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Govt struggled to pass 2023 budget amid street protests and internal political jockeying, while Islamic State (ISIS) staged multiple deadly attacks.
Govt faced popular protests and internal rifts over 2023 budget. Govt struggled to draft 2023 budget having promised to create 500,000 public sector jobs, while population suffered from decreasing value of Iraqi dinar. Notably, protesters throughout month demonstrated outside electricity and education ministries in capital Baghdad and local branches in southern governorates demanding permanent state employee contracts; demonstrations could grow in scale and become politicised if opposition parties, such as Sadrist movement or those formed after 2019 protest movement, join unrest. Elsewhere, hundreds 7 Dec protested prison sentence handed to activist over Twitter post allegedly insulting Iran-linked armed groups in Nasiriyah city, Dhi Qar governorate; security forces opened fire, killing three and injuring at least 17. Meanwhile, primary backers of PM Sudani in Shiite Coordination Framework, former PM Nuri al-Maliki (State of Law Coalition) and Qais al-Khazali (Asaib Ahl al-Haq), competed for influence over govt portfolios and security institutions; Sudani’s failure to balance demands could prompt leaders to oppose govt program and budget allocations.
ISIS conducted deadly attacks amid ongoing insurgency. Suspected ISIS IED 14 Dec killed three soldiers in Tarmiya district, Salah al-Din governorate. ISIS IED 18 Dec targeting federal police patrol killed at least nine security personnel in Riyadh district, Kirkuk governorate. Unknown gunmen 19 Dec stormed Albu Bali village, Diyala governorate, killing eight civilians and injuring seven; local police blamed ISIS.
In other important developments. Missile attack 3 Dec targeted Turkish base in Zilkan, Ninewa governorate; armed group Liwaa Ahrar al-Iraq 3 Dec claimed attack; another attack next day again targeted base. Meanwhile, Turkish air campaign targeting Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) abated during month (see Türkiye). Leaders, including from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran, France and European Union, 20 Dec held second round of high-level Baghdad conference in Jordanian capital Amman to enhance regional dialogue on challenges facing Iraq.
Türkiye intensified strikes against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in north after deadly Istanbul bombing, while Iranian forces resumed attacks on Iranian Kurdish groups.
Türkiye targeted PKK and threatened ground incursion. Following 13 Nov bombing in Turkish city Istanbul that killed six, which Türkiye blamed on PKK and Syrian affiliate People’s Protection Units (YPG), Turkish forces 20 Nov launched “Operation Claw-Sword” in northern Syria and Iraq (see Türkiye); Turkish defence ministry claimed strikes in both areas 20-21 Nov killed 184 militants. Turkish President Erdoğan starting 21 Nov repeatedly signalled possible ground invasion into northern Syria and Iraq; threat of ground incursion in northern Syria appeared more likely than Iraq (see Syria). Before new operation, Turkish drone attacks 1, 3 Nov killed at least four PKK-affiliated Sinjar Resistance Unit members in Sinjar district, Ninewa governorate. Militant attacks in north 5 Nov and 25 Nov killed four Turkish soldiers.
Iran resumed strikes on Iranian Kurdish groups in Kurdistan region. Amid ongoing domestic turmoil in Iran that authorities blame on foreign agitation (see Iran), Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) 14, 20-21 and 22 Nov launched missile and drone attacks against Kurdistan Democratic Party – Iran (KDPI) in Zargawez area of Sulaymaniyah governorate and Sidakan area of Erbil governorate, reportedly killing at least two; forces also bolstered military presence in Iranian border regions. IRGC Quds Force commander 14 Nov visited capital Baghdad and threatened ground offensive if border was not secured from Kurdish infiltration.
In other important developments. Islamic State (ISIS) continued its insurgency; notably, ISIS 19 Nov attacked army position in Kirkuk governorate, killing four soldiers. Unidentified assailant 7 Nov killed U.S. aid worker in capital Baghdad; PM Sudani same day formed committee to investigate killing. In Kurdistan region, Kurdish Democratic Party 3 Nov held first party congress in 12 years, which appointed Masrour Barzani, son of party leader Masoud Barzani, as second deputy president amid waning influence of his cousin Nechirvan Barzani.
Parliament elected president, breaking year-long political deadlock and paving way for new govt, while Türkiye and Iran continued attacks in Kurdistan amid intra-Kurdish tensions.
Election of president led to appointment of PM-designate and new cabinet. Parliament 13 Oct elected Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) member Abdul Latif Rashid as president, as nine rockets landed near Green Zone in capital Baghdad, injuring ten people. Rashid won support of Shiite Coordination Framework and Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) after former reportedly promised KDP not to enforce Feb 2022 Supreme Court ruling on oil and gas sales. Rashid same day named framework’s nominee Mohammed Shia al-Sudani PM-designate, tasked with forming cabinet by 12 Nov. Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr 15 Oct refused to join new govt; with Sadr sidelined, PM-designate 27 Oct passed cabinet. Sadr is likely to watch govt performance at distance while retaining street-mobilising power for future.
Protesters marked three-year anniversary amid tensions between rival Shiite factions. On anniversary of 2019 Tishreen protest movement, demonstrators 1 Oct protested in Baghdad and southern governorates; in Baghdad, security forces clashed with protesters, injuring over 80. In Dhi Qar governorate, police imposed curfew after unknown groups 3 Oct attacked govt buildings and injured security forces. Unidentified groups 4 Oct fired rockets at presidential palace in Basra city, used by security forces and Iran-aligned groups; al-Sadr 6 Oct announced banning weapons use, except in Salaheddin province, for armed groups under his command.
In Kurdistan region, Türkiye and Iran continued operations amid intra-Kurdish tensions. After Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) 1 Oct killed Turkish soldier, Turkish drone 4 Oct reportedly killed two alleged PKK members in Sulay-maniyah governorate; armed group 8 Oct fired missiles at Zilkan base housing Turkish forces in Dohuk governorate. Regional authorities said Turkish strike 28 Oct killed two PKK militants in Sinjar. Continuing Sept operation, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps 4 Oct reportedly struck alleged Iranian Kurdish groups in Sedikan area; 9 Oct announced end of operation. Meanwhile, in regional capital Erbil, explosive device 7 Oct killed PUK officer close to ousted PUK leader Lahur Talabani – cousin and rival of current PUK leader Bafel Talabani.
Govt formation made modest progress amid tense atmosphere, Türkiye and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) battled in north, and Iranian forces struck Kurdistan region.Govt formation slowly progressed amid violence. PM al-Kadhimi 5 Sept convened second round of talks to resolve political deadlock, which Sadrists boycotted. Supreme Court 7 Sept ruled it could not dissolve parliament, key demand of Sadrists. Shiite Coordination Framework 28 Sept pushed for parliamentary session, which was attended by more than 200 MPs despite Sadrist supporters staging protests outside Green Zone; session reached quorum to elect new deputy speaker to replace resigned Sadrist MP, also reaffirmed support for current speaker. As session ended, Sadrist protesters clashed with security forces outside Green Zone, causing injuries on both sides; rockets 28-29 Sept struck Green Zone. Earlier in month, Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Saraya al-Salam forces and Iran-aligned Asaib Ahl al-Haq 1 Sept clashed in Basra city, killing at least four.North witnessed uptick in attacks between Türkiye and PKK. Turkish drone attack 11 Sept killed two PKK members in Sinjar, Ninewa governorate. Later same day, Türkiye claimed PKK killed four Turkish soldiers in Kurdistan region and 12 Sept an-nounced killing three PKK members in Khalifan district of Kurdistan. Turkish intelligence 14 Sept arrested two PKK members in Makhmour refugee camp, Ninewa governorate; next day said it had neutralised five PKK members. Meanwhile, Turkish intelligence chief 10-11 Sept met senior officials, including president and PM, indicating Ankara’s desire to mend ties after Türkiye’s July attack, which killed nine civilians, and regain Baghdad’s support for operation against PKK.Iranian forces heavily shelled northern Kurdistan. Amid protests in Iran (see Iran), Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards claimed responsibility for missile and drone strikes targeting Iranian Kurdish opposition parties beginning 24 Sept; notably, strikes 28 Sept killed at least 13 people and wounded 58, including civilians; guards claimed attacks targeted bases of “separatist terrorists”, accused them of key role in unrest. U.S. military 28 Sept downed Iranian drone reportedly targeting Erbil.Military continued operations against Islamic State (ISIS). Notably, military 10 Sept said airstrikes had killed dozen ISIS members, including two commanders in Hamrin mountains, Salah al-Din governorate.
