**Violent Anti-Government Protests in the Kurdistan Region Result in Dozens of Casualties – **On December 18, several thousand demonstrators gathered in Sulaimania to protest corruption, poor public services, and the non-payment of civil servant salaries by the Kurdistan Regional Government. On December 19 and 20, the protests grew in number and became increasingly more violent as demonstrators clashed with security officials and set fire to KDP, PUK, and other political party headquarters in cities across the Kurdistan Region. In Rania, approximately 125 kilometers northwest of Sulaimania, at least two people were killed and 80 wounded. Kurdish Asayish police forces raided the offices of NRT, a private media channel in Sulaimania, and arrested several employees including NRT founder Shaswar Abdulwahid, alleging that he played a role in inciting the protests. The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq called for an end to the violence and pressed the KRG to ensure freedom of citizens’ right to protest and freedom of the press. more…
**German Government Makes Aid Contingent on Resolution of Baghdad-Erbil Conflict – **Following meetings in Berlin between Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government Nechirvan Barzani and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the German Government announced that future aid to Iraq would be contingent on a peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict between the KRG and the Iraqi federal government over the KRG’s push for independence. Germany is one of the largest international donors to Iraq, contributing approximately US$ 1.2 billion since 2014. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said that Germany’s “support is for Iraq as a unified state… We want to continue that, but the precondition is that Iraq solves its internal conflicts peacefully and democratically, and that we find a way out of the tense situation we are in now.” The KRG has made several attempts to negotiate with Baghdad, but those offers have so far gone unanswered. more…
**Sistani Calls for PMUs to Merge with ISF; U.S. Troops in Iraq ‘Long-Term’ – **On December 15, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called on Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units to become part of the Iraqi Security Forces or reject political participation. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi welcomed Sistani’s call. Days earlier, prominent Iran-backed Shia PMU leaders, Hadi al-Amiri of the Badr Brigade and Qais al-Khazali announced that they were placing their militias under Abadi’s command, and influential Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr issued a similar command to the Peace Brigades last week. The closeness of militias to Iraqi political parties has been of concern as Iraq prepares for provincial and national elections in May 2018. Meanwhile, the United States is prepared to remain in Iraq to continue training, intelligence, and surveillance programs in order to prevent terrorist resurgence, according to a report by USA Today. more…
**Mosul Civilian Casualty Counts Still Underestimated – **The Associated Press reports that the number of civilians killed during the battle for Mosul from October 2016 to July 2017 has been vastly underestimated, and suggests that 9,000 to 11,000 fatalities is more accurate – a number 10 times larger than official estimates. AP generated the estimate from reports by Airwars, Amnesty International, Iraq Body Count, civilian reporting, and the Mosul morgue. Hundreds of civilians are still believed to be buried in the rubble, particularly in the city’s western half. more…
**Minimum Wage Increased; Personal Status Law May Be Reintroduced Next Year – **Iraq’s Council of Ministers approved an increase of the national minimum wage, raising it from 250,000 Iraqi dinars (approximately US$ 210) per month to 350,000 Iraqi dinars (approximately US$ 294 per month) per month. Meanwhile, the much-rejected amendments to Iraq’s Personal Status Law, which would have allowed religious judges to weigh in on family matters and significantly curtail women’s rights, may be reintroduced in the Iraqi Parliament ahead of the May 2018 elections, according to a report by Human Rights Watch. more…
Please note: ISHM will not be published for the next three weeks as we celebrate the holiday season, relocate our offices, and transition to a new research team. We will return to our regular schedule on Thursday, January 11, 2018.
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.
Violent Anti-Government Protests in the Kurdistan Region Result in Dozens of Casualties
On December 18, at least 3,000 demonstrators gathered in Sulaimania to protest against the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), demanding that the Kurdish political leaders step down. Protesters were angry at the unpaid salaries of government employees, as well as numerous other issues such as corruption. One sign read: “Stop 26 years of robbery and wrong decisions.” The protesters torched the offices of several political parties in Sulaimania. Reports confirmed that Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) offices were among the targeted parties. One source reported that five offices of Kurdish political parties were torched, including the Kurdish Islamic Group, the Kurdish Islamic Union, and the Asayish security forces headquarters.
