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TALOS Iraq Weekly Analysis Report 25 October

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The grey areas depicted on the map indicate geographic areas Islamic State (IS) is assessed to maintain a significant operational and often administrative presence. Since the completed liberation of Iraq at the end of 2017, related zones are currently relegated to Syria. Not depicted are locations within Iraq subject to limitations in security control where IS often retains a significant insurgent presence, particularly in active areas of Nineveh, Salah ad Din, Kirkuk, Diyala, Baghdad, and Anbar Provinces. The integrated heat map depicts concentrations of activity during the reporting period.

Key developments:

  1. Final results of Kurdish elections published amongst significant controversy, while Prime Minister Adel Mahdi gains approval for several cabinet nominees
  2. Ongoing tensions in Sinjar and arrest warrant issued for controversial PMF commander in Mosul
  3. Vehicle borne IED detonation in market area of Qayyarah results in several casualties
  4. Tenuous lull in major attacks in Kirkuk amongst significant security precautions
  5. Organized crime group attacks police chief’s home in Tuz Khurmatu
  6. IS promotes a resurgent capability in Fallujah District
  7. Route restrictions imposed in Baghdad to accommodate the movement of Arba’een pilgrims
  8. Arba’een ramps up with increasing security measures throughout the Southern Region
  9. Rare under vehicle IED attack in Babel Province

Forecast:

  • Ongoing focuses on security operations supporting Arba’een

Final results of Kurdish elections published amongst significant controversy, while Prime Minister Adel Mahdi gains approval for several cabinet nominees:
The official results of the 30 September Kurdish parliamentary elections were finally published on the evening of 20 October following investigations into a 1,045 allegations of electoral fraud and other violations.  The commission annulled the results of 96 polling stations, voiding approximately 119,000 votes.  Significant controversy remained in effect, marring the image of these elections, and highlighting the political challenges that will remain in effect for the foreseeable future.  The election commission barely passed the final results, with only 5 of 9 officials supporting it, and each of these supporters associated with the KDP and PUK.

Ultimately, no major shifts were seen.  The KDP maintained its commanding lead gaining 45 seats out of 111 total.  This was followed by the PUK with 21 seats, a gain of three from the last election.  Gorran experienced significant losses from 24 seats in the previous parliament down to 12.  The New Generation took 8 seats, and Komal 7.  The Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU)-Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK) Reform List won 5 seats.  Additional seat allocations were distributed amongst minority groups and parties, including five for Turkmen and five for Christian minorities.

Electoral officials representative of the main oppositions parties vowed “We were against the meeting and consider it illegal. We believe this work is unprofessional. That’s why we didn’t vote for it, nor do we approve it. We reject it.”  Gorran, New Generation, KIU, and KIG officials announced rejecting the results, threatened legal action, and threatened to boycott involvement in parliament.  Under these dynamic conditions, deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani stressed the importance of reforms including the “decentralization of power” at the provincial level.

During a significant parliamentary session on the evening of 24 October, Iraqi MPs approved 14 of 22 cabinet nominees proposed by Prime Minister-designate Adel Abdul Mahdi.  Key posts that were approved included Thamer Ghadhban as Minister of Oil, and Kurdish lawmaker Fuad Hussein as Minister of Finance.  Ghadhban previously served as the interim Minister of Oil between 2004-2005, and later as an energy advisor for outgoing Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.  Although significant divisions persist, Kurdish parties currently occupy two posts, and are expected to gain two others once approved.  Adel Mahdi was officially approved as the new Prime Minister, and sworn in during a ceremony on 25 October.

Significant tensions developed as voting continued for the remaining positions.  Several parties including Moqtada al-Sadr’s Sairoon bloc walked out in protest as they demanded more time to review the nominees’ credentials. “We decided to withdraw from the session, because we are not satisfied with the rest of the cabinet candidates,” said Nasr Coalition MP Ali Sined. “It’s enough to approve 14 ministers.” Eight ministerial positions have yet to be approved, including the key security posts of the ministers of defense and interior.  The deadline was previously set for 2 November, but this was apparently extended with the next session scheduled for 6 November in a further indicator of significant divides in effect.