Unrest escalated further in capital Baghdad, where armed clashes between rival Shiite factions killed 30; ruling Kurdish parties quashed protests in Kurdistan. After supporters of populist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr stormed parliament in capital Baghdad in late July, thousands of anti-Sadr protestors 1 Aug demonstrated outside Baghdad’s Green Zone. Sadr 3 Aug called for protestors to continue sit-in outside parliament, demanded dissolution of parliament, constitutional amendments and early elections; rival Nuri al-Maliki 8 Aug refused demands. Rival bloc Shiite Coordination Framework 12 Aug began sit-in outside Green Zone, demanding govt formation and resumption of parliament meetings. Sadrist protestors 22-23 Aug gathered outside Supreme Judicial Council in Green Zone after Sadr 10 Aug had called on body to dissolve parliament. Shiite leader Kazem al-Haeri 29 Aug announced retirement and encouraged his own followers to support Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei; in response, Sadr announced retirement, leaving his supporters to demonstrate without guidance. Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) that night fired on Sadrist protesters in Green Zone; Saraya Salam, armed wing of Sadr movement, deployed in response, leading to violent fighting that killed 30 and wounded over 200. Sadr supporters attacked PMF offices across southern provinces. Sadr next day called for calm and supporters’ withdrawal. Deadly clashes night of 31 Aug reportedly spread to southern city Basra. In Kurdistan region, ruling Kurdish parties Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) 6 Aug quashed protests called by leader of New Generation Movement against delayed govt salary payments, rising food prices and unemployment; in PUK-dominated areas, security forces 6 Aug raided houses of political activists and New Generation Movement headquarters, reportedly arresting at least 40 party members. In KDP-dominated areas, security forces in days before 6 Aug arrested activists and journalists. Meanwhile, protests over electricity shortages 6 Aug erupted in southern Basra, Maysan, Wasit and northern Diyala governorates. Unidentified drone strike 1 Aug targeted Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) in Ranya district of Sulaymaniyah governorate. Turkish defence ministry 27 Aug said it killed nine PKK militants in north. Low-scale Islamic State (ISIS) attacks continued; notably, suspected ISIS attack 2 Aug killed five soldiers in Diyala governorate.
Amid stalled govt formation, tensions between rival Shiite factions escalated as Muqtada al-Sadr’s supporters stormed parliament in capital Baghdad; alleged Turkish attack killed nine tourists in Kurdistan. Shiite Coordination Framework failed to form two-thirds bloc in parliament needed to elect new president following Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s political withdrawal in June. In audio leaked 13 July, former PM and one of framework’s leaders Nuri al-Maliki said he was arming select groups in south in preparation for civil war against al-Sadr, whom he accused of plotting state takeover; Maliki 17 July denounced allegations as false, while Sadr next day called on Maliki to exit political process. In show of strength for Sadr, tens of thousands of supporters 15 July gathered in capital Baghdad, answering Sadr’s call to mass prayer; supporters 27, 30 July stormed Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone and parliament, where clashes between protesters and security forces injured 125. Rival Shiite Coordination Framework called for counter-protests on 1 Aug, raising prospect of violence between camps. Meanwhile, Türkiye continued airstrikes against Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) and affiliates; most notably, alleged Turkish artillery fire 20 July killed nine civilians and injured 23 in tourist resort in Barakh, Zakho district, Duhok province, Kurdistan autonomous region; Ankara denied responsibility for attack, blaming PKK, while Iraqi and Kurdish regional authorities blamed Türkiye. In capital Baghdad, dozens same day protested attacks in front of Turkish embassy and police next day clashed with around 500 protesters. National Security Council 20 July called on Türkiye to withdraw from Iraqi territory. Beyond Kurdistan region, alleged Turkish drone 17 July struck vehicle in Mosul, Ninewa province, killing five and injuring two. Alleged Islamic State (ISIS) attack 3 July killed two Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) members and injured five in Sherwin area of Diyala province. In deadliest attack since Jan, ISIS militants 20 July killed six police officers and injured seven in al-Jilam region, Salahaddin province. Tensions between federal and Kurdistan regional govts deepened over oil production and export from Kurdistan; commercial court in Baghdad 4 July ruled contracts of four foreign oil companies operating in Kurdistan were void.
Largest parliamentary bloc resigned amid deadlocked govt formation, while Türkiye struck Shiite militias for first time and continued to target Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) and its affiliates. Stalled govt formation efforts entered ninth month; in protest of deadlock, 73 lawmakers from Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s bloc 12 June resigned and Sadr 15 June announced he would withdraw from political process, raising prospect of Sadr encouraging street protests; parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi 12 June accepted resignations. Parliament 23 June held emergency session for replacement MPs to take their oath. Earlier in month, parliament 8 June approved emergency food security bill backed by Sadr, allocating $17bn for food, gas, electricity and public service salaries. Drones allegedly launched by Shiite paramilitary coalition Popular Mobilisation Forces’ (PMF) 30th battalion 2, 9 June targeted Türkiye’s Zilkan base in Bashiqa, Ninewa governorate; group has launched eight attacks on base this year. In response, reports suggested Türkiye 9 June launched indirect fire against 30th battalion, resulting in two casualties in Ninewa plains, in first Turkish assault to date on PMF group not aligned with PKK; tit-for-tat attacks between Türkiye and PMF could increase in disputed areas of Ninewa. Meanwhile, Türkiye continued operations targeting PKK in northern Iraq; notably, in Sinjar district of Ninewa, Türkiye 15 June allegedly conducted airstrikes against PKK-affiliated Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS) positions in Sinuni town, killing two and injuring seven. Turkish drone 17 June targeted vehicle in Kalar town in Sulaymaniyah governorate, killing four PKK militants. In Kurdistan, judicial council 4 June rejected federal supreme court’s Feb ruling that declared regional govt’s development of oil and gas fields outside federal supervision “unconstitutional”. IED-laden drone 8 June hit Pirmam road near U.S. consulate facility in regional capital Erbil, injuring three; security forces claimed Shiite militia Kataib Hezbollah was responsible for attack, while Iranian media said strike targeted Israeli secret service. Low-level Islamic State (ISIS) attacks and counter-ISIS operations continued throughout month; notably, security forces 3 June announced killing four ISIS members in Wadi al-Qathf region in Anbar governorate.
Govt formation efforts remained stalled, army clashed with Sinjar Resistance Units in Sinjar, and Turkish forces launched drone strikes in northern Iraq. Govt formation remained deadlocked. Shiite cleric and leader of largest bloc in Oct 2021 parliamentary elections Muqtada al-Sadr faced setback when Federal Supreme Court 15 May banned govt from appointing senior positions, proposing draft laws and contacting new loans, ending Sadr’s plans to govern without fully authorised govt; Sadr same day announced intention to go into opposition, allowing second largest bloc, Shia Coordination Framework (SCF), to form govt. Meanwhile, SCF sought to intimidate Sunni MPs through threats of violence and court rulings; notably, after SCF petitioned Supreme Court, court 16 May revoked parliamentary status of Sunni lawmaker Mishan al-Jubouri on corruption charges. In Sinjar district, Nineveh province, clashes 1-2 May erupted between army and Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK)-affiliated Sinjar Resistance Units (YBŞ), notably in Dukuri village, following military operation to clear YBŞ forces from area; clashes killed at least three and displaced around 3,000. Joint Operations Command 3 May confirmed clashes ended; tribal leaders and Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary force mediated ceasefire. YBŞ has come under pressure from Turkish air campaign against PKK in Kurdistan and restriction of cross-border movement into Syria due to govt construction of wall along Syrian border. Suspected Turkish drone 21 May reportedly targeted vehicle near Chamchamal town in Sulaymaniyah province, killing five, including at least two alleged PKK members; another drone same day hit vehicle in Makhmour refugee camp in Nineveh province, reportedly killing two. Drone attack claimed by Ahrar Sinjar militia 21 May reportedly targeted Zilkan military base hosting Turkish troops in Bashiqa, Nineveh province, killing one. In Kurdistan region, six missiles reportedly launched from Bartella town in Nineveh province 1 May hit oil refinery in regional capital Erbil. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps 11 May reportedly targeted Erbil with artillery fire. Iraqi Security Media Cell 24 May announced it shot down drone approaching airbase near airport of capital Baghdad that hosts Iraqi and U.S. forces. Low-level Islamic State (ISIS) attacks continued throughout month; notably, two ISIS attacks in Kirkuk and Nineveh provinces 23 May reportedly killed 12.
Deadlocked govt formation led to unprecedented constitutional impasse, Turkey launched new operation against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and Islamic State (ISIS) stepped up attacks during Ramadan. Govt formation remained stalled after last month’s failed attempts to achieve two-thirds quorum in parliament, leaving country in unprecedented situation that upends constitutional timeline for parliament to appoint president within 30 days of speaker’s election (completed in mid-Jan); constitution requires president to appoint PM. Following Shiite cleric and leader of bloc that won largest share of seats in Oct 2021 parliamentary election Muqtada al-Sadr’s announcement late March that he would give rivals in Shia Coordination Framework 40 days to negotiate with his allies Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and Sunni Sovereignty Alliance to form govt, KDP and Sovereignty Alliance 1 April issued statement reaffirming commitment to Tripartite Alliance with Sadr, now rebranded “Saving the homeland” bloc. Hundreds of demonstrators 15 April protested political deadlock in capital Baghdad. Turkish military 17-18 April launched new operation against PKK in northern Iraq dubbed “Claw-Lock”; fighter jets targeted infrastructure and bases used by PKK militants in Metina, Zab and Avashin-Basyan regions; Turkish Defence Ministry next day announced killing at least 19 militants. President Salih 19 April called attack threat to Iraq’s national security and Foreign Ministry 20 April summoned Turkey’s envoy. As part of yearly uptick in attacks during Ramadan, ISIS conducted over dozen attacks against security forces in central regions. Notably, Security Media Cell 4 April announced that alleged ISIS suicide bomber injured at least four soldiers in Nwegeit mountains, Ninewa province, while Iraqi troops killed three militants. Counter-ISIS operations continued throughout month. In Ninewa governorate, suspected Hashd al-Shaabi-linked militant groups 3-4 April launched rockets on Turkey’s Zilkan military base in Bashiqa town; three missiles launched from Hamdaniya district in Ninewa 6 April targeted oil refinery in Khabat district, Erbil governorate. U.S.-led international coalition 8 April announced downing drone targeting Ain al-Assad airbase in Anbar governorate. Unknown attackers 15 April launched explosives-laden drone at Hashd al-Shaabi base in Tal Afar district, which injured one commander, possibly in retaliation for 6 April attack.
