ISHM: November 25 – December 1, 2016


Key Takeaways:

  • Security Forces Rethink Strategy in Mosul – Iraqi Security Forces in Mosul are debating whether to encourage an exodus of innocent civilians from the city, citing frustration with the inability to progress more quickly or use heavy weaponry because of the presence of human shields. Previously, the Iraqi Government has encouraged Moslawis to remain in their homes out of concern that ISIS militants may try to hide among or target fleeing civilians, and that a mass exodus would overwhelm humanitarian capacity outside of the city. U.S.-led international coalition airstrikes have destroyed five bridges across the Tigris River linking eastern and western Mosul, in an effort to restrict militant movement. Since operations to clear the city of ISIS began on October 17, Iraq’s elite Counterterrorism Service continues to make progress in clearing neighborhoods in the east as the Iraqi Army approaches from the south, Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga to the north, and Popular Mobilization Units to the west. According to CTS Commander Major General Abdul Ghani al-Asadi, 990 ISIS militants have been killed to date inside the city. The ISF has not publicly released casualty figures on its own losses. more…
  • Camps Brace for More IDPs from Mosul as Reports of Life in the City Emerge – Anticipating an influx of IDPs from Mosul, UNHCR is working rapidly to expand capacity of existing shelters east of the city and just across the Syrian border at Hol Camp. Since operations began on October 17, approximately 77,000 civilians have been displaced from Mosul itself. IDPs at the Khazar and Hasansham camps in Erbil Province have received formal permission to return to areas south of Mosul recently cleared of ISIS militants, despite ongoing concern of militant resurgence and sleeper cells who may be operating in the area. In a report by Amnesty International, Moslawis who have fled the city testified about devastating atrocities at the hands of ISIS during its two-year occupation, including children forced to witness public stonings and beheadings, IED attacks, summary executions, and torture. more…
  • Parliament Legalizes PMUs – On November 26, Iraq’s Parliament voted to fully legalize state-sanctioned Popular Mobilization Units (including Shia and Sunni militias, as well as those set up by minority populations), recognizing them as independent military forces under the authority of the Prime Minister and granting their members benefits, such as regular salaries and pensions. The legislation was condemned by Sunni Arab lawmakers as Shia militias have long been accused of abuses against Sunni communities in Iraq. The 208 of 327 Members of Parliament who supported the effort are aligned with Kurdish and/or Shia factions. more…
  • Turkey Threatens Repercussions if PMUs Overstep in Tal Afar – The Iraqi Army, Federal Policy, and Popular Mobilization Units have surrounded the city of Tal Afar, 67 kilometers west of Mosul, in preparation for clearing the city of ISIS militants. According to unconfirmed reports, foreign fighters and senior ISIS leaders have been encouraged by ISIS leadership in Syria to flee the city ahead of the impending operation. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned PMUs that Turkey will get involved if militias “cause terror” in Tal Afar, a city largely populated by Sunni Turkmen. Iraqi Security Forces have said that, similar to Mosul operations, PMUs will not be permitted to enter the city itself and will be restricted to clearing and holding the city’s surroundings. more…
  • Humanitarian Conditions in Hawija Remain Dire – Al-Mada Press interviewed several IDPs who have fled violence in the ISIS-controlled city of Hawija, 55 kilometers west of Kirkuk. One father explained that two of his children died of exposure and hunger as they made their way from Hawija to al-Alam, 10 kilometers northwest of Tikrit. A third child was wounded by shrapnel from one of the many IEDs ISIS has planned along evacuation routes from Hawija. Hundreds of civilians are attempting to flee the city daily. Humanitarian partners estimate that military efforts to clear Hawija of ISIS militants could trigger a displacement of up to 114,000, but serious shortages of food, water, and public services, as well as the threat of violence from ISIS militants continues to plague the city’s residents. For more on Hawija, read our briefing in World Politics Review. more…
  • KRG Considers Reform – On November 27, a group of armed gunmen attacked the headquarters of the Kurdish Democratic Party in Chamchamal, 55 kilometers west of Sulaimania in Iraqi Kurdistan, though no one was injured. The KDP (led by Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani) has been under mounting pressure to address citizen demands for services and a resolution to the region’s dire economic situation. The political bureau of the KDP announced that they will launch a new round of talks with all Kurdish parties to address ongoing problems in the region. more…
  • OPEC Reaches Agreement on Production Cuts – Following a meeting in Vienna on November 30, OPEC announced its first agreement to cut oil production since 2008. Under the proposed terms, production will be cut by 1.5% from January to June 2017 in the hopes of stimulating oil prices. Iraq lobbied that they should be exempt from production cuts given the ongoing security and humanitarian crisis, but finally agreed to cuts as well. Oil prices rose 13% after the announcement and are expected to continue to rise over the coming weeks. Of major concern for Iraq is Baghdad’s ability to enforce production cuts on the Kurdistan Region. For more on this issue, read the policy analysis by EPIC Board Member and Soref Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Bilal Wahab. 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.

Security Forces Rethink Strategy in Mosul

On November 24, an anonymous local source in Ninewa Province reported that the Mujahedeen Shura Council ordered the execution of all militants who fled battles in Ninewa and claimed that the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) also began killing injured militants. No further information was given about the incident.

