Iraq

ISHM: April 29 - May 6, 2021

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Key Takeaways:

  • De-Baathification Returns As Election Nears; Iraqi President Confirms "Ongoing" Riyadh-Tehran Talks; Militia Commander Calls For Depopulating Volatile Towns -- On April 29, reports emerged of a push by the deputy speaker of parliament to re-establish the "De-Baathification" committee, causing uproar about its possible use to eliminate political rivals. On May 2, IHEC said it registered 267 parties and 33 electoral alliances, which include alliances between Abadi and Hakim, and between the PUK and Gorran. On May 2, the Federal Supreme Court rejected an appeal to revive provisional councils disbanded in 2019. On May 4, PMF Commision asked the Finance Minister to increase its funding so it could rehire former PMF fighters. On May 2, Kataib Hezbollah militia openly called for the forced displacement of residents from predominantly Sunni Arab towns witnessing frequent attacks, implying that depopulation was the only way to curb ISIS.On May 4, Iraqi Health Minister Hassan al-Timimi resigned his position. On May 4, PM Kadhimi met with Brett McGurk and discussed the future of U.S. combat troops presence. On May 5, President Salih confirmed that Iraq hosted direct talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran. more...
  • Daring ISIS Attacks Target Iraqi Army, Peshmerga And Oil Fields; Rockets Hit Air Bases And Baghdad Airport -- Between April 30 -May 6, 12 IED explosions and 11 ISIS attacks killed at least 17 people and injured more than 30 across Iraq. Five of the explosions targeted International Coalition supply convoys in Babylon, Muthanna, Basra, Salah ad-Din, and Anbar. This week's incidents also included an April 30, complex attack that killed six Iraqi army personnel in northern Baghdad, and a May 1 attack that killed a Peshmerga officer and two fighters in Kirkuk. Another complex attack involving two IEDs targeted the Bai Hassan oilfield, killing and injured several security members and setting two wells on fire. Between May 2-4, three rocket attacks targeted Baghdad Airport, Balad Air base in Salah ad-Din, and Ain al-Assad air base in Anbar. more...
  • Army Officer Faces Prison Over Torture Case; Government To Impose National Lock Down; New Case Averages Decline As Vaccinations Rise -- On May 3, a court sentenced an Iraqi army lieutenant to five years in prison for torturing an Imam suspected of being an ISIS militant to death.. On May 3, the Iraqi Women Journalist's Forum said that journalists witnessed more than 70 press freedom violations in the last 12 months. On May 4, the Iraqi government approved several measures to curb COVID-19, including suspension of in-person learning and a national lock down. On May 4, USAID said it will provide medical and non-medical equipment to bring Ibn al-Khatib hospital online. On May 6, Iraq began a phased repatriation of 500 families from the al-Hol camp in Syria. On May 6, Iraq's Health Ministry said the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increased to 1,098,187. Deaths from confirmed COVID-19 cases reached 15,673 and the daily average for new cases decreased from 6,927/day over the 7-day period ending April 29 to 5,627/day during the last 7-day period. The total number of people who received the COVID-19 vaccine reached 414,919, including the 21,017 who received their shots on May 6. more...
  • Oil Exports Generate 5.5 Billion In April; Basra Gas Company To Increase Production -- On May 2, Iraq's Oil Ministry said that crude oil exports during April totaled 88.398 million barrels and generated $5.525 billion in revenue. On May 3, Baghdad said it's considering a buyback of ExxonMobil's stake in the West Qurna 1 oilfield. Meanwhile, the Oil Ministry announced a three billion dollar development plan for the Basra Gas Company to increase gas production from 1,000 to 1,400 million cubic feet per day, with the goal of producing 2,400 million cubic feet per day by 2025. 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.

De-Baathification Returns As Election Nears; Iraqi President Confirms "Ongoing" Riyadh-Tehran Talks; Militia Commander Calls For Depopulating Volatile Towns

On April 29, a parliamentary order to change the name of the National Reconciliation and Tribes committee to the "De-Baathification" committee caused political uproar. Several lawmakers and political leaders interpret the name change as a maneuver to exclude dozens of rivals from running in the October elections, while supporters of the change see it as a measure to stop Baath sympathizers from re-entering the political process. An official document recording the name change carried the signature of the Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi, however, a parliamentary source said that Deputy Speaker Hassan al-Kaabi signed the order. In addition, al-Kaabi, who is a Sadrist, expanded the size of the committee and added himself to it. Muqtada al-Sadr, leader of the Sadrist Movement, had demanded reactivation of de-Baathification laws in the country.

