- Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), and tribal forces continued to make slow progress in clearing Ramadi of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). The slow progress can be attributed to ISIS’ use of suicide bombers, snipers, and booby traps, and the ISF’s focus on totally surrounding the city.
- Iraq saw a significant uptick in insurgency-style tactics during the reporting period, with nearly dozen Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks and two assassinations occurring in Baghdad. The escalation of attacks in Baghdad followed an announcement by the Ministry of Interior on November 24 that security checkpoints within the city of Baghdad would no longer be maintained. Outside of Baghdad, a suicide bombing hit a market in Tuz Kharmatu and an official was assassinated in Kirkuk.
- Iranian pilgrims attempting to visit the holy city of Karbala for Ashura, a holy day for Shi’a, caused the border crossing in the town of Zurbatiyah to close as nearly 500,000 pilgrims crossed into Iraq without a visa. The visa requirement, which has been waived in previous years for Iranian pilgrims, was re-instituted in late October, in part to address Iraq’s growing budget deficit.
- Protests continued throughout Iraq as several high-profile figures were arrested on corruption; meanwhile Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s latest efforts to reform the economy were announced.
- Despite its ongoing military setbacks, ISIS continued to consolidate its rule in the areas it controls, eliminating rival movements, destroying mosques, and targeting youth in Mosul. Meanwhile, the extent of the Yazidi massacre was revealed with the discovery of several mass graves in Sinjar.
- Tens of thousands of Iraqis returned to Tikrit and other secure areas in Salah Ad-Din. However, in Baiji and other more recently cleared areas in Salah Ad-Din, fears of hidden bombs have kept returnees away. In Anbar, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are facing a growing emergency due to chronic shortages of food and shelter as winter fast approaches. In Kirkuk, provincial officials announced plans to return IDPs to their home districts due to the “financial burden” on the province. Any involuntary returns would be in contravention of international humanitarian law. Kirkuk is hosting the second largest number of IDPs in Iraq, and according to provincial officials, the province is not receiving sufficient support from Baghdad or from international agencies.
Slow but Steady Progress in Ramadi
On November 20 Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), and tribal forces made significant progress in their battle to clear Ramadi. The President of the Anbar Council, Sabah Khrot, announced that nearly “300” Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) fighters had been killed in the battle.
On November 21, a source in Anbar province reported that ISF units cleared the Zaytoon area, south of the the Five Kilometer area in northwestern Ramadi of ISIS fighters. “Dozens” of ISIS fighters were reportedly killed. Elsewhere in Ramadi, ISF and PMU troops seized the area in the vicinity of the Tamini area, clearing it from ISIS.
On November 25, ISF and PMU forces continued to make progress in Ramadi. Coalition and Iraqi Air force planes destroyed an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) manufacturing facility west of Ramadi. Meanwhile, there were reports that the northern and southern wings of the ISF attack had converged inside the city of Ramadi with the seizure of the Palestine Bridge.
On November 26, Athal al-Fahdawi, a member of the Anbar Council, announced that ISF had seized several bridges in the Ramadi area since the beginning of the offensive. He stated that “seven extremely important bridges have been liberated from the control of ISIS.” He also claimed that ISIS had destroyed 64 other vital bridges across the province in an attempt to slow down the ISF.
On November 27, ISF and PMU troops reportedly seized the Rumalia area between Khalidiya Island and the city of Ramadi.
On November 29, ISF units seized two areas in Ramadi. The captured areas of Tahuna and Jama’ia, near the Jereche intersection and Albu Faraj bridge in the northern part of the city.
On November 30, ISF officials called for all civilians left in Ramadi to “immediately evacuate.” The ISF recommended that all civilians “evacuate their families immediately and head south through the al-Humera area.”
On December 1, ISF and PMU troops seized a major glass factory west of the city of Ramadi, in the Tamim neighborhood.
On December 2, Turki al-Ayed al-Shammari, a member of the Council of Anbar, claimed that there were roughly 600 ISIS fighters left in Ramadi.
Insurgency Tactics on Rise Throughout Country
On November 24, the Ministry of Interior announced the removal of all security checkpoints within the city of Baghdad. He noted that checkpoints were ineffective at stopping the continued bombing attempts, while simultaneously noting that terrorist attacks had decreased by 37% this year.
