ISHM: July 13 – 19


Key Takeaways:

    • Large-Scale Protests Spread Across Southern Iraq – Protests across southern Iraq entered their second week as demonstrators continued to vent their anger regarding insufficient electricity supply, poor service-provision, and unemployment. On July 13, protesters stormed Najaf airport, prompting Iraq’s top Shia cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to express solidarity with the protesters and urge peaceful resolution to the demonstrations. Meanwhile, protests continued in Basra, Maysan, Karbala, and Muthanna Provinces, as well as in the Baghdad neighborhood of Shula. While there has been speculation that the demonstrations are being fueled by Iran, protests over the past week have remained generally anti-Tehran in flavor. On July 15, protesters burned a billboard depicting Iran’s former Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini. One day later, unknown gunmen destroyed power lines connected to the region’s oil fields. On July 17, the so-called Coordination Board for Peaceful Protests and Demonstrations in Basra outlined 17 demands, as well as denounced violence from both protesters and security forces. These demands called on the Iraqi government to restore water and electricity service to southern Iraq, and to confront the general decline of public services and institutions in the region. more…
    • Baghdad Offers Reforms, Conducts Arrests in Response to Escalating Protests – The Iraqi government responded last week to ongoing protests across southern Iraq through a combination of reforms and increasingly heavy-handed crackdowns on protest leaders. On July 13, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi traveled to Basra to meet with Basra Operations Command officials regarding possible disruptions to southern security and oil production as a result of the protests. He stressed that “there are elements [within the protests] who want to harm peaceful [protesters and security forces].” Two days later, Abadi issued seven resolutions in response to the protesters’ demands, including the dissolution of Najaf airport administration. On July 18, he further announced a cabinet resolution to make economic- and water-related concessions, in an attempt to quell protester anger. Alongside these reform efforts, however, security forces have employed increasingly aggressive measures to quell protest activity across southern Iraq. On July 15, security forces reportedly killed two protesters in Muthanna Province after shooting live rounds into the crowd. Meanwhile, the Iraqi government reportedly shut off internet access, as well as access to popular social media platforms, across the country on July 16 in an effort to curb the spread of demonstration-related information. The internet cut-off coincided with a series of arrests made over the past three days of protest leaders in the cities of Basra, Nasiriyah, Kut, Najaf, Samawah, Karbala, and Babil. Abadi also deployed elite special forces units, including three battalions from the Counter-Terror Service (CTS), to bolster southern security. more…
    • ISIS Cells Active Across Northern and Central Iraq – Militants affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) continued to conduct insurgent-style attacks across northern Iraq last week. Meanwhile, Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) continue operations to kill or capture remaining ISIS militants operating across Ninewa, Salah al-Din, and Kikruk provinces. On July 18, the Ninewa Police reported that they had captured 23 ISIS militants in western Mosul. One day earlier, Iraqi warplanes conducted a series of airstrikes northwest of Kirkuk, reportedly killing 14 ISIS militants. Ongoing ISIS-related activity has presented serious challenges for Baghdad, as it looks to reposition some of its security forces from northern Iraq to quell protests in the south more…
    • Ballot Recount Process Continues – The Judiciary-led Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) committee reported that it had completed manual recounts of ballots in Dohuk, Salah al-Din, and Ninewa Provinces. IHEC officials have already conducted recounts in the provinces of Kirkuk, Sulaymaniyah, Erbil, Basra, Maysan, Wasit, Dhi Qar, Muthanna and Al-Qadisiyyah. The IHEC committee is recounting ballots following allegations of fraud committed during the May 2018 parliamentary elections. more…
    • Displacement Challenges Remain in Areas Liberated from ISIS – On July 18, the UN’s humanitarian coordination office (OCHA) reported that it had identified approximately 2 million displaced persons and 3.9 million returnees across Iraq in June 2018. According to UN estimates, Ninewa Province saw 1.5 million returnees, Anbar Province saw 1.3 million returnees, and Salah al-Din saw 500,000 returnees. The UN also noted that many returnees were reluctant to return due to the limited provision of services and livelihood opportunities as well as insecurity in areas of origin. Meanwhile, the UN Migration Agency (IOM) noted that only one-fifth of displaced Yazidi families which fled ISIS in 2014 have returned to their homes in and around the town of Sinjar. 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.

