ISHM: February 7 – February 14, 2019

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Key Takeaways:

  • Iraqi Politicians Debate Future of U.S. Forces in Iraq and Ties with Iran – On February 11, Nassar al-Rubaie, a Sadrist official, and Hadi al-Ameri, the head of the Fatah Alliance, announced in a joint press conference an agreement between the two Shi’ite blocs on the need to remove foreign forces from Iraq. On February 12, United States Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan landed in Baghdad to discuss possible continued U.S. military presence in Iraq with Iraqi officials. On February 13, Abdul Amir al-Mayahi, a Member of Parliament for the Fatah Coalition, claimed that U.S. troops crossed the border into Iraq without providing prior to notification to the Iraqi government, thus breaching the Strategic Framework Agreement between the United States and Iraq. On February 13, the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and the Islamic Azad University in Iran signed a cooperation agreement concerning scientific research, including agreed to exchange researchers and scholarships. On February 14, al-Sumaria reported that the Iraqi parliament will hold a hearing at the start of the second legislative term regarding the presence of foreign forces in Iraq. more…
  • Iraqi Officials Meet Foreign Counterparts; Budgetary Allocations to Iraq’s Provinces Revealed; KDP and PUK Negotiate Common Positions – On February 8, the French defense minister, Florence Parly, met with President Barham Salih to discuss strengthening Iraqi-French relations and the continuing fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). On February 11, the allocations of the 2019 budget for each Iraqi province were revealed. The province with the largest share of the budget is Baghdad, followed by Basra, Babil, Karbala, Dhi Qar, Diyala, Diwaniya, Najaf, Wasit, Maysan, Anbar, Salah ad-Din and Ninewa. On February 12, United Kingdom International Trade Minister William Fox wrote to Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi that the U.K. is willing to help resolve the water crisis in Basra province. On February 13, Iraqi Speaker of Parliament Mohammed Halbusi met with the Kuwaiti Emir, Sheikh al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah. On February 13, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) stated that it would like to sign an agreement with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) to unify their position on a series of matters. more…
  • Militant Attacks Continue to Plague Iraq; Security Forces Target ISIS and Fake PMU – On February 8, militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) killed three young men in the Makhoul mountains in the Salah ad-Din province. On February 9, a roadside bomb killed two Iraqi soldiers in the Hit, a western city in the Anbar province. On February 11, the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Office reported that ISIS remains a threat and continues to develop a global network of supporters. On February 11, Kurdistan 24 reported Iraqi security forces rescued six Yazidi women and their children during a “sting operation” targeting ISIS members. On February 12, the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) reported that headquarters in Baghdad belonging to militant groups claiming affiliation to the PMF have been closed. On February 14, Iraqi security forces succeeded in freeing 30 civilians held by ISIS during an operation in the Salah ad-Din province. On February 14, an IED explosion in Samarra in southern Salah al-Din province killed eight members of the Saraya al-Salam militia. On February 14, a roadside bomb explosion in northern Salah al-Din province killed the director of the explosives control unit in the Salah al-Din police force, Colonel Ghaleb al-Duri. more…
  • Some IDPs Return Home, but Durable Solutions Lacking for 1.8 Million Still Displaced – On February 9, the Ministry of Displacement and Migration announced the closure of a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Lailan district of Kirkuk, following the return of 402 IDPs to their homes in the Hawija district. On February 10, the Ministry of Displacement and Migration reported that 109 internally displaced families returned to their homes in the Qa’im district in Anbar province from camps in al-’Ameriya and Fallujah. On February 11, Shafaaq News reported that many Iraqi Christians from the Northern Iraqi town of Bartella, Ninewa Province, fear returning home. On February 12, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released a update showing that they have supported about 155,000 displaced people and refugees during the winter by providing aid and financial grants. On February 12, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) released a study they conducted on durable solutions for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraq. The study follows 4,000 displaced families living outside of camps; these families were interviewed at different stages of displacement to encourage more strategic solutions to the issues they face. On February 13, Rudaw reported that many Christians in Iraq are returning to live in camps for the displaced because of destruction, lack of livelihood opportunities and aid in their places of origin. more…
  • Budget Insufficient to Cover Food Rations; Sweden Increases Support for Mine Clearing; Hilla Prison Overcrowded – On February 9, Iraq’s Ministry of Trade announced that it cannot continue to provide food rations to Iraq’s population due to insufficient funds for the program in Iraq’s 2019 budget. On February 10, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) received approximately USD 8.3 million from the Swedish government to make headway in the Mine Action Strategy announced by the office last week. On February 10, the independent Iraqi Commission for Human Rights announced that the central prison in Hilla in overcrowded after visiting the facility. 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.