On November 24, head of the Security Committee Council in Ninewa, Mohammed Ibrahim al-Bayati, reported that the U.S.-led international coalition targeted the al-Jadida bridge, the last bridge connecting the east of Mosul to the west. The U.S.-led international coalition have targeted five bridges linking the east and west sides of Mosul in the last two days.

On November 25, an anonymous military media source reported that the air component of the Iraqi Army conducted an airstrike in the Az Zuwiyah area, 76 kilometers north of Tikrit. The strike resulted in the destruction of over 200 explosive devices and numerous vehicles ISIS was using to conduct attacks against security forces.   

On November 26, a military media source reported that the Iraqi Counterterrorism Service (CTS) cleared ISIS militants from the Al Karama al-Khadhra Apartments in the east of the city of Mosul. The source also claimed that a U.S.-led international coalition airstrike killed four ISIS militants, including ISIS leader, Abu Anas, in the Qiz Fakhri, 7 kilometers southeast of Mosul. The Ninth Armoured Division also managed to kill 24 ISIS militants and destroy two motorcycles in an unnamed location in the southeast of Mosul. Al Sumaria also claimed that the Iraqi Security Force (ISF) cleared ISIS from the Gelyuhan village, 5 kilometers southeast of Mosul.

On November 26, an anonymous local source in Ninewa Province reported that ISIS leadership imposed strict limitations on movements by militants in Mosul. After U.S.-led international airstrikes destroyed major bridges that cross the Tigris river, ISIS is having problems gaining access to arms and fighters in the east of city. In order to prevent militants from escaping the city, ISIS has restricted crossing the Tigris river by boat to those who have approval by ISIS leadership.    

On November 26, an anonymous source in Ninewa Province reported that military intelligence found ISIS financial data in the village of Omar, 23 kilometers south of Mosul. The headquarters where the information was located contained computers with complete information on ISIS names, numbers, and financial transactions that were ongoing in Iraq and with foreign entities.

On November 27, an anonymous source connected with the Directorate General of Intelligence and Security reported that an Iraqi airstrike destroyed an explosive factory, two tanks, vehicles, and a tunnel in the Hleykhan area in northern Mosul.  

Ninewa: On November 27, Commander of the Federal Police, Raed Shakir Jawdat, reported that a rocket attack near the Mosul airport in the south of the city killed five ISIS leaders, including ISIS leaders of Chechen nationality.

On November 27, an anonymous local source reported that the Iraqi Army air component targeted a gathering of ISIS militants in fishery zones in the south of Ninewa Province, killing over 50 ISIS militants. The airstrike also destroyed six vehicles and a tank used by ISIS.   

On November 28, Deputy Commander of Operations in Ninewa Province, Lieutenant General Abdul Amir Rasheed Jarallah, reported that Iraqi Ninth Armoured Division cleared ISIS militants from the village of Khunayzir al Kasr, 70 kilometers south of Mosul.

On November 28, Deputy Commander of Operations in Ninewa Province, Lieutenant General Abdul Amir Rasheed Jarallah, reported that the CTS cleared ISIS militants from the Qahira neighborhood in the northeast of Mosul, and Hayy al Masarif in the north of Mosul.

On November 28, member of the Ninewa Provincial Council, Khalaf al-Hadidi, estimated that between 550 to 600 civilians have been killed in fighting in Mosul, along with dozens of Iraqi special forces fighters. The current death toll is showing the vulnerability of both civilians and security forces, who are currently unable to use heavy weaponry out of fear of civilian casualties. Head of Ninewa Operations, Major General Najim al-Jabouri, claimed that commanders have differing views on whether to encourage a mass exodus of civilians. Some believe that a large scale exodus of civilians would allow security forces to push more easily into the city without having to take civilians into account. Others suggest that civilians would be subjected to attacks by ISIS and a mass flow of refugees would “increase the odds of militant infiltration.” Furthermore, a mass exodus has alarmed Baghdad officials because they do not believe Iraq is capable of dealing with the massive flow of refugees that such an exodus would provide.   

On November 28, an anonymous security source in Salah ad-Din reported that ISIS militants tried to infiltrate the al-Mulawwia area in Samarra, 50 kilometers south of Tikrit. Security forces and local police managed to repel the attack and kill all the militants, but at least five policemen were killed during the clash, as well as a Protection Board member, Kamel Abbas. A anonymous source later claimed that security forces killed five suicide bombers planning attacks in Samarra to divert attention away from Mosul. Security forces instituted a curfew and a ban on the freedom of movement that was later lifted. All entrances and exits of the city are now open.

On November 28, an anonymous PMU source reported that the Iraqi army air component killed 25 ISIS militants during an aerial bombardment of an ISIS headquarters in Tel Abtatan, 72 kilometers southwest of Mosul. The strike also led to the destruction of “a number” of ISIS vehicles. The Iraqi army air component also bombed a headquarters in the village of Kharab Alijahsh, 14 kilometers northeast of Mosul, killing 10 ISIS militants and destroying four ISIS vehicles.    