Large-Scale Protests Spread Across Southern Iraq

On July 13, hundreds of Iraqis stormed the airport in Shia majority city of Najaf, halting air traffic. They demonstrated against “poor government services and corruption.” Top Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who rarely intervenes in politics but has wide sway over Iraqi Shia public opinion, expressed solidarity with protestors. The protestors walked on to the tarmac in the airport, and security forces let protestors occupy the main airport building. In Basra that day, protests erupted for the fifth day in a row, and others were held in Amara (capital of Maysan Province) where protesters “threw stones at branches of the Shi[a] Dawa party and the powerful Badr Organization…and beat up policemen,” and in Nasiriya, demonstrating against “unemployment and delivery of basic services.” Some protests have been occurring near major oil fields, but reportedly have not disrupted production. Protesters have, however, threatened to escalate and “close down Basra and oil production,” if electricity, water, and employment needs remain unmet. Widespread unrest has swept across southern Iraq for more than two weeks, as protesters defied riot police to vent their anger over electricity cuts, poor services and unemployment amid post-election uncertainty.

On July 14, Reuters reported that protesters in Karbala stormed the city’s provincial building.

On July 14, protesters in Basra blocked the Safwan border crossing with Kuwait. Kuwait accordingly declared a state of emergency along the Iraqi border.

On July 14, protestors stormed the provincial government building in the city of Kerbala, demonstrating over poor public services and corruption across southern Iraq–the sixth day of protests of this kind. Basra oil exports “account for more than 95 percent of OPEC producer Iraq’s state revenue,” and thus any impediment to this process “could severely impact Iraq’s limping economy, though officials said the protests had not so far impacted crude production. According to state television, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the government would “release funds to Basra for water, electricity and health services.” Abadi also issued security forces “on high alert” in southern provinces in response to protests, as he serves as commander-in-chief of Iraq’s armed forces. Security forces reported that the Counter-Terrorism Service and the Army’s Ninth Division are in Basra helping protect the province’s oil fields.

On July 15, protesters burned a billboard depicting former Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini, in Basra. Allegedly, the billboard was erected by a pro-Iranian group within the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU).

On July 16, protests spread to Northern Baghdad in the neighborhood of Shula.

On July 16, unknown gunmen targeted power lines connected to oil fields with an IED. While the power lines were confirmed to be damaged, it is unknown whether or not the oil fields were affected by the damaged lines. Direct attacks against (primarily foreign-operated) oil installations are rare, despite periodic protests each year, and this attack represents an escalation from previous protest cycles.

On July 16, Assyrian International reported that electricity in Nineveh province will be redirected to meet the demands of protestors in southern Iraq. Citing the eyewitness source Mosul Eye, the report says the cuts could be close to half of Nineveh’s supply. These cuts would come at a time when Nineveh is attempting to rebuild infrastructure that has been crippled by ISIS. In an unrelated incident four days earlier, Ninewa Christian leaders in the town of Bartella, just outside Mosul, said that an armed force entered a church in Bartella and destroyed the church’s internet devices (routers and computers). The Christian leaders believe that the armed group was part of the Popular Mobilization Units.

On July 17, Arab News released an article explaining how political forces have “fueled” the spread of protests in Iraq. “[W]hile the protests may have started organically, they have since been hijacked for political gain.” A source indicated that Iran may have sought to disrupt Iraqi oil production to boost their own revenues from oil. After seizing Najaf airport, protesters targeted Shiite party headquarters in Najaf and Ammara. It is suspected that supporters of influential Shia Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr were behind these actions, as they were rival parties to Sadr’s own Sairoon Party. Ultimately, the article identified that protesters have been pointed at fighting against Iranian intervention in Iraq and pro-Iranian parties. The article also highlighted that even though Abadi approved 3 billion dollars of investment funding; however, there is no apparent end to protests in the near future.