Iraqi Politicians Debate Future of U.S. Forces in Iraq and Ties with Iran

On February 9, the Lebanese daily al-Akhbar reported that Ayatollah al-Sistani has again refused to meet with various politicians asking for a meeting with him. Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, Iraqi President Barham Salih, and Iraqi Parliament Speaker Mohammed Halabousi were all denied the opportunity to speak with him. Al-Sistani has had this policy since 2011, which is meant to pressure these politicians into addressing his concerns about corruption and governance in Iraq.

On February 11, Nassar al-Rubaie, a Sadrist official, and Hadi al-Ameri, the head of the Fatah Alliance, announced in a joint press conference an agreement between the two Shi’ite blocs on the need to remove foreign forces from Iraq. Hadi al-Ameri, who is close to Iran, stated that any presence of U.S. forces on Iraqi soil will require a new agreement. According to al-Ameri, the previous agreement between the U.S. and Iraq concerning the presence of American forces in Iraq elapsed in 2011. This press conference comes after United States President Trump stated he will keep American troops in Iraq to monitor Iran.

On February 11, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi met with the Iraqi President Barham Salih to examine the security and political problems facing Iraq, as well as enhancing the services the government provides to the citizens of Iraq. The two agreed that Iraq should continue to expand its relations with other peaceful and friendly countries.

On February 11, the New York Times reported that the United States is asking Iraq not to buy energy products from Iran due to the U.S. sanctions on Iran. Iran is the sole foreign energy supplier to Iraq. Iraq is struggling to produce electricity on its own and cutting back imports from Iran could lead to the renewed eruption of mass protests and instability throughout the country. Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi has previously stated that Iraq will not participate in sanctions against Iran or any other country.

On February 12, United States Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan landed in Baghdad to discuss possible continued U.S. military presence in Iraq with Iraqi officials. Shanahan stated that the United States is in Iraq only at the consent of the Iraqi government and that their main goal is to aid the strengthening of the security capabilities of Iraq. There are 5,500 United States troops in Iraq; however, there has been a lot of backlash from leaders in Iraq after U.S. President Trump announced he wants to keep troops in the country to monitor Iran.

On January 12, Al-Mada reported that the Fatah Alliance and Sairoon bloc have rejected the idea of introduction a law to remove U.S. forces from Iraq. According to Hamed al-Mousawi, a Member of Parliament with the Fatah Alliance, “The Iraqi government and American administration have an agreement set a deadline for the exit of the last [U.S.] soldiers in 2011, and therefore there is no justification for enacting a new law.”

On February 13, the Saudi newspaper Okaz reported that during a meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, Iraq requested help from the United States in order to preserve security and stability in the Ninewa plain after Iraqi intelligence obtained information indicating that the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) intends to return to Ninewa. Abdul-Mahdi stated that his meeting with the acting Secretary Shanahan was “good and fruitful.” He reported that the U.S. has agreed to adhere to the decision the Iraqi parliament regarding U.S. military presence in Iraq and added that the Iraqi government will have to abide by the decision made by the parliament as well.

On February 13, Abdul Amir al-Mayahi, a Member of Parliament for the Fatah Coalition, claimed that U.S. troops crossed the border into Iraq without providing prior to notification to the Iraqi government, According to the MK, a member of a political coalition aligned with Iran, this constitutes a breach of the Strategic Framework Agreement between the United States and Iraq. The agreement only permits the presence of U.S. advisers and instructors who work to improve Iraq’s security, not military forces.