On November 28, Spokesman for the CTS, Sabah al-Numan, claimed that the presence of civilians remains the “biggest challenge” for security forces in eastern Mosul. There have been “fierce clashes” between security forces and ISIS militants in the Al Karama al-Khadhra Apartments area in the eastern Mosul where ISIS have imbedded snipers into the buildings. Numan noted that CTS forces were entering areas with a high population of civilians carefully in order to avoid civilian casualties.

On November 28, The New York Times reported that the fight to clear ISIS militants from Mosul shows the limitations of security forces and suggests that they have not recovered from ISIS’s previous push into Iraq in 2014. U.S. Army Lt. General Mark P. Hertling commented that while Iraqi military commanders are seasoned, most of the Iraqi forces are young and have never seen combat. While security forces in the north stopped to rest and regroup within 10 kilometers of the city and in the south within 4 kilometers, senior officers report that “we[ISF] are not equipped or trained to fight inside the city,” leaving the bulk of fighting to CTS forces already inside of the city. The ISF refuses to release casualty reports to the public, but field commanders in Mosul, report that “scores” of ISF have been killed or injured in the fighting and believe the worst of the fighting is yet to come.  

On November 28, an anonymous source in Salah ad-Din Province reported that 2 policemen were killed and 11 people injured when “a number” of mortars hit the west side of Sharqat, 105 kilometers north of Tikrit. While the identities of the perpetrators are unknown, security forces believe the mortars were fired from the east of the city.

On November 29, an anonymous military media source reported that security forces cleared ISIS militants two villages to the east of Sharqat, 108 kilometers north of Tikrit. A later report by the governor of Salah ad-Din, Ahmed Abdullah al-Jubouri, during an interview with Al Mada Press stated that three villages to the east of Sharqat have been cleared of ISIS militants. Security sources reported earlier that security operations began to retake eastern Sharqat from ISIS militants, starting with the village of Qanus, 21 kilometers north of Sharqat.

On November 29, an anonymous security source in Ninewa Province reported that a U.S. B51 bomber destroyed one of the largest arms depots belonging to ISIS in Alkanaos, a village east of Sharqat, 45 kilometers north of Tikrit. The source reported that the airstrike was probably “one of the most accurate aircraft strikes against ISIS.”       

On November 29, a Commander of the CTS in Mosul, Major General Absul Ghani al-Asadi, reported that CTS forces have killed around 990 ISIS militants since the beginning of the Mosul operation. Capturing approximately half of territory in the eastern side of Mosul, Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces and ISF have encircled the city in the north and south. To the west, PMUs are completing their encirclement of the city to finally completely cut off ISIS militants’ only escape route to Syria. Asadi reported that while ISF were originally quickly clearing villages and neighborhoods of ISIS militants, security forces have slowed to prevent civilian casualties. Absul would not comment on how many ISF soldiers had been killed during the Mosul operations.

On November 29, Federal Police Chief, Captain Raed Shakir Jawdat, reported that federal police snipers killed nine ISIS militants in an unnamed village south of Mosul. Jawdat claimed that federal police seized six explosive belts, 134 mortars and 120 mm ammunition, 11 rockets, and 32 rocket centerpieces in an unnamed village just west of Hamam al-Alili, 23 kilometers south from the center of Mosul.

On November 29, United Nations Spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasani, reported that ISIS militants were killing citizen who would not allow ISIS snipers on their roofs in order to attack security forces. Shamdasani claimed ISIS has killed at least 27 civilians in northern Mosul and shot a seven year old child as he ran towards ISF in the Aden district on November 22.

Ninewa: On November 30, media advisor of the Ninewa Provincial Council, Abdul Karim al-Kilani, reported that ISIS booby trapped the “Income Tax Directorate” in Mosul and warned of a “humanitarian disaster” if the building was bombed due to the large nature of the rigged explosives. The building, located near the Nabi Yunis market on the eastern side of Mosul, is surrounded by a highly populated area and any large explosion could lead to countless casualties.

On November 30, Lieutenant General Riad Jalal Tawfiq, reported that PMU militia forces and ISF reached a joint agreement on managing areas fully cleared of ISIS militants. While the report gives no indication on the details of the deal, the agreement reportedly includes the delivery of food and medical supplies to returning IDPs and restoring basic infrastructure to the area.  

On November 30, an announcement made by Joint Special Operations Command reported that federal police were removing IEDs from buildings and roads, while CTS forces were able to infiltrate deeper into the neighborhoods of al-Entisar, Judaydat al-Mufti, al-Salam Shahid Yunis, and Palestine on the eastern side of Mosul. CTS force are also in the process of clearing ISIS militants from the neighborhoods al-Ikha and al-Zuhur, bringing the number of villages under CTS control to 23.                   

On December 1, Deputy Interior Minister, Aqueel al-Khazali, reported that security forces partaking in Mosul operations have taken around 1,836 square kilometers of territory in Ninewa Province that are currently being held held by local police in areas cleared of ISIS militants. Khazali claimed that new volunteers from areas cleared of ISIS militants are supporting security force’s “ranks.” The Deputy Interior Minister also reported that the Interior Ministry will be working with the Iraqi National Security Council, Special Operations Command, police, and military intelligence to unify security hardware in order to collect more data on possible ISIS member, root out corruption in government, and protect civilians.