Six individuals arrested for involvement in oil smuggling with IS:
The significant political dissent in the KR-I surrounding the controversial results of the election are associated with an understandable potential to translate to civil unrest.  That said, it is important to note that the aftermath of the elections remains surprisingly calm as of this writing.  Of approximately 15 demonstrations in the KR-I during the current reporting period, the overwhelming majority continue to involve students and recent graduates demanding acceptance to universities or employment in the healthcare industry.  These events are partially motivated by a new directive issued by the Ministry of Higher Education that limited admission quotas.  Temporary route restrictions and access disruptions at government sites, particularly educational facilities, remains the primary consideration for client operations.  No violence has been reported, but cannot be discounted in the future.

On 18 October, the Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC) announced the arrest of six individuals charged with smuggling and stealing oil, including four civilians and two Asayish personnel.  The KRSC stated that the arrests came as part of the council’s attempts to counter corruption and prevent the “abuse of public property.” The KRSC provided few further details.  Plausible anecdotal reporting indicated the arrested individuals were amongst the 30 individuals initially detained for questioning on 17 October for allegedly facilitating IS oil smuggling.  The detained individuals were reportedly identified during exploitation of computers seized during the 7 October raid in Erbil that detained eight members of al-Rawi network, an IS financial support group.

The detained individuals were identified as being payees for IS between 2014 and 2015, during some of the height of IS oil smuggling activities.  Pending further confirmation pertaining to the circumstances, these developments illustrated follow-on operations that were considered very possible in the aftermath of the 7 October raid.  As stated, the allegations are initially indicative of historic rather than current involvement in the illicit oil trade with IS.  The arrests demonstrate some degree of accountability.  However, as seen with the vague official details surrounding the arrests of the six individuals, the KRG will undoubtedly seek to avoid perceptions that a number of Kurdish security personnel and government officials were involved in illicit oil smuggling with IS.

At approximately 0100 hours on the morning of 19 October, unidentified intoxicated individuals fired small arms fire into the air near the Everest Hotel in the Ainkawa neighborhood of Erbil City.  One casualty was reported.  On the afternoon of 22 October, unidentified armed individuals travelling in a vehicle shot at an unidentified individual near Dedeman Hotel, located in Sitaqan neighborhood of Erbil City.  The perpetrators fled, and no casualties were reported.  Few further details were noted for this incident, which likely involved a personal dispute.

At least four direct fire incidents have been reported in Erbil City and surrounding areas thus far in October.  This figure is somewhat consistent with the three incidents in September and four in July, with a lull in August characterized by a single confirmed incident. Although intermittent, combinations of indiscriminate small arms fire, intimidation-style shootings, and close-quarters assassinations form an enduring peripheral threat consideration for operations in Erbil.  While client operations are unlikely to be directly targeted, the location of many incidents in public areas is important to take into account.

Ongoing tensions in Sinjar and arrest warrant issued for controversial PMF commander in Mosul:
Tensions remain elevated in the aftermath of the 16 October assassination of local officials from the Shammar Tribe south of Sinjar.  To recall, the significant attack coincided with increased tensions between Yazidis in Sinjar and the Sunni Shammar Tribe regarding the return of Sunni individuals to Sinjar District.  Between 17-18 October, YBS and Shi’a Ansar al-Huja PMF units were deployed in areas along the Sinjar – Ba’aj Road to stabilize the situation, with the latter forces conducting the controversial evacuation of 30 Yazidi families from the Domiz Complex.  PMF arrested arresting at least five males who refused to relocate, and assaulted a Kurdistan24 media team covering the forced evacuation.  The situation will continue to be closely monitored as key leaders for both sides stress the importance of mediation efforts.