On February 13, the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and the Islamic Azad University in Iran signed a cooperation agreement concerning scientific research, including agreed to exchange researchers and scholarships. This agreement also allows Iraqi professors to complete research projects at the Islamic Azad University, facilitate joint conferences and make it easier for Iraqi students to study in the various branches of the Islamic Azad University in Iran.

On February 14, al-Sumaria reported that the Iraqi parliament will hold a hearing at the start of the second legislative term regarding the presence of foreign forces in Iraq. According to Member of Parliament Hassan Fad’am, a member of the Reform and Reconstruction bloc, there are more than 50 members of parliament who have thrown their weight behind a proposed law that would regulate the presence of foreign forces in Iraq. The parliamentarian reported that at the beginning of the next sessions of parliament, the members will discuss the presence of foreign forces. The prime minister will have to respond to an interpellation of one of the members regarding the number of foreign forces present on Iraqi soil, the reasons for their presence, the location of these forces and their armament. The push to review this law comes from United States President Trump’s statement that American troops are present in Iraq to monitor Iran.


Iraqi Officials Meet Foreign Counterparts; Budgetary Allocations to Iraq’s Provinces Revealed; KDP and PUK Negotiate Common Positions

On February 8, the French defense minister, Florence Parly, met with President Barham Salih to discuss strengthening Iraqi-French relations and the continuing fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Parly agreed to meet with coalition defense ministers to discuss maintaining a strong French military presence in the region to help deter the reconstitution of ISIS.

On February 11, the allocations of the 2019 budget for each Iraqi province were revealed. The province with the largest share of the budget is Baghdad, followed by Basra, Babil, Karbala, Dhi Qar, Diyala, Diwaniya, Najaf, Wasit, Maysan, Anbar, Salah ad-Din and Ninewa in that order. The Basra Provincial Council stated that it will appeal to the federal court with regards to the budget, specifically the distribution of petrodollars and development funds to the provinces.

On February 12, United Kingdom International Trade Minister William Fox wrote to Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi that the U.K. is willing to help resolve the water crisis in Basra province. In recent years, Basra has witnessed many protests concerning the shortage of affordable drinking water and basic services in the province.

On February 13, Iraqi Speaker of Parliament Mohammed Halbusi met with the Kuwaiti Emir, Sheikh al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah. The main topic under discussion was continuing cooperation between the two countries in fighting terrorism and stimulating trade. Other topics under discussion were reconstruction, the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs), and the signing of the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development Agreement by the Reconstruction Fund for Iraq giving $85 million to aid the Iraqi health sector.

On February 11, Iraqi Oil Minister Thamer Ghadhban stated that important disagreements between Iraq and the companies Exxon Mobil and Petrochina remain concerning the South Integrated Project, which seeks to develop the Nahr Bin Umar and Ratawi oil fields. Ghadhban argues that any profits made from oil from Basra province above the price established in the contracts with these companies should be kept by Iraq.

On February 13, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) chief Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert warned that the long delays in completing the formation of the Iraqi government cabinet is hurting Iraqi citizens. The three positions in Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s cabinet that are still empty are the interior, defense, and justice ministers. The indecisiveness of the parties responsible for filling these seats have led to delays in the operation of the government as well as protests and boycotts. Hennis-Plasschaert pointed to political infighting as the reason that decisions cannot be made on these matters.

On February 13, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) stated that it would like to sign an agreement with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) before the next meeting of the Iraqi parliament, possibly on February 18. This new agreement would create a “real partnership” between the two parties, unifying their position on a series of matters, including diplomatic relations, Kirkuk, economic issues, and decisions concerning oil and gas. This would replace the Strategic Agreement that has been in place since 2005.

On February 14, an official from the Ministry of Defense, Lieutenant General Abdul Amir Rashid Yarallah, met with the Syrian Ambassador to Iraq, Attam Al-Dandh, to discuss opening the Husaybah port, a channel connecting Iraq and Syria south of the Euphrates River in the Al-Qa’im district in Anbar province. During the meeting, the two also spoke about security cooperation between the two countries.