On May 2, the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) said it registered 267 parties, of which 122 expressed interest in participating in the October elections, and 33 electoral alliances. On May 1, former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi formed an alliance with Ammar al-Hakim to enter the election as one entity called the National Power of the State Coalition. Meanwhile, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) formed the Kurdistan Alliance with the Gorran Movement. IHEC has yet to release the final list of registered parties and alliances. On May 6, the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan said it is boycotting the upcoming elections.

On May 2, the Federal Supreme Court (FSC) rejected an appeal to overturn a parliament resolution that dissolved provisional councils under pressure from popular protests in 2019. The court ruled that the basis of the appeal, a 2018 law that guaranteed the continuity of provincial councils until elections are held, is in itself, unconstitutional.

On May 2, a top commander of the Kataib Hezbollah (KH) militia openly called for the forced displacement of residents from predominantly Sunni Arab towns witnessing escalated attacks, implying that depopulation was the only way to curb ISIS. "The security situation in Tarmiyah and al-Mukhaisa village in Diyala will not stabilize without copying the experiment" of Jurf al-Sakhr south of Baghdad, said Abu Ali al-Askari, the head of security in the militia in a post on Telegram. Local officials and activists say militias that seized the town during the fighting with ISIS, are preventing 100,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from returning to their homes in Jurf al-Sakhar and surrounding areas. Al-Askari's statement is a rare acknowledgment of such human rights violations, which Iranian-backed militias, and political backers deny and often dismiss them as "Baathist" or "ISIS friendly" talking points. On May 3, sources told al-Mada that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif promised Sunni political leader Khamis al-Khanjar during his visit to Baghdad last week to address the situation in Jurf al-Sakhr, and to "make real changes on the ground" to return residents to their town.

On May 3, Iraq summoned the Turkish envoy to protest an unauthorized visit by Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar to Iraqi territories last week to inspect troops conducting an operation against PKK fighters in northern Iraq. Baghdad also condemned a statement by the Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu regarding Ankara's intention to establish a military base in northern Iraq. Iraq'sDeputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Nizar al-Khairallah told the Turkish Chargé d'Affairs that Baghdad "categorically rejects the continuing violations of Iraqi sovereignty and sanctity of its lands and airspace" by the Turkish military forces.

On May 4, PMF Commision asked the Finance Minister to use his authority under the new budget law to allocate more than IQD 382 billion to the commission in order to rehire former PMF fighters who had their contracts terminated. Article 50-a of the budget law allows the Finance Minister to add no more than IQD500 billion ($342 million) to the budget as a stopgap measure to pay salaries for government employees and contractors when necessary. On May 2, authorities evacuated the Finance Ministry building after dozens of former PMF fighters who have been protesting for weeks, approached the building and surrounded the main gate. Sources said security guards fired live shots in the air to disperse the crowds.

On May 4, Iraqi Health Minister Hassan al-Timimi resigned his position, ten days after the tragic fire at Ibn al-Khatib hospital in Baghdad. In his letter to Prime Minister Kadhimi, Timimi listed his "accomplishments" and lamented the lack of government support and "haphazard" health policies, and said that what happened at Ibn al-Khatib "could happen again" in any medical facility in Iraq. Timimi's resignation came after a government investigation committee recommended relieving several health and hospital officials from their duties.

On May 4, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi met with the White House Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, Brett McGurk, in Baghdad, and discussed implementing the outcome of the strategic dialogue between the U.S. and Iraq. Kadhimi and McGurk discussed the future of security cooperation, "especially with regard to the withdrawal of combat troops," according to a statement by Kadhimi's office. McGurk also met with the Iraqi President Barham Saleh, Parliament Speaker Mohmmed al-Halbousi, and officials in the KRG, where he affirmed the long standing friendship between the United States and Kurdistan.

On May 5, the Iraqi President Barham Salih confirmed earlier reports that his country has hosted direct talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran in April. Salih described the talks as "on going" and that the two rivals have held multiple rounds in Baghdad. Riyadh and Tehran have denied holding such talks, but expressed readiness to reconcile and welcomed Baghdad's efforts.

On May 5, a source said that security forces used live fire to disperse dozens of protesters who gathered in Palestine Street in eastern Baghdad to demand better public services. A stampede caused by the use of live fire injured three protesters.

Daring ISIS Attacks Target Iraqi Army, Peshmerga And Oil Fields; Rockets Hit Air Bases And Baghdad Airport

On April 30, an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) explosion and an ISIS attack killed three Iraqi army officers and three soldiers in Tarmiya subdistrict north of Baghdad. Sources said ISIS militants attacked a security tower in the area, and as army enforcement arrived, an IED detonated near a military vehicle. The attack also injured three soldiers.

On April 30, ISIS militants attacked two Federal Police checkpoints in Hawija of Kirkuk province. The attack killed at least one policeman and injured another.

