ISHM for December 21, 2018 – January 3, 2019

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Key Takeaways:

  • Iraq deals with ramifications of U.S. withdrawal from Syria, President Trump’s visit –On December 21, the Pentagon officials told the New York Times that the Department of Defense is considering using small teams of Special Operation forces to target the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Syria. This comes after United States (U.S.) President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. On December 23, U.S. Special Envoy for Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, Brett McGurk, resigned from his position in response to President Trump’s decision. McGurk was set to depart from the State Department in February but chose to leave following the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis as both officials disagreed with President Trump’s sudden decision to order the pullout of U.S. troops from Syria. On December 26,  President Trump made a surprise visit to Iraq and announced he had no plans to withdraw U.S. troops stationed in Iraq. Iraqi political and militia leaders condemned the visit as a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty. On December 28, Iranian Ambassador to Iraq, Iraj Masjedi, denied the claims that Iranian military advisers remained stationed in Iraq and condemned U.S. presence in the country post-ISIS’ defeat. On December 30 Al Jazeera reported that Iraq and Syria struck an agreement that grants Iraq the right to target ISIS militants in Syria without needing approval from the Syrian government. more…
  • Government formation remains incomplete; Former PM al-Abadi forced out of government-provided housing – On December 24, Iraq approved two more members of Prime Minister (PM) Adel Abdul Mahdi’s Cabinet. Shaima Khalil was approved as Minister of Education, and Nawfal Moussa was approved as Minister of Migration. Political divisions between the Sairoon alliance, headed by Muqtada al-Sadr, and the Fatah Alliance, headed by Hadi al-Amiri, continued to stymie the completion of the government formation as members of parliament (MPs) disagreed on the nominations for the ministries of defense, justice, and the interior. On December 30, newly approved Minister of Education, Shaima Khali Al Hayali, submitted her resignation after accusations that her family had ties to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). On January 2, Rudaw News reported that former Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi was forced to vacate his government home after a raid by the security detail of current PM Adel Abdul Mahdi. more…
  • Iraqi officials meet foreign counterparts – On December 24, Bahrain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs denounced statements on inequality and lack of freedom in Bahrain made by former Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki after a meeting with a Bahraini opposition group. On January 3, Iraqi President Barham Salih met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, Turkey and discussed issues of water and Turkey’s military operation against the PKK in northern Iraq. On January 3, Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammad Javad Zarif, announced he planned on visiting Iraq in the coming weeks. more…
  • New oil deal expected with ExxonMobil and PetroChina; Iraq’s oil exports increase in December –On December 27, Iraqi Oil Minister Thamir Ghadhban announced that an Iraqi infrastructure deal with ExxonMobil and PetroChina could be reached soon. The Southern Iraq Integrated Project could add 400,000 barrels per day (b/d) of oil and increase Iraq’s export capacity by 2 million b/d with plans of reaching a target goal of 8 million b/d of production capacity by the year 2025. On January 3, Oilprice.com reported that Iraqi oil exports increased during the month of December compared to November. This comes as exports in Basra Province hit a record high and the exports from the northern oil fields in Kirkuk drastically boosted Iraq’s overall oil export. more…
  • ISIS attack in Tel Afar kills 3; Anti-ISIS coalition releases new data on civilian casualties; 32 civilians killed in terrorism-related attacks in December 2018 – On December 25, a vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED) killed three people and injured at least 13 in a market in Tal Afar, northwestern Iraq. The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attack. On December 30, the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS released its monthly civilian casualty report. The report updated the total number of civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria from US-led airstrikes to 1,139 confirmed casualties. On January 3, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) released casualty figures for the month of December in Iraq. According to the press release, a total of 32 Iraqi civilians were killed and 32 were injured in acts of terrorism and conflict-related violence. more…
  • New Human Rights Watch report on double jeopardy of detainees suspected of connection to ISIS; UN supports immunization against polio aid provision to IDPs; New data released on IDPs in Iraq –On December 23, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report documenting the risks Sunni Muslims face when released from Kurdistan Region of Iraq’s (KRI’s) prisons for suspected connections to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). HRW warns that those who have been arrested in the KRI face the risk of rearrest in areas controlled by the Iraqi federal government due to limited communication between the two separate judicial systems. On December 25, Rudaw News reports that the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is accelerating its humanitarian response to internally displaced person (IDP) camps as winter approaches. On December 27, the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded a five-day campaign to help the Iraqi and the Kurdish Region Ministries of Health to immunize children against polio. On January 2, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) released the Integrated Location Assessment (ILA) III Report which analyzed the the current internally displaced population and its return movements in Iraq. The latest study includes demographics of internally displaced persons (IDPs), its current living conditions, and its movement patterns between March 6 and May 6, 2018. According to the new study, the number of IDPs in Iraq was reduced by 34% in the reporting period. 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.