On the afternoon of 20 October, KRG and GoI officials reopened the Mosul – Nawaran Road, located northeast of Mosul in the Shaykhan District.  The route had been closed since the events of 16 October 2017, forming the latest incremental normalization of transit between Kurdish and Iraqi control zones.  Transit between Mosul and Shaykhan has now reverted from 150km back to 47km as a result.

On 21 October, the Nineveh Court of Appeals issued an arrest warrant against Wa’ad Mahmud Ahmed al-Qadu, the commander of the controversial 30th Shabak PMF Brigade.  The official was charged under Article 226 of the Iraqi legal code, which pertains to anyone accused of insulting the Iraq government, court system, and armed forces.  An act of reprisal was noted the following day, as video footage released on social media depicted Shi’a PMF fighters assaulting the Nineveh Court of Appeals.  A physical altercation was noted at the entrance of the facility, with minor injuries likely, but no serious casualties reported.  Limited reporting surrounding the warrant and later altercation illustrates the sensitive nature of associated developments for the wider PMF umbrella.

Vehicle borne IED detonation in market area of Qayyarah results in several casualties:
At approximately 09:15 on 23 October, a vehicle borne IED detonated near Haji Restaurant in a marketplace in Qayyarah Town, southern Mosul District.  The Security Media Center downplayed losses to three killed and 20 wounded.  Reporting from security and medical sources indicated seven individuals were killed and at least 19 others were wounded, with some counts citing as high as 40 wounded.  Two security personnel were amongst those killed.

This attack significantly forms the first vehicle borne IED attack in Qayyarah since the liberation of the town in 2016 and conclusion of major anti-IS operations in 2017.  The attack also stands out as amongst the deadliest vehicle borne IED detonations in Iraq thus far in 2018.  Two prominent vehicle borne IED attacks were located in areas along the Baghdad – Mosul Highway (Highway 1) in areas of the Baiji District of Salah ad Din on 12 September and 8 October.  Accordingly, while the attack in Qayyarah is certainly significant, the latest expansion in activity to areas of southern Nineveh Province is not particularly surprising.

On a national basis, the 23 October attack forms the 15th vehicle borne IED incident since a significant uptick in activity levels took shape on 29 August.  Increased vehicle borne IED activity levels continues to correlate with elevated IS attack intent during the ongoing Muharram holy month.  As seen during similar religious periods, the organization is also particularly apt to promote some of its most sophisticated attacks prior to the highest security measures going into effect for Arba’een at the end of October.

Occurring just two weeks after the 8 October attack, the 23 October attack prominently highlights the potential for additional attacks in areas of Nineveh and Salah ad Din accessible to Highway 1 over the near-term.  Established targeting practices prioritizing concentrations of civilians and security personnel remain in effect. Client operations are unlikely to be directly targeted, but the extant potential for inadvertent exposure to attacks remains an important consideration.

Tenuous lull in major attacks in Kirkuk amongst significant security precautions:
Overall activity levels in Kirkuk were subdued during the current reporting period as security forces responded to an intermittent series of high-impact attacks in Kirkuk City, and maintained a proactive stance in the province overall ahead of Arba’een.  Federal Police officials claimed their forces arrested at least two IS officials during operations in areas of the Hawija District.  In the most notable security success, on 19 October, Federal Police forces reportedly killed three insurgents including a local IS commander during an ambush in Dokmat Village of Rashad Sub-District, southern Kirkuk Province.  One insurgent armed with an explosive vest detonated his device in an assessed last-ditch effort.  No ISF casualties were reported.

Familiar IS threats persisted despite the tenuous lull in high-impact attacks.  IED incidents predictably comprising the bulk of activity, with seven detonations and several finds this week.  On 18 October, an IED detonated against North Oil Police patrol near Maftul Village of Riyadh Sub-District.  Five Oil Police personnel were wounded.  These events follow a set of coordinated IED attacks against Oil Police personnel and Iraqi Drilling Company employees in oilfields west of Kirkuk on the morning of 16 October.  While the latest incident was not closely coordinated, it further illustrates persistent IS intent to indirectly threaten the oil industry in Kirkuk Province.  Additional IED activity was concentrated in the Daquq District, with the most lethal attack killing two civilians on 21 October.