Camps Brace for More IDPs from Mosul as Reports of Life in the City Emerge

Nov. 24 Nov. 25 Nov. 26 Nov. 27 Nov. 28 Nov. 29 Nov. 30
Total IDPs 68,694 72,990 71,436 72,570 73,566 73,908 76,464
Daily Net Change +624 +4,026 -1,554 +1,134 +996 +342 +2,556

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) Displaced from Mosul and Surrounding Areas Since Military Operations Began on October 17. Source: International Organization for Migration

On November 25, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced the decision to open two new camps to shelter internally displaced persons (IDPs) fleeing violence in Mosul and its environs. Existing sites are rapidly reaching full capacity. Three UNHCR-run or supported camps are already full, and UNHCR is warning that it could run out of space to shelter IDPs unless new sites are developed soon.

On November 25, UNHCR reported that the agency completed a series of evacuations of Iraqi refugees and displaced Syrians from the Rajm Sleby border crossing point (on the Syrian side of the border) to Hol camp in Syria’s Hassakeh Province. Hol Camp is located approximately 18 kilometers north of the Rajm Sleby. Since the start of UNHCR’s evacuation operations at Rajm Sleby on November 7, UNHCR relocated 2,458 individuals to Hol Camp: 2,031 Iraqi refugees and 427 displaced Syrians. The camp currently has capacity for 15,000 individuals and is undergoing improvements to increase capacity to 50,000 to accommodate increased displacements of Iraqis from Mosul.

On November 25, a member of the Ninewa Provincial Council, Hossam al-Din al-Abbar, reported that ISIS cut off water supply to recently cleared areas west of the city center of Mosul. Lack of drinking water poses a serious threat to civilians in the areas affected, and al-Abbar urged the Ministry of Construction and Housing and the Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works not to delay in their response to the crisis.

On November 26, the Human Rights Commission reported a “humanitarian catastrophe” in Khazar and Hasansham IDP camps in Erbil Province; citing a lack of services, food, and water, as well as a shortage of aid workers. The camps are run by the Iraqi Government and supported by UNHCR and humanitarian partners. As of November 27, Khazar camp reached capacity and Hasansham was approaching capacity.

On November 26, the President of the High Committee for the Return of Displaced People for Diyala Province, Ali al-Saadi, stated in an interview with Al Sumaria News that 900 displaced families received security clearance to return to their homes in the Mansouria and Sinsil regions in Diyala Province, 46 and 42 kilometers northwest of Baquba, respectively. ISIS sleeper cells in rural areas in Diyala have posed a challenge to security forces and a threat to returnees, resulting in a stringent security screening process for IDPs seeking to return to their homes.

On November 27, a spokesman for the Ninewa Guard announced the issuance of formal approvals to IDPs in Khazar and Hasansham camps in Erbil Province to return to their homes in areas in Ninewa Province recently cleared of ISIS militants. The approvals came after security screenings by police to ensure that no returnees have ties to ISIS.

On November 27, Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga discovered two mass graves near the Shababit junction in northwestern Ninewa Province while scouting the area. They contained bones and identity cards that appeared to have been covered over with sandy earth by a bulldozer. At least 18 of the bodies found in the graves were Yazidis, and all are believed to be victims of execution by ISIS. ISIS captured, enslaved, and executed thousands of Yazidis in the Sinjar area of Ninewa Province in the summer of 2014, an act that the UN has condemned as genocide.

On November 26, UNHCR reported that UNHCR protection monitors continue to observe and receive reports of the confiscation of IDs by government authorities from fleeing IDPs in Hasansham, Khazar and Jedaa camps. IDs also continue to be confiscated at Debis checkpoint in Kirkuk without being returned to IDPs, curtailing their ability to continue to camps or to be sponsored. The implications for IDPs are manifold, including restrictions on livelihoods, free movement, and access to basic services. In Kirkuk City in Kirkuk Province, Daquq in Kirkuk, and Zelikan camp in Qayyarah, in Ninewa Province, IDPs with confiscated documents reported that they cannot enroll their children at schools and colleges located outside of IDP camps. UNHCR intervened directly with authorities who maintained that the seizure of IDs is a security measure. In addition, UNHCR partners continue to provide legal support to numerous IDPs who require civil documentation, including the registration of marriages and births that occurred in ISIS-controlled areas.

On November 28, the Washington Post reported that 600 civilians were killed in Mosul since the military campaign to clear the city of ISIS militants began on October 17. The human toll has slowed the ISF’s advance and called into question the decision to encourage Mosul’s residents to remain in their homes as a means of staving off a mass displacement. ISF commanders say they are refraining from using heavier weapons in order to save residents’ lives, but at the cost of headway on the ground.

