May 17, 2019

Weekly Iraqi Security and Humanitarian Report for the Week Ending May 16, 2019

Key Takeaways:

  • Escalating Tensions Between the U.S. and Iran Affect Presence of Foreigners in Iraq – On May 12, the United States Embassy in Baghdad released a statement advising “all U.S. citizens of the heightened tensions in Iraq” and telling them to “remain vigilant.” On May 14, during a briefing to the press, U.K. Major General Chris Ghika, the Deputy Commander of the anti-ISIS Operation Inherent Resolve stated that “there’s been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria,” thus contradicting claims made by U.S. government officials. On May 16, in a move contradicting the earlier briefing, the U.K. raised the threat level for U.K. forces and diplomats stationed in Iraq, stemming from “increased likelihood of Iran or its proxies taking action against British, US or other allied interests in the region in a way that can be plausibly denied so as to avoid triggering an all-out war.” On May 15, the United States Embassy in Baghdad “ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. Government employees from Iraq, both at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the U.S. Consulate in Erbil.” On May 15, Major General Tahseen al-Khafaji, the Media Director of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense denied earlier reports that Germany, the Netherlands and the United States are suspending their military training of Iraqi and Kurdish forces due to threats from Iran. On May 15, oil prices jumped by $2 per barrel after unconfirmed reports that the American oil company, ExxonMobil is pulling its employees from Basra, southern Iraq. more…
  • Iraqi Officials Meet Foreign Counterparts; New Governor Elected in Ninewa – On May 11, Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Hakim arrived in Kuwait for the seventh meeting of the Kuwait-Iraq Joint Committee. Five agreements were reached between the two nations concerning bolstering their relations in various spheres. On May 13, Mansour al-Mareed was elected as the new governor of Ninewa province. On May 14, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi reported that he made three phone calls to United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo while Pompeo was in Iraq last week that were not previously publicized. On May 15, Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Hakim spoke with United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed to discuss how to foster the relationship between the two nations. On May 15, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi arrived in Ankara and met with Turkish President Tayyip Erodğan. On May 16, Iraqi Airways announced they will resume flight to Damascus, Syria, after halting such flights to the war-torn neighbor eight years ago. more…
  • Militant Attacks Continue Throughout Iraq; Iraq Asks for Millions to Construct New Prison for ISIS Detainees – On May 11, a roadside IED exploded in the neighborhood of Jisr Diyala in southeast Baghdad. Killing a child and injuring two others. This is one of the first bombings in Baghdad in recent months. On May 12, a mortar exploded near Halabja, northeastern Iraq, killing one Peshmerga fighter and injuring others. OOn May 13, an IED exploded in the village of Umm al-Masayed in western Ninewa province, near Telafar, killing one Iraqi soldier and injuring three of them. On May 14, Iraqi security forces opened fire on protesters in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, killing two and injuring 12 others. On May 15, Rudaw reported that ISIS cells operating in the Qarachogh Mountains of Makhmour, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, torched several fields at the base of the mountains after locals refused to pay extortion money to the militants. On May 15, NRT TV reported that Iraq is asking the U.S. government for $100 million to construct a new prison to hold ISIS fighters ahead of the expected handover of about 1,000 ISIS prisoners currently held by the Syrian Democratic Forces in northeastern Syria for trials in Iraq. On May 15 and May 16, in two separate incidents, seven members of the Iraqi security forces were killed in hit-and-run attacks in Kirkuk, northeastern Iraq. The attacks were apparently carried out by ISIS; among those killed were four federal police officers. more…
  • New Statistics on Yazidis Kidnapped by ISIS; WHO Opens New Facility in Ninewa; Water Continues to be Wasted in KRI – On May 12, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Coordinator for International Advocacy Dindar Zebari announced that 2,913 of the 6,284 Yazidis kidnapped by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in 2014 are still missing. On May 12, eight mass graves of Yazidis were exhumed in the village of Kocho in Sinjar province. The remains of 137 individuals were found within the grave. On May 12, the Danish Refugee Council and the International Organization for Migration published the Returns Working Group (RWG) Annual Progress Report for 2018. On May 12, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported opening a health care facility in Ninewa province, to provide care for up to 150,000 people. On May 16, Director for Dams and Water Resources at the KRG, Akram Mohammed, stated that 30 billion cubic meters of freshwater was wasted this year due to the lack of dams throughout the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). 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.
Escalating Tensions Between the U.S. and Iran Affect Presence of Foreigners in Iraq
On May 12, the United States Embassy in Baghdad released a statement advising “all U.S. citizens of the heightened tensions in Iraq” and telling them to “remain vigilant.” The security alert advised American citizens not to travel to Iraq, to avoid places known as gathering points for Americans, and to keep a low profile while being aware of your surroundings.