On November 28, a large number of explosions tore through the city of Baghdad. In the Husseiniya area, north of Baghdad, two people were killed and seven were injured by an IED. East of Baghdad, near a popular market in the Ameen area, a bomb killed two and injured another five. In the Maidan neighborhood, in southern Baghdad, an explosion near a cemetery killed one and injured six. Southwest of Baghdad, near shops in the Trath area, an IED killed one person and injured seven more. West of Baghdad, an official working for the Ministry of Defense was killed when an adhesive IED strapped to his car exploded near the Amiriya district. An insurgent was caught planting a bomb north of the city when it unexpectedly exploded, preventing further casualties.
On November 30, a series of suicide bombings and IED attacks targeted civilians throughout the city. In the Amiriyah district, an IED killed two people and injured seven when it exploded near a produce stand. In the Sheik Omar district, an IED killed one passenger on a bus and injured four more. Near Diyala Bridge, an IED exploded near a restaurant, killing one customer and injuring another five. Near the Bo’etha area, an IED killed the driver of a vehicle carrying ISF troops and injured another 3. Near the market in the Tarmiya area, an IED killed two shoppers and injured another 7. Meanwhile, security forces managed to kill a suicide bomber in the Arbain district north of Baghdad, before he managed to detonate an IED.
On November 30, an unknown gunman assassinated Abdullah Khamis Ghuey, a member of the Ghazaliya Council, near the Rahmin Mosque in Western Baghdad.
On December 1, unknown gunmen assassinated Mohammed Khalil al-Jubouri, President of the Arab Group, as he and his wife were walking around downtown Kirkuk.
On November 28, a Suicide Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device (SVBIED) detonated near a police checkpoint in a market in the town of Tuz Khurmatu. The explosion reportedly killed 5 individuals and wounded 15, with the vast majority of casualties being police officers.
Conflict over Pilgrims
On December 1, the Ministry of Interior announced the closure of the Zurbatiyah border port in Wasit province, between Iraq and Iran, in response to the entrance of an estimated 500,000 to a million Iranian visitors into the country without visas on Sunday, November 29. The Ministry has stated that the crowd of visitors “exceeded the energy absorption” capacity of the port leading to an “uncontrollable situation,” and they even attested that “the flow of crowds…was deliberate to put pressure on the port to open the border illegally.” As a result, security forces detained and prevented the Iranian visitors from journeying to the holy city of Karbala to participate in Ashura, a holy day for Shi’a.
On December 1, the Ministry of the Interior announced that it had seized the passports of up to 4,000 Iranian pilgrims who entered the country without a visa. It stressed that it did this with the cooperation of the Iranian authorities.
Corruption, Protests, and Reforms
On November 20, hundreds of demonstrators mobilized in Hilla city center calling for the resignation of the Babil governor, the opening of more corruption files and impartial investigation of the cases, the maintenance of managerial appointments in government institutions, and the provision of jobs for recent youth graduates. Many children came out as well during the protests in honor of the 26th anniversary of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, also asking for the government to better “aid orphans and displaced people.”
On November 26, Ali Ibrahim of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in Babil announced his party’s discontent with the prosecution of Secretary-General of the Babil Provincial Council, Aqil al-Rubaie, stating that the decision to sentence him to six months in prison on charges of “exceeding his functional powers” of the judiciary. According to Tariq Hussain, a member of the National Union for Iraqi Journalists in Babil, “al-Rubaie was interested in the demands of the citizens [and] providing important information about the abuse on state property…public money.”
On November 20, thousands gathered in Tahrir Square demanding the implementation of Abadi reforms and an increase in accountability. Protesters were joined by activists from the nearby provinces of Karbala and Muthanna.
On November 23, a parliamentary committee announced that the government will continue to pay the salaries of employees of self-financing ministry-affiliated companies as allocated in the 2016 draft budget, with 172 affiliated companies across five ministries and 600 thousand employees.
On November 24, protesters mobilized in front of the entrance to the Green Zone accusing the parliament of “inaction” in performing its constitutional duties. Activist Initsaar Yassin states that the Green Protests will continue on to its second week if demands are not met and “threatened to escalate their demonstrations in front of the four gates of the Green Zone…trapping the [Council].”
On November 25, the specifics of Prime Minister al-Abadi’s new reform package scheduled for early December was laid out. According to a member of the Coalition of State Law, Rasul Abu Hasna, the Abadi government plans to address the nationwide economic crisis by supporting “commercial banks with funds” to stimulate investment and signing “contracts with international oil companies [that] are not licensing rounds but will be sharing contracts…to increase” crude oil production and export rates. MP Karim Abtan noted that “it is necessary to activate the industrial and agricultural sectors and [garner] interest in them instead of relying on oil.”