On November 29, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that an airstrike targeting ISIS militants hit a clinic in Hamam al-Alil, 30 kilometers south of Mosul in Ninewa Province, killing eight civilians and wounding at least two on October 18. Two ISIS militants and the ISIS transport minister were also killed, a witness told HRW. A healthcare worker stated to HRW that ISIS militants purposefully chose the clinic as a meeting place because the patients and workers there acted as human shields. Among the dead was a 72-year-old man and his two grandsons, aged 6 and 7, whom he had taken to the hospital for polio vaccinations, healthcare workers said. In the same ward, a nurse was killed and another was wounded. Three more children were killed in the treatment ward adjacent to the ISIS office. This is not the first time ISIS militants positioned themselves inside medical facilities in Iraq. ISIS fighters occupied the second floor of Fallujah General Hospital for several months before an airstrike hit the hospital on May 25 without warning. The attack damaged the emergency room and other parts of the facility. Local doctors told HRW that ISIS also has offices in clinics in Qayyarah, 60 kilometers south of Mosul, when they occupied the town.

On November 29, the Spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Ravina Shamdasani, spoke about ISIS atrocities in Mosul during a press briefing. OHCHR received reports that ISIS has been installing rocket launchers and placing snipers on the rooftops of civilian houses. Those who refuse to allow their houses to be used in this way are threatened or killed. On November 11, ISIS reportedly shot and killed 12 civilians in Bakir neighbourhood in eastern Mosul city for allegedly refusing to allow ISIS to install and launch rockets from the rooftops of their houses. These families are effectively used as human shields. ISIS also continues to abduct and forcibly move civilians, and to kill those it suspects of leaking information to the ISF. OHCHR received reports that on November 25, ISIS publicly shot to death 27 civilians in Muhandiseen Park in northern Mosul city. There were also reports of ISIS shooting at fleeing civilians, including one report from November 22 of an ISIS sniper killing a seven-year-old child who was running towards the ISF in Aden neighbourhood in eastern Mosul.

On November 29, REACH Initiative reported on “push and pull factors” for IDPs fleeing Mosul. According to REACH, the main reasons IDPs gave for fleeing were direct conflict in their village or neighbourhood, or the threat of airstrikes. In some cases, the trigger for entire villages to flee came after receiving instructions from Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) to leave their homes due to the risk of airstrikes. Mass displacement from Shura sub-district was predominantly triggered by attempts made by Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) to transfer people from the Shura subdistrict to Hammam al-Alil or Mosul city. A common trend observed by REACH is the heavy involvement of Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga and ISF in transporting or directing IDPs fleeing Mosul to screening centers and camps. Therefore, understanding pull factors to the camps and locations that IDPs have moved to is difficult to ascertain due to the lack of choice that most IDPs face when departing their area of origin. When asked why they chose a particular route or location to flee to, the vast majority of IDPs reported to REACH that they had no choice in the matter.

On November 29, Amnesty International reported on human rights violations by ISIS in Mosul. IDPs interviewed by Amnesty International described life under ISIS: “we lived in a nightmare for two years,” said one young man who chose to remain anonymous for fear of ISIS retribution. He disclosed that he was forced to watch the public stoning of a couple accused of adultery, and that he is haunted daily by the memory of “seeing this woman in a full face veil with stones being flung at her head and blood gushing.” Another IDP described the the aftermath of an ISIS IED attack: “the fridge flew across our house from the power of the blast… My family was lucky to come out alive, but two neighbours’ houses crumbled, crushing all those inside… I could see human flesh in the rubble.” These accounts are a few of the many reports of ISIS brutality which have come out as the campaign to clear Mosul continues.

On November 30, the Mayor of Nimrud, Ahmed Obeid al-Issa, announced the return of 200 displaced families to the area. Nimrud was reportedly cleared of ISIS militants by ISF on November 19, as reported in ISHM. Al-Issa stated that the returns were facilitated by ISF and PMU after the displaced families underwent security screenings for ties to ISIS. Nimrud was declared to be cleared of IEDs on November 23 but returnees still face an insecure situation.

On December 1, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that 80% of the 77,046 IDPs displaced due to the conflict in Mosul were sheltered in emergency camps, 19% were sheltered in private settings, such as the home of a relative, or critical shelter arrangements, such as an abandoned building. 1% of IDPs were sheltering at screening centers. The IOM also reported that the vast majority of IDPs from Mosul and surrounding areas were displaced within Ninewa Province, with only 2% of IDPs sheltering in Erbil or Anbar Province.

On December 1, REACH Initiative reported on the humanitarian situation within eastern Mosul. According to REACH’s data, displacements from eastern neighborhoods in Mosul increased in the month of November, with 6,000 families fleeing to Hamdaniya district of Ninewa Province, east of Mosul. However, REACH estimates that only 25-50% of the total population have been displaced, with the majority of residents choosing to remain in their homes as they either cannot leave or wish to stay to protect their assets. The situation in neighborhoods where civilians remain is dire: the majority cannot access markets and are surviving on depleting food stocks and have little to no access to electricity, fuel, safe drinking water and healthcare. They are also at risk of being used as human shields by ISIS.

On December 1, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) reported casualty figures in Iraq for the month of November: a total of 2,885 Iraqis were killed and another 1,380 were injured in acts of terrorism, violence and armed conflict over the course of the month. Of those killed, 926 were civilians. Total casualties increased from October, when 1,792 Iraqis were killed and another 1,358 were injured in acts of violence. The escalating conflict in Mosul is a significant factor in this increase.

