the elections approach, and terrorist groups may be active in this period, especially since these groups vowed to target the electoral process and democracy in Iraq.” Karbouli called on security and intelligence agencies to be vigilant and on Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to provide a safe environment for a successful election process. Karbouli pointed out that “the success of the electoral process is not only to put votes in the boxes, but it must succeed politically, socially and in security, to provide a valid, fair and secure environment during the elections.”

On May 1, director of the Anbar Election Office, Saad Naji al-Ithawi, announced the distribution of voter cards to 52% of the province. Ithawi said that voter card distribution is contingent upon citizens updating their personal information with the commission, and that he hoped to deliver cards to 60% of the province by May 8, the deadline for receiving the card and being eligible to vote in the May 12 elections. Ithawi said that voter cards are mandatory for participation, except for IDPs who will be permitted to vote provisionally.

On May 1, the United Nations reported that “Politicians in Iraq are working constructively with each other ahead of this month’s parliamentary elections.” According to the UN News, there are more than 6,000 candidates vying for approximately 300 seats in the Parliament. Alice Walpole, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Iraq said that the positive engagement among politicians is one of the key differences between now and when she first began working in Iraq in 2009. Additionally, since the last elections in 2014, about four million young Iraqis have reached the voting age. Getting them registered and voting is one of the aims of the Deputy Special Representative and the UN Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI), which is providing technical advice to the Government and the Independent Electoral Commission overseeing the elections. “We’re not doing the elections; the Electoral Commission is, and we’re advising and supporting. But the fact that we’re identified with the elections is giving them credibility and giving people confidence to engage.”

On May 1, the Director of the Diyala Province Electoral Commission, Ahmed Mazban al-Azzawi, survived an assassination attempt in Buhriz, approximately 10 kilometers south of Baqubah in Diyala Province. Azzawi said in an interview that he survived “an assassination attempt by a sniper who shot at our armored convoy in the area of Buhriz, south of Baqubah.” Azzawi also added that the attack resulted in material damage only.

On May 1, Jassim al-Saadi, leader of the Fatah Alliance, escaped an assassination attempt in eastern Baghdad. According to an anonymous source, unidentified gunmen attacked Saadi’s convoy while it was passing through the Habibiya District of Baghdad. The attack caused material damage only and no casualties were recorded.

On May 3, Ardalan Noureddine, member of the Iraqi Parliamentary Integrity Committee, accused Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of being responsible for the assassination of Qasim al-Zubaidi, PMUs’ director of finance, who was killed on April 29, 2018. Noureddine said that “the direct responsibility for security in Iraq is to the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Haider al-Abadi and any murder is within his responsibility.” He added that “this assassination is part of the terrorist operations that precede elections in Iraq. Investigations must be revealed to the public opinion and the perpetrators must be held accountable after they are caught.” Noureddine specified that “the cause of the assassination is not clear so far,” and said that the Parliamentary Integrity Committee has opened an investigation on the matter.


ISIS Claims Responsibility for Attack North of Baghdad

On May 1, unidentified gunmen opened fire on civilians in Tarmiyah District, approximately 60 kilometers north of Baghdad. An anonymous source declared that the attack resulted in five deaths and several people injured.

On May 1, residents of Tarmiyah District, approximately 60 kilometers north of Baghdad, appealed to the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) to send more military personnel to the area to increase security after unidentified gunmen opened fire on civilians earlier in the day. Mohammed Jassim, one of Tarmiyah’s residents, said in an interview that “we appeal to the security forces to intervene and send reinforcement to the district in order to defeat the militants.” Jassim said that residents in Tarmiyah are still clashing with Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants and pointed out that “the toll of the victims rose to seven dead and ten injured people.”

On May 1, an anonymous security source reported that the ISF blocked all points of access to the Tarmiyah District. The source also said in an interview that the attack perpetrated in the area by unidentified gunmen earlier in the day caused the death of seven people and injured 13 others. The source suggested that the attack was carried out by an ISIS sleeper cell.

On May 2, ISIS militants claimed responsibility for the armed attack on civilians that took place in Tarmiyah District, approximately 60 kilometers north of Baghdad. According to an ISIS statement, 22 civilians were killed and ten others were injured. The statement read that “there were clashes with light and medium weapons, and resulted in the death of 22 apostates and 10 others were wounded.”

On May 2, the Iraqi Security Information Center released a statement concerning the armed attack carried out by ISIS militants in Tarmiyah District on May 1, 2018. The statement said that members of an ISIS sleeper cell “targeted unarmed civilians by shooting them in a remote village in Tarmiyah,” adding that “security forces responded to the terrorist cell.” The statement also denied media reports concerning the spread of terrorist sleeper cells in the district.   