Iraq deals with ramifications of U.S. withdrawal from Syria, President Trump’s visit

On December 21, Iraqi Prime Minister (PM) Adel Abdul Mahdi spoke with United States (U.S.) Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. A statement from Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino read that “the Secretary discussed the recent territorial defeat of ISIS in Syria and underlined U.S. commitment to Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity noting the Coalition will continue to work closely with Iraqi Security Forces to defeat ISIS remnants.” The statement also affirmed the U.S. was committed to its long-standing U.S.-Iraqi partnership. Reuters also reported that, PM Mahdi and Secretary Pompeo discussed Washington’s decision to extend a waiver for 90 days that allows Iraq to continue to import Iranian gas for power production.

On December 21, the Pentagon officials told the New York Times that the Department of Defense is considering using small teams of Special Operation forces to target the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Syria. This comes after United States (U.S.) President Donald Trump announced he planned on withdrawing U.S. troops in Syria. Instead of working within Syria, American commandos would be moved to neighboring Iraq where about 5,000 U.S. troops are already deployed. Using strike teams is just one of the options the Pentagon is considering, and resupplying allied Kurdish fighters with arms and equipment is another option.

On December 23, United States (U.S.) Special Envoy for Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, Brett McGurk, resigned from his position following U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. McGurk was set to depart from the U.S. State Department in February but chose to leave following the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis as both officials disagreed with President Trump’s surprise decision to order the pullout of U.S. troops from Syria. McGurk was appointed in 2015 during the Obama administration and criticized the decision stating that “it came as a shock and was a complete reversal of policy. It left our coalition partners confused and our fighting partners bewildered.”

On December 26, United States (U.S.) President Donald Trump made a surprise visit to Iraq and announced he had no plans to withdraw U.S. troops stationed in Iraq. This announcement comes a week after a surprise announcement that Trump planned to withdraw troops in neighboring Syria and after he ordered the Pentagon to withdraw nearly half of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Trump also stated that the move would allow the U.S. to return to Syria if need be. During his surprise visit to the Al Asad Air Base west of Baghdad, Trump stated “we could use this as the base if we wanted to do something in Syria.” Trump also said that “I think a lot of people are going to come around to my way of thinking. It’s time for us to starting using our head.” Currently there are about 5,200 U.S. troops in Iraq.

On December 26, Iraqi political and militia leaders condemned the visit of U.S. President Donald Trump as a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty. Sabah al Saadi, the leader of the Islah parliamentary bloc in Iraq, headed by Muqtada al-Sadr, urged lawmakers to hold an emergency session of parliament “to discuss this blatant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and to stop these aggressive actions by Trump who should know his limits,” as he called the U.S. occupation of Iraq “over.” The Binaa’ Bloc, headed by Hadi al-Amiri, also condemned the surprise visit by President Trump. The Binaa’ Bloc released a statement that read, “Trump’s visit is a flagrant and clear violation of diplomatic norms and shows his disdain and hostility in his dealings with the Iraqi government.” Prime Minister (PM) Adel Abdul Mahdi stated that the U.S. government informed Iraq of his scheduled visit ahead of time and that he spoke with President Trump following a disagreement of how to conduct the visit as Reuters reports that Mahdi declined to visit Trump while at the Anin al-Asad military base.

On December 28, Iranian Ambassador to Iraq, Iraj Masjedi, denied the claims that Iranian military advisers remained stationed in Iraq. Masjedi told reporters that “unlike the Islamic Republic of Iran, U.S. forces have remained in Iraq despite the end of [ISIS], and instead of leaving Iraq it is building new military bases in some parts of the country.” He also added that the U.S. military presence is not justified and accused the U.S. government of creating instability and exacerbating the crisis in the region.

On December 30, Iraqi Prime Minister (PM) Adel Abdul Mahdi stated that top security officials met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to reach an agreement on Iraq’s future role in fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Mahdi said that Iraq intends to build upon its current arrangement with Syria, which grants Iraq the ability to use airstrikes against ISIS targets. While referring to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops from Syria, Mahdi said that “the issue has a lot of complications. If any negative development takes place in Syria, it will affect us.” Al Jazeera further reported that the two sides struck an agreement that grants Iraq the ability to target ISIS militants in Syria without needing approval from the Syrian government.