On December 18, clashes broke out between protesters and security forces in Sulaimania Province. According to an anonymous source, the clashes occurred after security forces attempted to block off the road to disperse demonstrators. The source also reported that the protesters threw stones and that the security forces used tear gas.
On December 18, the Kurdish Gorran Party and the Kurdistan Islamic Group expressed support for the demands of the demonstrators in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). The two parties announced that they were committed “to continue joint action.” Mass demonstrations began in several major cities in the KRI demanding better living conditions and disbursement of salaries for government employees, which had been delayed for months.
On December 19, demonstrations in the KRI continued for a second day. The KRI’s Director of Health, Miran Muhammad, reported that at least six people died and 70 people were wounded during the protests in Rania, Sulaimania Province. A later report revised the casualty count to 2 dead and 87 injured.
On December 19, protesters attacked a PUK building in Kefri in Sulaimania Province. Reportedly, the demonstrators “were outraged by the injustice and practices of the ruling parties in the territory that took control of all joints of life.” Security forces attempted to disperse the protesters but were unable.
On December 19, protesters attacked the mayor’s office in Koya District in Erbil Province. The demonstrators set fire to the building, leading to reports of multiple injuries.
On December 19, the KRG released a statement to the press addressing the mass demonstrations taking place in the KRI. It said that it “considers the demonstration a legitimate right of citizens” and that it would always defend citizen’s rights to demonstrate. However, the KRG also expressed concerns about violence that had occurred during the demonstrations, especially in Sulaimania, where a number of government offices had been targeted and several people were injured. The statement called on government institutions to “deal with the events in accordance with the law and protect the property of citizens and their security and stability” and not to allow the exploitation of the demonstrations for political gains by any political party. On December 19, the Kurdistan Regional Parliament issued a statement responding to the demonstrations taking place throughout cities in the KRI. The Parliament said it recognized citizens’ grievances: “the difficult living conditions of employees and Peshmerga and retirees because of the political and financial crisis” the KRI faced. The statement supported the citizen’s rights to express their demands through “quiet and civilized” demonstrations, but asked them to avoid violence such as burning down political offices and damaging public property. The statement argued that the use of violence distorts the “real objective” of the demonstrations and served the “enemies of our people who are trying to cause chaos” and dismantle the Kurdistan entity. The Parliament ensured that it was working continuously to address the problems and answer citizen’s demands. On December 19, Kurdish Asayish forces raided the offices of NRT, a private media channel in Sulaimania, and took it off the air. NRT’s chief said that Shaswar Abdulwahid, founder of NRT’s parent company, was arrested when he landed in Sulaimania that evening. Abdulwahid led a campaign opposing the referendum for independence in the KRI, which was held on September 25. He has since begun his own political party, the New Generation Movement, and has called on people to protest against the government. On December 19, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) asserted its concern over reports that Al Sharqiya TV had been closed by the governor of Anbar due to a problem with its licensing. The outlet denied the claim, and the Committee to Protect Journalists has alleged that the closing of the station came hours after it published a piece about the governor planning to rig the May 2018 elections. A statement issued by UNAMI said, “A free and impartial media forms the basis of a democratic society. Any steps taken against the media must be avoided and must not be applied except in exceptional cases and in full conformity with domestic law and international human rights obligations.” UNAMI also highlighted the deaths of journalists and the closure of other television stations when addressing its concerns. On December 20, UNAMI called for an end to the violence in the KRI that came with the demonstrations of the two prior days. UNAMI requested that KRI security forces and the demonstrators act with restraint and refrain from harming each other or any property. UNAMI also reiterated its call from the day before for the government to respect the media after reports that NRT TV had been forced to suspend broadcasts due to its coverage of the protests. On December 20, the United States (U.S.) Embassy in Baghdad issued a statement of concern about freedom of expression in the KRI, following the raid of Asayish security forces on the NRT channel headquarters a day earlier, as well as “calls by some federal and provincial officials to close offices of Al Sharqiya TV.” The statement said that the U.S. supports the freedom of expression in Iraq, stressing its importance for the country’s democracy. “It is the duty of the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government to protect the freedom of the press and to allow media to exercise their profession responsibly,” the statement said, ”The United States believes that more voices, not fewer, are needed for democracy to flourish in Iraq and elsewhere in the region.” On December 20, Belkes Wille from Human Rights Watch (HRW) published an editorial about freedom of the press in Iraq. In the editorial, Wille blamed both the Iraqi Federal Government and the KRG for their treatment of journalists in Iraq. According to Reporters Without Borders, Iraq ranked 158 out of 180 on the 2017 World Press Freedom Index. Wille cited the closing of Al-Sharqiya and NRT as two of the most recent examples of the “peril facing journalists who report on Iraq in ways authorities dislike.” On December 21, the Kurdish Gorran Party and the Kurdish Islamic Group announced their withdrawal from the KRG, due to the protests in the KRI. The two parties were already boycotting the Kurdistan Regional Parliamentary sessions.