Iran launched missiles at alleged Israeli target in Erbil, govt formation remained deadlocked, and Islamic State (ISIS) appointed new leader. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) 13 March fired 12 ballistic missiles at alleged Israeli “strategic center” in area near U.S. consulate in Kurdistan’s regional capital Erbil; attack reportedly conducted in response to Israeli drone strike that killed two IRGC officers in Syria 7 March (see Syria) and Israeli attack on drone facility in Iran’s Kermanshah province in Feb; attack was launched from Iranian soil and without consultation of local Iranian allies who faced backlash for Iran’s violation of Iraqi sovereignty. On political front, govt formation remained deadlocked. Following failure to elect president last month, parliament 5 March voted to reopen nomination period for presidential candidates; Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) subsequently officially nominated Reber Ahmed as candidate. Parliament speaker 15 March announced election of president would take place on 26 March, however quorum was not obtained with session postponed again to 30 March; head of al-Fateh bloc Abbas al-Zamili next day reportedly said Shiite Coordination Framework would not attend session without agreement on govt formation with Tripartite Alliance that includes Sadrists, Sunni Sovereignty Alliance and KDP. Parliament 30 March failed to elect president due to lack of quorum. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr 10 March held phone calls with top officials, including former PM and rival Nouri al-Maliki, who al-Sadr had long refused to include in govt-formation; indicated consensus govt is likely to prevail notwithstanding division between Sadrists and Framework leaders that could lead to months of wrangling. Hundreds of protesters supporting Iran-aligned groups 27 March reportedly attacked KDP’s office in capital Baghdad. Following death of ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Quraishi in Syria in Feb, ISIS 10 March appointed new leader (see Syria). Meanwhile, low-scale ISIS attacks and anti-terrorism operations continued throughout month. At least four rockets attributed by military to “criminal terrorist gangs” 17 March targeted Balad airbase in Salah al-Din province. Protests erupted 9 March in south over rising food prices; notably, over 500 protesters gathered in Nasiriyah, Dhi Qar governorate.
Parliament failed to elect new president, stalling govt formation and leading country into uncharted constitutional waters, while Turkey launched new military campaign in northern Iraq. Govt formation came to unprecedented standstill after parliament 7 Feb failed to reach necessary two-thirds quorum to elect new president within constitutional deadline. Unsure of obtaining two-thirds of votes for their Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) presidential candidate Hoshyar Zebari, tripartite alliance – comprising Sunni parties, KDP and Shiite Sadrist movement and led by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr – boycotted session. Supreme Court 13 Feb invalidated Zebari’s candidacy over corruption charges. Fearing Sadr could form govt excluding rival Shiite Coordination Framework, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commander 8 Feb visited Iraq to meet Sadr who maintained intention to form majority govt. Lack of precedent for deadlock fuelled uncertainty, which may eventually force new elections. In move likely to raise tensions between Baghdad and Erbil and possibly cause rift within tripartite alliance, Supreme Court 15 Feb ruled Kurdistan regional govt’s law regulating region’s independent oil industry unconstitutional. Meanwhile, Turkey early Feb launched new military campaign Operation Winter Eagle against Kurdish militants, constituting most significant escalation in airstrikes since Aug 2021. Turkish air force 1 Feb conducted over 20 airstrikes in Sinjar district, Nineveh governorate, and Makhmur district, Erbil governorate, killing ten Yazidi Resistance Units (YBS) and Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) members. In following days, YBS protested in Sinjar, raising tensions with military who banned protests. Previously unknown Ahrar Sinjar group – likely front for pro-Iran Shiite group Asaib Ahl al-Haq – claimed 2 Feb rocket attack on Turkish military base in Sinjar. Group deemed to be front for pro-Iran faction Alwiat al-Wa’ad al-Haqq claimed responsibility for three drones target-ing United Arab Emirates on 2 Feb. In Maysan governorate, PM Al-Kadhimi 7 Feb established new operations command amid insecurity; notably, unidentified gunmen 9 Feb assassinated member of Sadrist militia Saraya al-Salam in Amara city, latest in series of killings involving Sadrists and Asaib Ahl al-Haq, raising fears of more clashes between groups. Anti-Islamic State operations continued throughout month.
Parliament held first session since Oct election, Popular Mobilisation Forces stepped up attacks, and Islamic State carried out one of its deadliest attacks in months. Parliament 9 Jan held first session since Oct election, re-electing Mohammed al-Halbousi as parliament speaker, Sadrist movement’s Hakim al-Zamili as first deputy and Kurdistan Democratic Party’s (KDP) Shakhawan Abdullah as second deputy; session went ahead despite verbal altercations and suspected attempts at disruption in line with Shia coordination framework’s wishes; latter 10 Jan filed complaint at Supreme Court challenging parliament proceedings as unconstitutional but court 25 Jan rejected appeal to overturn selection of speaker. Following session, unclaimed hand grenade attacks 13 Jan targeted KDP headquarters, 14 Jan struck Sunni Taqaddum and Azm party offices in capital Baghdad in likely warning to Shia leader of largest bloc Muqtada al-Sadr not to exclude Shia parties in govt formation. Twin explosions 16 Jan targeted banks associated with Kurdish politicians in Baghdad, injuring two. Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Commander Ismael Qaani and Hizbollah representative Mohammed al-Kawtharani 16-17 Jan mediated between Shia parties in Baghdad, with some sources indicating Iran’s possible acceptance of non-Shia majority govt. Rockets 25 Jan struck near speaker’s residence in Karma district, Anbar province, injuring two civilians. In increase of attacks compared to last month, Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF)-affiliated resistance factions early Jan conducted at least 22 attacks on domestic and foreign targets; notably, in commemoration of 2020 assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, PMF 3-6 Jan launched drone and rocket attacks on Green Zone and airport in Baghdad and Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar governorate; previously unknown group Qassem al-Jabarayn 5 Jan claimed Ain al-Asad attack. Also marking Soleimani’s killing, thousands 1 Jan rallied in Baghdad chanting anti-U.S. slogans. PMF-affiliated groups 6 Jan attacked Peshmerga forces near Altun Kopri in Kirkuk governorate. Rocket attack targeting U.S. embassy in Baghdad’s Green Zone 13 Jan injured two. Six rockets 28 Jan hit Baghdad International Airport compound and landed near U.S. air base Camp Victory. ISIS attacks continued throughout month; most notably, suspected ISIS gunmen 21 Jan attacked army barracks in Azim district in Diyala governorate, killing 11 soldiers.
Islamic State (ISIS) attacks killed dozens, U.S.-led coalition forces formally ended combat mission, and deadlock over govt formation continued following disputed election results. Surge of ISIS attacks on Peshmerga forces along border between Kurdistan region and disputed territories continued early Dec; notably, ISIS 2 Dec killed ten Peshmerga and three civilians in at-tack on Khidir Jija village in Makhmur region; 5 Dec reportedly killed four Peshmer-ga and one civilian in Qara Salem village. ISIS same day took control of Luhaiban village before Iraqi security forces recaptured it next day. ISIS 6 Dec killed four Peshmerga in attack near oilfield between Kirkuk and Makhmur cities. In southern city Basra, rare motorcycle bomb 7 Dec killed four and injured 20; while attack remained unclaimed, Basra governor blamed ISIS. In Diyala governorate, ISIS attack killed three soldiers in Qara Tapa. Ahead of 31 Dec deadline for withdrawal of coalition troops, National Security Advisor Qasim al-Araji 9 Dec announced end of Coalition Forces’ combat mission. Coalition next day announced start of new “advise, assist and enable mission” consisting of 2,500 U.S. troops; pro-Iran paramilitary groups subsequently condemned largely unchanged troop numbers. Two rockets 18 Dec hit Green Zone near U.S. embassy in capital Baghdad. Federal Supreme Court 27 Dec ratified final election results, after rejecting fraud allegations submitted early month by Fateh Alliance leader Hadi al-Ameri, who requested results be annulled. Meanwhile, Shiite parties continued negotiations over govt formation. In Sinjar district, Turkish airstrike targeting vehicle outside Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)-affiliated Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS) headquarters 7 Dec killed local commander Marwan Badal in Khanasour village; protests against Turkish airstrikes 12 Dec set fire to Iraqi army vehicle in Sinuni town. Turkish defence ministry 9 Dec announced death of three soldiers in PKK attack in northern Iraq; Ankara launched retaliatory air attacks reportedly killing PKK-affiliated militants in northern Iraq throughout month. Syrian PKK-affiliated Revolutionary Youth Union members 15 Dec clashed with Iraqi border authorities at Fishkhabour-Semalka border crossing, demanding return of Syrian Kurdish fighters’ bodies killed in Turkish airstrike; clashes prompted closure of border point, sparking fears among humanitarian agencies about access to Syria.
