October 07 to October 13, 2016:
Turkish Troop Presence in Northern Iraq Continues to Cause Tension – On October 11, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a press conference that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi needs to “know his place” in regional affairs, asserting that Turkey will not be excluded from impending operations to clear Mosul of ISIS militants. The statement follows the Turkish Parliament’s approval of a continued Turkish troop presence in northern Iraq despite calls from the Iraqi Parliament, Arab League, and the United States that foreign military forces in Iraq should only be there with the consent of the Iraqi government. Members of Iraqi Parliament have called for severing diplomatic and economic ties between Turkey and Iraq (despite Turkey’s status as Iraq’s number one importer), and have called for the UN Security Council to hold an emergency session on the issue. Meanwhile, in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Kurdish parties are divided about the presence of Turkish troops, with the PUK demanding Turkey’s withdrawal and the KDP defending Turkey’s right to remain. As Renas Jano, a KDP Member of Kurdish Parliament said, “as long as the PKK presence continues, Turkey’s presence in the region will be essential for security.”
Preparations to Clear Mosul Include Instructions for Trapped Civilians – Save the Children’s Country Director in Iraq, Maurizio Crivallero, highlighted the predicament facing those in Mosul, saying, “Families have an impossible decision to make. If they stay, their children may get caught in the crossfire,” and will not have access to food, water or medicine. “If they decide to flee, they will have to run a gauntlet of fighters, snipers, and landmines.” Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) issued a list of 32 recommendations for civilians in Mosul to implement during imminent military operations to clear the city of ISIS militants, including not attempting evacuation, marking windows with tape to indicate civilian status, and telling children that the sounds of battle are “just a game” or the sounds of “thunder and rain,” in order to keep children calm. U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, Ambassador Brett McGurk, said that the decision to encourage civilians in Mosul to stay in their homes during military operations belongs to the ISF. Besides being caught in the crossfire, another serious concern for allowing families to remain is that they may be misidentified as ISIS sympathizers and summarily executed. Meanwhile, U.S.-led international coalition airstrikes continue to target IED factories, ISIS courts and media centers, and ISIS leadership in the city.
Operations to Secure Hawija Continue as Escape from the City Remains Risky – Security forces began to move toward the Hamrin Mountains and al-Fathah, west of Kirkuk, to survey areas ahead of operations to clear Hawija of ISIS militants. Over the past week, Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga have received more than 1,200 IDPs fleeing the ISIS-occupied city where humanitarian conditions remain dire. Fleeing Hawija is particularly difficult according to witnesses who have seen ISIS militants break the hands and feet of those trying to flee, behead defectors, and plant landmines along potential escape routes. The Iraqi Government has been accused of not doing enough to protect civilians in Hawija, instead focusing limited resources on Mosul. (For more on the neglect of Hawija, see our report.)
IDPs are Returning to Sharqat as Fighting there Intensifies – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that between September 24 and October 6, 3,420 IDPs returned to Sharqat, a strategically important town on the Tigris River in Salah ad-Din Province which was ostensibly cleared of ISIS militants on September 22. According to eyewitness accounts, however, shelling and indiscriminate attacks by ISIS militants have increased in recent days, evidence of the capacity of Iraqi security forces to clear locations temporarily, but not hold them in the long-run. Holding cleared areas will become increasingly important as operations to clear Mosul of ISIS militants advance.
Security Forces Clear Hit of ISIS Militants and Continue Focus Elsewhere in Anbar – The capacity of Iraqi security forces to hold cleared areas will be further tested in Anbar Province, where the ISF, assisted by local militias and U.S.-led international coalition airstrikes cleared ISIS militants from Hit, as well as the Byjy al-Holi Road, a vital ISIS supply line to the western end of the province. According to an unconfirmed report, ISIS command has ordered all of their commanders and militants to leave the last three ISIS strongholds in Anbar (Anah, Qa’im and Rawa).
VPs Reinstated; Parliament Questions Foreign Minister; IMF Loan Talks Conclude – Iraq’s Federal Court ruled that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s attempt to abolish the Vice Presidency and Deputy Prime Minister positions is unconstitutional because the measure passed the Iraqi Parliament without an absolute majority in August 2015. The reform effort was part of al-Abadi’s measures to better streamline the government. Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was one of the three vice presidents when the mostly symbolic position was initially eliminated. On October 6, Parliament questioned Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari on charges of corruption, although the outcome of the questioning and Parliament’s intentions to oust the Minister have not been publicly discussed since. Despite the vacancy of the Minister of Finance position, the Iraqi government concluded talks with the International Monetary Fund over a US$ 4 billion loan package intended to help Iraq diversity its economy and reform the government. Ousted Finance Minister Hoshyar Zebari is largely credited with initiating the agreement.
IDPs Pressed to Return to Fallujah – On October 8, Mayor of Fallujah Isa al-Sayer, announced the return of “7,400 displaced families” to the city center since returns began on September 17. The number reported by the mayor is unconfirmed and is remarkably high for such a short period of time. Al-Sayer encouraged IDPs to return, stressing that the restoration of public services such as electricity and drinking water are well underway. Fallujah was cleared of ISIS militants on June 26, but the presence of IEDs and lack of services have made families reluctant to return. On October 10, using a database of wanted persons, security forces identified and arrested eight ISIS militants hiding among IDPs returning to eastern Fallujah, underscoring concerns that the city may not be completely clear of militants.