Government formation remains incomplete; Former PM al-Abadi forced out of government-provided housing

On December 24, Iraq approved two more members of Prime Minister (PM) Adel Abdul Mahdi’s Cabinet. Shaima Khalil was approved as Minister of Education, and Nawfal Moussa was approved as Minister of Migration. Political divisions between the Sairoon alliance, headed by Muqtada al-Sadr, and the Fatah Alliance, headed by Hadi al-Amiri, continued to stymie the completion of the government formation as members of parliament (MPs) disagreed on the nominations for the ministries of defense, justice, and the interior.

On December 30, newly approved Minister of Education, Shaima Khali Al Hayali, submitted her resignation after accusations that her family had ties to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Khali, who is from Mosul, denied allegations that her brother was a senior ISIS member stating that “ISIS forced everyone in Mosul to work for them, threatening those who refused to join.” She further added that he was forced to work as a civil servant after militants took control of Mosul in 2014 but that he had “never carried arms nor killed or helped kill any Iraqi.”

On January 2, Rudaw News reported that former Iraqi Prime Minister (PM) Haider al-Abadi was forced to vacate his government home after a raid by the security detail of current PM Adel Abdul Mahdi. Abad’s office released a statement that read “Abadi refused to escalate the situation, so he handed over the location peacefully. He is finalizing handing over the final of the residencies, including this house.” The issue of former government officials living in government-owned residencies has been described as “a problem bigger than just the prime minister”, according to Speaker of Parliament Mohammed al-Halbousi, who has vowed to review the process of how keys are handed out to government officials.


Iraqi officials meet foreign counterparts

On December 24, Bahrain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs denounced statements made by former Iraqi Prime Minister (PM) Nouri al-Maliki and summoned members of the Iraqi embassy to démarche Maliki’s statements. Maliki, who leads the State of Law Coalition, was seen at a meeting organized by the February 14 Movement, a Bahraini opposition coalition designated as a terrorist group by the Bahraini government. Maliki stated that “discrimination, marginalization… have reached a severe limit on the people of Bahrain,” as he demanded “freedom and justice” to protect Bahrain’s Shia and Sunni populations. Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry denounced the statements as a “blatant and unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of Bahrain.”

On January 3, Iraqi President Barham Salih met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, Turkey. According to Shafaaq News, President Salih urged Erdogan to ease tensions in the region and to strengthen bilateral relations between the two neighboring countries. An anonymous source also told Alsumaria News that Salih planned on discussing water issues with Erdogan and how the two countries can come to an agreement to address the water scarcity in Iraq. Finally, the source also stated that Salih would discuss the outstanding issue of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) so that future escalations of conflict in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) do not undermine diplomatic relations between the two nations.

On January 3, Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammad Javad Zarif, announced he planned on visiting Iraq in the coming weeks. Zarif told Iranian reporters that “next week I will visit India at the head of a large economic delegation, and this visit shows that the economic sector is still very active in the field of foreign relations. A week later, I will be visiting Iraq, and I may be accompanied by a delegation from the private sector as well.”


New oil deal expected with ExxonMobil and PetroChina; Iraq’s oil exports increase in December

On December 27, Iraqi Oil Minister Thamir Ghadhban announced that an Iraqi infrastructure deal with ExxonMobil and PetroChina could be reached soon. He stated that progress was being made on a deal that has been in the negotiating stages since 2015. Ghadban said that “I don’t have expectation when it will be, but I’m optimistic that we’ll reach a deal soon.” The Southern Iraq Integrated Project could add 400,000 barrels per day (b/d) of oil and increase Iraq’s export capacity by 2 million b/d with plans of reaching a target goal of 8 million b/d of production capacity by the year 2025.

On January 3, Oilprice.com reported that Iraqi oil exports increased during the month of December compared to November. This comes as exports in Basra Province hit a record high and the exports from the northern oil fields in Kirkuk drastically boosted Iraq’s overall oil export. 3.726 million barrels per day (bpd) was the national average for December compared to November’s 3.372 bpd average. Exports from terminals in Basra averaged 3.63 million bpd, which was a record high. Due to the resumption of exports from Kirkuk, exports to the Turkish port of Ceyhan increased to 99,000 bpd, which was a drastic increase from the November 8,716 bpd average. The exports from Kirkuk are expected to range from 80,000 to 90,000 bpd.