Parliament Legalizes PMUs

On November 24, the New York Times reported that over 80 people were killed in an Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) suicide bombing in the city of Hilla, 90 kilometers south of Baghdad. The attack targeted mostly Iranian Shia pilgrims who were returning home after the annual religious holiday, Arbaeen – a Shia muslim holiday commemorating the death of Imam Hussein during the Battle of Karbala. Head of Babil’s health directorate, D. Nowras Abdulrazak, claimed that 75 people were killed and 25 wounded during the attack.

On November 26, Iraqi Parliament voted to fully legalize state-sanctioned Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) and recognize them as an independent military force. This legislation promotes the PMU to a “government force empowered to deter security and terror threats facing the country, like the so-called Islamic State.” The PMU’s forces number more than 110,000 and have been a significant force in efforts to clear ISIS militants from Iraq. The legislation to recognize the PMU passed after marathon negotiations and was supported by 208 Members of Parliament out of the total 327; however, it was quickly condemned by Sunni Arab lawmakers since Shia militias in the PMU have long been accused of abuses against minority Sunni in Iraq. Sunni Arab politicians claim this move proves the “dictatorship” of Iraq’s Shia majority and evidence of its failure to honor promises of inclusion. The law applies to all of the local variants of the PMU, including Iran-backed Shia militias fighting ISIS, Sunni Arab groups, and militias set up by minorities like Christians and Turkmen. According to a press release issued by Parliament, the PMU will now report to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is also the Commander in Chief.

On November 26, Osama al-Nujaifi, one of three Iraqi Vice Presidents, publicly criticized Parliament’s decision earlier that day to recognize PMUs. In response to a question from a reporter, al-Nujaifi stated that, “democracy means guaranteeing the rights of all” and that the Sunni population in Iraq is “not a minority.” He rejected the notion that one parliamentary bloc has the right “to decide the fate” of the country and asserted that the unilateral imposition of “political will” is wrong. Al-Nujaifi warned that any “political settlements” or reconciliations are “unacceptable” in light of Shia militias’ prior offenses. Al-Nujaifi is one of the Sunni lawmakers who announced after the vote that he would boycott the legislation.

On November 27, President of the Kurdistan Region, Massoud Barzani, called the new law to legalize PMUs in Iraq a “good move” and noted it is the Iraqi government’s duty to now support the Kurdish Peshmerga, like the PMU, as part of Iraq’s “defense system.” Iraqi Parliament voted on November 26 to officially legalize PMUs in Iraq and that the group’s would now be an independent force that is part of the larger Iraqi armed forces. The law was met with strong disapproval from Sunni Arab lawmakers.

Turkey Threatens Repercussions if PMUs Overstep in Tal Afar

On November 25, an anonymous local source reported that an ISIS leader named Wali Afar brought all foreign ISIS militants into a Mosque and told them to leave Tal Afar and go to Syria and called on local militants to fight for their city. The source claimed that money disputes have formed between foreign and local militants that “could trigger armed clashes between militants.” A later source on November 26 reported that Wali Afar, along with four of his aids fled to Baaj, 135 kilometers west of Mosul, with what the sources claims is millions of dollars extracted from two years of crude oil royalties in Tal Afar, 67 kilometers west of Mosul. The source claimed that the ISIS leader and his aids are most likely fleeing to Syria and will not return to their home countries. The source did not indicate the nationalities of the ISIS members.  

On November 25, commander of the Popular Mobilization Committee, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, reported that PMU militias are being bombarded by mortar shells daily by ISIS militants in Tal Afar Airport, just south of Tal Afar. Numerous PMU forces have been injured in mortar strike since they took Tal Afar Airport on November 16.

On November 25, an anonymous PMU source in Ninewa Province reported that ISIS militants were using small drones with cameras attached to them to monitor PMU positions. ISIS has been known to use small drones to both monitor security forces in Iraq and Syria, and conduct attacks on security forces by putting explosives on the drones.

On November 26, a PMU militia source claimed to have freed 400 families from ISIS in the village of Al Ajburi al Ani, 56 kilometers west of Mosul. The PMU militia claimed that ISIS was using the family members as human shields. A PMU militia source later reported that Alaftsh, 57 kilometers west of Mosul, and Tel Samir, 30 kilometers northwest of Tal Afar was cleared of ISIS militants.  

On November 26, Federal Police Chief, Raed Shakir Jawdat, reported that federal police took control of the road that links Tal Afar, 67 kilometers west of Mosul. Federal police also managed to capture the village of Umm al-Izam, 26 kilometers west of Mosul.

On November 27, Shafaq News reported that mainly Iranian, Shia-backed PMUs were amassing troops on roads near Tal Afar, 67 kilometers west of Mosul; cutting the last remaining supply routes into Mosul. An anonymous truck driver reported that the roads connecting Tal Afar and Mosul are unsafe to travel, claiming he has seen burning vehicles and sporadic fighting near the road. PMU forces are hoping to fully secure the road and are currently finishing their encirclement of Tal Afar. However, the historical presence of abuses at the hands of mainly Shia PMUs could draw Turkey into a potential conflict with Baghdad. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned PMUs that Turkey will get involved if PMU militias “caused terror” in Tal Afar, a city largely populated by Sunnis Turkmen.      