- On December 21, KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, who had just returned from Germany to Erbil through the Ibrahim Khalil border crossing, held a press conference to address the massive protests in the KRI. Barzani warned of a “conspiracy,” hidden actors attempting to cause chaos in the KRI. He reiterated the KRG’s message, that he respects the citizens’ rights to protest, but that burning government buildings and party headquarters was not within the freedom of expression framework. During his press conference, Barzani also addressed the withdrawal of the Kurdish Gorran Party and the Kurdish Islamic Group from the KRG. He said he respected the parties’ decisions. On the Kurdish Islamic Group, he said, “I do not understand why they withdrew. It was better to talk to us before that and ask us to hold a meeting and explain the reasons for their withdrawal.” Conversely, Barzani said that Gorran has broken up from the government long ago to remain active only within local administrations in Sulaimania Province.
German Government Makes Aid Contingent on Resolution of Baghdad-Erbil Conflict
On December 17, Iraqi President Fuad Masum met with Russian Ambassador Maxim Maximov to discuss the Baghdad-Erbil crisis. Masum’s office stated that the President was working hard to create the necessary conditions for dialogue, which, it claimed, both Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Iraqi Federal Government representatives “believe in.” Maximov expressed Russia’s keenness for Iraq’s security and stability, as well as the resolution of “outstanding issues” through national dialogue. On December 17, Deputy Speaker of the Kurdistan Regional Parliament Jaafar Ibrahim addressed the lack of dialogue between the KRG and the Iraqi Federal Government during a speech at the ceremony of the Kurdistan Science Day. “Baghdad can not consider the calls of the Kurdistan region to make the dialogue weak,” he said, “Delaying the dialogue will lead to more risks.” He called on Kurdish political parties to unify their positions and reiterated the sensitivity of the situation in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). On December 17, Minister of Transport of the KRI Mouloud Baumrad reported during a press conference in Erbil that economic losses due to the ban on international flights to and from the KRI were estimated at US$ 23 million. Baumrad said that “large companies have suffered significant losses” because of the closure, and that “many international organizations and diplomatic bodies in the region also face difficulties.” The Iraqi Federal Government decided to close the KRI to foreign flights after Kurdish leaders held a referendum for independence of Kurdistan on September 25 despite the Government’s objection. The ban has been in effect since September 29, affecting the KRI’s two international airports in Erbil and Sulaimania. “So far,” Baumrad added, “the Iraqi government has not conducted any serious dialogues with the Kurdistan Region on the two airports.” On December 17, KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani called on the Kurdistan Regional Parliament to set a date for elections in the KRI to be held within three months. He asked the High Electoral Commission of the KRI and the Provincial Councils to be ready and “take the necessary measures to implement the election process in accordance with legal and international standards.” The High Electoral Commission in the KRI previously set the election date to November 1, but the Kurdistan Regional Parliament voted to postpone the elections because of the political and security setbacks after the referendum for independence of the KRI. On December 17, KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and his deputy, Qubad Talabani, traveled to Berlin on an official invitation from the German Government. During their visit, they were expected to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel as well as several other German officials. Two weeks prior, Barzani and Talabani had visited French President Emmanuel Macron. The week after that, Barzani had spoke with British Prime Minister Theresa May by phone. On December 18, KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani held a joint press conference with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel. Gabriel expressed Germany’s position towards several issues in Iraq, including support for Iraq’s territorial integrity and support for dialogue between Baghdad