On April 30, sources said that ISIS militants attacked a police patrol in the Gloz village south of Daquq district in Kirkuk province. The attack killed a policeman and injured five soldiers. On May 3, ISIS militants attacked an PMF checkpoint in the Basheer village south of Daquq. A security source said the attack killed a PMF fighter and wounded three others. On the same day, a source said that ISIS militants attacked an Iraqi army force in the Wadi al-Shai area near Daquq. The attack injured two soldiers.

On April 30, an IED exploded near an Iraqi army patrol in Buhruz subdistrict of Diyala province, injuring an officer and a soldier.

On April 30, a security source said ISIS militants attacked an Iraqi army checkpoint in the village of Zingeli east of Salah ad-Din province, injuring a soldier.

On April 30, two PMF fighters suffered injuries when ISIS militants attacked their checkpoint in Naft Khanah north western Diyala province.

On May 1, an ISIS attack on a Peshmerga checkpoint killed an officer and two fighters near Alton Kobri subdistrict in Kirkuk province. Two Peshmerga fighters were also injured in the attack that lasted 45 minutes. Sources said assailants launched their attack from buffer zones between Peshmerga and Iraqi forces.

On May 1, ISIS militants attacked a PMF checkpoint in Saddia subdistrict in Diyala province. The attack didn't cause casualties, but significantly damaged a power transfer tower supplying electricity from Iran to Diyala. On May 3, officials said crews repaired the Mirsad-Diyala powerline and restored service.

On May 1, a security source said gunmen attacked a checkpoint in a village north west of Baquba city in Diyala province. The attack injured two members of the checkpoint.

On May 1, an IED blast killed an Iraqi army Brigadier General and a sergeant in Akashat, west of Anbar province.

On May 2, a Katyusha rocket landed in the vicinity of Baghdad International Airport without causing casualties or damage. The C-RAM defense system intercepted a second rocket and destroyed it midair. Security forces later found the rocket launcher in the Abu-Ghraib area, west of Baghdad.

On May 2, an IED exploded near an International Coalition supply convoy traveling near Hilla in Babylon province. A second blast of similar nature targeted another supply convoy near Samawa city in Muthanna province. On May 4, an IED exploded near a supplies shipping station for the International Coalition close to the borders with Kuwait. A security source said the blast happened in the Jireshan area of Basra province. On May 6, an IED exploded near an International Coalition supply convoy in Salah ad-Din. None of these attacks caused casualties or damage. Another IED explosion near a supply convoy in Anbar injured a private security guard and damaged two vehicles in the convoy.

On May 2, a security source said an IED explosion injured four Iraqi army soldiers while on patrol in the Tuzhormatu district of Salah ad-Din province.

On May 2, an IED exploded near a civilian vehicle in the village of al-Mahmoudiya southeast of Mosul city. The blast damaged the vehicle without causing casualties.

On May 3, a rocket attack targeted Balad air base in Salah ad-Din province. Security officials said four Katyusha rockets landed in an empty area within the base.

On May 4, the Iraqi Security Media Cell said two Katyousha rockets landed in an empty field inside Ain al-Assad air base in Anbar province.The attack didn't cause any damage.

On May 5, the explosion of a remnant of war killed two Iraqi soldiers and wounded a third in the Jaweeda area of Basra province.

On May 5, the Oil Ministry said a "terrorist" attack targeted Bai Hassan oilfield in Kirkuk province. The attack killed and injured several security members and caused fires in two wells. A security source said ISIS militants attacked an Energy Police checkpoint in the area, killing a policeman and injuring another. Two IED explosions caused the fires in well #177 and #183, while security forces removed a third IED near well #41.

Army Officer Faces Prison Over Torture Case; Government To Impose National Lock Down; New Case Averages Decline As Vaccinations Rise

On May 3, the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) said a criminal court in Ninewa found an Iraqi army lieutenant guilty of torturing-to-death an Imam suspected of being an ISIS militant in western Mosul. The court ruled that the officer violated the suspect's rights by detaining him without a warrant, interrogating him, and physically torturing the man until he died in custody in the spring of 2018. The court sentenced the officer to five years in prison. Ninewa's governor and former Operations Commander Najim al-Jubouri said the officer's actions were against the military code and violated human rights.

On May 3, Iraqi authorities airlifted 399 citizens who were stranded in India following the suspension of air travel amid a massive spike in infections with the B.1.617 mutation (Indian variant) of coronavirus there. Iraqi health officials said they followed all public safety and COVID-related measures when the evacuees arrived and when authorities transported them to a hotel designated for a 14-day isolation. On May 4, the Health Ministry said 82 of those evacuees have tested positive for COVID-19, none with the Indian variant of the virus. Officials estimate that 1250-1300 Iraqis remain in India, and say that the government is planning three or four more flights to bring them home.

