ISHM: March 15-21, 2019

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Key Takeaways:

  • Iraqi Officials Meet Foreign Counterparts; U.S. Military Presence in Iraq Continues to be Debated – On March 17, Chief of Staff of the Iraqi army Othman al-Ghanmi met Iranian Chief of Staff Mohammed Baqari and Syrian Minister of Defense and Deputy Commander-in-Chief Ali Abdullah Ayyoub in Damascus. On March 17, the Fatah and Sairoon Coalitions completed drafting two separate laws regarding the removal of foreign forces from Iraq. On March 18, Iraqi President Barham Salih met with United States Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) James Jeffrey. On March 18, members of the Armed Services Committee of the United States Congress visited Baghdad and Erbil. On March 19, the United States renewed the 90-day waiver issued in December allowing Iraq to purchase energy from Iran. This waiver excludes Iraq from the sanctions the United States placed on Iran. On March 19, the Iraqi news website Hadha al-Youm reported that the United States Department of Defense will devote $750 million dollars of its 2020 budget to bolstering the capacity of Iraqi security forces. more…
  • Iraq Begins Trials of Foreign ISIS Fighters; Confrontation between Armed Actors in Sinjar; Militant Attacks Continue Plaguing Iraq – On March 15, Iraq began legal proceedings against the suspected 14 French fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), who were among the 407 fighters transferred to Iraqi military custody by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) last month. On March 17, a confrontation between Iraqi military forces and the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBŞ) at a security checkpoint near the Syrian border in Sinjar district in Ninewa province resulted in the death of two Iraqi soldiers. On March 19, an officer and two soldiers were killed, during an ambush during an operation in Tarmiyah in Salah al-Din province. On March 19, the Canadian Defense and Foreign Affairs Ministers released a statement confirming the extension of their military training missions in Iraq, which were scheduled to end later this month. On March 19, a bomb exploded in Tarfaya village in southern Diyala province, killing two Iraqi children. more…
  • Foreign Donors Pledge Additional Support for Iraq; Children Affiliated with ISIS Face Poor Detention Conditions; About 100 Die in Ferry Sinking near Mosul – On March 15, the United Nations team investigating Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) crimes in Iraq (UNITAD) began exhuming a mass grave in Kocho, a Yezidi village in the Sinjar District. On March 18, the Japanese government announced that it will contribute $13 million to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). On March 18, the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (ICRS) released a report about dangerous floods in Mosul. The heavy rainfall damaged neighborhoods, roads, and bridges. On March 19, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) announced that Australia has pledged $6.1 million to allow the organization to provide water and sanitation services to children in southern Iraq. On March 19, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi appointed the head of the Binaa’ Coalition, Hadi al-Amiri to oversee implementation of public service projects in Basra. On March 21, Reuters published an investigative report on the fate of more than 1,000 foreign children of ISIS fighters who remain in Iraq custody. On March 21, a ferry capsized on the Tigris River near Mosul. As of the writing of this report, at least 97 people were reportedly killed. 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 Officials Meet Foreign Counterparts; U.S. Military Presence in Iraq Continues to be Debated

On March 16, former President of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) Masoud Barzani met with Iraqi National Security Adviser Falih al-Fayyadh. The two leaders discussed Iraqi politics, problems in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and coordinating anti-terrorism strategies and overall security efforts between Erbil and Baghdad.

On March 17, Chief of Staff of the Iraqi army Othman al-Ghanmi met Iranian Chief of Staff Mohammed Baqari and Syrian Minister of Defense and Deputy Commander-in-Chief Ali Abdullah Ayyoub in Damascus to discuss strategies for combating terrorism. All three leaders stressed the need for cooperation in the region and optimism about Syria overcoming the “terrorists” within its borders (a term used to denote the Syrian opposition as a whole). Al-Ghanmi also commented on the interconnectedness of the security of Iraq and Syria. On March 18, al-Ghanmi stated that the al-Qaim border crossing between Iraq and Syria will reopen soon. He also confirmed that visits and trade between Iraq and Iran will continue along with their combined anti-terrorism efforts. On March 19, the Syrian news agency SANA reported that al-Ghanmi and Baqari met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The senior officials discussed the current situation in Syria and how to increase cooperation between Iraq, Iran, and Syria.

On March 17, the Fatah and Sairoon Coalitions completed drafting two separate laws regarding the removal of foreign forces from Iraq. The first draft would require foreign forces to withdraw from Iraq in no more than 12 months. The second draft would allow the withdrawal to take up to 36 months. Since laws in Iraq must originate in the cabinet and not the parliament, these bills are largely symbolic gestures intended to signal the displeasure of these parties with continues United States military presence in Iraq.