PM al-Kadhimi survived assassination attempt, protests against election results turned violent in capital Baghdad, and Islamic State (ISIS) continued deadly attacks. Three explosive-laden drones 7 Nov targeted PM al-Kadhimi’s residence in capital Baghdad’s Green Zone, injuring six guards; while unclaimed, Iraqi security and militia sources reportedly attributed attack to Iran-backed paramilitary groups. Leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Ismail Qaani 8 Nov visited Baghdad in show of support to al-Kadhimi. Attack followed weeks-long sit-in outside Green Zone by Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF)-affiliated parties in protest of parliamentary election result; notably, protesters 5 Nov tried to breach Green Zone and clashed with security forces; according to health ministry at least 150 were injured, while paramilitary group Asaib Ahl al-Haq claimed two were killed. Amid ongoing appeals against 10 Oct election result, losing parties continued call for vote recount; notably, prominent Shiite coalition Fateh Alliance 18 Nov filed lawsuit with Federal Court to annul election results. Final results released 30 Nov confirmed victory of Muqtada al-Sadr’s movement with 73 seats, followed by Sunni Taqaddum Party with 37 seats. Leader of Sadrist movement Muqtada al-Sadr, whose bloc increased parliamentary seats in election, 18 Nov called on PMF to purge “undisciplined elements” and urged armed factions to disband and come under control of PM and Hashd al-Shaabi Commission (organisation under PM’s nominal control set up in 2014 in attempt to institutionalise paramilitary groups, but which prompted recruitment drive by paramilitary groups in defiance). Sadr next day announced dissolution of Promised Day Brigade armed faction as “goodwill gesture”. Meanwhile, Iraqi security source reported ISIS attack 6 Nov killed two coal workers in Hawija district, Kirkuk governorate; ISIS 9 Nov attacked fishing boats on Zarka River in Tuz district, Salah al-Din governorate, killing two; ISIS next day attacked police unit in same area, killing two; ISIS 28 Nov killed five Peshmerga in northern Diyala governorate. Military 23 Nov announced foreign combat troops would leave Iraq within 15 days, while small foreign presence would remain at Ain al-Assad base. Meanwhile, Turkish security forces targeted alleged Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants in northern Iraq throughout month.
Parliamentary elections held amid record low turnout, gun attacks and fraud allegations, while security forces arrested two prominent Islamic State (ISIS) members. Iraqis 10 Oct cast their ballots in general election that witnessed lowest voter turnout of any election since 2003, with only 41% participation of registered voters. Main winners included Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s movement, which boosted seats in parliament from 54 to 73, while pro-Iran Shiite parties, including Fateh Alliance, lost seats; Tishreen protest movement-linked party Imtidad recorded successes in southern governorates. EU observer mission 12 Oct said vote was “well-managed and competitive” amid concerns over low turnout and press freedoms. Notably, gun attack on election centre in Riyad region, south of Kirkuk city, reportedly killed three police officials; unknown gunmen same day attacked voting centre in Sa’diyah town, Diyala governorate, injuring two soldiers. Several Shiite parties 12 Oct alleged fraud, called for recount; pro-Iran paramilitary group Kataib Hezbollah called vote “scam”, threatening violence. Hundreds of supporters of paramilitary coalition Popular Mobilisation Forces 17 Oct blocked roads south and north of capital Baghdad in protest at results and 19 Oct began sit-in near Green Zone in Baghdad. Earlier in month, around 1,000 protesters 1 Oct demonstrated in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, marking two-year anniversary of Oct 2019 protest movement. Meanwhile, ISIS attacks remained lethal, primarily in Kirkuk, Anbar, Diyala and Salah-al Din governorates. Notably, ISIS 3 Oct killed soldier in clashes near Tuz Khurmatu district that cut off Baghdad-Kirkuk highway; attack on village in Diyala 26 Oct killed 12 and injured another 15. PM al-Kadhimi 11 Oct announced capture of senior ISIS leader Sami Jasim in intelligence operation and 18 Oct announced arrest of ISIS militant Ghazwan al-Zobai in unidentified foreign country and transport to Iraq 16 Oct; al-Zobai was mastermind behind 2016 bombing that killed almost 300 people in Baghdad. ISIS attack 26 Oct on Shiite village in Diyala governorate killed at least 15 and prompted retaliation by residents on Sunni village accused of siding with group. Turkey continued operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK): airstrikes throughout month targeting suspected PKK in northern Iraq neutralised dozens of alleged militants.
Opposition parties announced boycott of October polls, Islamic State (ISIS) conducted deadliest attack this year, and Turkey continued operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). In run-up to 10 Oct elections, office of PM al-Kadhimi 1 Sept announced security forces had thwarted plan to “rig the elections by putting pressure on a number of election commission employees”. Around 40 political parties associated with 2019 Tishreen protest movement 4 Sept announced boycott of elections, saying polls “lack integrity, fairness and equal opportunities”. UN official 22 Sept said UN election observers will number over 800. Meanwhile, series of suspected ISIS attacks continued. Notably, in Kirkuk governorate suspected ISIS militants 2 Sept killed one soldier; 5 Sept killed 13 federal police officers in Rashad region in deadliest attack this year; 11 Sept killed three federal police officers. ISIS ambush 21 Sept killed two in Garmiyan area, Sulaymaniyah governorate. Military and Peshmerga 17 Sept announced joint security operation against ISIS. Turkey continued operations – including airstrikes – against PKK in northern Iraq (see Turkey). In sign of increasing PKK retaliatory at-tacks in population centres, IED 15 Sept killed two members of so-called Rojava Peshmerga armed group in Akre, Duhok governorate. Unknown assailants 18 Sept shot dead mid-ranking PKK commander Yasin Bulut in Sulaymaniyah province. In-security and attacks persisted across country. In Nineveh governorate, gunmen 5 Sept killed at least three soldiers in attack on army checkpoint south of Mosul city; attack on vehicle same day killed paramilitary Popular Mobilisation Forces commander in Babil governorate. Explosives attack 11 Sept killed at least four near Makhmour. Rockets 11 Sept targeted Erbil International Airport hosting U.S.-led coalition; in al-Muthanna governorate, IED next day reportedly targeted international coalition convoy. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) 9 Sept fired missiles at headquarters of unspecified foreign-backed organisation near Erbil city; Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran same day said it was targeted; IRGC 20 Sept struck four bases belonging to “anti-revolutionary groups”. While Baghdad and Washington 16 Sept reportedly agreed to reduce U.S. troops in Anbar and Erbil provinces, New York Times 20 Sept reported that U.S. deployed additional 2,000 troops for nine months.
Divisions emerged within political factions ahead of Oct elections, security operations targeted Islamic State (ISIS), and intra-Kurdish rivalry boiled over in Kurdistan. Tensions rose within ethno-sectarian political blocs ahead of 10 Oct parliamentary elections. Within Sunni bloc, rivalry between Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi, politician Mohammed al-Kabourli and challenger Khamis al-Khanjar escalated throughout month into acts of sabotage, including removal of campaign advertisement. Among pro-Iran Shia parties, tensions arose between factions of paramilitary coalition Population Mobilisation Forces (PMF), chiefly Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Kataib Hezbollah, which early Aug publicly accused each other of corruption. Hamid al-Yaseri, leader of PMF group Ansar al-Marjaiya, 14 Aug delivered speech describing resistance groups’ loyalty to Iran as “treasonous”. Shiite cleric and leader of largest parliamentary bloc Muqtada al-Sadr 27 Aug reversed July decision to boycott Oct election. In northern Baghdad, security forces 14 Aug launched large-scale anti-ISIS operation, arresting seven suspected ISIS members, and next day killed ISIS leader Mustafa Hassan Ismail. In Diyala province, security forces 18 Aug arrested three suspected ISIS members for attack on power lines. PM Kadhimi 23 Aug announced second operation in Tarimyah town, north of Baghdad. In Kurdistan region, infighting within prominent political faction escalated. Co-chair of Patriotic Union of Kurdistan Bafel Talabani 2 Aug issued decision to expel his cousin and co-chair Lahur Talabani from Iraq, in move that escalated July power struggle between two leaders; Lahur 3 Aug declared authorities had issued warrant for his arrest and said he had no intention of leaving, raising prospect of clash between Peshmerga brigades under each leader’s command. President Barham Salih 3 Aug intervened to mediate, alleviating tensions. Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) 12 Aug conducted mortar attack on Turkish military base in northern Iraq, killing one Turkish soldier; reported Turkish drone and airstrikes 16-17 Aug around Sinjar district targeting PKK-linked Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS) and medical clinic killed at least ten people, including civilians and senior YBS member Said Hassan. Internationally, govt 28 Aug hosted regional summit with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, the Emirates and some European countries to discuss avenues for cooperation, especially on economy and energy.
Amid ongoing rocket attacks, PM Kadhimi and U.S. President Biden set timeline of U.S. combat troop withdrawal; Islamic State (ISIS) militants killed dozens of civilians across country. Rockets 5, 7 July hit Ain al-Assad airbase in Anbar province (west) hosting coalition troops, injuring two; Shiite armed group Revenge of al-Muhandis Brigade same day claimed responsibility. Rockets next day targeted U.S. embassy in capital Baghdad, landing in Green Zone; Iran-backed militias denied involvement. Following talks with PM Kadhimi, U.S. President Biden 26 July announced 2,500 U.S. troops in country would end combat mission by end of year but would continue training and advisory roles. Meanwhile, ISIS militants 3 July killed four fishermen at Haditha Dam, Anbar province. Militants 4 July clashed with villagers in Diyala province (east), killing five. ISIS-linked suicide bomber same day killed at least 35 and wounded over 60 in Sadr City market, Baghdad, on eve of Eid al-Adha, marking third market bombing in neighbourhood in 2021. Security forces 19 July announced arrest of prominent ISIS leader “Emir of Baghdad”. Power line failure 2 July caused widespread blackout in Baghdad and southern provinces amid extreme summer heat, triggering protests in southern city Basra. Joint Operation Command 4 July confirmed ISIS attacked dozens of electricity pylons early month. Supreme Judicial Council 8 July issued arrest warrants for suspects in 2020 killing of security specialist and govt adviser Husham al-Hashimi; Kadhimi 16 July announced arrest of suspects; protesters 18 July demonstrated in Baghdad demanding govt to ensure adviser’s killers are held accountable. Ahead of Oct parliamentary elections, Shiite cleric and leader of largest parliamentary bloc Muqtada al-Sadr 15 July announced withdrawal from polls; Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, head of Chaldean Church, next day said Christians would not vote over concerns of militias and risk of fraud. Peshmerga and Kurdistan Workers’ Party 24 July traded accusations of opening fire on each other’s positions in Duhok province. In Nasiriyah, deadly fire caused by oxygen containers 12 July killed at least 92 in COVID-19 ward at al-Hussein Teaching Hospital. Kirkuk health director 22 July warned of health sector collapse amid record highs of COVID-19 cases.