On November 28, the Badr Brigade PMU announced that it repelled an ISIS attack and killed 31 militants in the Sharia village, 82 kilometers west of Mosul. The PMU claimed that ISIS was trying to claim the area to expose security forces to attacks by militants. During the operation three vehicles and 37 weapons were destroyed.       

On November 29, Ninewa Provincial Council Member, Hossam al-Abbar, reported that joint security forces, including the Iraqi army, police, and PMUs, have surrounded Tal Afar, 67 kilometers west of Mosul, on three sides in preparation for the assault on the city. Abbar claimed that while the PMUs will participate in the assault by clearing small villages on the outskirts of the city. The actual assault will be tasked to the ISF. Reports by security forces around the city claim that ISIS is using human shields and planting IEDs to target fleeing civilians.

On November 30, PMU leadership reported that PMU forces cleared ISIS from the two villages of al-Bawtha, 71 kilometers southwest of Mosul; and al-Salihia, 133 kilometers southwest of Mosul. PMU forces reported that engineers are working to clear the areas of IED and other explosive devices.

Humanitarian Conditions in Hawija Remain Dire

On November 26, the Ministry of Displacement and Migration announced that 2,219 internally displaced persons (IDPs) arrived in four camps that day. Most of the IDPs reportedly fled ISIS violence in Hawija, 55 kilometers west of Kirkuk City in Kirkuk Province. The Ministry’s statement added that a total of more than 76,000 IDPs arrived in camps since military operations to clear Mosul of ISIS militants began on October 17. Some of these IDPs have since returned to their places of origin, despite security risks in cities newly cleared of ISIS militants.

On November 26, the District Police Chief of Kirkuk, Sarhad Qadir, reported that 112 displaced families arrived at IDP camps in Kirkuk Province after fleeing the dire humanitarian situation in the ISIS-controlled city of Hawija, 55 kilometers west of Kirkuk City in Kirkuk Province. It is noteworthy that Hawija has been occupied by ISIS since June 2014 but was passed over in the rush to clear ISIS from Mosul. Civilians in Hawija face a shortage of food, water, and medicine, as well as violence. Those who flee face retribution or roadside improvised explosive devices (IEDs) planted by ISIS or retribution by the group.

On November 27, Media Official of the PMU “51,” Roudhan al-Jubouri, claimed that ISIS leaders Mushtaq al-Shsharei and Rashid Mutlaq, demanded that their militants withdraw from the east side of Hawija, 55 kilometers west of Kirkuk, or blow themselves up. Jubouri claimed that militants on the east coast are “in a state of fear” as security forces approach the city.       

On November 27, Almada Press interviewed IDPs who fled violence in the ISIS-controlled city of Hawija, 55 kilometers west of Kirkuk City in Kirkuk Province. One such IDP, Hamada Moussa, described conditions in Hawija as “a living hell” and called ISIS’s acts of violence “genocide”. He explained to Almada Press that two of his children died of exposure and hunger on the journey from Hawija to al-Alam, 10 kilometers northwest of Tikrit in Salah ad-Din Province. A third child of his was wounded by shrapnel from one of the many IEDs ISIS has planted along evacuation routes from Hawija. Hundreds of people continue to flee Hawija daily, and approximately 27,000 IDPs from Hawija are currently sheltered in five UNHCR camps as well as in the Iraqi Government’s Qayyarah Jedaa camp.

On November 27, an anonymous security source in Kirkuk Province reported that ISIS executed civilians from “selected neighborhoods” in the Zab area, 95 kilometers west of Kirkuk, under the presumption that they had cooperated with security forces and assisted families fleeing violence in the south and west of Kirkuk. The civilians were executed by firing squad in an area west the city of Kirkuk.

On November 28, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported on the humanitarian crisis in the ISIS-controlled town of Hawija, 55 kilometers west of Kirkuk City in Kirkuk Province. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 46,000 people from Hawija are currently displaced; nearly half of them sheltering in IDP camps in Kirkuk Province. Approximately one third are displaced in Salah ad-Din Province, sheltering in precarious shelter situations such as unfinished buildings. The remainder are spread between Ninewa and Erbil Provinces. Humanitarian partners estimate that military efforts to clear Hawija of ISIS militants could trigger a displacement of up to 114,000 people. Until the city is cleared, however, civilians living under ISIS’s occupation face grim humanitarian conditions, with serious shortages of food, water, and public services, as well as the threat of violence from ISIS militants.

On November 29,  UNHCR reported that approximately 630 people from Hawija arrived at UNHCR’s Daquq and Laylan camps, both located in Kirkuk Province, over the past week. Some families initially went to al-Alam, but were unable to obtain sponsorships to stay in the host community. One group was struck by an IED on their journey, which resulted in 11 casualties, including four fatalities. Six separated children were also among the new arrivals.

KRG Considers Reform

On November 24, Member of Kurdish Parliament, Hoshyar Abdullah suggested the abolition of the post of president of the region as a possible solution to the political crisis in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Abdullah said the powers and responsibilities from the position could be distributed amongst Parliament and other areas of the government, adding that the goal of this decision would be to solve a “large part of the existing problems” over the role of the presidency. He added that “presidential systems in the Middle East” quickly turn into “totalitarian dictatorships,” and cited Saddam Hussein’s regime as an example. Politicians in Kurdistan have recently discussed an overhaul of the KRG in an attempt to resolve the myriad political crises with the current structure.