Organized crime group attacks police chief’s home in Tuz Khurmatu:
Security officials in Salah ad Din understandably prioritized efforts to secure routes used by Arba’een pilgrims.  Associated security operations predictably continue to be focused in areas along the Samarra – Baghdad corridor, with effects largely limited to reported cache finds and vaguely described arrests.  IS activity was moderate in a positive sign.  Shifts in forces were reported, with 52nd Brigade, 14th Iraqi Army Division, deployed to Tuz District.  It is unclear if this will form a permanent or temporary measure to backfill with previous withdrawal of the Emergency Response Division.  The unit initially conducted operations along the Hamrin Mountains, and is also expected to focus on checkpoint operations in vulnerable areas south of Tuz.

In addition to IS, other forms of threat were highlighted in Tuz this week.  On the afternoon of 24 October, unidentified armed individuals travelling in two vehicles opened fire against an ISF position near the home of the Tuz Khurmatu Police Chief, Brig. Gen. Hussein Ali Rashid, located in the Imam Ahmad neighborhood of Tuz Khurmatu.  No casualties were reported.  That evening, unidentified armed individuals using an RPG-7 rocket (rocket propelled grenade) and small arms fire targeted the Police Chief’s home in a second attack.  The official claimed his sister and one of his children were wounded as a result.

Tuz Police suspected the incident of being conducted by an organized crime group.  On the morning of 24 October, ISF arrested two members of a narcotics trafficking gang in Jumuhuriya neighborhood of Tuz Khurmatu.  Tuz Police also claimed the gang’s leader, Omar Hussam ad Din, was shot and wounded before escaping.  Additional reporting indicated some of the gang members involved in the attacks were also associated with a Turkmen PMF unit.  The involvement of PMF members in criminal activities is not uncommon on a national basis, with PMF members regularly exploiting their position to avoid prosecution.

While infrequently seen in Tuz Khurmatu, retaliatory acts following arrests of PMF and organized crime group members are also not uncommon on a national basis.  That said, the targeting of the police chief’s residence during two attacks on 24 October clearly stands out for its boldness.  Significant security responses are expected to continue to focus on the perpetrating group over the near-term.  Additional violence is possible during operations and retaliatory attacks.  While unlikely to pose a direct impact for client movement operations, it is worth taking these events into account for transit along Highway 2 over the near-term.

IS renews low-level attacks in Diyala following major operation:
As with Salah ad Din, security officials in Diyala similarly prioritized efforts to safeguard routes used by Arba’een pilgrims.  On the morning of 21 October, ISF partially closed the Baghdad – Baqubah and Baghdad – Khalis Roads in order to facilitate pilgrimage movements.  Major operations initiated during the previous reporting period on 15 October concluded on 19 October.  Diyala Provincial Council Security Committee Chairman Sadiq al-Hussaini supported previous reporting that the military emir of the IS Diyala Governorate was amongst two IS leaders killed.  Not previously reported were two CF airstrikes in areas of Diyala and northeastern Salah ad Din on 16 and 18 October respectively, indicating CF intelligence and strike assets quietly played a key supporting role in operations that week.

IS quickly rebounded from these significant operations as they resumed familiar forms of attacks, particularly in active areas of the Khanaqin District.  On the evening of 20 October, suspected IS gunmen killed a mukhtar during a raid in Qulay Village, west of Khanaqin.  This effective attack notably follows ineffective attacks focused against the home of another mukhtar in nearby Qaya Village on 17 September and later 23 September.  IS indirect fire activity also resumed, with a pair of ineffective mortar attacks ending a noteworthy lull that was in effect since the end of September.  Diyala has generally formed the most active province in Iraq with regards to indirect fire activity levels.  At least eight indirect fire attacks were reported in August, maintaining at seven incidents in September.