and Erbil. Barzani said that the KRG is “committed to a democratic, constitutional and federal Iraq.” He said that the KRI is ready to hold “serious dialogue” with Baghdad, noting that “solving problems need political will.” Barzani praised Germany for the aid they had provided to the Peshmerga and for displaced people, and called on Germany and the international community to “contribute to the dialogue between Baghdad and Erbil.” On December 18, KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and his deputy, Qubad Talabani, met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. The KRG Presidency reported that “Merkel expressed her hope to make every effort to begin the dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad.” She added that Germany supports the rights of the KRI within the framework of the Iraqi Constitution. Barzani asserted that the KRI was committed to the Iraqi Constitution and was ready to make all efforts for Constitution-based dialogue with the Iraqi Government. On December 18, the Government of Germany announced that any future aid to Iraq or the KRI would be contingent on the peaceful resolution of conflict between the Iraqi Federal Government and the KRG. Germany has donated about US$ 1.2 billion to both Iraq and the KRI, making it one of the biggest international donors. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said, “Our support is for Iraq as a unified state…We want to continue that, but the precondition is that Iraq solves its internal conflicts peacefully and democratically, and that we find a way out of the tense situation we are in now.” Previously, on December 13, Germany became the top funder of the UNDP’s work in the FFS and the Iraq Crisis Response and Resilience Programme (ICRRP). Germany donated an additional US$ 94 million, bringing its total contribution US$ 263.2 million. On December 18, the Kurdistan Regional Parliament completed the first reading of a draft resolution to cancel the Iraqi Army Day, a national holiday held every year on January 6. Nazem Harki, Deputy Chairman of the Security Committee of the Kurdistan Regional Parliament, said that the draft resolution “was put in parliament because of the practices of the Iraqi Army against the Kurdish people.” He explained, “the Iraqi Army and [PMUs] repeated their practices against the people of Kurdistan, especially in the events of October 16, 2017, which caused the deaths of dozens of Peshmerga forces… the Iraqi army still poses a threat to the people of Kurdistan.” On October 16, Iraqi security forces were deployed into Kirkuk and other areas disputed between the KRG and the Iraqi Federal Government. Harki predicted that the draft resolution would be ratified by Parliament majority. He added, “the people of Kurdistan had become convinced that the Iraqi army will attack Kurdistan.” On December 19, the Government of Germany donated an additional US$ 8.2 million to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Iraq to address the needs of IDPs during the winter. The funding will allow IOM to provide winter assistance to an additional 1,200 IDP families as well as provide other necessary services. German Ambassador in Iraq, Cyrill Nunn, said, “Our scaled-up support includes restoring the electricity grid and water supply in retaken areas, as these services have been heavily damaged and are prioritized for immediate rehabilitation by host communities and returnees.” On December 20, the Government of Germany donated US$ 5.2 million to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP). This aid will provide cash-based assistance to about 250,000 Iraqis over the next month. Cyrill Nunn, Germany’s Ambassador to Iraq, said, “WFP plays a critical role in providing life-saving assistance to the most vulnerable people in this country. With this additional contribution to WFP’s Emergency Operation, we reconfirm our commitment to those who are in desperate situations – they will not be forgotten.” The funding will specifically go to WFP’s SCOPE program which gives families a monthly allotment of US$ 17 for nutritious food from local shops. On December 21, Iraqi President Fuad Masum revealed plans to begin dialogue between the KRG and the Iraqi Federal Government. PUKMedia quoted Masum saying that delegations from the two governments will meet after the New Year holidays. According to the report, a Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary General will serve as a third-party mediator during the talks.