On May 14, during a briefing to the press, U.K. Major General Chris Ghika, the Deputy Commander of the anti-ISIS Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) stated that “there’s been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria,” thus contradicting claims made by U.S. government officials. In response, the U.S. Central Command, in charge of U.S. forces in the Middle East, issued a statement doubling-down on the allegations of increased threat from Iran: “recent comments from OIR’s deputy commander run counter to the identified credible threats available to intelligence from US and allies regarding Iranian-backed forces in the region,” the statement read. On May 16, in a move contradicting the earlier briefing, the U.K. raised the threat level for U.K. forces and diplomats stationed in Iraq, stemming from “increased likelihood of Iran or its proxies taking action against British, US or other allied interests in the region in a way that can be plausibly denied so as to avoid triggering an all-out war,” according to a U.K. government source speaking to Sky News.
On May 15, the United States Embassy in Baghdad “ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. Government employees from Iraq, both at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the U.S. Consulate in Erbil.” The security alert instructed American citizens to take commercial transportation quickly out of Iraq and to avoid American facilities in Iraq while doing so. The Iraqi Foreign Ministry responded by stating that Iraq is secure and stable. According to three U.S. officials who spoke to the New York Times, the intelligence that prompted the heightened alert were “photographs of missiles on small boats in the Persian Gulf that were put on board by Iranian paramilitary forces.” In addition, intelligence agencies identified signs of potential attacks by Arab Iranian-backed militias against American forces in Iraq. According to officials who spoke to the Washington Post, the alarm was also raised by “information suggesting an Iranian threat against U.S. diplomatic facilities in the Iraqi cities of Baghdad and Irbil” as well as a directive from the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, to Iran’s armed forces “that some U.S. officials have interpreted as a potential threat to U.S. military and diplomatic personnel.” Intelligence sources speaking to The Guardian said that several weeks ago, the Commander of the Qods Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, Qasem Soleimani, summoned Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and told them to “prepare for proxy war.”
On May 15, Major General Tahseen al-Khafaji, the Media Director of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense denied earlier reports that Germany, the Netherlands and the United States are suspending their military training of Iraqi and Kurdish forces due to threats from Iran. According to al-Khafaji, “only employees or individuals whose presence was not required were pulled out.” The Dutch embassy in Baghdad also denied reports that it is closing its mission in Iraq.
On May 15, oil prices jumped by $2 per barrel after unconfirmed reports that the American oil company, ExxonMobil is pulling its employees from Basra, southern Iraq. In a prepared statement to S&P Global issued that day, a spokesperson for ExxonMobil made no mention of such an evacuation, writing “we are closely monitoring the situation…ExxonMobil has programs and measures in place to provide security to protect its people, operations and facilities.”
Iraqi Officials Meet Foreign Counterparts; New Governor Elected in Ninewa
On May 11, Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Hakim arrived in Kuwait for the seventh meeting of the Kuwait-Iraq Joint Committee. Five agreements were reached between the two nations concerning bolstering their relations in various spheres. On May 12, leader of the National Wisdom Movement Ammar al-Hakim arrived in Kuwait to meet with Kuwaiti Emir Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah to discuss the same topic as well as recent developments in the region.
On May 13, Mansour al-Mareed was elected as the new governor of Ninewa province. Mareed is from southern Ninewa province and has a background in engineering and was a member of the Iraqi Parliament. He is affiliated with the Ataa Movement, a group with ties to the Hashd al-Shaabi and Iraqi National Security Advisor Falah al-Fayyadh. Due to this relationship, residents of Mosul protested the vote claiming that Mareed had bought his election. He beat Iraqi Speaker of the House of Representatives Mohammed al-Halbousi in this race, splitting the Sunni voting bloc. Mareed replaced Nawfal Hammadi al-Sultan who was fired after more than 100 people died in the ferry boat sinking in Mosul on March 21. Sirwan Rozhbayani was elected to the position of first deputy governor as well.
On May 14, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi reported that he made three phone calls to United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo while Pompeo was in Iraq last week that were not previously publicized. During the phone calls, the two leaders discussed how Iraq could aid the security of the region as a whole.
On May 15, Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Hakim spoke with United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed to discuss how to foster the relationship between the two nations. The two leaders also discussed the recent happenings in the region and globally.
On May 15, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi arrived in Ankara and met with Turkish President Tayyip Erodğan. Abdul-Mahdi stressed that “the strength, well-being and progress” of both nations are interconnected. He also highlighted his hope to begin joint investment projects to aid their agricultural and industrial sectors as well as the construction of a railway from Basra province to Turkey. Abdul-Mahdi also commented on the need to reach an agreement concerning sharing water resources that would benefit both Iraq and Turkey as well as the region as a whole. Erodğan pointed outthe need to restore the Iraq-Turkey Crude Oil Pipeline, which stretches from Kirkuk province to Ceyhan. The two leaders agreed to revive a 2008 agreement concerning security cooperation between the two nations. Abdul-Mahdi also reiterated Iraq’s rejection of using its territory to target Turkey in any way in a reference to PKK presence in northern Iraq.
