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Southern Regional Report 22 November

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November 22, 2017  

The below is a summary and discussion of recent developments throughout the region. Information is garnered from a variety of sources and has been vetted whenever possible. Please note: Friday and Saturday reporting is reduced at regional levels.

Note: For above mapping, please scroll over individual spots to see further details. Due to developments outside of Talos control, some map features are temporarily unavailable.

  1. Elements associated with Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq kidnap local security officer in Kut
  2. Tribal leader and senior judiciary members demonstrate in Rifa’I to reject the Power Privatization Project
  3. Security forces break up demonstration in Basra to protest administrative corruption within the government

Regional Developments:
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.

If the Coalition does not comply, it is subsequently quite possible that Coalition forces will become a more significant target set, and be subject to further attacks such as that seen on 1 October in Salah ad Din when an EFP was used to target a US convoy. That said, a “drastic increase” in indirect fire and other attack events were often touted as likely in the aftermath of the US withdrawal in 2011, though this failed to materialize, and any assessed increase in intent to target US elements in the current environment must be fully assessed in line with developing attack trends amongst a myriad of other factors.

Basra:
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. Demonstrations protesting government corruption are a routine occurrence, which at times, culminate as significant or widespread gatherings, such as a “million-man march” in Baghdad orchestrated by Muqtadr Al-Sadr, the latest of which occurred on 9 October 2017.

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.

Once more, reporting relating to explosive war remnants and subsequent cleanup operations was released, as EOD personnel cooperated with the Basra Oil Company to survey a number of areas in Zubayr. This resulted in the discovery of approximately 890 explosive war remnants and further controlled detonations are expected in the area during the coming weeks.

Other Southern Provinces:
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.

AAH is an Iranian-funded Shiite militant organization that was officially founded in January 2006 by Qais al-Khazali as a splinter group from the Mahdi Army. It is often referred to as one of the historic Special Groups, a term used by the U.S. military to denote the Iranian-controlled Shiite militias operating in Iraq that targeted the Coalition between 2003 -2011. The organization is known for its use of violence on behalf of the Maliki government, and for stoking sectarian violence between 2011 – 2014.

AAH are prevalent across southern Iraq and have extensively incorporated themselves within the ISF to defeat IS in Iraq as part of the Popular Mobilization Units program, and in Syria to fight on behalf of the Syrian Regime. In fact, AAH serve as now comprise one of the three most powerful Hashd elements operating within the ranks of the Hashd al-Shaabi.

Based on these latest developments, it is highly likely that the arrests of six Hashd al-Shaabi members were connected to AAH, and the security officer was kidnapped as retribution due to his association. This event highlights a concerning security projection for the area, and the potential for such an escalation of violence over routine criminal activity involving even well established and well organized Hashd forces. Further clashes are likely, and operations should remain vigilant if located within the area.

Routine arrests related to the narcotics trade were also reported over the review period in the south. On 21 November, security forces conducted an operation that resulted in the successful arrest of six individuals accused of drugs trafficking in Babel Province. Additionally, on 22 November, security forces arrested a 21-year-old individual in Hayy al-Thawra in Nasiriyah in Dhi Qar, as he was found in possession of an unknown number of narcotic pills

In order to confront petty and organized crime, al-Gharraf District Mayor, Thaydan Abud Dahi stated that security forces were ordered to track and register all abandoned houses in Gharraf in order to prevent criminal organizations from utilizing them as bases for operations. The al-Gharraf District Mayor further added that additional security patrols were being deployed at night to ensure security. This is a positive step in confronting all forms of crime and it will remain important to monitor for efforts in urban areas to follow suit. However, criminal organizations also often exploit corrupt individuals within the security service and utilize bribery to continue their operations unhindered, with such operations simply prompting limited adaptations to well-established criminal enterprise.

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