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Daily Summary 22 November

November 22, 2017  

  1. Demonstration along Kalar-Darbandikhan Road concerning earthquake responses
  2. Compliance issues affecting NGO in Mosul
  3. 73 Yezidi individuals found in mass grave near Sinjar
  4. Vehicle borne IED find reported in Samarra
  5. Prime Minister Abadi states operations in western desert to be launched soon
  6. Two IS officials allegedly arrested in central Baghdad
  7. Elements associated with Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq kidnap local security officer in Kut
  8. Security forces break up demonstration in Basra

On 22 November, Abdullatif al-Amidi, a commander of the Shi’a militia Saraya Ashura, stated that “the US has become our direct enemy after the Congress’ decision against some Hashd al-Shaabi factions.” This statement is referring to the decision made by the US Congress in seeking to place the Hashd al-Shaabi unit Harakat al-Nujaba on the terrorist watch list.

Saraya Ashura (Ashura Brigades) is a Shi’a militia operating in Iraq to combat IS since 2014. It is tied closely to Ammar al-Hakim and the Supreme Islamic Council, a Shi’a Islamist political faction that is the closest of the three main Shi’a political parties (Dawa, Sadrist blocs and Supreme Islamic Council) to Iran. Additional Hasht elements have periodically made similar threats, and as recently as July 2016, influential cleric Muqtadr al-Sadr, leader of the Hashd al-Shaabi unit Saraya al-Salam, also called upon his militia to begin targeting Coalition troops stationed in Iraq for threatening national sovereignty.

As IS are defeated militarily, it has been previously assessed that many of the more powerful and influential Hashd al-Shaabi units will call upon the international Coalition to leave Iraq entirely, with the potential for attacks to result should this withdrawal fail to materialize. It is likely that there will be an increase in rhetoric from a range of Hashd al-Shaabi units, calling for the Coalition to leave Iraq, and making a variety of threats in conjunction with such demands.

On 22 November, GE released a statement announcing a $400-million contract with the GoI, which will involve assistance building 14 electric substations and other support for electrical infrastructure. These operations will support the transfer of power from Nineveh, Salah ad Din, Anbar, Baghdad, Karbala, Diwaniyah, and Basra provinces to the national grid.

On the morning of 22 November, dozens of victims from the recent earthquake in Maydan conducted an assembly and closed the Kalar-Darbandikhan Road in southern Sulaymaniyah Province. The individuals called on the government to provide them with financial aid, tents, and other support in order to recover from the earthquake. The demonstration concluded early in the afternoon. This follows a similarly motivated demonstration and route closure in a nearby area the day prior. The overall intensity of demonstrations pertaining to emergency responses is fairly moderate, and predictably concentrated in the greater Darbandikhan area.

Although recently overshadowed by security developments in the Northern Region, notable political developments in the KRG continue to be noted. On 21 November, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani, and a number of cabinet members, held a series of meetings with the main political parties in the region. Separate meetings were also held with PUK and Gorran leaders. The officials discussed initiatives to improve Kurdish unity, and prospects of talks with the GoI. When asked, Barzani admitted that a visit to Baghdad has not been scheduled.

The most significant incident reported in Nineveh during this period involved the harassment of a NGO operating in Mosul due to compliance issues, with these lengthy developments discussed further in this report. Characteristics of these events prominently illustrate the complexity and impact of compliance issues that can affect NGOs and other organizations operating in the Northern Region. Efforts to normalize compliance requirements are apparently ongoing months after the liberation of Mosul, Tal Afar, and other key areas of Nineveh. The above events form some of the most significant harassment of a NGO in the province in recent history, with most routine incidents far less concerted.

On the afternoon of 21 November, an ISF EOD unit rendered safe a vehicle borne IED in the Sinai neighborhood of Samarra. Details pertaining to this incident were limited, but the reporting source has typically been very reliable. It remains somewhat possible that a suspicious vehicle was cleared that may have not posed a threat. At face value, this incident possibly forms the first vehicle borne IED incident in Samarra since the 2 January 2017 complex attack. More recently, multiple vehicle borne IED interdictions and detonations were concentrated further north in and around Tikrit during the summer of 2017. As with the 21 November bombing in Tuz Khurmatu, it remains important to monitor patterns pertaining to vehicle borne IED activity in Salah ad Din as a while.

On 21 November, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced in a tweet “We will soon announce the end of military operations in the western desert, secure our borders and declare a day of victory for all Iraqis whose sacrifices made this historic achievement possible.” Coalition media outlets predictably praised this announcement, and their support for Iraq throughout the previous major operations of the conflict. These future operations could be launched at virtually any point over the coming days and weeks, with multiple axes of advance from Anbar and northern provinces anticipated.

