ISHM: December 3 - December 10, 2020

News and Press Release
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Key Takeaways:

U.S. Diplomatic Drawdown “Temporary”; Iraqis Remember Nasiriyah’s Fallen Protesters; Militias Support Sadr’s Call To Fight “Deviant” Youths; Billions Unaccounted For In Electricity Contracts; Anti-Halbousi Group Crumbles – On December 3, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq called the planned reduction of U.S. diplomatic personnel “temporary.” On December 4, thousands of Iraqis took to the streets to commemorate protesters killed by followers of Moqtada al-Sadr in Nasiriyah a week earlier. On December 5, Iran’s ambassador to Iraq said that resistance factions” will “definitely respond,” should the U.S. attack them. On December 7, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis will visit Iraq in March. On December 7, Kataib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq expressed their support for remarks by Sadr calling on Iraqis to “restore the Shia home” and “confront deviancy.” On December 7, a parliamentary committee looking into prior contracts in Iraq’s electricity sector pointed to multiple alleged problems with spending totaling IQD96.6 trillion ($81.1 billion) between 2005 and 2019, including a discrepancy of IQD8.6 trillion between allocations and expenditure. On December 8, representative Ahmed al-Jubouri (Abu Mazin) withdref from the Iraqi Front, a political bloc he formed in October to unseat Speaker Halbousi. On December 8, Iraq’s prime minister, parliament speaker, and president met with the leaders of political blocs to discuss the 2021 budget and outstanding financial and budgetary issues between the KRG and the federal government. PM Kadhimi also presented an initiative for “comprehensive national dialogue” meant to prepare the environment for “free and fair early elections.” On December 9, Parliament discussed a IQD329 billion bill to fund election preparations by IHEC. Parliament’s Finance Committee said the bill was unjustified. more…

Several Killed As Security Forces Crack Down On Sulaymaniyah Protests; KRG Blames “Agitators” and Baghdad For The Unrest; KRG Shuts Down TV Network, Prohibits “Unauthorized” Demonstrations – On December 3, demonstrations began in Sulaymaniyah as hundreds of civil servants demanded their delayed salaries. The protests began peacefully, but clashes commenced after security forces used tear gas and live ammunition. Over the week, protesters burned the headquarters of Kurdish political parties and government buildings in multiple districts. Meanwhile, security forces stormed the headquarters of NRT News and forcibly stopped its broadcast. At least four people were killed during the clashes, prompting UNAMI to condemn the violence and urge KRG authorities to “safeguard the freedoms of assembly and expression.” On December 8, KRG PM Masrour Barzani blamed the unrest on “agitators that are attempting to incite unrest and use violence under the guise of defending the peoples’ rights.” Barzani later blamed Baghdad for the unrest, arguing that its failure to transfer funds necessary to pay public sector salaries created the conditions that ignited demonstrations. Meanwhile, the KRG finance minister said Erbil told Baghdad it was ready to abide by the controversial deficit financing law that Parliament approved on November 12. On December 9, KRG security authorities prohibited unauthorized demonstrations across the region, threatening violators with arrest. more…

Baghdad Reports Progress On Sinjar Deal; ISIS Ramps Up Attacks On ISF, Oil Fields; Militias Resume Attacks On Coalition Contractors; New Setback For Iraq’s F-16 – On December 3, Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said that all armed factions have left Sinjar based on the normalization agreement between Baghdad and Erbil. But KRG PM Masrour Barzani the KRG was still waiting for the federal side to “expel the remaining forces that are still based [in Sinjar].” Between December 3 – 10, the explosions of seven IEDs and one remnant on war killed at least seven Iraqis and wounded nine others. One of the attacks targeted an activist Dhi-Qar and another in Kirkuk set fire to oil wells. The deadliest killed four PMF fighters in Diyala. On December 9 – 10, three more IEDs targeted trucks transporting supplies for the International Coalition along a main highway south of Baghdad, the first such attacks in two months. Between December 3 – 9, five militant attacks in Diyala, Kirkuk and Anbar killed at least seven members of Iraq’s security forces and injured nine more. The deadliest killed four soldiers near Hit. On December 5, Coalition airstrikes killed at least 11 ISIS militants in Salah ad-Din and Kirkuk. On December 7, Iraq Oil Report said that the Coalition stopped including Iraqi F-16 jets in its airstrikes against ISIS. More

Iraq Wants All IDPs Out Of Kirkuk; COVID-19 Spread Slows Down But Concerns Remain About A Winter Spike Amid Weak Compliance And Government Measures – On December 9, Iraq’s Interior Minister Othman al-Ghanimi stressed form Kirkuk that Iraq must return IDPs residing in the province and close down all IDP camps as part of the government’s ongoing effort to deal with this issue. Human rights and aid organizations have criticized Baghdad’s policy of attempting to send IDPs to home districts that are often unsafe and lack basic services, with some organizations warning that the policy could leave 100,000 people homeless. On December 4, Iraq’s Health Ministry warned that compliance with health guidelines “has declined in recent weeks,” and expected the number of cases to rise during winter. On December 6, UNHCR reported that the rate of new reported COVID-19 infections in Iraq was slowing down but warned that the federal government and the KRG “continued to maintain a lax approach” in dealing with the pandemic. On December 10, Iraq’s Health Ministry reported that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increased to 571,253. Deaths from confirmed cases of COVID-19 reached 12,526 while the number of patients currently in hospitals decreased to 56,760. To date, 501,957 patients have recovered from the virus and Iraq has tested 3,803,674 samples for COVID-19. The daily average for new cases decreased from 2,110/day last week ending to 1,783/day this week. Iraq also reported a significant increase in testing capacity, with 34,443 tests performed during the previous 24 hours alone. more…

Iraq’s Oil Quota Increases In January; New Saudi Business Delegation In Baghdad; Iraq Signs Forward Oil Sale With China; New Joint Venture To Service Baghdad Airport – On December 4, a report by S&P Global Platts indicated that Iraq’s oil output quota will increase by 53,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 3.804 million bpd starting in January. On December 7, PM Kadhimi received a visiting Saudi economic delegation and discussed steps to strengthen economic cooperation between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The two sides signed two agreements worth $40 million to build grain silos in Diwaniyah and develop a hospital in Anbar. On December 8, Iraq’s national oil marketing company (SOMO) said it signed a contract with China’s ZhenHua that will see Iraq receive a “multi-billion dollar” forward payment in exchange for future oil shipments. On December 9, the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority awarded a contract to a joint venture between Iraqi Airlines, Menzies Aviation, and BP to provide ground management and fuel supply services to Baghdad International Airport. On December 9, Iraq Oil Report wrote that ongoing protests in parts of the Kurdistan region forced Gazprom to suspended oil trucking from its Sarqala field, which typically produces an average of 25,000 bpd. On December 9, Iraq’s Foreign Ministry said Iraq asked Belarus to return Iraqi money being held in Belarus. The ministry did not mention the amount in question nor the circumstances that led to the funds being in Belarus’s possession. 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.