ISIS attack in Tel Afar kills 3; Anti-ISIS coalition releases new data on civilian casualties; 32 civilians killed in terrorism-related attacks in December 2018

On December 25, a vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED) killed three people and injured at least 13 others in an outdoor market in Tal Afar of northwestern Iraq. The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attack and announced that the car bomb targeted Shia in the city. However, no evidence was provided to support this claim. Tal Afar was once held by ISIS until Iraqi troops liberated the city in August 2017, but ISIS has been able to continue to carry out IED and shooting attacks in multiple parts of Iraq.

On December 30, the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS released its monthly civilian casualty report. Voice of America reports that the official casualty report brings the total number of civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria from US-led airstrikes to 1,139 confirmed casualties between August 2014 and November 2018. According to the report, “the Coalition conducted a total of 31,406 strikes between August 2014 and end of November 2018. During this period, based on information available, CJTF-OIR assesses at least 1,139 civilians have been unintentionally killed by Coalition strikes since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve.” However, there are still 184 individual cases of other civilian casualties that are under investigation.

On January 3, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) released casualty figures for the month of December in Iraq. According to the press release, a total of 32 Iraqi civilians were killed and 32 other were injured in acts of terrorism and conflict-related violence. The worst affected regions were Ninewa Province where seven people were killed and 19 were injured. Baghdad saw the death of 17 people and three injured, while three civilians were killed in Salah ad-Din Province and three were injured there.


New Human Rights Watch report on double jeopardy of detainees suspected of connection to ISIS; UN supports immunization against polio aid provision to IDPs; New data released on IDPs in Iraq

On December 23, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report documenting the risks Sunni Muslims face when released from Kurdistan Region of Iraq’s (KRI’s) prisons for suspected connections to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). HRW warns that those who have been arrested in the KRI face the risk of rearrest in areas controlled by the Iraqi federal government due to limited communication between the two separate judicial systems. HRW reported that two dozen boys who had been released from KRI prisons after serving time for ISIS connections were re-arrested by central government officials and the risks for rearrest could affect hundreds of adults who could soon be released from prisons in the KRI. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the federal system have an information-sharing and transfer system that has become less effective since a September 2017 referendum in the KRI that sought independence from Baghdad.

On December 25, Rudaw News reports that the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is accelerating its humanitarian response to internally displaced person (IDP) camps as winter approaches. According to Ahmad Salh, the camp manager for Harsham IDP Camp in Erbil stated that “the only side providing winterization is the UNHCR.” Currently, the supplies of kerosene needed for heating and cooking are drastically low compared to previous years. To help IDPs in these camps, the UNHCR is expected to provide USD 200 to each family at the beginning of January. With a shift to focusing humanitarian efforts on Mosul, funding for many IDP camps in Erbil has drastically decreased.

On December 27, the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded a five-day campaign to help the Iraqi and the Kurdish Region Ministries of Health to immunize children against polio. The WHO aimed at providing 5.9 million children under the age of five with immunizations, especially in the most vulnerable areas in Ninewa, Anbar, and Kirkuk. The ministries of health, with help from the WHO, sent vaccination teams door-to-door and tent-to-tent in order to help internally displaced persons (IDPs) and those living in refugee camps to promote the vaccination of marginalized communities. The WHO representative in Iraq, Adham Rashad Ismail, stated that “WHO is supporting the operational costs of the nationwide campaign which will include incentives for vaccination teams, transportation, finger marking and independent monitoring. WHO also provides technical surge support to ministries of health at federal, regional and sub-national levels, prioritizing support to high-risk governorates.”

On January 2, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) released the Integrated Location Assessment (ILA) III Report which analyzed the the current internally displaced population and its return movements in Iraq. The latest study includes demographics of internally displaced persons (IDPs), its current living conditions, and its movement patterns between March 6 and May 6, 2018. According to the new study, the number of IDPs in Iraq was reduced by 34% in the reporting period. Of those who are currently displaced, roughly 48% were hosted within their province of origin and 35% were in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). 14% of IDPs live in north-central provinces and only 3% reside in southern provinces. IDP patterns show that many people are re-settling in southern provinces where extended family members can be found while IDPs staying in northern and central provinces is mostly involuntary as the majority of those living in the northern provinces believe they will not be safe upon returning, have lost their homes and/or sources of livelihood and/or have no means of returning.


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

DateLocationDeathsInjuries
12/25/2018Tal Afar, 80 kilometers west of Mosul313

 

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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