Sistani Calls for PMUs to Merge with ISF; U.S. Troops in Iraq ‘Long-Term’
On December 15, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called on Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) to become part of the State’s security force and steer away from political participation. Sistani’s message was delivered through one of his representatives during a Friday prayer in Karbala. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued a statement welcoming Sistani’s message. Days earlier, two prominent Iranian-backed PMU leaders, Hadi al-Amiri and Qais al-Khazali, announced that they were putting their militias under Abadi’s orders, and influential Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called the Peace Brigades under his command to hand over weapons to the Iraqi government within 45 days. In 2014, Sistani prompted the creation of the PMUs with a fatwa calling for volunteers to help fight the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) after the initial failure of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). On December 17, the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq announced that it was breaking their ties to their affiliated PMU, Saraya Ashura, and putting them under the leadership of the Iraqi armed forces, “in order to preserve their high prestige and reputation.” In its statement, the Council recognized that only the State can legally take arms according to the Iraqi Constitution. Additionally, the Council stated that they would “do our best” to support those who were injured during the fight against ISIS and bereaved families. On December 18, USA Today reported that the United States (U.S.) and Iraqi governments were in talks to ensure a continued U.S. presence after the end of ISIS’s presence in Iraq. USA Today asserted that this continued presence would be in order to prevent a situation like the U.S. withdrawal in 2011 that allowed ISIS to be created. According to James Jeffrey, the 2011 Ambassador to Iraq, the mission of future troops would be to continue the U.S. programs that train Iraqi forces and assist with intelligence and surveillance. Currently, the number and composition of troops that would remain in Iraq is unknown. Top U.S. military officials had been hinting at this possibility for months. In October, Army Lt. Gen. Paul Funk had stated, “I think we need to structure ourselves to be prepared for a long-term commitment to building partner capacity in this area.” Then, last month, U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis announced that “Despite these successes our fight is not over…Even without a physical caliphate, ISIS remains a threat to stability in the recently liberated areas, as well as in our homelands.”
Mosul Civilian Casualty Counts Still Underestimated
On December 19, Belkis Wille from Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued an opinion editorial refuting coalition claims that insufficient evidence was available to show that civilians were killed in an airstrike on the Sakkak neighborhood in Mosul. Wille attempted to contact the U.S.-led international coalition’s media office to share information collected by HRW proving that 13 civilians had been killed in the strike. The media office responded that it had already considered “all reasonably available evidence.” Wille highlighted a piece from The New York Times about civilian casualties (previously reported on in ISHM) that showed that the casualties from airstrikes conducted by the U.S.-led coalition were 31 times higher than the coalition reported. Additionally, Wille quoted Marc Garlasco, a United Nations military analyst and war crimes investigator, who said that “The tiny U.S. investigation team rarely speaks to people on the ground.” On December 20, Associated Press (AP) reported that the number of civilian casualties during the battle for Mosul were vastly undercounted. According to AP, between 9,000 and 11,000 civilians were killed, a number 10 times what was previously announced. At least 3,200 of those deaths were the result of Iraqi or U.S.-led international coalition airstrikes, artillery fire, and mortar rounds. The coalition has only acknowledged 326 of those deaths. AP generated its number from information from Airwars, Amnesty International, Iraq Body Count, the United Nations, and the Mosul morgue. However, hundreds more civilians are still believed to be buried in the rubble.
Minimum Wage Increased; Personal Status Law May Be Reintroduced Next Year On December 17, Human Rights Watch (HRW) posted an article about the proposed amendments to Iraq’s Personal Status Law that would have allowed religious judges to impose law on family matters. The amendments addressed important women’s rights areas such as inheritance, divorce, and marriage age, most notably allowing girls as young as eight to get married. Under current law, family matters are decided by secular courts; under the proposed amendments, the secular courts would be required to use religious law on marriage, divorce, and inheritance. According to HRW, the Iraqi Parliament rejected the amendments, but two leading women’s rights groups have reported that some factions in Parliament plan to reintroduce the amendments during the May 2018 parliamentary elections. Hanaa Edwar, founder and general secretary of Al-Amal Association, a leading Iraqi human rights organization, said that “The amendments would violate key rights enshrined in Iraq’s constitution and laws, and would treat women as inferior to men.” HRW argued that the proposed amendments violate two conventions that Iraq had ratified: the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on Rights of the Child. HRW also asserted that the amendments violate Articles 13 and 14 of Iraq’s Constitution which state that “no law that contradicts this Constitution shall be enacted” and that all Iraqis are guaranteed equality “without distinction to religion, faith, nationality, sex, opinion, economic or social status.” On December 18, the Iraqi Council of Ministers approved a recommendation by the Minimum Wage Committee to raise Iraq’s minimum wage to 350,000 Iraqi dinar (US$ 294) per month. The new minimum wage will take effect on January 1, 2018. In 2015, Iraq’s Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs raised the minimum wage from 120,000 Iraqi dinars (US$ 100.8) to 250,000 Iraqi dinars (US$ 210) per month.