Amid ongoing calls to resolve targeted killings of activists, rocket attacks continued to target U.S.-led coalition and skirmishes broke out between Kurdish factions. Rocket attacks against U.S.-led coalition forces persisted. Armed group 6 June launched rocket at Baghdad international airport base hosting coalition forces; U.S. troops same day shot down two drones above Ain al-Asad airbase, Anbar province. Three drones 9 June struck Balad airbase, Salahaddin province; rockets same day struck capital Baghdad, with no casualties reported. Iraqi armed forces 16 June shot down two explosives-laden drones over Baghdad military facilities. Rocket 20 June struck Ain al-Asad airbase, with no casualties reported. After pro-Iran armed groups linked to paramilitary coalition Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) vowed to increase attacks on coalition forces following 26 May arrest of Anbar PMF commander Qasim Muslih suspected of involvement in killings of activists, authorities 9 June released Muslih, citing lack of evidence, in possible sign of govt’s desire to avoid confrontation with PMF. PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi 12 June met protesters in Nasiriyah city, stating “the assault on [activists] comes as part of a battle waged by the state against corruption”. Protesters 20 June staged sit-in in front of Karbala court, Erbil city, demanding govt accountability for May killing of anti-corruption activist Ihab al-Wazni. Meanwhile, tensions rose between Kurdish factions amid Turkish attacks on Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Ankara 5 June used drones to strike PKK forces near camp for internally displaced south of Erbil, killing at least three civilians; Turkish drone 13 June targeted PKK vehicle in Sulaymaniyah province, killing three militants and civilian driver. Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) during month established outposts closer to PKK areas; PKK 5 June launched missile at KRG convoy in Amedi district, killing at least one Peshmerga member; PKK 8 June launched rocket at border area of Zakho district, killing one Peshmerga member. Elsewhere, Iraqi military 14 June launched new operation against Islamic State (ISIS) militants in Jazeera region and Anbar, western Nineveh and Salahaddin provinces. U.S. 27 June announced airstrikes in Iraq and Syria targeting “facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups”; Iran’s foreign affairs ministry criticised action.
Iran-linked armed groups vowed to increase attacks on U.S. forces and targeted killings increased ahead of October election, fuelling climate of fear; Islamic State (ISIS) launched annual Ramadan offensive. Unknown groups 2-4, 24 May fired rockets at U.S.-led coalition troops in Baghdad airport as well as Balad and Ain al-Asad airbases. Coalition of Iran-aligned armed groups 24 May declared end of unofficial truce with U.S. forces and vowed further attacks, citing “lack of seriousness” of U.S. troop withdrawal. Meanwhile, targeted killings increased, sending chilling message ahead of Oct polls. Unidentified gunmen 9 May killed prominent activist Ihab al-Wazni in Karbala city; protesters same day rallied in Karbala to condemn killing, resulting in roadblocks and torching of vehicles outside Iranian consulate over accusations of pro-Iranian militia involvement. Unknown assailants 10 May shot and seriously injured journalist Ahmed Hassan in Diwaniya city (south). Unknown assailants 22 May injured activist Mohammed Khayat in Nasiriyah city; protesters same day stormed Dhi Qar governorate building. Head of Sunni political bloc Azm Coalition 22 May announced unknown assailants killed electoral candidate. Amid violence, several new parties linked to Oct 2019 protest movement throughout month announced withdrawal from poll citing fear of persecution. In attempt to regain public confidence, PM Kadhimi ordered security forces to raid group affiliated to paramilitary coalition Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), allegedly responsible for killing activist Reham Yacoub in August 2020; in retaliation, suspected PMF-affiliated groups 13 May reportedly attacked security forces’ headquarters in Basra city (south). Kadhimi then ordered arrest of high profile PMF member Qassim Mahmoud Musleh on terrorism charges, prompting PMF factions 26 May to stage large armed rally surrounding Baghdad’s Green Zone. Protesters in capital Baghdad 25 May demanded accountability for some 600 people killed since Oct 2019 protest movement began, and clashed with security forces who responded with live ammunition, killing two. Meanwhile, ISIS conducted dozens of attacks in Diyala and Kirkuk provinces as part of annual Ramadan offensive. Notably in Kirkuk, ISIS fighters 1 May killed three peshmerga officers and 5 May killed at least eight members of federal security forces.
Suspected Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) paramilitary groups continued rocket attacks in capital Baghdad and north as U.S. and govt struck initial deal on withdrawal of coalition troops. Tensions continued between PMF-affiliated groups and U.S. forces. Leader of PMF-affiliated group Asaib Ahl al-Haq 1 April threatened attacks on U.S. assets. Unidentified militants 4 April launched two rockets at Balad air base, north of Baghdad, with no reported casualties, and at least five rockets 18 April hit Balad city in Saladin governorate, wounding two Iraqi soldiers. Explosive-laden drone 14 April targeted coalition forces at Erbil International Airport; pro-Iran group Saraya Awliya al-Dam praised attack; rockets 22 April hit Erbil airport, leaving no reported casualties. In response, Kurdish peshmerga 15 April fired rocket at PMF Brigade 30 outpost in Hamdaniya, Ninewa. Tensions between PMF-linked groups and Turkey over presence of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Sinjar district continued. After Turkish Ministry of Defence 3 April declared readiness to take all necessary measures to “neutralise” PKK presence in area, unidentified armed group 14 April fired rockets at Zilkan military base in Ninewa governorate hosting Turkish military personnel, killing one Turkish soldier; two rockets same day fell short in Gudad village, injuring two civilians; Iraqi security forces recovered launcher in area where PMF Brigade 30 operates; fighting late month killed four more Turkish soldiers. Car bomb 15 April detonated in Sadr City neighbourhood, Baghdad, killing four and wounding 17 with no group immediately claiming responsibility. Meanwhile, U.S. and Iraq 7 April agreed upon withdrawal of all U.S. and coalition combat troops deployed to fight Islamic State (ISIS) forces, stating forces are now “focused on training and advisory tasks”, with further talks expected on exact withdrawal timeline. In south, protesters 3 April shut down three oil facilities in Dhi Qar governorate over lack of support for job security in oil sector in annual federal budget approved 31 March. Protesters 25 April took to streets in several governorates, including Dhi Qar, Wasit, Babil, Karbala and Basra in solidarity with victims of 24 April fire in Baghdad hospital that killed at least 82 people.
Rocket attacks targeted U.S.-led forces, Pope Francis embarked on historic visit, and anti-govt protests continued in south. Unknown assailants 3 March fired barrage of rockets at Ain al-Asad airbase in western Anbar province that hosts U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi military forces; one U.S. contractor died of cardiac arrest. Unidentified group 15 March launched rockets at Iraqi military’s Balad airbase, north of capital Baghdad, leaving no casualties, while stray rockets damaged civilian house. In first ever trip to Iraq, Pope Francis 5 March arrived in Baghdad and made presidential palace address, urging “an end to acts of violence and extremism, factions and intolerance”; Pope 6 March met senior Shia leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf to discuss religious coexistence and protection of Christian population of Iraq; Pope 7 March arrived in Erbil city to meet Kurdish leaders and travelled to formerly Islamic State (ISIS)-occupied Christian town Qaraqosh. Meanwhile in south, protests 8 March resumed in al-Muthanna governorate following lull during Pope’s visit, demanding dismissal of governor. Demonstrators 13, 14 March clashed with security forces in Najaf city during protest demanding resignation of governor, injuring at least ten. Protests 15 March resumed in Nasiriyah city with roadblock and 31 March shut down Dhi Qar oil refinery. Unidentified gunmen 10 March shot dead Jaseb Hattab, father of kidnapped activist Ali Jaseb Hattab, in Maysan province; Hattab had blamed Iran-backed group for son’s kidnapping. Protesters 11, 12 March demonstrated in Baghdad and Muthanna, Babil, Maysan, and Dhi Qar governorates to condemn killing and 12 March clashed with security forces near provincial govt offices in Samawah city, Muthanna governorate. In Sinjar city, Ninewa province, Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) supporters 10 March clashed with Iraqi army during protest against deadline for removal from area of PKK forces, as stipulated in Oct 2020 deal, leaving one civilian injured. ISIS 12 March claimed responsibility for murders of family of six in Al-Bou Dor village, Salahaddin province. Coalition 20 March conducted airstrikes in Qarachogh mountain region over numerous days, destroying dozens of ISIS hideouts and killing unknown number of ISIS militants.
