Iraq Theater

ISIS regroups amid slow rebuilding in Iraq

A suicide bomb killed at least 30 in Baghdad on July 19, exploding in a busy market as people prepared for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. The so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility for the blast. Nearly four years after the liberation of Mosul, remnants of the militant organization are regrouping to stage scattered attacks across the country. Violence is not the only legacy that IS, and the fight against it, left behind. In a new report from the Norwegian Refugee Council, Mosul residents offer sobering testimony on the challenge of trying to restart their lives despite a failure to rebuild much of the city's devastated homes, infrastructure, and economy. There are still around 1.2 million Iraqis displaced across the country, including 257,000 in Nineveh province, where Mosul sits. Aid groups warn that these people are being exposed to new risks, including from COVID-19, as Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government move to close camps, leaving some with nowhere to go.

Biden's air-strikes bode poorly for Iran nuke deal

US warplanes carried out strikes June 28 on Iran-backed militias in Syria and Iraq. The Pentagon said the targets were arms depots in the border area used by the militias Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada, which have carried out attacks against US personnel in Iraq for years. "The United States took necessary, appropriate and deliberate action designed to limit the risk of escalation—but also to send a clear and unambiguous deterrent message," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said. Iraqi militia officials told the Associated Press in Baghdad and the Assad regime's SANA news agency that four militiamen were killed. Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada vowed retaliation: "We will remain the shield defending our beloved nation, and we are fully ready…to respond and take revenge."

Baghdad under pressure on militia repression

One protester was killed and dozens injured as security forces opened fire on a May 25 rally in Baghdad, where thousands had gathered to demand accountability in the murder of Iraqi activists and demonstrators. Video footage on social media showed live fire, tear-gas and street-fighting reminiscent of October 2019, when the nationwide uprising first broke out. Since then, almost 600 protesters have been killed and at least 30 activists slain in targeted killings, according to the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights. The new protests were sparked by the killing of activist Ihab Jawad al-Wazni near his home in Karbala on May 9, and calls by his family for an end to impunity. (Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, Middle East Eye)

'Clear and convincing' evidence of Yazidi genocide

The head of a UN team investigating the atrocities by the Islamic State in Iraq & the Levant (ISIL), Special Advisor Karim Khan, reported to the UN Security Council May 10 that the team has established "clear and convincing" evidence of genocide against the Yazidi religious minority. The UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da'esh/ISIL (UNITAD) has finalized preliminary case briefs on two key priorities: the attacks against the Yazidi community in the Sinjar region of Iraq starting in June 2014, and the mass killing that month of predominantly Shia unarmed cadets and military personnel at Iraq's Tikrit Air Academy.

Biden's first air-strikes: the Great Game in Syria

In the first air-strikes on Syria under the Joseph Biden administration, US warplanes on Feb. 26 struck positions of Iran-backed militia forces at Imam Ali airbase outside al-Bukamal, Deir ez-Zor province, near the Iraqi border in the country's desert east. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the strikes "destroyed multiple facilities at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militant groups," including Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada. It was also a Tehran-backed paramilitary formation that claimed responsibility for last week's missile attack on al-Harir airbase outside Erbil, in northern Iraq, which is used by US forces. Biden's strikes are clearly retaliation for that attack—which was itself undertaken to avenge the killing of Qassem Soleimani and an allied militia commander in the US drone strike on the Baghdad airport a year earlier. Reports put the number killed in the new strikes at 17, presumably all militia fighters. Imam Ali airbase is overseen by Iran's Revolutionary Guards, whose commanders are also said to be among the slain. (France24, CNN, Middle East Eye, EA Worldview, Al Jazeera, Israel Hayom)

Turkey, Iran in synchronous attacks on Iraqi Kurdistan?

Iraqi Kurdistan saw simultaneous air attacks Feb. 15—from Turkish warplanes on a mountain supposedly harboring PKK guerillas, and (in a far more audacious move) from an Iran-backed militia on the regional capital Erbil. In the latter attack, a barrage of rockets targetted a US airbase outside Erbil's airport. A foreign "civilian contractor" was killed, and nine others, including US personnel, were wounded. It is being called the worst attack in a year on the US-led military coalition in Iraq. A nearby apartment complex and market were also damaged, and some reports indicate the Chinese consulate was hit by either a stray rocket or debris.

Iraq explodes into protest —again

Two protesters were killed and several injured Jan. 10 in Iraq, as security forces attempted to put down a third consecutive day of angry demonstrations in the southern city of Nasiriyah. A police officer was also reportedly killed in street clashes. Anti-government protesters had two days earlier re-occupied Haboubi Square, demanding the release of their comrades arrested in recent weeks. A protest encampment had been in place in the square for over a year until November 2020, when the camp was attacked by followers of Shi'ite leader Moqtada al-Sadr, with several killed. Witnesses said that in the new violence, security forces opened fire to disperse protesters from the square. (Middle East Eye, The National, UAE)

Iraq issues arrest warrant for Trump

The Iraqi judiciary issued an arrest warrant for US President Donald Trump on Jan. 7 for the killing of paramilitary commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis last January. Trump is charged under Article 406 of the Iraqi Penal Code, which carries the death sentence in all cases of premeditated murder. Al-Muhandis died in the drone strike Trump ordered to kill Iranian major general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad. Al-Muhandis was a top leader of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces, a state-sanctioned umbrella organization that oversees an array of militias formed to fight the Islamic State.

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