At around 17:00 on 21 October, unidentified gunmen broke into a home of a bakery owner in the Tajneed neighborhood of Jalawla, northeastern Diyala.  The gunmen shot and killed the homeowner along with his wife and daughter.  The following day, Diyala Police arrested an unspecified number of individuals suspected of involvement in the murder. The main suspect was said to be the nephew of the homeowner, with the crime said to have been motivated by a robbery or a financial dispute.  Although the Diyala security environment tends to be dominated by IS-related threats, this incident illustrates the potential for deadly murders involving personal motivations.

IS promotes a resurgent capability in Fallujah District:
At approximately 17:00 on 23 October, a suicide bomber riding a bicycle detonated near a local GoI official’s home in Amriyat Fallujah, located south of Fallujah City.  Most sources indicate three civilians were wounded.  IS later claimed responsibility, citing IS security detachments detonated an IED and a parked motorcycle-borne IED against a gathering of Iraqi Police members in Amriyat Fallujah, killing or wounding an unidentified number.  Following the initial attacks, a suicide attacker armed with an explosive belt and additional weaponry detonated, killing or wounding several security personnel.  In a notable abnormality, this claim is the first and only report to suggest the incident comprised a complex attack with multiple explosive devices.  Attacks involving multiple devices were recently illustrated during high-profile attacks in Kirkuk and Tikrit.

In terms of tactics, incidents reported as involving motorcycle-borne IEDs or less-sophisticated two-wheeled modes of transit generally fall under two broad sub-categories.   Many instances involve parked devices that are seldom more effective than regular roadside IEDs.  Other instances tend to involve insurgents armed with explosive vests riding motorcycles and on occasion bicycles.  Since the beginning of 2018, nine motorcycle-borne IEDs have been reported in Iraq, with four of these reported in the Central Region.  The 23 October attack occurred over one month after a motorcycle-borne IED detonated in the Karabla area of Al Qaim.  Three individuals were wounded, two of whom sustained only minor wounds.  The most effective attack of this nature occurred in Ramadi City on 8 February.

Contrary to other IS asymmetric attacks, specific details regarding this latest event was limited and may be indicative of efforts by the security apparatus to reduce the propagation of information which may discredit the ability of security forces during the lead-up to Arba’een. The 23 October attack further entrenches the assessment that IS are struggling to manufacture, infiltrate and conduct more sophisticated mass-casualty attacks in Anbar, exacerbated by the loss of historic support zones and increasing pressures in eastern Syria.  Given the crudeness of the device in this latest instance, a local IS cell with limited experience and expertise was likely responsible.

The 23 October attack forms the latest in a series of IS-authored attacks reported in Fallujah District.  On the morning of 6 October, a parked vehicle borne IED based in a Kia vehicle, detonated near shops in the Nazzal area situated near the Alshaya Exchange Company in Fallujah City.  Almost two months prior, on 13 August, ISF rendered safe a motorcycle-borne IED in central Fallujah City.  No casualties were reported.

Amongst this reporting, IS IED attacks and associated claims of responsibility have steadily increased in Fallujah City.  Since the beginning of October, four attacks involving one or more explosive devices have been recorded in Fallujah City.  This forms a stark increase from two reported between July and September.  In conjunction with this activity, nine IS claims of responsibility have been published concerning activity in Fallujah District.  The combination of these diverse attacks in a short period enables IS to demonstrate its continuing capability in this once prominent hub, as well as the organization’s endurance as a terrorist-centric organization.  Operations should remain aware that additional IS attacks are possible during the lead-up to Arba’een, with ISF checkpoints and vibrant commercial areas remaining the primary target set.