On May 2, Jan Kubis, Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), condemned the armed attack that was perpetrated by ISIS militants in Tarmiyah, approximately 60 kilometers north of Baghdad. Kubis expressed his condolences to the families of the victims and reiterated his support for the Iraqi authorities and their efforts to thwart terrorist attacks. Kubis said that “terrorist sleeper cells continue to mount sporadic attacks, despite the defeat of their main military structures by Iraqi security forces. They aim to undermine stability and break the morale of Iraqis who have begun to enjoy the benefits of peace. They will fail, as they failed before. I call on the authorities, and local communities, to remain alert to thwart the terrorists’ plans.”


U.S. Closes Land Component Headquarters, Shifting More Responsibility to ISF

On April 29, the Iraqi Criminal Court sentenced 29 women from Russia, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan to life imprisonment on charges of belonging and support the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), stressing that the verdicts were issued under the “anti-terrorism” law. One of the accused from Russia named Mariana, carrying a small child, confirmed in her confessions that she and her husband converted to Islam. Her husband was killed by an international coalition airstrike in Mosul. Mariana, wearing a black veil, said she had gone to Turkey to live there, but her husband told her that “living is expensive in Turkey…” She said that “We moved, but I did not know we were in Iraq.” When asked during the trial, most of the women were not aware of being in Iraq until after a certain period of time. The trial, which included key questions to be addressed by the judges, was conducted through an Iraqi translator brought by the Russian embassy. The wives and children of ISIS militants were sent to Tal Afar, in Ninewa Province, after Mosul cleared of ISIS by Iraqi Security Forces. The women surrendered to the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces after the intensification of fighting in Tal Afar.

On April 30, the U.S.-led international coalition signaled the end of major combat operations against ISIS in Iraq by announcing the “deactivation” of its land forces command headquarters. The international coalition released a statement saying that “the Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command Headquarters was deactivated today at a ceremony in Baghdad signifying the end of major combat operations against ISIS in Iraq and acknowledging the changing composition and responsibilities of the coalition.” U.S. Army Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), wrote on his Twitter page that “CJFLCC deactivated today at a ceremony in Baghdad, signifying the end of major combat operations against [ISIS] in Iraq. The composition and responsibilities of CJTF-OIR continue to evolve but mission unchanged: defeat [ISIS].” Ambassador Brett McGurk, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, tweeted that “from Fallujah, to Tikrit, Bayiji, Ramadi, Sinjar, Mosul, and points in between, our coalition has been proud to stand beside Iraqi forces and Peshmerga as they liberated their country and 4.5 million fellow citizens from ISIS. Few thought it could be done.”

On May 2, NPR reported on the reduction of the U.S. military presence in Iraq. Jane Arraf, speaking from Baghdad, confirmed that some of the U.S. military troops stationed in Iraq will remain on the ground, but said that when she spoke with U.S. Army Major General Walter Piatt, Commander of CJTF-OIR, “he actually won’t put a number on how many of them will stay, but it is expected to be several thousand. And he says they’re transitioning.” When asked about ISIS’s presence in Iraq, Arraf quoted Piatt, saying “ISIS remains. I mean, it’s hard to measure how and where because it’s the ideology of ISIS too and that has to be undone. I mean, wars don’t end in peace. And the fighting – winning the fight sometimes can be a lot easier than winning the peace. So this is a very delicate time.” Arraf noted that what she thought Piatt meant was that “Iraqis need jobs. They need to see their cities reconstructed because this has never been just a military fight. And we also have to remember that to make it even more complicated, Iraq is holding elections this month.” She pointed out that “part of the U.S. presence here going forward [is] going to depend on how the Iraqi government feels about it”. Asked about whether the Iraqi military is prepared to defend its country, Arraf said that “the Americans here believe that they are in better position to do that than they have been in the last few years. And in 2014, an entire division collapsed, so according to General Piatt and others, this is a reconstituted army with more training. They’ll be even in better shape, but they did take a lot of losses, and they need to be reconstituted.”


World Bank Program Supports Job Creation; IOM Releases Report on Social Cohesion Challenges

On April 30, the Iraqi government and the World Bank Group signed two memoranda to launch the Social Fund for Development Project, and an emergency project to support social stability and the unemployed. Mahdi Al-Alak, Secretary-General of the Council of Ministers, said that “the two projects [signed] today represent two important convergence points, especially in the liberated areas, providing livelihood opportunities and providing long-term development by enhancing the provision of basic services to all communities in Iraq.” World Bank Representative Yara Salem, added that “this program, which we support with the Iraqi government, coincides with the stage in which Iraq is transitioning from…the financial crisis and the war against the terrorist organizations, to the stage of achieving development, creating jobs and enhancing the readiness of reconstruction and investment.” The World Bank approved the Social Fund for Development Project on February 6, 2018. The total cost of the project was estimated at US$ 300 million, and it entails improving access to basic services and increasing short term employment opportunities in targeted areas. The project would include three components: financing community subprojects, supporting microfinance system strengthening and capacity building and institutional development.  

