ISHM 39: November 12 – 20, 2015

ISHM_Logo_2016Key Takeaways:

  • In Iraq’s northern province of Salah ad-Din, deadly clashes broke out between a Shia Turkmen Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU) and Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The incident occurred in the town of Tuz Khurmatu on the main road between Kirkuk and Baghdad. Hundreds of houses were burned, and at least 15 civilians were killed. While both sides moved quickly to stop the fighting, serious tensions remain as both sides hold their ground within the town.
  • Following the quick success of Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga and Yazidi forces in freeing Sinjar from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani delivered a speech declaring Sinjar to be an “integral part” of the Kurdistan Region, a claim rejected by Baghdad. Tensions have also been running high between the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga and Yazidi forces along with their allies. Many Yazidis accuse the Peshmerga of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of abandoning Sinjar as ISIS advanced on the city in August 2014. By leaving the town largely defenseless without warning residents or arranging their evacuation, ISIS was able to quickly seize Sinjar and proceeded to systematically kill and capture thousands of residents, including thousands of Yazidi women and girls who remain enslaved by ISIS. Also following the retaking Sinjar, three mass graves were discovered, holding the remains of 148 Yazidis executed by ISIS. More mass graves are expected to be found.
  • In preparation for the upcoming attack on Ramadi city center, ISF (Iraqi Security Forces), PMUs, and tribal forces made progress in Anbar this week. Their forces secured several neighborhoods in the south, west, and north of the city, forcing the rearguard ISIS troops to retreat towards the city center. The main battle for the city is expected to occur after the military graduation of thousands of tribal fighters next week.
  • A series of high-profile arrests of important provincial officials on charges of corruption and mismanagement took place this week throughout Iraq.
  • Doctors and medical personnel face new threats in the provinces of Najaf and Salah ad-Din. The frequent kidnaping of doctors is complicating the existing health situation in the province of Salah ad-Din. In Najaf, frequent assaults on doctors and medical personnel have caused a security crackdown near medical facilities.
  • Since late October, an estimated 84,000 individuals became displaced due to widespread flooding in Baghdad and other areas. Those affected include residents and families who have already been displaced by violence. In all, more than 3.2 million Iraqis have been displaced by violence since 2014. In recent weeks, there have been growing reports of Iraqis returning to areas cleared of ISIS. On Monday, the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) confirmed the return of 415,632 individuals, primarily to areas in the provinces of Salah al-Din, Diyala, and Ninewa.

PMU and Peshmerga Clash in Tuz Khurmatu

On November 14, PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) Peshmerga forces and a Shia Turkmen PMU (Popular Mobilization Unit) clashed in the town of Tuz Khurmatu in Salah ad-Din province, with rioting, looting, and arson all being reported. It is unclear who started the clashes, but at least 15 civilians are suspected to be dead or injured, along with over 150 residential and commercial buildings being set ablaze. The town, which is just on the border of Salah ad-Din and Kirkuk provinces, has significant oil reserves, and control over it has long been disputed.

On November 14, in Erbil, the First Deputy Speaker of the Council of Representatives Hamum Hamoudi called for “an emergency meeting of all parties” to discuss the recent events that occurred in Tuz Khormato. According to a source in Kirkuk, Prime Minister al-Abadi has also sent a delegation to the area in an attempt assess the situation. A day earlier, the Information Office of the Prime Minister announced that the prime minister “issued orders to security pieces located in Tuz Khurmatu to impose security,” in the area

On November 15, leaders of both the PMU movement, including Muqtada al-Sadr, and of the PUK quickly moved to establish a ceasefire, portraying the incident as local and calling for unity in the face of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.) By most accounts, the clashes stopped later in the day, with both sides releasing hostages in an attempt to calm the situation.

On November 17, the Badr organization and the PUK continued to attempt to calm the situation in Tuz Khurmatu, yet neither side appeared willing to abandon the town. The Badr Organization’s leader in the north, Mohammad Mahdi al-Bayati, reassured the public that the organization does not have the “option” of war with the Peshmerga. Simultaneously, however, he refused to cede control of the town, which has strategic control over a nearby oil field. He said that,“all parties committed to mutual agreement…But we have many differences in the administration of justice in all respects and we need the help of all religious authorities and the United Nations and all the political blocs to resolve these differences.”