Iraq Rocket attacks targeted U.S.-led coalition forces while Turkey launched military operation against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Barrage of rockets 15 Feb struck airport hosting international coalition forces and residential areas of central Erbil city in Kurdistan Regional Govt’s territory, killing one U.S. contractor and one civilian as well as injuring 14 others, including one U.S. soldier; newly established pro-Iran Shiite paramilitary group Saraya Awliya al-Dam next day claimed responsibility, citing U.S. troops as main target and vowing further attacks. U.S. Sec of State Antony Blinken expressed “outrage” and 17 Feb issued joint statement with UK, France, Germany and Italy condemning attack. At least four rockets 20 Feb hit military base hosting U.S. contractors in Balad, north of capital Baghdad, injuring one Iraqi contractor; at least two rockets 22 Feb hit Green Zone in Baghdad. Meanwhile, Ankara 10 Feb launched military operation against PKK in Iraq’s Gara Mountain region, Duhok province that resulted in deaths of three Turkish soldiers and, according to Turkish officials, 13 hostages held by PKK (see Turkey). Turkey 15 Feb also warned of intervention in Sinjar district, Ninewa province, in case of continued PKK activity; paramilitary coalition Popular Mobilisation Front-linked groups warned Turkey not to launch such operations. In south, protests 5 Feb in Nasiriyah city called for basic services, end to corruption and information on whereabouts of local activist Sajjad al-Iraqi allegedly kidnapped in Sept 2020; clashes between demonstrators and security forces 26 Feb in Nasiriyah killed five protesters and injured over 175. Demonstrators in Wasit province in east 7 Feb demanded dismissal of local govt and accountability for protesters who had been killed by security forces. Earlier in month, security forces 1 Feb began vacating Jeddah 5 displacement camp in Ninewa governorate, home to 7,000 people displaced during battles with Islamic State (ISIS); rapid pace has alarmed humanitarian groups that warn of lack of basic services or reprisals over ISIS family ties. Parliament’s Finance Committee 5 Feb voted in favour of cutting 2021 budget in bid to reduce federal deficit; Erbil and Baghdad continued to dispute terms of Kurdistan’s share of budget.
Islamic State (ISIS) launched one of deadliest suicide attack in years in capital Baghdad; tensions persisted between U.S. and Iran-backed militias and anti-govt protests resurged in south. Twin suicide bombings in centre of Baghdad 21 Jan killed at least 32 people and wounded over 110 in one of deadliest attacks on civilians in Baghdad in years; ISIS next day claimed responsibility. PM Kadhimi 28 Jan said security forces killed senior ISIS figure Abu Yaser al-Issawi. Earlier in month, thousands of protesters 3 Jan gathered in Tahrir Square in Baghdad to commemorate one-year anniversary of U.S. killing of Iran’s Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani and paramilitary coalition Popular Mobilisation Unit’s (PMU) deputy chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, calling for retaliation and withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq; PMU chairman Faleh al-Fayadh, and leading member of Kataib Hizbollah and acting deputy chairman of PMU Abu Fadak attended rally. Iraqi court 7 Jan issued arrest warrant for U.S. President Trump, citing investigation into U.S. killing of Soleimani and Muhandis. Outgoing U.S. administration 8 Jan sanctioned al-Fayadh over human rights violations, which Iraqi MFA 9 Jan denounced as “unacceptable”; U.S. 13 Jan also added Fadak to list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. In south, anti-govt protesters 8-10 Jan took to streets in Nasiriyah city in Dhi Qar province, demanding release of detained activists; clashes between protesters and security forces 10 Jan reportedly killed one policeman and wounded dozens more police and protesters. After army commanders 10 Jan sent soldiers to calm down tensions, soldiers and police reportedly clashed as former defended demonstrators; authorities same day detained those involved in violence and launched investigation; protesters 12 Jan continued to gather in Nasiriyah. Prominent activist Alaa al-Rikabi 15 Jan announced formation of Imtidad party, seeking to represent “October Revolution” protest movement formed in 2019. Cabinet 19 Jan postponed general elections, initially scheduled for 6 June, until 10 Oct due to incomplete technical preparations. Deadlock in parliament over 2021 budget persisted over Kurdish region’s budget and govt’s proposal to increase taxation on salaries and pensions.
Mass protests spread in Kurdish region amid clashes between Kurdish armed factions; meanwhile, tensions ran high between U.S. and Iran-backed militias. In Kurdish region, after hundreds of protesters 2 Dec gathered in Sulaymaniyah city to demand disbursement of unpaid salaries, week-long protests spread to other parts of province. Authorities responded by detaining hundreds, shutting down opposition media and using water cannons and live ammunition; clashes left nine people dead, including eight protesters, and 60 injured. Kurdish Peshmerga and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants 13 Dec exchanged fire in Duhok province, killing one Peshmerga soldier and one PKK militant. Peshmerga 16 Dec reportedly foiled attack by Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and PKK militants attempting to infiltrate Kurdish region in Ninewa province; first direct clash between Peshmerga and YPG. Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Masoud Barzani 22 Dec asked U.S. govt to deploy observers to patrol border with Kurdish-controlled north east of Syria. Meanwhile, unilateral ceasefire announced by pro-Iran militias faced strains as roadside IEDs 9, 10 and 23 Dec hit convoys belonging to U.S.-led international coalition forces; U.S. missile defence system 20 Dec intercepted eight rockets targeting Baghdad’s Green Zone near U.S. embassy, injuring one Iraqi soldier; U.S. Sec State Mike Pompeo 20 Dec blamed attack on Iran-backed militias and U.S. President Trump 23 Dec warned Iran against further attacks on U.S. targets. Islamic State (ISIS) continued deadly assaults across country: ISIS militants 3, 5, 7 and 9 Dec attacked security checkpoints in Diyala, Kirkuk and Anbar, killing dozen Iraqi soldiers and wounding several more. In response, U.S.-led coalition 5 Dec launched airstrikes in Salah al-Din and Kirkuk provinces, killing at least 11 ISIS militants. Amid worsening economic situation, leaked 2021 draft budget 18 Dec prompted national outcry on grounds that it confirmed govt’s intention to devalue Iraqi dinar and cut public sector salaries; cabinet 21 Dec approved 2021 draft budget.
Rocket attacks on Baghdad’s Green Zone resumed while Islamic State (ISIS) continued deadly assaults; clashes erupted between Kurdish factions. Shortly after U.S President Trump announced troop reductions in Iraq by Jan 2021, rocket attacks 17 Nov hit Baghdad’s Green Zone and surroundings, killing at least one civilian; Kataib Hizbollah-affiliated group Ashab al-Kahf claimed responsibility for attack in apparent retaliation for arrest previous night of three of its members in Fallujah city, Al Anbar governorate. Despite attack, Kataib Hizbollah 18 Nov announced last month’s unilateral truce still in place. Meanwhile, ISIS attacks persisted across country. Jihadists 3 Nov killed Iraqi policeman in Salah al-Din governorate. In major attack, ISIS militants 8 Nov attacked paramilitary coalition Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) outpost in Radwaniyah palace in capital Baghdad, killing around 11; military 13 Nov claimed killing of ISIS fighters responsible for attack. Authorities 8 Nov commenced large anti-ISIS operations in Makhoul and Khanouka mountain ranges in Salah al-Din with coalition aircraft; French airstrikes near Makhmur town, Erbil governorate, 11 Nov killed three ISIS fighters. Protests early Nov broke out across country: in Baghdad, protesters demonstrated against police violence while protesters in Basra and Nasiriyah cities called for resignation of local governors; Basra authorities 6 Nov used live ammunition against unarmed protesters, killing one and injuring seven. Meanwhile, tensions increased between rival Kurdish factions: Kurdish Democratic Party leader Masoud Barzani 2 Nov accused Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) of conducting last month’s attack on Kirkuk-Ceyhan oil pipeline. PKK militias 4 Nov launched rocket-propelled grenade at Peshmerga vehicle in Duhok province, killing one; PKK forces same day attacked Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) forces protecting oil well, injuring two. Relations between Erbil and Baghdad tense after national parliament 12 Nov passed Budget Deficit Law requiring KRG to transfer share of oil revenues to Baghdad; Kurdish representatives walked out of parliament during vote in protest. Ministry of migration and displacement 9 Nov announced closure of camps for internally displaced to areas outside Kurdistan; national authorities forced those displaced to leave camps in Anbar, Kirkuk, Ninewa, and Salah al-Din despite opposition to rushed move from international community.
Anti-U.S. groups announced conditional halt on rocket attacks, while PM Kadhimi and Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) struck deal over Sinjar. Following last month’s attacks on Baghdad’s Green Zone and U.S. assets, so-called anti-U.S. “resistance factions” 10 Oct announced conditional ceasefire with militant group Kataib Hizbollah 11 Oct claiming ceasefire depended on implementation of parliament’s 5 Jan decision to expel U.S. forces; no known rocket attacks reported since announcement. After U.S. threatened to close embassy in Sept, Sec State Mike Pompeo 14 Oct expressed gratitude to Iraqi govt for improving security for U.S. diplomats. Federal govt 9 Oct announced deal with Kurdish Regional Govt over Sinjar district, establishing unified administration to facilitate return of 200,000 displaced Yazidis and 2,500-member force under Baghdad-Erbil supervision. Deal drew resistance from local groups linked with Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) and Kurdistan Workers’ Party, such as Sinjar Resistance Units, that were excluded from negotiations despite being called upon to withdraw from district under agreement; Sinjar Autonomous Administration claimed deal favoured return of Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) to disputed territories ahead of 2021 parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, tensions rose between PMF and Kurdish forces after Kurdish authorities 1 Oct blamed PMF for Erbil airport rocket attack previous day; PMF supporters 17 Oct set fire to KDP headquarters in capital Baghdad after Kurdish minister earlier in month advocated “clean up” of PMF militias. Anti-Islamic State (ISIS) activities persisted throughout month: security forces 13 Oct established two security coordination centres in Erbil and Baghdad for joint operations with KRG; security forces 19 Oct launched campaign against ISIS strongholds in Kirkuk, Salah ad-Din, and Ninewa. Unidentified gunmen 17 Oct executed eight men in Salah al-Din’s al-Farhatiya village; PM’s office 21 Oct blamed ISIS for killings. Amid worsening economic situation, federal govt 13 Oct unveiled austerity measures to reduce public sector wages from 25% to 12% of budget; Kadhimi 19 Oct embarked on European tour to win economic support. Thousands 25 Oct protested in Baghdad and southern cities to mark one-year anniversary of anti-govt protests; clashes with police resulted in dozens injured on both sides.