On July 17, Rudaw published the demands of the “Coordination Board for Peaceful Protests and Demonstrations in Basra,” a leadership group formed by activists and tribal leaders. The demands were announced in a press conference in which the board denounced violence against security forces. The demands are:

  1. Resolving water and electricity issues, giving solutions based on a timetable.
  2. Resolving unemployment, giving priority to the competent sons of Basra in jobs and discharging the foreign workers based on need.
  3. Improving services, especially education and health.
  4. Ousting the corrupt general directors and heads of security causing deterioration of services and security in Basra.
  5. Forming committees to make use of social benefits from foreign companies working on oil fields.
  6. Allocating petro-dollars for Basra.
  7. Disclosing the budget and resources allocated to the Basra province.
  8. We want 50 percent of the revenues from border crossings to be spent on Basra. We want disclosures of previous expenditures of such money.
  9. Disclosing the terms of the oil service contracts.
  10. To compensate locals of areas where oil fields are located. At least 25 percent of locals of such areas must be employed.
  11. Disclosing the social benefits and revenues of the seven companies working in Basra, and allocating a part to cancer patients of Basra.
  12. Revenues from Iraq’s oil exports must be disclosed by the Ministry of Oil.
  13. Activating arrest warrants against the corrupt officials of Basra.
  14. We call on the judiciary and integrity commission to disclose the fate of the desalination plant project and 12 billion for oil wells allocated.
  15. Forming government committees to follow up on projects and allocate money to complete them, and to check for ghost projects.
  16. Employment opportunities for locals near ports and border crossings.
  17. Cancellation of Electricity Privatization project.

Baghdad Offers Reforms, Conducts Arrests in Response to Escalating Protests

On July 13, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s staff announced that the PM arrived in Basra directly from his visit to Brussels in light of recent protests. Abadi held a meeting with leaders of Basra Operation Command to receive a “detailed report on the situation in Basra.” Basra is one of the richest regions in Iraq in terms of oil output; interrupted production in the region could result in serious economic damage. Abadi stated: “there are elements who want to harm peaceful [protesters and security forces].” He stressed that maintaining security stability is a primary concern.

On July 13, the Police Department of Najaf announced a province wide curfew following protests. The curfew was triggered after the storming of government buildings such as the Najaf airport and the Provincial Council Building, and political party buildings such as those of the Dawa party, and Hezbollah. The curfew was subsequently lifted the following day by Central Euphrates Operations Command. The Najaf airport resumed operation, however service is on hold for various airlines.

On July 13, protesters blocked road access to the Umm Qasr port in Basra province. Traffic in and out of the port remained completely blocked causing workers to return home, and stalling port activity. Basra accounts for 95% of Iraqi exports.

On July 14, the National Security Council stated its intention to take all deterrent measures to infiltrators trying to “take advantage of the peaceful demonstration.” The council, under Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi held an emergency meeting to discuss the protests. Their statement noted the priority of protecting citizens and property of the state.

On July 14, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi deployed six Emergency Response Division and three elite Counter-Terrorism (CTS) battalions from Baghdad to provide security in southern Iraq. The forces were deployed in order to “protect demonstrators from harm.”