On November 18, an official spokesman for President of the Kurdish Region of Iraq (KRI) Massoud Barzani denied allegations that he had agreed to bring PMU forces into the region, emphasizing that Kurdistan is no place for the PMU and that the region already “has its own security” in the Peshmerga. This comes after Mullah Bakhtiar of the PUK announced on Tuesday November 17 that they relayed a PMU delegation to the president in order “to obtain his consent to participate in” the fight against ISIS in the Amerli area. A spokesman for Barzani went on to state that “whether now or in the past…the Kurdistan region is not at odds with the [PMU] in defeating [ISIS]…but that does not mean that the [PMU can] come and occupy Tuz.”

Sinjar Victory Results in Horror and Tension

On November 13, Peshmerga and allied forces declared full control of the strategic town of Sinjar, one day after launching their offensive to take back the town. They are apparently “combing” over the rest of the area in order to fully clear it of ISIS militants. Kurdish forces have allegedly cleared over 150 km of the Sinjar town and surrounding region of ISIS militants.

On November 12, the Director of Sinjar, Nayef Seydou, announced that Peshmerga Security Forces discovered a mass grave east of Sinjar city. This is the first of three graves found since the clearing of Sinjar and holds 80 bodies. Miyasir Hajji, a local council member, alleged that the grave possibly has 78 bodies of women aged from 40 to around 80.

On November 15, in addition to the first mass grave, Kurdish fighters discovered a second grave in Sinjar containing between 50 and 60 bodies of men, women and children.

On November 15, Peshmerga forces uncovered another mass graves in the district of Sinjar. Upon the discovery of the third grave, a member of PUK stated, “The third cemetery included the remains of 50 Yazidis,” bringing the total casualties up to 148 Yazidis.

On November 13, Peshmerga forces announced that the flag of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq (KRI), spanning 600 meters, was raised above the grain silos in Sinjar, symbolizing the clearing of the area from ISIS and its place in Kurdistan. A source revealed, that “more than 7,500 members of the Peshmerga took part in the [clearing] of Sinjar [and] more than 100” members from ISIS were killed in battle.

On November 13, President of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq (KRI) Massoud Barzani called on the central government to turn Sinjar district into its own province. During his speech, President Barzani thanked the Peshmerga forces for their role in clearing the area from ISIS and added that “Sinjar [is] an integral part of Kurdistan.” Barzani later went on to call “every young Yazidi man and woman to speak up and say I am Kurdish [with] honor and pride,” and closed by stating that the KRI “will try all the best to [make] the city habitable again.”

On November 14, Peshmerga forces cleared three villages southwest of the town of Sinjar, continuing their offensive against ISIS in the area. The villages of Karjama, Zakdakhan, and Cree Bedr showcased extensive tunnel networks, created by ISIS to allow the clandestine movement of men and material.

On November 15, Yazidi fighters reportedly began burning Arab houses and towns for their complicity with the ISIS massacre of the Yazidi people in August of 2014. Peshmerga forces, allegedly under the personal command of Massoud Barzani, claimed to have stopped the arson and attempted to restore peace.

ISF and PMU Experience Progress throughout Anbar

On November 13, Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) cleared the West Soanej area near the city of Baghdadi in Anbar.

On November 13, ISF, PMU, and tribal forces formally launched the first steps of an attack aimed at clearing the city of Ramadi from ISIS. The attack is being launched from three directions, the west of the city, the north-west of the city, and the south. Tribal forces, specifically the Albu Nimr tribe, announced full control over the Albu Hayat area west of Ramadi.

On November 14, ISF units secured two areas south of Fallujah, near the town of Amiriyah. The areas, known as Albu Mnahi and Albu Daeej, were cleared by the 8th Brigade of the Iraqi Army.

On November 14, fighting continued in Ramadi between ISF troops and ISIS militants. ISF forces seized the train station in western Ramadi, while ISF units prepared to storm the Tamim neighborhood to the south of the city. Turki Al Ayed, a member of the Council of Anbar, stated that ISIS prevented tens of thousands of civilians from leaving Ramadi in an attempt to slow down the ISF’s advance.

On November 15, ISF forces declared that they had secured the “5 Km” area to the southwest of Ramadi. Major General Sami Adra announced that the ISF killed 40 ISIS militants, along with securing the railway station and the entire neighborhood.

On November 17, sources announced that the ISF crossed the Euphrates River and advanced towards Ramadi city center. Meanwhile, three regiments of Federal Police forces arrived to help secure the 5 Km and 7 Km neighborhoods to the southwest of the city. A spokesperson for Brigadier General Yahya Messenger announced that ISIS was now besieged “from all sides,” and estimated that the number of militants left were around “200 to 300 fighters.” He claimed that ISIS fighters were busy mining the center of the city with “hundreds” of IEDs.