PM Kadhimi embarked on major govt reshuffle amid persistent attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces and partial withdrawal of U.S. troops. In significant govt reshuffle, PM Kadhimi 14 Sept replaced heads of Central Bank and Trade Bank of Iraq, mayor of Baghdad, and eight deputy ministers; opposition coalitions Sairoon Alliance, al-Fatah and State of Law 15 Sept separately criticised move, while Baghdad protesters same day accused PM of sectarian motivations. Kadhimi 14 Sept also replaced heads of Iraqi National Intelligence Service and provincial command centres in Anbar, Basra, Diyala and Salah al-Din. In sign of support for govt’s program, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani 13 Sept wrote letter to Kadhimi in support of early elections and called on govt to combat corruption, control border crossings and confiscate illegal arms. Meanwhile, authorities 16-17 Sept arrested senior govt employees – heads of Iraq’s retirement fund and Baghdad’s investment commission – as well as CEO of electronic payment company Q-card as part of PM’s anti-corruption drive. Attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces continued: numerous IED attacks 3-19 Sept targeted foreign diplomats and supply convoys of coalition forces, reportedly killing one and injuring another; unidentified groups 15-16 and 22 Sept fired rockets at green zone; rocket attack 28 Sept near Baghdad’s airport killed five civilians. Following successful rounds of U.S.-Iraq “strategic dialogue” in Washington DC, U.S. 9 Sept declared force drawdown from 5,200 to 3,000 troops as U.S. Central Command cited advances in Iraqi forces’ capacity to fight Islamic State (ISIS). U.S. 25 Sept informed Baghdad of intention to close embassy unless govt helped stop attacks on U.S. personnel. ISIS-related violence and military operations against group continued: Iraqi security forces and coalition 10-14 Sept killed at least 14 ISIS militants in Ninewa, Salah ad-Din, Kirkuk, Anbar and Diyala; ISIS attacks around Diyala and Kirkuk 12-17 Sept killed at least 11; later in month, Popular Mobilization Forces 19 Sept killed five ISIS fighters south of Mosul. Kadhimi 10 Sept completed first visit to Erbil, raising prospect of improved relations between Baghdad and Kurdistan Autonomous Region and expectation of upcoming new security arrangements in disputed territories.
Tensions between Iraq and Turkey heightened, attacks on activists and U.S. assets increased, and violence involving Islamic State (ISIS) continued. In northern Iraq, amid ongoing Turkish operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Turkish airstrike 11 Aug reportedly killed two Iraqi army officers and several PKK militants; President Salih same day said attack violated Iraqi sovereignty and called for immediate end to “these acts of aggression”. Turkey 13 Aug said it would continue its anti-PKK operations if Baghdad continued to “overlook” PKK presence in Iraq; PKK 17 Aug announced it had shot down Turkish helicopter. In Basra province, unidentified gunmen 14 Aug killed activist sparking three days of demonstrations; PM Kadhimi 17 Aug fired two senior Basra security officials and ordered investigation into violence targeting activists; in Dhi Qar province, unidentified gunmen opened fire 17 Aug on three other activists, and gunmen 19 Aug killed one more activist, prompting demonstrations 21 Aug calling for resignation of Basra governor, clashes with security forces ensued. In Dhi Qar province, protesters 22 Aug destroyed offices of Shiite political parties after bombing at anti-govt camp that injured 11. Attacks on U.S. assets intensified: unidentified assailants 5-30 Aug launched numerous rocket and IED attacks targeting facilities hosting U.S. personnel and supply convoys of U.S.-led coalition. In Washington, during second round of U.S.-Iraq “strategic dialogue”, Iraq 19 Aug committed to protect coalition forces and signed agreements with U.S. firms worth $8bn aimed at reducing Baghdad’s energy dependence on Iran; Kadhimi 20 Aug met U.S. President Trump who said U.S. forces would leave Iraq “shortly” but warned that “if Iran should do anything” in Iraq, U.S. would intervene. Meanwhile, ISIS militants 5-30 Aug killed at least 30 in Salah al-Din, Diyala, Kirkuk and Anbar provinces; anti-ISIS operations 4-26 Aug killed at least 29 militants in Kirkuk, Erbil and Nineveh provinces. Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and federal govt 15 Aug signed agreement under which Baghdad will pay KRG $268mn per month for three months in return for 50% of customs revenues from KRG territories.
Tensions escalated between PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s govt and U.S. on one hand and Iran-backed militias on the other. Two unknown attackers 6 July shot and killed Hisham al-Hashemi, prominent security adviser of PM Kadhimi as well as critic of Sunni and Iran-backed armed groups in Iraq, in capital Baghdad; Kadhimi 7 July said govt would prosecute perpetrators as no one was “above the law”. Kataib Hizbollah 8 July warned of “escalation” if Kadhimi continued crackdown on militia after security forces late June carried out raid on group’s base in Baghdad suburb. U.S. General Kenneth McKenzie 7 July reaffirmed U.S. would continue military presence in Iraq; suspected Iran-backed militias 5, 19 July conducted rocket attacks against U.S. positions in Baghdad’s Green Zone, reportedly injuring one child. Iran-backed militia Saraya Thawrat al-Ishreen al-Thania 11 July attacked Iraqi vehicles transporting U.S. military supplies near Diwaniyah. Unclaimed rockets 24 July struck Basmaya base south of Baghdad hosting U.S. troops and 27 July struck Camp Taji in north. In reshuffle of security institutions, Kadhimi 4 July dismissed Faleh al-Fayyadh from important security posts; appointed new head of Iraqi National Security Service and national security adviser. Following unprecedented financial shortfalls and failed reform attempts, Kadhimi 11 July launched campaign against corruption to recover import tax revenue lost to bribery. Demonstrators 10-14 July took to streets in several southern provinces to protest low electricity supply; clashes between protesters and security forces 26 July killed two and wounded dozens during protest in central Baghdad over electricity cuts. Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces 11 July launched fourth phase of anti-Islamic State (ISIS) military operation; three militants reportedly killed, one arrested and 15 hideouts destroyed. UN expert at UN Human Rights Council 9 July called U.S. killing in Jan of Iran’s Qods Force chief and Popular Mobilisation Unit deputy chief “unlawful”; U.S. Sec State Mike Pompeo same day denounced UN report as “spurious”. After Turkish armed forces early July expanded operations against Kurdistan Workers Party in northern Iraq, President Barham Salih 16 July called for international stance against Turkey’s violations of Iraqi territorial sovereignty. Interior minister 29 July met Kurdistan Regional Government counterpart to discuss security cooperation in disputed territories.
Iraqi security forces conducted military operation against Islamic State (ISIS) in north, suspected Iran-backed militias stepped up attacks on U.S. targets, and PM Kadhimi’s reforms to address dire economic conditions sparked protests. ISIS activity decreased but individual attacks continued; ISIS fighters 13 June attacked Kakai villages near Khanaqin in Diyala province (east), killing six and wounding six more. Security forces early June launched military operation against ISIS in disputed Kirkuk province in north, reportedly killing at least two ISIS fighters; 21-25 June reportedly destroyed over 30 ISIS targets between Diyala and Salah al-Din. Meanwhile, Parliament 6 June approved final seven ministers of PM Kadhimi’s new cabinet; 10 June voted against PM Kadhimi’s reform to reduce salaries for ministers and parliamentarians; govt reduction in citizens’ pensions sparked protests in following days in capital Baghdad and southern governorates; armed men 9 June reportedly killed one protester in Najaf city. Following first round of U.S.-Iraq “strategic dialogue” 10 June, U.S. representative announced reduction of military presence over coming months and support for Iraq’s energy sector while Iraqi delegation reaffirmed commitment to protect U.S. and coalition forces. Suspected Iran-backed militias 10-18 June launched rocket attacks targeting Baghdad International Airport, Camp Taji and Baghdad’s Green Zone near U.S. embassy; no casualties reported. New Shiite militia Zulfiqar Forces 13 June issued statement in name of “Islamic Resistance”, condemning U.S.-Iraq “strategic dialogue” and threatened to attack U.S. targets; marks seventh new pro-Iranian militia since U.S. killing in Jan of Iran’s Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani and Popular Mobilisation Unit deputy chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis; U.S. General McKenzie 18 June said U.S. will not succumb to Iranian pressure. Kurdistan Regional Govt 3 June lifted COVID-19 lockdown imposed 1 June after protests in Sulaymaniyah province erupted over lack of work opportunities. Turkey mid-June launched airstrikes and ground offensive against Kurdistan Workers Party in north, leading to death of one Turkish soldier 28 June and at least one civilian; Iraq’s Joint Operations Command 15 June condemned violation of its territory (see Turkey).