On July 14, The Washington Post reported that the Iraqi government shut off internet access “in an apparent bid to contain further violence.” After demonstrations six days prior, the Defense Ministry was ordered on high alert, and demonstrations continued Saturday night where demonstrators attacked the provincial government building in Karbala, and protested in the streets in Basra Province and Najaf Province “despite the imposition of a curfew by the local authorities.” In Najaf Province the night of the 13th, protestors “stormed the airport and marched onto the headquarters of the main Shi[a] political parties” which includes Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s Dawa Party headquarters which were set on fire. Government infrastructure and offices of Shia parties in Nasariyah, Kut, Karbala, Babil and Amara were attacked by thousands of people. In Baghdad, there were reports of protesters setting tires on fire and “closing access to the main highway leading to Jordan.” Iraq has seen protests about electricity annually, especially since the U.S.-led invasion left “persistent power shortages” in the city, where people go without fans and air conditioners in the extreme heat. Due to the water shortage this year, lack of water availability has ignited protests. “Iraqis say they blame the government, including Abadi and many other Shia politicians, for the failure to provide jobs, infrastructure and improve the economy.” Additionally, there is growing resentment for Iraq’s relationship with Iran, as a protester in Basra says “We’ve had enough of these parties who put Iranian interests ahead of us and treat the people like wood to burn when they need money…What’s happening now is an explosion after years of pressure. We want our rights and we have nothing to lose because they took everything.”

On July 14, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued seven resolutions in response to the demands of the demonstrators in Iraq. The following are the seven resolutions:

  1. 3.5 trillion dollars immediately allocated to Basra Province.
  2. Absolute allocations are used to desalinate water, remove bottlenecks in electricity grids and provide necessary health services.
  3. Provide the necessary allocations for the dismantling of electricity jams for the governorates.
  4. Expand and accelerate investment prospects for construction in the housing, school and service sectors.
  5. Launch functional steps to accommodate the unemployed under a fair system away from nepotism and attribution.
  6. Increase the water releases, especially in the semi-provinces of Basra, Dhi, Qar, Muthana and Diwaniyah to the south of the rivers and the Ministry of Water Resources and security leaders in the provinces to prevent overflow on water quotas.
  7. Dissolution of the Board of Directors of Najaf Airport.

On July 15, Al-Sumeria reported that Iraqi forces from Kirkuk and Tuz Khurmatu had been moved to Baghdad to reinforce the police response to the ongoing protests in Iraq’s southern states. Both the Tuz Khurmatu council and the Commander of Kirkuk Law Enforcement, Major General Maan al-Saadi, denied that troops had left their territories.

On July 15, in Basra, Al-Jazeera reported incidents of tear gas and water cannon use by Iraqi Security, as well as downed phone lines and internet cuts.

On July 15, Reuters reported that two protesters in Samawah (capital of Muthanna Province) were killed in protests as a result of police shooting into the crowd. An officer stated: “Hundreds of people tried to storm a courthouse. Shots were fired toward us. It was not clear who was shooting. We had no choice but to open fire.” At another protest, 48 protesters and around 28 security forces were injured after police fired into the air to disperse the crowds.

On July 15, riot police were deployed in Baghdad as protests spread to the city. Officials claim these units are a precautionary measure.

On July 15, Iraqi Interior Minister Qassim al-Araji dismissed the Najaf police chief after protests in the province escalated. Major General Alaa Gharib will serve as the replacement.

On July 15, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met with security leaders and the ministers of interior and defence to discuss protests in several Iraqi provinces. These protests have demanded job creation and provision of services such as water and electricity.

On July 15, the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity reduced Mosul’s share of energy from 750 to 400 megawatts to compensate provinces in central and southern Iraq, where major protests for electricity provision are taking place due to the electricity and other shortages in these regions. Iraqi economic expert, Mohammed Abdul Rahman, said the popular protests that swept the southern and central Iraqi provinces may amount to cutting oil exports.

On July 16, Twitter sources reported widespread internet shut-offs throughout Baghdad and other parts of Iraq. Sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter were blocked for several hours. The Iraqi government has implemented similar internet and social media platform cut-offs before (such as during the ISIS advances in 2014), but this tactic remains relatively rare in the country.