On March 18, Iraqi President Barham Salih met with United States Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) James Jeffrey. The senior officials discussed recent political developments in the Middle East and how to create peace in the region. Both Jeffrey and Salih stressed the importance of maintaining cooperation and support between Iraq and the United States to combat terrorism and reconstruct affected areas within Iraq. Jeffrey also met with the Iraqi Speaker of the House of Representatives Mohammed Halbusi and discussed security matters such as the situation surrounding the Syria-Iraq border, fighting terrorism, and the need for reconstruction of war-affected areas of Iraq.

On March 18, members of the Armed Services Committee of the United States Congress visited Baghdad and Erbil including John Garamendi of California, Deb Haaland of New Mexico, and Veronica Escobar of Texas. They met with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi and Iraqi Speaker of the House of Representatives Mohammed Halbusi, as well as others, to discuss the presence of United States troops in Iraq and their training of Iraqi security forces. The United States delegation stressed the role of U.S. personnel in combating extremism in Iraq as well as the need to respect Iraq’s sovereignty. On March 19, Garamendi met with Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani to discuss the role of women in the KRG. Barzani stated that the KRG is working to “preserve and develop the condition of women and give them an active participation in governance.”

On March 19, the United States renewed the 90-day waiver issued in December allowing Iraq to purchase energy from Iran. This waiver excludes Iraq from the sanctions the United States placed on Iran. This exemption was granted mindful of the fact that Iraq could lose about one-third of the country’s power, which comes from Iran’s natural gas, if it were to abide by the sanctions. The United States is urging Iraq to reduce its dependency of Iranian energy, however, in February, Iraq signed an agreement with Iran to continue importing electricity from Iran for another year.. On March 20, the United States Treasury Department requested that the Iraqi government put revenues for Iranian electricity into a special fund instead of paying Iran in hard currency as a strategy to decrease the benefits Iran would receive from the sale.

On March 19, the Iraqi news website Hadha al-Youm reported that the United States Department of Defense will devote $750 million dollars of its 2020 budget to bolstering the capacities of Iraqi security forces. $308 million will be allocated to several different units such as Counterterrorism Services, Army Special Forces, Federal Police Forces, and the Peshmerga. $126 million will go to operational support and $189 million to logistical support. $28 million will go toward maintenance of bases and $94 million will be devoted to maintenance of equipment, weapons, and vehicles.


Iraq Begins Trials of Foreign ISIS Fighters; Confrontation between Armed Actors in Sinjar; Militant Attacks Continue Plaguing Iraq

On March 15, Iraq began legal proceedings against the suspected 14 French fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), who were among the 407 fighters transferred to Iraqi military custody by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) last month. The accused fighters went before a judge in Iraq’s anti-terrorism court in Baghdad last week, a step towards going to trial. According to statements from two different legal sources, the 14 fighters signed confessions confirming their presence in Mosul when it was under Islamic rule between 2014 and 2017. The Iraqi National Intelligence Service accuses the French fighters of carrying out terrorist acts against Iraq and Iraqi citizens, and, if found guilty, the militants could face the death penalty. In a separate case, on March 18, an Iraqi court sentenced Bilal al-Marchohi, an accused Belgian fighter for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, to death. During the trial, the judge read parts of the defendant’s confession and showed a video and photographs as evidence of al-Marchohi’s association with ISIS. al-Marchohi denied the allegations and argued that he deserved a trial in Belgium.

On March 16, the government of France announced that it had repatriated five children of Islamic State in Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) members. These children came from displacement camps in northern Syria and they are said to be either orphans or unaccompanied minors,. French officials have stated that they will not be repatriating adults suspected of ISIS membership and they will deal with extremist on a case-by-case basis.

On March 17, a confrontation between Iraqi military forces and the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBŞ) at a security checkpoint near the Syrian border in Sinjar district in Ninewa province resulted in the death of two Iraqi soldiers. Five YBŞ fighters were also injured in the dispute. According to a statement from Iraq’s Interior Ministry, YBŞ fighters failed to provide identification papers at the checkpoint on their way into Iraq from Syrian territory and the altercation between the two groups followed. The YBŞ did not comment on the incident. The Sinjar Council condemned the Iraqi army for the attack while the Iraqi military blames the YBŞ for inciting violence. Similar clashes have occured in the region between competing militia groups; a sign of the ongoing insecurity. On March 19, Kurdistan24 reported another confrontation between the Iraqi army and the Sinjar Resistance Units. A YBŞ militia leader stated that the “Iraqi army deployed three brigades… to Bab Shilo in Sinjar” and asked the YBŞ to evacuate their bases. The clash occurred after the YBŞ ignored the Iraqi army’s orders. A local security source also stated that a second dispute between the two forces occurred in the Om Diban region near the Syrian border, resulting in the death of an Iraqi soldier and the burning of a military vehicle. The number of injuries from both incidents was not reported. On March 20, the Chief of Staff of Iraqi Armed Forces, General Othman al-Ghanimi, visited Sinjar to evaluate the security situation following the conflict between Sinjar Resistance Units (YBŞ) Iraqi security forces on Sunday. During his visit, General al-Ghanimi stated that Iraqi forces will increase their presence in Sinjar. The General also met with local military leaders, including YBŞ commanders, and government officials stationed in Sinjar to discuss easing tensions.