Militant Attacks Continue to Plague Iraq; Security Forces Target ISIS and Fake PMU

On February 8, militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) killed three young men in the Makhoul mountains in the Salah ad-Din province. The Makhoul, Hamrin, and Qarachogh mountains are well-known refuges for ISIS fighters. ISIS cells operating in the region repeatedly ambush citizens and security officials.

On February 9, a roadside bomb killed two Iraqi soldiers in the Hit, a western city in the Anbar province. The city has experienced similar attacks directed against civilians and security forces since the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham lost control of the city in 2016.

On February 10, a roadside bomb killed one policeman and wounded another. The attack targeted a police patrol near Gharib, a village in the Al-Assabi region in southwest Kirkuk province. The wounded was transported to a nearby hospital.

On February 10, Peshmerga forces and the Iraqi army announced that they will collaborate to locate and eradicate hidden terrorist cells in the area left unpatrolled by both security forces in disputed areas between Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan, an area that ranges from 12 to 20 kilometers. A delegate from the Joint Operations Command stated that inspections and field surveys have been conducted to deter terrorists from occupying the region.

On February 10, the Federal Police affirmed that officials will continue to remove concrete barriers and checkpoints in Kadhimiya, a northern neighborhood of Baghdad, following a report earlier that day that officials were ordered to stop removing roadblocks in the city.

On February 10, the Kurdistan Regional Government announced a six-month grace period for gun owners to register their firearms. Failure to register arms and the possession of illegal weapons will result in prosecution after the six months allotted. Authorities will collect heavy weapons and ammunition, allowing only the possession of small firearms. The Minister of the Interior, Karim Sinjari, supported the amendment as a way to restrict who is eligible to carry weapons.

On February 11, Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants killed an Iraqi security official and wounded another at a checkpoint outside of Khanaqin near the Iraq-Iran border in the Diyala province. A fierce firefight erupted following the attack according to an Iraqi military source who spoke to al-Kishla News.

On February 11, the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Office reported that the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) remains a threat and continues to develop a global network of supporters ISIS currently has access to money reserves from investments that fund current operations, despite recent revenue depletion and defeats. The Under Secretary-General, Vladimir Voronkov, stated that ISIS militants are still determined to destabilize Iraq’s government.

On February 11, Iraq’s Prime Minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, formed a joint security information cell made up of representatives from Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. This formation marks the first time the Peshmerga will be formally represented in security groups. The group will head collective military and security operations and is a sign of increased stability and improving relations between Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan.

On February 11, Kurdistan 24 reported Iraqi security forces rescued six Yazidi women and their children during a “sting operation” targeting Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) members; no additional information was provided concerning the operation. This is the first operation in 2019 to free Yazidis; the women and children were reunited with their families in the town of Sinjar in Ninewa province.

On February 12, security forces drove out remaining terrorists from Maknous, a village in the Qayara district of Ninewa. The operation lasted for a few days, using both air forces and troops. A security source told PUK Media “security forces carried out an operation to clear the village of the Maknous… after an increase in the movement of the remnants of the terrorist ISIS organization there.”

On February 12, the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) reported that headquarters in Baghdad belonging to militant groups claiming affiliation to the PMF have been closed. During the operations, officials arrested Aws al-Khafaji, the leader of the Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas militia group. PMF officials confiscated weapons, fake documents, and forged identity papers in several of the faux offices. The Supreme Judicial Council in Iraq announced these fake headquarters were not linked to state institutions.

On February 13, Iraqi security forces on the Syrian border intercepted several fighters belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) from entering Iraq through underground tunnels. The Security Division of the Iraq army has identified eleven different tunnels along the 600-kilometer long border between Iraq and Syria that are used to transport various goods, such as drugs, money, medicine, and people undetected.

On February 13, Iraqi security forces destroyed several caves and tunnels used by members of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) southwest of Mosul. Coalition ground forces closed tunnels and surrounding areas and killed four ISIS militants.

On February 14, Iraqi security forces succeeded in freeing 30 civilians during an operation in the Salah ad-Din province. The citizens were being held in the Makhoul Mountains by a group of militants belonging to the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

On February 14, an IED explosion in Samarra in southern Salah al-Din province killed eight members of the Saraya al-Salam militia, affiliated with the Sadrist Shi’ite movement. The captain of the group, Hussein Attieh, was also killed in the blast.