On November 27, official of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), Farhad Kirkuki reported that an armed group attacked the party’s headquarters in Chamchamal, 55 kilometers west of the city of Sulaimania, with automatic weapons. Kirkuki claimed that the headquarters were targeted to intimidate the party after KDP leader, Massoud Barzani, launched initiatives to address political problems within the Kurdistan region. The attack resulted in zero casualties and the KDP reported that the party will continue their effort to address problems in the Kurdistan region. The identity of the attackers are still unknown.

On November 27, President of the Kurdistan Region, Massoud Barzani, announced the formation of a committee to address the “internal situation” in the KRG. On November 20, Barzani agreed with calls from politicians to hold elections to elect a new president and to form a new government in an attempt to rectify the current economic and political crisis in the region that is mainly due to the dramatically low oil prices.

On November 29, the political bureau of the KDP announced the launch of a new round of talks with all Kurdish political parties to address the ongoing problems in the territory, demanding that lawmakers take advantage of this momentum to implement real changes. An anonymous source told Al Sumaria news the bureau is hoping parties would put aside partisan interests in order to make a real difference.

OPEC Reaches Agreement on Production Cuts

On November 28, delegates for the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) confirmed that some progress had been made in reaching a production cut deal. OPEC members are currently meeting in Vienna where they hope to reach a new deal in order to assuage the dramatically low oil prices; however, differences related to Iraqi and Iranian levels of production have not been settled yet. The Iraq Oil Ministry believes Iraq should be exempt from any production cut due to the ongoing military operations and economic crisis in the country.

On November 29, anonymous sources party to OPEC negotiations in Vienna reported that Iran and Iraq are resisting pressure from Saudi Arabia, the largest oil-producing OPEC member, to agree to any limits on production. Iraq has previously asked for an exemption to any oil reduction agreement due to the ongoing operations against the so-called Islamic State in Mosul, while Iran wants an exemption to continue recovering from sanctions on its oil industry. Oil prices fell in response to the so far unsuccessful meetings. OPEC has been trying to finalize a reduction agreement between members to help restabilize the oil market, which has seen a dramatic decrease in prices since 2014.

On November 30, OPEC announced its first agreement to cut oil production since 2008. Under the proposed terms, production would be cut by 1.4 million barrels a day, equivalent to 1.5% of global production. In addition, oil producers outside of OPEC, including Russia, agreed to contribute cuts of of about 600,000 barrels a day. After the announcement, crude oil prices rose 8% to over US$ 50 dollars, which is the biggest increase since February. The three biggest OPEC members, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran, resolved previous disputes over who would receives exemptions to any production deal. Saudi Arabia has accepted to allow Iran to raise production levels as it continues to recovers from sanctions on its oil industry. However, Iraq Oil Minister, Jabbar al-Luaibi confirmed Iraq will participate in the production cut, despite being a strong advocate for Iraq being exempt, citing the ongoing military operations against ISIS militants in the country. Iraq is expected to cut production by about 200,000 barrels per day starting in January 2017 (Iraq currently exports around 4.7 million barrels of oil per day). The OPEC deal will be a six-month accord monitored by committee.  

On December 1, oil prices rose 13% to US$ 52.54 per barrel after the announcement of the new OPEC agreement to cut production. Prices rose substantially also due to the agreement including non-OPEC members like Russia agreeing to participate. Prices continued to rise during the day, ultimately reaching US$ 53.79, which is the highest price since October 2015. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Oil announced November saw an “unprecedented” level in Iraqi oil exports, with some days reaching export levels of 4 million barrels per day.

12/01/16Sadr City, Northeast Baghdad0Unknown
12/01/16Sadr City, Northeast Baghdad0Unknown
12/01/16Camp Sarah, East Baghdad03
12/01/16Maktab Khaled, Southwest of Kirkuk02
12/01/16Sha’ab, Northeast of Baghdad27
11/30/16Zayouna, East of Baghdad 00
11/30/16Amiriyah Fallujah, South of Fallujah10
11/29/16Dibs, Northwest of Ramadi41
11/29/16al-Baghdadi, West of Ramadi10
11/29/16Riyadh, Southwest of Kirkuk04
11/28/16Jamila, East Baghdad25
11/27/16Mahmudiyah, South Baghdad25
11/26/16Suwaib, Southwest of Baghdad15
11/26/16Al-Arifiyah, Southeast Baghdad18
11/25/16Obeidi, East Baghdad15
11/25/16Hosseinia, North of Baghdad16
11/25/16Hawija Area, Southwest of Kirkuk04
11/25/16Jalawla, Northeast of Baquba24
11/24/16Bayaa, Southwest of Baghdad16
11/24/16Ghazaliya, West Baghdad17
11/24/16Hilla, Southeast of Baghdad7525

IMPORTANT: Reporting of IED incidents in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq are lower than usual this week, but this is not indicative of an actual decrease in IED incidents. Al Mada Press is our typical source for IED reports, but some Iraq watchers have criticized their limited coverage of IED attacks in recent days.

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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