On November 17, ISF and PMU fighters allegedly seized the Anbar Operations Military Command center from ISIS in the Abu Faraj neighborhood of northern Ramadi. The center was one of ISIS’ major strongholds in the northern third of the city. PMU forces also report seizing control of the Presidential palaces and the nearby justice complex, although ISF reports seem to dispute this, as they note besieging the same locations. ISF, PMU, and tribal fighters cleared the Zeitoun and Ceramic neighborhoods surrounding the Tamim district of Western Ramadi. Dozens of ISIS fighters were also allegedly killed. Tribal forces are expected to play a larger part in the upcoming assault, as thousands of tribal fighters complete their military training next week.

High-Profile Corruption Arrests Continue in Provinces.

On November 16, Babil Criminal Court sentenced Aleeue Farhan, a member of the Babil Provincial Court, to three years in prison for fraud. Judge Haider Abdul-Zahra announced that the Governor of Babil Sadiq Madlul, former Governor Mohammad al-Masoudi, Office Manager to the Governor Hossam Ali Hadi, Secretary to the Governor Adel Abdul Kadhim Khalil, and former provincial council member Aqil Abdul Hadi al-Silawi are also under investigation for corruption.

On November 12, the Integrity Court in Najaf announced the arrest of the Director of the Rafidain Bank and select staff on charges of corruption in Najaf. Judge Khudair al-Badri stated that the assistant bank manager was sentenced to two years in prison and “one of the customers [charged with] cooperating with employees…was sentenced to…six years.” In total, eight bank employees were issued arrest warrants, with two yet to be found. The Integrity Court estimates, “that the extent of corruption exceeds one billion dinar.”

On November 17, 16 members of the Salah ad-Din Provincial Council held an emergency session, which resulted in a consensus vote in favor of the exemption of Speaker Ahmed Karim and his Deputy Speaker from charges of “mismanagement and negligence.” The select members also announced an agreement to “interrogate the current governor Raed al-Jubori, a preclude to his removal from office.” According to former governor Ahmed al-Jubouri, the president of the provincial council “refused to attend the meeting.” Furthermore, he noted that since the meeting was held at Rashid Hotel in central Baghdad, it was “not a formal meeting of the Council [and any] meeting decisions are illegal and constitute a coup against the political process in Salah ad-Din.”

Doctors Face New Threats in Salah ad-Din and Najaf

On November 14, Minister of Parliament from Salah ad-Din, MP al-Jubouri, warned the parliament of the increasing threat of abductions of doctors within the province, stating that this may lead to a reluctance by doctors to work in Salah ad-Din. He added, “the health situation in the province [is already] deteriorating as a result of the lack of services provided and the theft of most of the medical devices in hospitals and the lack of health sector financial allocations.”

On November 17, the Medical Association of Najaf reported doctors are experiencing abuse and threats on a daily basis. The chief doctor, Hasan al-Aaqooli, claims that “…assault against doctors occur daily, and in some days that number reaches five or six cases.”

On November 18, Najaf Police Chief Brigadier Abdul-Razzaq al-Nasser announced plans to protect doctors and medical staff by putting “police inside the hospital and in the emergency hall.”

As Returnees Increase, Flooding Causes a Rise in Displacement and Vulnerabilities

On November 16, the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Displacement Tracking Matrix confirms the return of 415,632 Internally Displaced Persons (IDP). Most individuals are returning to the provinces of Salah al-Din, Diyala, and Ninewa. Additionally, IOM highlights the situation in Baghdad where more than 10,000 families have been affected by flooding, claiming that it is currently the most severely impacted area. After heavy rains since late October, it is estimated that close to 84,000 people have been displaced by the floods.

On November 14, the Iraqi Red Crescent Society’s Media Manager, Haider Ahmed, announced the distribution of food, blankets, and health kits to families affected by floods in villages close to the Iran-Iraq border. Ahmed stated, “Our relief teams managed to deliver relief, food, health materials, and blankets to more than 350 families who were trapped by floods in Qazania and Daliabbas districts, our teams have also distributed food to more than 1600 displaced families in Khanaqen, Al-Khalis, Baqubah, Balad Ruz and Muqdadiyah camps.” Haider Ahmed added that the Red Crescent also distributed leaflets to advise civilians living near villages in Qazania and Mandely district to be cautious of mines as they may have moved after the floods.

Taif Jany is EPIC’s Program Manager and Brian Nichols is the Research and Advocacy Intern. They would like to thank Alexsandra Canedo and Tanesha Singletary for their research support. ISHM’s research methodology was developed by Ahmed Ali.

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