On December 1, the Commission of Integrity handed down a seven year sentence to former Finance Minister Rafi al-Issawi on charges of “administrative and financial corruption.”
On December 2, Prime Minister al-Abadi dismissed Minister of Trade Milas Mohammed Abdul Kareem al-Kasnazani, in accordance with the provisions of Article 78 of the constitution, for failing to perform his ministerial duties “for more than a month.” The dismissal comes months after al-Kasnazani and his Jordan-based brother Nehru were issued arrest warrants by the Commission of Integrity on financial corruption charges.
6 Mass Graves Discovered as ISIS Continues Harsh Rule
On November 22, ISF units freed 210 hostages held by ISIS in the village of Umm ad-Dibs in Anbar. Ali Ibrahim Dbon, commander of the operation, claimed that the “210 people, most of [whom] were women and children [of] 70 families of the tribe of Albu Nimr,” had been held by ISIS for over a year. He also claimed that the raid resulted in the deaths of “35…members of [ISIS] and the bombing of five [Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices] (VBIEDs).”
On November 28, ISIS executed two men in Fallujah by throwing them off of a building in the center of the city for unknown reasons.
On November 22, a local source claimed that ISIS forces arrested over 150 Mosul youths, allegedly for “violating the regulation instructions regarding their looks.” The source claimed that the fate of those who had been arrested would likely be confinement for several days, before being sentenced by a judge to pay a fine.
On November 26, ISIS reportedly demolished several mosques in the al-Qarradyah district, south of Mosul. ISIS justified the mosque’s’ destruction by claiming it belonged to “apostates.”
On November 28, a member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Jamil Khezr Abdal, announced that multiple mass graves were found in Soulagh district. In the village of Koujuhe, two mass graves were found. The first held the bodies of 76 Izadi children and women, while 60 bodies were discovered in the second mass grave.The third mass grave containing 86 corpses was found in Qelia Mirka. The fourth mass grave was also discovered northwest of Sinjar military base, but the exact number of bodies has yet to be confirmed. The last mass grave with 80 bodies was discovered in the Tal Avzir region. Because all of the gravesites were surrounded by bombs, demining experts are currently working to defuse the bombs.
On November 28, the sixth mass grave containing bodies of Yazidis was found in Sinjar. Mayor Mahma Khalil stated, “we have found a mass grave in the village Qni Qadima located 10 kilometers west of Shingal district center…containing the remains of  women, children and men.”
On November 29, Iraqi officials found three mass graves in the northern town of Sinjar. Qasim Simo, the head of security, believes the graves contain between 80 and 100 bodies.
On December 2, ISIS members throughout Kirkuk arrested dozens of fighters belonging to the Naqshbandi group, with some sources claiming up to fifty arrests. The fighters were charged with plotting to attack ISIS.
While Some IDPs Return, Many More Still at Risk
On November 30, President of Haditha District Council, Khaled Salman, announced the arrival of “1,050 tons of ration card items from the Ministry of Commerce” in the city of al-Baghdadi. The items came from Karbala and will “be distributed to agents who will then distribute to people in al-Baghdadi.”
On November 30 in the province of Anbar, the Chairman of the Khalidiya Board, Ali Dawood, pleaded for more aid from international organizations as 13,000 displaced families in the district of Khalidiya and Habbaniyah are in need of food and humanitarian assistance.
On November 22, the Kirkuk government announced a new IDP camp in the eastern part of Kirkuk. The camp was funded by the United Nations and will accommodate ”8,400 people and includes a 1680 tent, a health center, a school, and essential services.” The governor of Kirkuk, Najm al-Din, shared that Nzeraoh IDP “camp will be devoted to the displaced families scattered in different parts of the province.”
On November 28, the head of the Council of Kirkuk, Ribawar Talabani, announced that the Council of Representatives is working to return displaced families to their hometowns because they are “financial burdens.” Talabani criticized “the weakness of government support to the province of Kirkuk” asserting that, “the best solution to the problem of displaced people is their return to their provinces and [their] regions liberated.” Kirkuk has the second highest number of displaced people.
On November 21, Deputy Badr of Salah al-Din announced the return of 45,000 families to the province. It is worth noting that 22,000 families returned to Tikrit, and due to uncertainty of bombs in streets and homes, no returns were made to Baiji.