Islamic State (ISIS) continued to increase level of activity – including engaging in direct clashes with security forces, stepping up attacks on infrastructure, and targeting civilians – while parliament approved new govt amid resuming protests. ISIS early May launched series of attacks in Salah al-Din, Diyala and Kirkuk provinces; clashes between ISIS fighters and paramilitary coalition Popular Mobilisation Unit (PMU) forces in Salah al-Din province 2 May killed at least 10 PMU militants. Suspected ISIS fighters 7 May sabotaged three high voltage towers in Nineveh province, 11 May set fire to farm crop in Makhmour in Erbil province. In retaliation, coalition-backed security forces stepped up anti-ISIS operations; coalition 15 May launched airstrikes targeting ISIS infrastructure near Mosul, killing seven ISIS fighters. Turkish air raids targeted Kurdistan Workers’ Party militants in northern Sulaymaniyah province 27 May. Meanwhile, parliament 7 May approved PM designate Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s cabinet, U.S. and Iran both welcomed move; U.S. same day renewed sanctions waiver allowing Iraq to import Iranian electricity and gas for 120 days. However, Kataib Hizbollah 7 May criticised parliamentarians for endorsing Kadhimi whom they accuse of involvement in U.S. killing in Jan of Iran’s Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani and PMU deputy chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Unclaimed rockets 6 and 9 May struck capital Baghdad, one near U.S. facilities; no casualties reported. PM Kadhimi following first cabinet meeting 9 May reinstated and promoted popular Lieutenant General Abdul-Wahab al-Saedi to head Counter-Terrorism Service; al-Saedi’s demotion by previous govt triggered protests in Sept. New govt 9 May ordered release of all protesters detained since demonstrations erupted in Oct 2019 and set up committee investigating crimes committed against protesters. Thousands of anti-govt protesters 10-11 May took to streets in south and central Iraq demanding government hold early elections and accountability for abuses against protesters. After militants of Iran-backed militia Thar Allah 10 May reportedly fired live rounds at protesters in Basra city that killed one protester, PM Kadhimi 11 May ordered closing of group’s headquarters. Following renewed clashes nationwide between protesters and security forces mid-May, UN 23 May published report documenting armed groups’ abductions of more than 100 people during anti-govt protests since Oct, including allegations of torture.
Amid ongoing open hostility between U.S. and Iran-backed militias, President Salih appointed new PM designate in attempt to resolve political paralysis, while Islamic State (ISIS) stepped up attacks on civilians and security forces. U.S. President Trump 1 April accused Iran or proxies of planning “sneak attack” on U.S. forces in Iraq; Iranian FM Zarif next day denied accusations. Iran-backed militia Kataib Hizbollah early April warned U.S. against striking group, demanded full withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. Unknown perpetrators 6 April fired rockets near U.S. company Halliburton in south causing no casualties. U.S. 10 April offered $10mn reward for information on Muhammad Kawtharani, senior Hizbollah military commander overseeing Iran-backed militias in Iraq. Nine pro-Iranian militias 4 April jointly announced efforts to confront U.S. in Iraq. U.S. Sec State Pompeo 7 April announced U.S.-Iraq “strategic dialogue” in June. Efforts to form govt continued: PM designate Adnan al-Zurfi 8 April withdrew nomination due to lack of support from Shiite parties, especially pro-Iranian Fateh coalition; President Salih 9 April appointed intelligence director Mustafa al-Kadhimi as PM designate. Leader of Fateh coalition Hadi al-Amiri attended Kadhimi’s nomination ceremony in sign of support but Kataib Hizbollah 10 April condemned nomination, accusing al-Kadhimi of involvement in U.S. killing of Iran’s Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani and deputy chief of Shiite militia coalition Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in Jan. Following 5 April killing of activist Anwar Jassem Mhawwas in Nasiriyah in Dhi Qar province, violent clashes ensued between security forces and protesters, which left two dead. Clashes between ISIS and security forces increased throughout month in Kirkuk, Erbil, Nineveh, Diyala and Salah al-Din provinces, with group planting IEDs targeting civilians and security forces; in retaliation, security forces 13 April killed 20 ISIS fighters in Kirkuk. Suspected ISIS suicide attack 28 April targeted Iraqi intelligence directorate in Kirkuk; Iraqi officials said at least three security personnel wounded.
Violent confrontation between U.S. and pro-Iranian groups intensified, while stalemate persisted over formation of new govt amid ongoing anti-govt protests. Rocket attack on Camp Taji base north of capital Baghdad 11 March killed two U.S. and one UK personnel. U.S. blamed attack on Iran-backed militia Kataib Hizbollah and retaliated next day with strikes against five of its alleged weapons’ depots, killing three Iraqi soldiers, two police officers and one civilian. U.S. 13 March deployed Patriot and C-Ram missile systems to Iraq to protect U.S. bases. Rockets hit Camp Taji again 14 March, injuring five U.S. servicemen and Iraqi forces. Kataib Hizbollah 14 March denied involvement in attacks; previously unknown group League of Revolutionaries (Usbat al-Thairin) 16 March claimed responsibility, calling for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Rockets struck Iraqi Basmaya base south of Baghdad which hosts U.S. soldiers 16 March and hit Baghdad’s Green Zone near U.S. embassy 17 March. PM designate Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi 1 March withdrew nomination after failing to win support of Sunni and Kurdish blocs and losing support from Shiite parties. Shiite parties organised committee to find consensus candidate but two major coalitions, Ammar al-Hakim’s al-Hikma and Muqtada al-Sadr’s Sairoon, 16 March withdrew from negotiations. In response, President Salih 17 March appointed former governor of Najaf province Adnan Al-Zurfi as new PM and tasked him with forming govt; several Shiite parties rejected nomination. Clashes between anti-govt protesters and govt forces in Baghdad and Nasiriyah 8 March left three protesters dead; clashes 10-11 March injured a dozen more. To counter spread of COVID-19, authorities 15 March suspended all flights to and from Baghdad International Airport until 24 March and imposed weeklong curfew in Baghdad starting 17 March, later extending measures till 11 April. U.S. 20 March announced “temporary” troop drawdown due to COVID-19. Turkish airstrikes in northern Iraq 14 March “neutralised” eleven members of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
President Salih appointed former minister Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi as new PM but parliament failed to approve his cabinet, anti-govt protesters continued to face violent repression and security forces kept up operations against Islamic State (ISIS). Salih 1 Feb appointed former communications minister Allawi as PM and tasked him with forming govt. Shiite parliamentary blocs Sairoun and Fatah same day endorsed Allawi’s nomination. Anti-govt protesters rejected Allawi on grounds that he is part of ruling elite. Popular Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr 2 Feb instructed his supporters to help security forces clear roads and public spaces occupied by protesters: Sadr’s supporters same day began attacking protesters including in Najaf city 5 Feb that left around two dozen dead, and attack in Karbala next day that left over ten dead; Sadr 8 Feb called on his supporters to leave protest sites and 11 Feb said he would disband Peace Brigades unit within his support base responsible for violence. Sadr expressed support for Allawi’s nomination. Allawi 19 Feb said he had formed cabinet of independents. Parliament late Feb failed to approve Allawi’s cabinet after Sunni and Kurdish parties boycotted vote. Unclaimed rockets 13 and 16 Feb struck military bases hosting U.S. troops in Kirkuk province and in Green Zone in capital Baghdad. ISIS attacks 2-28 Feb left at least twelve civilians, ten security force members and six militants dead in Diyala, Nineveh, Kirkuk and Salah ad-Din provinces. Security forces continued anti-ISIS operations, reportedly killing around 80 militants 4-28 Feb in Diyala, Salah ad-Din and Kirkuk provinces. Despite parliament’s non-binding resolution in Jan instructing govt to expel foreign troops from Iraq, NATO Sec Gen Stoltenberg 13 Feb said govt had asked NATO to continue training Iraqi security forces. U.S. 13 Feb renewed sanctions waiver allowing Iraq to continue importing Iranian energy for 45 more days.
U.S.’s killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in capital Baghdad provoked Iranian missile strikes on U.S. assets in Iraq and reinvigorated efforts to evict U.S. and coalition forces, and security forces continued to violently repress anti-govt protests. Following tit-for-tat attacks between U.S. and Iran-backed militia Kataib Hizbollah late Dec, U.S. drone strike in Baghdad 3 Jan killed ten including militia’s commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, also deputy commander of Shiite militia coalition Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU), and Soleimani, whom Washington claimed had been planning attacks on U.S. targets. Iran 8 Jan retaliated with missile strikes on two air bases in Anbar and Erbil provinces hosting U.S. troops, causing material damage and injuring 64 U.S. soldiers. Shiite militia Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq 8 Jan called for militant action against U.S.. Numerous unclaimed aerial attacks targeting U.S. assets and PMU continued throughout month, notably three rockets 26 Jan reportedly hit U.S. embassy. Parliament by slim majority 5 Jan passed non-binding resolution tasking govt to expel U.S. and other foreign troops from Iraq. U.S. threatened govt with sanctions if it forced American troops to leave. U.S. 10 Jan rejected PM Mahdi’s request to draw up plan for troop withdrawal. Responding to call by influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, hundreds of thousands demonstrated in Baghdad 24 Jan, demanding end to U.S. military presence. Anti-govt protests persisted in Baghdad and south, clashes with security forces left at least ten dead 20-21 Jan. Sadr 24 Jan withdrew support for protests and his supporters next day left protest camps in Baghdad and southern cities; security forces proceeded to raid camps leaving at least twelve dead. Sadr 31 Jan called on his supporters to rejoin protests. Following Soleimani’s killing, NATO and U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State (ISIS) suspended operations 4 and 5 Jan respectively and some participant states removed small numbers of troops. Army 30 Jan said it was resuming joint operations with U.S.-led coalition. ISIS attacks 2-29 Jan left at least thirteen security force members and two civilians dead.