On March 19, an officer and two soldiers were killed, during an ambush during an operation in Tarmiyah in Salah al-Din province north of Baghdad. Five others were wounded in the attack carried out by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Security forces launched an investigation into the incident and began a search for the ISIS militants responsible for the attack.

On March 19, the Canadian Defense and Foreign Affairs Ministers released a statement confirming the extension of their military training missions in Iraq, which were scheduled to end later this month. The Canadian military will retain 250 Special Forces in Iraq to help train and advise local security forces.

On March 19, a bomb exploded in Tarfaya village in southern Diyala province, killing two Iraqi children. A source said that the victims were moved to the forensic medicine department for examination.


Foreign Donors Pledge Additional Support for Iraq; Children Affiliated with ISIS Face Poor Detention Conditions; About 100 Die in Ferry Sinking near Mosul

On March 15, the United Nations team investigating Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) crimes in Iraq (UNITAD) began exhuming a mass grave in Kocho, a Yezidi village in the Sinjar District. The dig was done in the presence of Yezidis and local officials;. The secretary-general of the Council of Ministers, Mahdi Aalaq stated that “the exhuming of the mass grave is an indication of serious efforts for revealing the crimes of Daesh and to reach relevant results to unearth the identities of the victims.”

On March 18, the Japanese government announced that it will contribute $13 million to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This funding will be used to protect and assist internally displaced persons (IDPs), returnees, and Syrian refugees in Iraq. The UNHCR plans to work with local community partners to support vulnerable communities with cash assistance, quick impact projects, legal aid, psycho-social prevention and response activities to assist victims of gender-based violence. This a part of the assistance package totaling $63 million that Japan has pledged to Iraq.

On March 18, the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (ICRS) released a report about dangerous floods in Mosul. The heavy rainfall damaged neighborhoods, roads, and bridges. The ICRS rescued and evacuated about 60 families affected by the floods. They have also organized awareness programs about the dangers of floods and formed additional teams to provide relief and food aid to those affected.

On March 19, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) announced that Australia has pledged $6.1 million to allow the organization to provide water and sanitation services to children in southern Iraq. Water contamination in the city of Basra has caused over 110,000 people to become sick, including children. The contribution will allow UNICEF to work with local governorates to provide access to safe water services to 3.8 million people over the next two years. It will also increase the access to water in health centers and schools for 1.7 million families.

On March 19, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi appointed the head of the Binaa’ Coalition, Hadi al-Amiri to oversee implementation of public service projects in Basra. The Basra Provincial Council has not been able to address the lack of proper public services for years.  In his new position, Hadi al-Amiri will be supervising efforts to reduce the salinity of drinking water in the city and ensure the supply of electricity during the summer.. Protests regularly break out in Basra every summer over lack of clean water, electricity and employment opportunities.

On March 21, Reuters published an investigative report on the fate of more than 1,000 foreign children of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) fighters who remain in Iraq custody. The youngest are imprisoned with their mothers, while children over the age of nine are prosecuted in juvenile courts and face charges under Iraq’s counter-terrorism laws. 185 children between the ages of nine to 18 have already been convicted. Dealing with these foreign fighters poses an “unprecedented legal and diplomatic challenge” for Iraq and foreign countries whose citizens are being held in Iraqi custody; there is no international law governing repatriations. In 2017, the former Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, said that the Iraqi government was working with foreign children’s home countries to find a way to send the children home. By January 2018, the talks between countries had ceased and prosecutions began; few children were sent home. The report also described the grim conditions of Iraqi prisons. The jails are overcrowded and overrun with disease; medical attention is seldom offered. Women and children sleep on thin mattresses and are given insufficient portions of food. At least seven children and three women have died due to these poor conditions.

On March 21, a ferry capsized on the Tigris River near Mosul. As of the writing of this report, at least 97 people were reportedly killed. Most of the casualties are women and children who were on the ferry celebrating Mother’s Day and the Kurdish New Year, Nowruz. The river level had risen due to heavy rains, which led the Mosul Dam to release water downstream. The Iraqi Health Ministry’s spokesman, Saif al-Badr has stated that there were about 150 people on board, including 80 women and children. The ferry was reportedly carrying twice as much as the permitted capacity.


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

Casualties Due To IEDs March 15, 2019 - March 21, 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
03/19/19Tarmiyah, Salah al-Din Province26
03/19/19 al-Tarfaya, Diyala 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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