On July 16, Maen Haitawi, the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners in the Electoral Commission, said there is no connection between the demonstrations and his work with the Commission. He said some social media sites reported his resignation from his position and al-Hitawi said in a statement “I would like to make it clear that this report is totally unfounded.” He said “the members of the Board of Commissioners ha[ve] stopped our work under the third amendment to the law of elections of the Iraqi Council of Representatives No. 45 of 2013” and that Judicial Council judges are working in his place until the counting and sorting for the elections are finalized.

On July 17, “more than 50 arrest warrants were issued against journalists and activists in the cities of Basra, Nasiriyah, Amarah, Kut, Najaf, Samawah, Karbala and Babil.” Security forces attacked and harassed many of these reporters covering demonstrations.  Arrest warrants were used as intimidation efforts to disrupt the work of the press in Iraq.

On July 17, Reuters published an article detailing events during the protest at Zubair Airfield. Police used batons and rubber hoses to beat protesters to disperse protests of around 250 people.

On July 18, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced cabinet resolution No. 262 to make economic changes and increase water allocation in an attempt to quell protests. The resolution calls for greater revenue sharing of oil sales, as well as increased water flows including greater discharge from the al-Bida Canal.

On July 18, clashes in Baghdad resulted in the use of live fire by Iraqi security forces. Security Spokesman Brigadier Yahya Rasool confirmed the use of fire, claiming it comes in response to clashes amounting in 262 injuries among Iraqi security forces.

On July 18, Iraqi officials claim that oil exports have not been affected by protests in the oil rich southern states. Iraq has produced an average of 3.566 million barrels of oil per day since the start of July. Alternatively, internet cuts are expected to cost Iraq $40 million per day.

On July 19, in an expression of support for protesters, influential Shia Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called for leaders to freeze talks of government formation until the “just demands” of protesters are met. Thus far, Sadr has remained cautious in his response to current protests across southern Iraq and Baghdad. In 2015, his followers stormed government buildings in Baghdad’s Green Zone amid similar protests regarding insufficient electricity and service provision.

On July 19, Rudaw reported that while the government has created 10,000 jobs in response to the protests, already 60,000 applications have been submitted from Basra province. Due to the overflow, many applications were found disposed of outside the provincial council building.

ISIS Cells Active Across Northern and Central Iraq

On July 12, ISIS militants destroyed two electric towers in Kirkuk. These towers provide electricity to areas in Kirkuk, Dora, and Samara. The attack comes at a time when electric cuts are already occurring, and are a source of tension over the provision of government resources.

On July 17, Iranian artillery forces bombarded parts of Erbil. An official from the Sidkan are of Choman District in Erbil claimed that three villages were displaced. The targets of the attack were Iranian Kurdish groups located in Iraq’s border. Iran periodically conducts operations against these groups, notably the Iranian Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK)

On July 17, Iraqi Forces conducted airstrikes northwest of Kirkuk, killing 14 militants from ISIS or fragmented groups associated with ISIS. The airstrikes were targeted attempts carried out in coordination with Iraqi Intelligence.

On July 18, the Iranian KDP confirmed the death of two militia members as a result of Iranian artillery fire in northern Erbil.

On July 18, Spokesman for The Center for Security Information Brigadier Yahya Rasool announced the destruction of five ISIS tunnels in Salah al-Din. Attempts to unearth and destroy ISIS tunnels continue in areas affected by the militant group.

On July 18, an explosion in Salah al-Din attributed to ISIS targeting the convoy of Salah al-Din Command Chief of Staff Brigadier Imad Ahmed Mohammed was detonated. The chief of staff and two of his guards were lightly wounded.

On July 18, Ninewa Police declared that they had arrested 23 ISIS militants during an operation in west Mosul. Ninewa Police Commander Jassim Maarouf told Iraqi media that “security forces carried out a wide-scale operation after receiving information regarding possible ISIS infiltration into the al-Zanjili and Souq al-Maash neighborhoods in western Mosul.” In a separate incident, Interior Ministry Spokesman Major General Saad Maan declared that four ISIS militants had been arrested in al-Zahra and al-Qahira neighborhoods in eastern Mosul. The arrests come amid ongoing ISIS-related insecurity across Ninewa Province, as well as neighboring areas in Kirkuk, Diyala, and Salah al-Din Provinces. According to local security officials, ISIS maintains militant cells across northern Iraq, despite the group’s expulsion from Mosul in 2017 by Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).