On May 2, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Iraq Mission published the IOM Iraq Social Cohesion Program Annual Report for 2017. IOM’s Social Cohesion Program aims to mitigate tensions between Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), returnees and host community members, and to strengthen social cohesion within and among different communities. After completing social cohesion assessments across four provinces, IOM established five community centers in Baghdad, Kirkuk, and Zammar, Khanaqin, and Baqubah all in Diyala Province. These five communities were surveyed asking participants about interaction between differents groups, triggers for stress and disputes, and ways in which people build and maintain positive community relations. It was found that many IDPs spoke of the efforts made by host communities to include them, while others highlighted the challenges, like the resentment and hostility towards IDPs generated by overstretched resources. The results of this research were used by IOM to identify infrastructure projects that might alleviate emotional and social tensions. Additionally, IOM was able to gather information about the way it engages with local peacebuilders, as well as the way it carries out activities which support healthy relationships among the different communities.


Washington Post: Intercepted Messages Detail Qatari Ransom Payments to Militias

On April 28, an unidentified foreign government provided the Washington Post with text and voicemail messages shared among Qatari officials. The intercepted messages detail discussions about payments to Iranian-backed Shia militias for the release of nine members of the Qatari royal family and 16 other Qatari citizens kidnapped during a hunting trip in southern Iraq in 2015, and freed in 2017. After the kidnapping, Qatar entered secret talks to free the hostages. Zayed bin Saeed al-Khayareen, Qatar’s ambassador to Iraq and chief negotiator in the hostage affair, reportedly sent a message to his boss last April complaining about a “brazen robbery” being perpetrated against Qatar by various militia groups all seeking a portion of the ransom money that the Qatari government was willing to pay. Khayareen wrote that “the Syrians, Hezbollah-Lebanon, Kata’ib Hezbollah-Iraq – all want money, and this is their chance,” adding that “all of them are thieves.” This text and other confidential documents showed that during the 16 months-long negotiations, Qatari officials seemed to complain, but were ultimately willing to pay US$ 275 million to free those kidnapped. Secret records also showed that an additional US$ 150 million in cash was allocated to groups and individuals acting as intermediaries in the negotiation process, including Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Shia militia operating in Iraq. The payments seemed to have been part of a larger deal that would involve the governments of Iran, Turkey and Iraq. Qatar acknowledged receiving help from multiple countries to secure the hostages’ release, but it consistently denied paying terrorist organizations as part of the deal. According to the Washington Post, confidential documentation, including the text messages and recorded phone calls, show Qatari diplomats signing off on side payments ranging from US$ 5 million to US$ 50 million to Iranian and Iraqi officials, with US$ 25 million destined to Kataib Hezbollah’s boss and US$ 50 million set aside for Qassem Soleimani of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Qatari officials declined to comment on specific issues raised by the text messages obtained by the Washington Post, however “one senior Middle Eastern official knowledgeable about the communications said the sums mentioned in the texts referred to proposals that were floated by negotiators but ultimately rejected.” The article noted that Qatar’s negotiation with terrorist groups over the hostage affairs could spark a larger feud with its Arab neighbors, who have already criticized the country for its cordial relations with Iran and its support for the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups identified with political Islam.

On April 30, the Emirati newspaper The National published an article regarding Qatar’s alleged payments to Iranian-backed Shia militias in Iraq to secure the release of Qatari citizens who were kidnapped in Iraq in 2015. According to the article, “a ransom payment from Qatar to an Iraqi militia was equivalent to half the outfit’s annual payment from Iran, fueling fears its hands have been strengthened ahead of May’s election.” The article reads that messages between Qatari officials, received by the Washington Post from an anonymous source, indicate that Qatar paid millions to a senior leader of Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Shia militia operating in Iraq. Additionally, Qatar would have allegedly transferred millions of dollars to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra, a salafist jihadist organization based in Syria fighting against the Syrian government and a formerly open al-Qaeda affiliate.These groups are both recognized as terrorist organizations by the U.S. government. The reports obtained by the Washington Post claim that Qatar’s ambassador to Iraq, Zayed bin Saeed al-Khayareen, would have been in direct contact with members of the militias during the negotiations to free hostages, and that at least US$ 25 million would have been paid to a senior member of Kataib Hezbollah.


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

DateLocationDeathsInjuries
05/03/2018Rawa, 207 kilometers north of Ramadi04
05/02/2018Dibis, 50 kilometers north of Kirkuk10
05/02/2018Adhaim, 67 kilometers north of Baqubah. 30
05/01/2018Mosul25
04/30/2018Soran, 110 kilometers northeast of Erbil10
04/30/2018Taji, 35 kilometers north of Baghdad03
04/30/2018Dibis, 50 kilometers north of Kirkuk20
04/30/2018Al-Wajihiya, 36 kilometers northeast of Baqubah10
04/29/2018Bub al-Sham, 35 kilometers northeast of Baghdad01
04/28/2018Arab Ejbur, 17 kilometers south of Baghdad01

 

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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