Route restrictions imposed in Baghdad to accommodate the movement of Arba’een pilgrims:
Increased security measures, as well as route and vehicle restrictions associated with the Arba’een pilgrimage, were further detailed during this period.  On 21 October, a security source stated that the security plan for the Arba’een pilgrimage in Baghdad had been initiated, including the installation of barbed wire on roads which will be taken by pilgrims and Emergency Police detachments deployed near procession areas.  On the morning of 24 October, ISF partially closed several routes across Baghdad in order to facilitate the movement of Arba’een pilgrims.  Operations should remain aware of these partial closures and the implementation of additional measures of this nature as Arba’een approaches.

Security forces are also expected to deploy mobile and fixed checkpoints and patrols in different areas of Baghdad to secure the movement of pilgrims traveling on foot to Karbala City.  In accordance with other security directives, these measures are likely to be rescinded following the conclusion of Arba’een on 31 October.  As many as 72 separate arrest and security operations were noted in various areas of Baghdad, reflective of the elevated security posture imposed during this significant religious event.  Associated considerations for Arba’een and the overarching holy month of Muharram remain in effect.

In other developments during this period, 10 direct fire events were reported in Baghdad, ranging from targeted assassinations to significant tribal violence.  On 22 October, unidentified gunmen armed with silenced weapons shot and killed a taxi driver in the Kasra Wal Atash area of Sadr City.  While this incident forms the first targeted assassination in Sadr City since 11 September, 19 events of this nature have been reported in other areas of Baghdad since the beginning of October.  This forms a notable increase from 11 reported throughout September. However, given the individual nature of these events, it is often difficult to confidently judge the exact circumstances surrounding this latest uptick.

Despite heightened security measures in support of Arba’een, tribal violence continues to be reported in peripheral areas of Baghdad.  During the late evening of 23 October, an armed tribal clash occurred between members of the Bani Lam and Bawia tribes in the 21 Sector of Sadr City, east Baghdad.  No casualties were reported.  The most recent clash to occur in Sadr City was reported on 11 October, when an intra-tribal conflict involving light weapons occurred in the 27 Sector.  No casualties were reported.

The following day, an armed tribal clash involving the use of light and medium weapons occurred in al-Hosseinia area, north of Baghdad. One individual was killed, and another was injured.  On the evening of 24 October, unidentified gunmen armed with light and medium weapons conducted an intimidation-style attack against an unidentified target near the Zahra Hospital in Hayy Ur, northeast Bagdad.  One individual was reportedly wounded during this vague incident.  At least nine direct fire incidents have been reported in the Adhamiyah District thus far in October, with the latest events the first since a short lull after 15 October.

Arba’een ramps up with increasing security measures throughout the Southern Region:
Reporting was across the Southern Region was dominated by security operations and various security measures put in place for Arba’een, which is set to culminate on 30/31 October in Karbala City.  Millions of Shi’a pilgrims are expected to commemorate this event, while hundreds of thousands more will be conducting localized pilgrimages throughout the Southern Region, including significant processions towards Zubayr in Basra Province. Previous years have witnessed as many as 17 million Arba’een pilgrims traveling to Karbala City, marking the end of a 40-day mourning period for the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, Imam Hussein.

Associated route closures were imposed along arterial routes leading to Karbala, with many roads closed to one lane of traffic to accommodate the influx Arba’een pilgrims.  Operations should remain aware that as this significant religious event approaches, vehicle restrictions and security measures are expected to steadily increase, particularly in the vicinity of important religious shrines and along arterial routes.  In addition, the risk associated with transiting along pilgrimage routes can be significant, with road traffic collisions and incidents involving pedestrians reported each year.  Operations may choose to limit exposure to potential accidents by avoiding pilgrimage routes altogether.  Alternate routes will also see significant traffic congestion at times as other drivers seek to avoid pilgrim movements.