On May 16, Iraqi Airways announced they will resume flight to Damascus, Syria, after halting such flights to the war-torn neighbor eight years ago. This marks another step of normalization of the Syrian regime in the Arab world.
Militant Attacks Continue Throughout Iraq; Iraq Asks for Millions to Construct New Prison for ISIS Detainees; Protesters Killed in Baghdad and Najaf
On May 9, conflicting reports emerged regarding an explosion in Sadr City, Baghdad. ISIS claimed that a suicide bomber detonated himself, killing eight people and wounding ten, and initial statements by Iraqi security forces confirmed the account. Later, Police Colonel Jamal Hameed refuted the original reporting, telling Reuters that a parcel had been found in Sader City and detonated in a controlled explosion, causing no damage.
On May 11, a roadside IED exploded in the neighborhood of Jisr Diyala in southeast Baghdad. Killing a child and injuring two others. This is one of the first bombings in Baghdad in recent months.
On May 12, a mortar exploded near Halabja, northeastern Iraq, killing one Peshmerga fighter and injuring others. The injured were taken to the Suleimania hospital and authorities launched an investigation into the attack.
On May 13, an IED exploded in the village of Umm al-Masayed in western Ninewa province, near Telafar, killing one Iraqi soldier and injuring three of them.
On May 14, Iraqi security forces opened fire on protesters in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, killing two and injuring 12 others. On May 15, guards at a mall in Najaf opened fire against protesters affiliated with the Sadrist movement, killing four of them and injuring 17. The protest was held in front of a mall owned by Jawad al-Garawi who was recently expelled from the Sadrist movement based on allegations of corruption.
On May 15, Rudaw reported that ISIS cells operating in the Qarachogh Mountains of Makhmour, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, torched several fields at the base of the mountains after locals refused to pay extortion money to the militants. According to a local Peshmerga commander, ISIS “asked for 15 percent from the people. They have asked for $4,000 for each combine harvester working in the fields.”
On May 15, Turkish jets carried out airstrikes in the Dohuk district of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, a few hours after a Turkish surveillance unmanned aerial vehicle crashed in the area. Turkey has been conducting strikes in the region for years against hideouts of the Kurdish guerilla group operating in Turkey, the PKK.
On May 15, NRT TV reported that Iraq is asking the U.S. government for $100 million to construct a new prison to hold ISIS fighters ahead of the expected handover of about 1,000 ISIS prisoners currently held by the Syrian Democratic Forces in northeastern Syria for trials in Iraq. The security source speaking to NRT did not disclose whether the U.S. government agreed to the request.
On May 15 and May 16, in two separate incidents, seven members of the Iraqi security forces were killed in hit-and-run attacks in Kirkuk, northeastern Iraq. The attacks were apparently carried out by ISIS; among those killed were four federal police officers.
New Statistics on Yazidis Kidnapped by ISIS; WHO Opens New Facility in Ninewa; Water Continues to be Wasted in KRI
On May 12, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Coordinator for International Advocacy Dindar Zebari announced that 2,913 of the 6,284 Yazidis kidnapped by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in 2014 are still missing. The KRG has offered monetary rewards for information and help given to Yazidi women and developed psychological rehabilitation programs for them as well.
On May 12, eight mass graves of Yazidis were exhumed in the village of Kocho in Sinjar province. The remains of 137 individuals were found within the grave. It is estimated that  over 100 mass graves exist within Sinjar, 73 of which have already been found.
On May 12, the Danish Refugee Council and the International Organization for Migration published the Returns Working Group (RWG) Annual Progress Report for 2018. The report contains research concerning areas of return in Ninewa, Anbar, Diyala, and Salah ad-Din and how Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) decide to return to their place of origin as well as why people are choosing not to return to certain areas.
On May 12, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported opening a health care facility in Ninewa province, to provide care for up to 150,000 people. The center offers emergency and maternity services, medicines as well as health monitoring.
On May 16, Director for Dams and Water Resources at the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Akram Mohammed, stated that 30 billion cubic meters of freshwater was wasted this year due to the lack of dams throughout the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). The amount of water stored this year increased by 30 percent, however the KRI could have saved much more due to the intense rainfall. Currently, 18 dams projects are underway with four being built in the KRI, but construction has been stalled due to limited funding.
IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

Casualties Due To IEDs May 10 - May 16, 2019

The following table includes both civilian and security forces who were either injured or killed due to improvised explosive devices (IEDs), vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), or suicide attacks.
DateLocationDeathsInjuries
05/11/19Jisr Diyala, Baghdad City12
05/13/19Umm al-Masayed, Ninewa Province13
05/14/19Karrada, Baghdad City00
Derived from firsthand accounts and Iraq-based Arabic and Kurdish news sources, the Iraq Security and Humanitarian Monitor is a free publication of the Education for Peace in Iraq Center.

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