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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.
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.