Meanwhile, PMF commander Ali Hamadani, stated more than 5000 PMF soldiers were deployed across the Southern Region in accordance with the Arba’een security plan, adding that various formations were deployed along pilgrim routes and supported by unmanned aerial vehicles.  As previously discussed, multiple PMF units are to be deployed alongside their ISF counterparts during Arba’een, particularly in the vicinity of religious shrines and along arterial routes.  Such PMF involvement in Arba’een events is well established and operations should remain aware that these elements are accepted as a regular addition to the security and services associated with the pilgrimage.

In a reflection of the increased security measures, 60 arrest operations were reported throughout the Southern Region during this period. Such wide-scale and often indiscriminate arrests are not uncommon prior to Arba’een.  However, an uptick in petty crime which is typically noted over this period is likely, as criminals opportunistically target both pilgrims as well as vacant homes and offices.  Following the conclusion of Arba’een, millions of international pilgrims will rapidly return home by vehicle immediately following the event. This results in tens of serious vehicular accidents reported each year and operations should remain aware of hazardous traffic conditions along various highways from 1-3 November.

Even with additional security measures and a degraded IS capacity to operate in the Southern Region, significant Shi’a religious holidays remain a primary target set for IS.  Additional historic considerations comprise targeting of Arba’een pilgrims along primary transit routes, though such incidents have remained infrequent over recent years given increased security and other factors.  However, isolated ISF and PMF positions in desert areas to the west of Karbala City remain at an increased threat to IS attacks, given the proximity of IS support zones in Anbar and historic facilitation routes.  The increased threat will also continue in the days immediately following Arba’een, as IS may seek to exploit a lax security posture as operations return to a more routine tempo. 

Rare under vehicle IED attack in Babel Province:
Although the majority of reporting was dominated by Arba’een preparations, other significant events were noted in the Southern Region.  In a rare event, on the late evening of 18 October, an under vehicle IED detonated in the Karama Neighborhood of Hillah City, located in Babel Province.  The driver Yasir Salim Tut was lightly wounded and later identified as an official investigating the assassination of the Babel Passport Director.  It is not uncommon for lawyers and investigative officers to be targeted due to their employment, particularly those that are associated with prominent allegations of corruption and murder.  That being said, the reported deployment of an under vehicle IED is inherently rare but not unprecedented in the Southern Region, as three under vehicle IED attacks have been reported since the beginning of 2018.

In Dhi Qar Province, on 24 October, unidentified gunmen intercepted a rental vehicle that was transporting the salaries of Ministry of Oil employees on Tal Laham road, south of Nasiriyah City.  The gunmen opened fire, wounded one individual and killed another, and also seized 38 million IQD.  Such thefts are periodically reported across Iraq, as criminal organizations seek to accrue a swift financial gain.  However, the boldness of this attack occurring during the height of the Arba’een pilgrimage and increased security measures is notable.  While civilians remain the primary target set for such activity, client operations should remain aware of these events and seek to abide by common security practices to mitigate such risks.

In Basra Province, on the evening of 19 October, a low-yield detonated in front of the Khalid Bin Walid Mosque in the Jahza area in central Zubayr District, with no casualties or damage resulting.  Zubayr Security Committee head Mahdi Rikan called upon ISF to conduct additional security efforts, especially after the mosque was targeted during the Arba’een Pilgrimage previously.  A security meeting was also held on 21 October, in order to discuss possible changes to the Arba’een security plan.  No significant alterations to the Arba’een security plan are anticipated, though increased security measures in the vicinity of mosques and other religious shrines may be experienced.

Such devices are almost exclusively used as a form of intimidation.  The targeting of the Khalid Bin Walid Mosque may well be related to a 5 October announcement by the head of the Zubayr local Council Walid Khalid al-Mansouri, in which he stated that the local council has taken over from the local mukhtars in checking resident documents and approving them.  The decision came after the mukhtars of Zubayr initiated a work strike to protest the cutting of their monthly dues since March (at a rate of 250,000 IQD).  However, given that the Khalid Bin Walid Mosque is Sunni, sectarian motivations motivated by the Shi’a holiday of Arba’een cannot be ruled out.

 

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