Kirkuk Reported to be Forcing Returns of IDPs without Explanation as Conditions in Hawija Worsen According to the UNHCR, officials in Kirkuk have pressed nearly 8,000 IDPs to depart the province since the beginning of September–allegations that the Kirkuk Provincial Council denies. At least 30 of these expelled families are living on the outskirts of farming villages north of Baquba in Diyala Province without access to adequate food, water, or medical care. The reason for the expulsions is under investigation after an agreement was reached between a Parliamentary Delegation and the Governor of Kirkuk, Najmaddin Karim, to allow the continued presence of IDPs in Kirkuk until the end of the year. Meanwhile, Iraqi Security Forces remain hesitant to clear Hawija (a city of about 100 thousand in Kirkuk Province) of ISIS militants despite deteriorating humanitarian conditions.
ISIS Increases Restrictions in Mosul as Joint Forces Continue Preparations ISIS militants in Mosul are retaliating against citizens in the city for increased incidents of civil resistance and losses of supply routes that have heavily impacted the so-called Islamic State’s finances. According to sources in Ninewa Province, ISIS has imposed increased taxes on residents, has banned women from wearing veils in certain parts of the city out of concern for militant safety, and is blocking streets with concrete barriers and planting IEDs to slow the advancement of security forces ahead of impending operations to clear the city. On September 28, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced that the United States will send 600 more troops to Iraq to “train and advise” Iraqi Security Forces during their preparations, bringing the total count of U.S. troops in the country to 5,262.
Baghdad Sees an Uptick in Crime and Violence Iraqi Security Forces remain overextended as they concentrate efforts to clear Mosul of ISIS militants. The focus has resulted in an uptick of violent crime, IEDs, suicide bombings, and theft in Baghdad where the security situation remains tenuous at best. See below for a readout of major crimes that have occurred in the city over the past week and a map of IED incidents across Iraq since September 23.
Joint Security Forces Continue Operations in Anbar Province U.S.-led international coalition airstrikes assisted Iraqi Security Forces and Popular Mobilization Units in ongoing efforts to eliminate ISIS’s presence in Ramadi, Hit, al-Baghdadi, and elsewhere in Anbar Province. Ramadi was originally cleared of ISIS militants in December of last year but has seen the return of ISIS operatives who have fled other cleared areas such as Fallujah and Sharqat. Such resurgence should be a significant concern for security forces as they look to clear Mosul, but has not been publicly addressed in operations planning.
Reports Shed Light on Conditions within IDP Camps The UNHCR released the results of a survey of nearly 18 thousand IDPs living in various camps across Iraq. Of those surveyed, half reported their current accommodation quality as “poor” or “very poor” and only 20% indicated an intention to return to their place of origin, mostly out of concern that their homes remain unsafe. A separate report by the UNHCR indicated that the prevalence of child marriage and survival sex (prostitution done out of extreme need) in IDP camps in Iraq is very high, due to the notably poor economic situation and limited financial opportunities. Additionally, according to the International Medical Corps, psychological distress (both observed and self-reported) including developmental disorders in children, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress is extremely prevalent.
Returns and Reconstruction Encouraged Despite Limited Resources Minister of Displacement and Migration Mohammed Jassim reported that only one third of the funds pledged by the Iraqi government and international community to aid IDP returns has been received (approximately US$ 350 million). Despite the significant funding shortfall and ongoing security concerns about ISIS resurgence and IEDs, IDPs are being actively encouraged to return to cities ostensibly cleared of ISIS militants, including Qayyarah, Sharqat, and Fallujah. According to Jassim, of the 3.3 million IDPs in Iraq, about one third have returned to their places of origin and the Ministry has a goal to return an additional 1.5 million this year. The International Organization for Migration cites a similar number of IDPs, and approximately 900 thousand returnees.
Maliki Calls for Barzani’s Arrest as Protests Erupt in Kurdistan On September 29, thousands of protesters gathered in Sulaimaniya in Iraqi Kurdistan to demand payment of salaries owed to them by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Erbil since at least February. Sources on the ground reported that at one point protesters chanted Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s name to show their preference for Baghdad’s government over the KRG. The same day, President of the KRG Massoud Barzani was in Baghdad to discuss impending operations to clear Mosul of ISIS militants. During the visit, Member of Parliament and former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called for Barzani’s arrest for “collaborating with foreign governments, smuggling the country’s oil wealth, and dealing with terrorist regimes.” Barzani’s trip comes after the recent dismissal of the Finance Minister and fellow Iraqi Kurd, Hoshyar Zebari, which was spearheaded by Maliki and contributed to increased tensions between Baghdad and Erbil.
Key Cabinet Positions Remain Vacant as Parliament Moves to Question More Ministers Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki submitted the signatures of 65 Members of Parliament to Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri, officially requesting the testimony of Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari on charges of corruption. Testifying before Parliament is typically the first step toward a vote of no confidence. The Council of Ministers is already thin after the Ministers of Defense and Finance were ousted from their positions on corruption charges in August, and following the resignations of the Ministers of Interior and Trade and Industry in July – all of whom have not yet been replaced.