On February 14, a roadside bomb explosion in northern Salah al-Din province killed the director of the explosives control unit in the Salah al-Din police force, Colonel Ghaleb al-Duri. He died immediately after his car was struck by the IED in the Zawiya region north of Baiji. The police officer accompanying al-Duri was also injured during the blast.


Some IDPs Return Home, but Durable Solutions Lacking for 1.8 Million Still Displaced

On February 9, the Ministry of Displacement and Migration announced the closure of a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Lailan district of Kirkuk, following the return of 402 IDPs to their homes in the Hawija district. The ministry also provided food relief to each family before closing the camp.

On February 10, the Ministry of Displacement and Migration reported that 109 internally displaced families returned to their homes in the Qa’im district in Anbar province from camps in al-’Ameriya and Fallujah. Officials in Anbar conducted security examinations before allowing the families to return.

On February 11, Shafaaq News reported that many Iraqi Christians from the Northern Iraqi town of Bartella, Ninewa Province, fear returning home. The Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) attacked and overran the town in 2014, causing all of the population to flee. Bartella has been liberated from ISIS in 2016, but not even a third of their population has come back. Some in the local Christian community sense that the town is being dominated by the Shi’ite Shabak community and feel unsafe to return..

On February 12, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released a update showing that they have supported about 155,000 displaced people and refugees during the winter by providing aid and financial grants. The winter weather can be a major challenge for refugees and internally displaced people living in camps in the Kurdistan region.

On February 12, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in partnership with Georgetown University released a study they conducted on durable solutions for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraq. The study follows 4,000 displaced families living outside of camps; these families were interviewed at different stages of displacement to encourage more strategic solutions to the issues they face. The study collects data on the families’ sense of safety, their livelihood, unemployment, documentation in their possession, separation and reunification with loved ones, and their access to justice. The report by IOM found that IDPs are able to survive in displacement because of IDP initiatives and connections, governmental support through jobs and assistance, and aid from different sources. These are usually temporary solutions, but the study calls for long-term, sustainable solutions. IDPs and refugees also reported that the prosecution of criminals is essential in restoring justice and the main reason they do not return home is because of safety issues.

On February 13, Rudaw reported that many Christians in Iraq are returning to live in camps for the displaced because of difficulties in their places of origin. The Zayonna camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraq is reportedly receiving an influx of Christians coming back to the camp after going home due to the high levels of destruction in their hometowns, inability to find sources of livelihood and lack of aid.


Budget Insufficient to Cover Food Rations; Sweden Increases Support for Mine Clearing; Hilla Prison Overcrowded

On February 9, Iraq’s Ministry of Trade announced that it cannot continue to provide food rations to Iraq’s population. The ministry reported that there are insufficient funds for the program in Iraq’s 2019 budget. The government is currently providing rice, sugar, flour, cooking oil and heating oil to families at a subsidized rate. To do this, the Ministry of Trade needs at least four trillion dinars ($3.3 billion), but the new budget has only allocated 1.5 trillion dinars to this program.

On February 10, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) received approximately USD 8.3 million from the Swedish government to make headway in the Mine Action Strategy announced by the office last week. The contribution followed a visit by the Swedish Ambassador to Iraq, Pontus Melander, to Ninewa province, an area still heavily mined.

On February 10, the independent Iraqi Commission for Human Rights announced that the central prison in Hilla in overcrowded after visiting the facility. Iraq’s Law no. 53 (2008) allows the IHCHR to conduct unannounced visits to prisons and detention facilities to interview staff and detainees.


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

Casualties Due To IEDs February 8- February 14, 2019

The following table includes both civilian and security forces who were either injured or killed due to improvised explosive devices (IEDs), vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), or suicide attacks.
DateLocationDeathsInjuries
02/14/19Samarra, Salah ad-Din Province 80
02/14/19Makhoul Mountains, Salah ad-Din Province11
02/10/19Al-Assabi, Kirkuk Province11
02/09/19Hit, Anbar Province20

 

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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