Ballot Recount Process Continues

On July 17, Judiciary-led Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) committee finished the partial manual recount of ballots from May’s parliamentary elections for the provinces of Dohuk and Salah al-Din. Recounting is done under the supervision of judges appointed by the Federal Supreme Court of Iraq, following allegations of fraud committed during the May elections. Only ballot boxes about which complaints of tampering had been formally lodged are being recounted. IHEC will announce the results of the recount on an as yet unspecified date after its conclusion.

On July 18, IHEC announced the completion of recounting ballots in Nineveh province. IHEC will continue assessing results in other disputed areas. IHEC officials have already conducted recounts in the provinces of Kirkuk, Sulaymaniyah, Erbil, Basra, Maysan, Wasit, Dhi Qar, Muthanna and Al-Qadisiyyah. It remains unclear whether the manual recount of ballots from the May elections will significantly impact the electoral results.

Displacement Challenges Remain in Areas Liberated from ISIS

On July 17, the UN Migration Agency (IOM) has “provided more than 600 Yazidi families with non-food items in villages around the town of Sinjar,” approximately 126 kilometers west of Mosul. Essential household items were distributed, including mattresses, hygiene kits, rechargeable lights, and fans, financially supported by the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance. Hardan, “a village located about 30 km east of Sinjar town” has had about one fifth of families [about 60 families] return, according to a local community leader there, where “more than 300 families, around 2,100 individuals, used to live.” This is the first time since the end of the conflict that this village has been accessed. Many Yazidis escaped death, kidnapping, enslavement, and other atrocities by fleeing to Mount Sinjar, and thousands remain, “still too afraid to leave the mountain.” Returnees face immense challenges when back in their villages, as many have nothing left in their homes, which are looted and destroyed, and their savings depleted. Services are partially functioning, where available, and “explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices remain.” In Hardan village specifically, the local community leader “explained that neither the school nor the health clinic are functional because the community has no piped water due to infrastructure damage.” Furthermore, families who talked with IOM staff said “there is little support available to help them cope with their psychological and physical trauma…express[ing] great anxiety about the future.” IOM is working to provide humanitarian assistance to those in Sinjar.

On July 18, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) issued a Humanitarian Bulletin of Iraq where they identified recording “just over two million displaced persons” and 3.9 million returnees across Iraq as of 30 June. Ninewa Province saw 1.5 million returnees, while Anbar Province saw almost 1.3 million returnees, and Salah al-Din Province saw over 0.5 million returnees- the three greatest areas of return. Many returnees were reluctant to return, “due to the limited provision of services and livelihood opportunities as well as insecurity in the areas of origin,” according to the Iraq Internally Displaced Persons Call Centre. Four out of five Governorate Returns Committees (GRCs) have been operationalized to support returnees by providing summer response packages, of which 57,808 families have received one beginning in May. These packages include protections from the summer sun and heat, as temperatures in Iraq rise during the summer. Millions of Iraqis have been displaced as a result of the fighting against ISIS, starting in 2014 — these individuals have added to the already-significant Internally Displaced Person (IDP) population that emerged in the decade after the US-led invasion in 2003.

IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

7/13/2018 District of Khalis, 15km North of Baquba10
7/14/2018 Baghdad, District of Taji11
7/16/2018 Basra, near Lukoil fields00
7/17/2018 Salahuddin, district of Metibija 03
7/17/2018 Kirkuk, 45km south of Kirkuk City in the district of Daqoq10
7/18/2018 Central Kirkuk03
7/18/2018 Kirkuk City (~8 IED explosions in coordinated attack)013
7/19/2018 Eastern Baghdad, Nahrawan10

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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