On 21 November, according to the Baghdad Operations Command, security forces arrested two suspected members of the IS Euphrates Governorate on terrorism charges. The arrest took place after they entered the Bataween area of Rusafa, central Baghdad, during an intelligence driven operation. The arrested insurgents included an IS financial official and an IS lawmaker. These events underline the very interconnected nature of IS commands between Anbar and the capital. Although the specific impact of such arrests is often difficult to judge, they remain an important aspect of overall efforts to degrade IS capabilities.

On the morning of 21 November, armed men shot and killed a currency exchange owner sitting in his car in the Jamia neighborhood of Mansour, and escaped with a large amount of money. This follows nearly identical events during a robbery in the Rashad area of New Baghdad on 11 November, and a non-violent robbery of a currency exchange company owner on 18 November in the Palestine Street area. The uptick in robberies along these lines underlines the historically high attractiveness of currency exchange companies on a historic basis in the capital, particular during movements.

To tackle tribal violence within the southern region, Basra Police Chief, Major General Abd al-Karim al-Mayiahi, stated that a new class of soldiers successfully graduated from basic training and will soon be recruited into the Special Missions Battalion of the Basra Emergency Battalions. The Battalion’s will be equipped with heavy weapons and armored vehicles to ensure the unit is fully equipped for all eventualities, and is currently preparing to conduct further training to enable the force to assist during emergency situations.

Tribal violence is an ongoing theme and at times, security forces have not acted swiftly and are often inappropriately equipped to confront the violence to guarantee the security of the area. Additional training and deployment of these forces will likely take a number of months and the effect of these forces will not be instantaneous. Once fully operational, it is possible that this measure will be able to quell some amount of tribal violence, though historically such units have done little to significantly impact tribal fighting. Meaningful dialogue and discussion is required between all sides to prevent further confrontation, and this is unlikely to occur in the near term.

On 22 November, security forces broke up a large demonstration that occurred in Basra to protest the administrative corruption within the government. No further details are known with regards to the location. On 22 November, approximately 200 residents demonstrated outside the Zubayr Local Council building, demanding an increase in job opportunities, to expediate the installation of an integrated sewage system and reduce pollution caused by the oil sector.

On 22 November, reporting stated that elements associated with Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) kidnapped a local security officer from his residence in Kut, Wasit Province, which resulted in localized clashes. This event is likely the result of information reported on 20 November during which Hashd al-Shaabi members attacked the Kut Police station with small arms fire in an attempt to rescue two arrested Hashd al-Shaabi members who were detained earlier for traffic violations. The ensuing clashes resulted in the arrest of six Hashd al-Shaabi members.

US to retry Blackwater guard for murder in 2007 Baghdad traffic circle massacre – WP
The U.S. government will retry a former Blackwater Worldwide security guard after a federal appeals court threw out his first-degree murder conviction in shootings that killed 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, prosecutors told a federal judge Tuesday.

Iraq to resume payments of Gulf War reparations to Kuwait: U.N. – Reuters
The United Nations said on Tuesday it had accepted a proposal from Iraq to pay 0.5 percent of its 2018 oil proceeds toward compensation for $4.6 billion owed to Kuwait for destruction of its oil facilities during the 1990-91 Gulf War occupation. Payments from the fund, which were suspended since October 2014 due to security and budgetary challenges faced by Iraq, will escalate annually until the end of 2021, the U.N. Compensation Commission (UNCC) said in a statement, adding that Kuwait had accepted the proposal.

UN envoy for Syria urges opposition to unite before talks – AP
The U.N. envoy for Syria urged disparate Syrian opposition groups at a meeting in the Saudi capital on Wednesday to come up with a united front ahead of another round of Syrian peace talks in Geneva later this month. Staffan de Mistura spoke at the opening of a three-day gathering of the Syrian opposition in Riyadh, where various opposition groups are expected to come up with a unified delegation and a vision for the Nov. 28 Geneva talks.

Call for Amnesty Turkey head’s release as trial resumes – Al Jazeera
A group of more than 70 musicians, artists, activists and politicians have called on Turkey to drop “terrorism” charges against 11 human rights activists. Amnesty International said an open letter making the call was signed by musicians Sting and Peter Gabriel, whistle-blower Edward Snowden and artist Ai Weiwei among others.

Iran pushes to retain Asia oil buyers as possible U.S. sanctions loom – Reuters
Iran is pushing to retain customers for its oil in Asia, hoping that price reductions will boost the appeal of its crude compared with other Middle Eastern supply even as the potential threat of further U.S. sanctions on the country looms.

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