On May 3, the Iraqi Women Journalist's Forum documented more than 70 press freedom violations in Iraq during the last 12 months. Violations included murder, threat, arrest, harassment and extortion, in addition to 12 cases of gender discrimation against women. Reporters Without Borders' 2021 World Press Freedom Index, ranked Iraq as the 163rd country in the world for press freedoms -- a rank lower than where it was in 2020.

On May 4, the Iraqi government approved several measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the country, including suspension of all in-person learning in all schools and universities, except for the graduating classes of medical, dental and nursing schools. Authorities also issued requirements for a two-week self isolation period for all incoming travelers, and a temporary ban on travel from and to India. The government is also imposing a national lock down for ten days effective May 12.

On May 4, the United States announced a grant to help repair and reopen Ibn al-Khatib hospital, where 82 people died in a massive fire last week. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) said that it plans to replace medical and non-medical equipment damaged in the fire, including hospital beds, patient monitors, and personal protective equipment needed to treat COVID-19 patients. The agency will also work with authorities in Baghdad to install a new fire safety system at the hospital.

On May 6, Iraq began a phased repatriation of about 500 families from the al-Hol IDP camp in Syria. Sources said buses transporting 385 Iraqis departed the camp and are headed to the Iraqi border, to be eventually settled in al-Jadaa IDP camp south of Mosul. The plan to resettle those refugees, who are dubbed as "ISIS families," has been met with push-back from local officials and Ninewa residents who fear that many of these refugees have alleged ties to ISIS. On May 6, Ninewa Governor Najim al-Jubouri asked the government to delay resettlement of those Iraqis near Mosul.

On May 6, the Iraqi government announced a National Plan for Human Rights, in partnership with civil society organizations. The plan has 26 articles mostly derived from the Human Rights Council's recommendations. Justice Minister Salar Abd al-Sattar said the plan will be a strong foundation for human rights in Iraq.

On May 6, the Iraqi Ministry of Health said the total number of COVID-19 infections reached 1,098,187. This is an increase of 39,393 from the 1,058,794 reported on April 29. Of these cases, 96,389 are currently in hospitals, including 566 being treated in ICUs. These numbers represent a significant decrease of 12,046 in hospitalizations and an increase of five cases in ICU admissions since April 29. Ministry data indicated that there were 240 new COVID-19 deaths since April 29, bringing the total from 15,433 to 15,673. The total number of recoveries increased from 934,935 to 986,134. The average number of new cases was 5,627 per day during the last 7-day period, compared to an average of 6,927 per day during the 7-day period ending April 29. In the past 24 hours, the areas with the highest case counts were Baghdad with 2,645 cases, Basra with 735 cases, Diyala with 472 cases, Sulaymaniyah with 326 cases, Babylon with 249 cases, and Salah ad-Din with 243 cases. To date, Iraq has tested a total of 9,565,625 samples for COVID 19. The total number of people who received the COVID-19 vaccine reached 414,919, including the 21,017 who received their shots on May 6.

Oil Exports Generate 5.5 Billion In April; Basra Gas Company To Increase Production

On May 2, the Iraqi Ministry of Oil announced that crude oil exports during April totaled 88.398 million barrels, for an average of 2.947 million bpd, which is 2,000 bpd more than March's average of 2.945 million bpd. The April exports generated $5.525 billion in revenue, slightly lower than March's $5.782 billion. Iraq sold its crude oil at an average price of $62.5 per barrel, $0.82 below March's average of $63.32 per barrel. Shipped exports from fields in southern and central Iraq averaged 2.851 million bpd in April, while average exports from the northern fields in Kirkuk, which were exported through the Turkish port of Ceyhan, stood at 95,446 bpd.

On May 3, the Iraqi Minister of Oil Ihsan Abdul-Jabbar said the government is considering a buyback of ExxonMobil's stake in West Qurna 1 oilfield, after the U.S. company expressed interest in selling its share of 32.7%. Basra Oil Company (BOC) would buy the shares on behalf of the Iraqi government and become the field's operator should the parties reach an agreement. In addition to ExxonMobil, other West Qurna 1 partners are PetroChina (32.7%), Japan's Itochu (19.6%), Indonesia's Pertamina (10%) and Iraq's Oil Exploration Co. (5%).

On May 3, the Iraqi government announced a three billion dollar development plan in the Basra Gas Company to increase gas production from 1,000 to 1,400 million cubic feet per day, with the goal of producing 2,400 million cubic feet per day by 2025. Iraq aims to achieve the initial 400 million cubic feet per day increase through the "Basra NGL Project" which involves two stages, each adding 200 million cubic feet per day. The plan also includes increasing exports of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) from the current 30,000 tonnes a month to 70,000 tonnes a month. Oil Minister Ihsan Abdul-Jabbar said the boost in gas production would also benefit refining and petrochemical industries in the country.