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The latest security news from Iraq – Baghdad & Iraq Provinces security reports – brought to you by Iraq Business News

Weekly Security Update: 03 – 09 March 2015


Reported violent incidents nationwide.

National Overview

Allied forces are now understood to be in preparations for a direct assault on Tikrit city, following a large scale retreat of ISIS fighters from towns and villages protecting main routes. In total some 20,000 troops, alongside PMU militias and Sunni tribesmen have advanced on the town, closing off routes to the south and east as Kurdish forces directed their own counter-offensive against ISIS fighters near Kirkuk city. At present, fears of large scale reprisals against Sunni communities (as alleged in at least one instance during January’s Diyala campaign) have yet to be realised, although efforts to clear the city itself are likely to prove far more bloody than the fighting so far. Less success was recorded in negotiations between the Federal Authorities and the Kurdistan regional government over the reporting period, with KRG ministries still essentially deprived of agreed budget allocations as a consequence of delay from Baghdad’s finance ministry, adding further pressure to energy sector firms awaiting payment.

North

Tikrit offensive brings surge in airstrikes, rocket fire and damage to oil fields across central Salahuddin, as Peshmerga launch dual operation to reclaim ISIS-held villages around Kirkuk. While the combined ground forces still remain beyond Tikrit city, fresh momentum was indicated on 09 March when Shia militias and ISF reserves entered the Al Alam suburb on the eastern bank of the Tigris. Hundreds of rockets are believed to have been fired into militant-held areas of the city over the course of the operation with heavy casualties and loss of territory at the village level provoking sabotage against critical infrastructure such as bridges and energy facilities by retreating fighters. On 05 March, ISIS fighters which were surrounded in the Ajil area are understood to have set fire to local wells, a tactic which was repeated during a brief raid on the KRG-held Makhmour district in the days following the attack. Unable to retreat, remaining ISIS fighters are expected to put up a heavy resistance to further incursions in into the city, which will slow the pace of the ISF advance over the coming week.

Central

ISF recapture Baghdadi, press ISIS on Fallujah front line. Insurgent supply channels urban strongholds continued to see heavy targeting by coalition air support over the reporting period, with over ten missile strikes in Al Qaim, Haditha, Hit and Fallujah districts recorded in support ISF ground operations. In a change from previous weeks, Fallujah has re-emerged as a battleground for the Iraqi army’s reformed armoured divisions, although at present, the operations are understood to be primarily concerned with nullifying the missile threat to northern districts of the capital, rather than aggressively recapturing territory as witnessed around Samarra and Tikrit. On 04 March, an ISIS missile facility was destroyed by heavy shelling from the ISF and was followed over the next three days by concerted ground offensives in and around Karma (approximately 12 km west of Abu Ghraib.) While national facilities, including Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) remain secure there is little doubt that such sweeps have yet to effectively end the threat from stray rockets in the Shula and Doura areas of Baghdad, with attacks likely to persist in the absence of a meaningful extension of ISF presence in villages currently held by militant fighters. An example of how such an operation could work was exhibited in Baghdadi, the contested sub-district south of Haditha, which on 06 March witnessed combined ISF and Sunni tribal units successfully expel militants from the district centre after months of heavy fighting.

South

Tribal conflict stirs small scale clashes in southern governorates, amid limited activity by insurgent or militia groups. In one such confrontation in the Ghammas area of Diwaniyah, three civilians are understood to have died on 06 March when a verbal dispute escalated into an open gunfight. Typically such clashes are not followed by immediate reprisals or outbreaks of major unrest, although grievances can in many cases form the stems of future conflict. An IED attack was also recorded against the home of a government employee in the Ibla area of Basra city on 03 March, causing some material damage, although unlike similar strikes in Babil, and southern Baghdad, local feuds, rather than insurgent involvement is understood to have been the principal motivation. Support for the ISF and the militia-backed offensive in central Iraq remains strong across the majority of southern provinces, with many communities celebrating the involvement of local volunteers and militia recruits in demonstrations over the reporting period.

 

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Haider al Abadi: Bringing Strategy to the Table


By Robert Tollast.

“How is electricity?”, I asked. “Excellent” replied Marwan, a young student of Physics at the University of Dhi Qar. Marwan (not his real name) is studying wireless transmission, and one of his lecturers is currently in Leicester studying with a British Council initiative to bolster the academic capacity of Iraqi universities.

Will Marwan’s lecturer return to find his university campus an empty bullet scarred shell? This might have been the case in southern Iraq in the spring uprising of 1991, or in 2003 as US Marines fought through the town of Nasiriyah.

Today, across the Kurdish region of Iraq and many areas of the expansive south, violence is often in the forefront of peoples’ minds, but this is mostly because Iraq is a nation at war. Countless Iraqis have volunteered to fight ISIL in what must surely seem like another tragic episode in a long, tragic history.

Incredible as it may seem, the war is actually quite far away for approximately 7 million Iraqi Arabs and Kurds. And their local leaders have set their sights on business, as much as the war on ISIL. Of course, local momentum isn’t much without a coordinating strategy at the national level. For the first time in decades, Iraq might have found the man to coordinate such a strategy.

Nonetheless, there can be no doubt that since June this year Iraq has confronted an existential crisis. But it is a crisis that Iraq can survive. And while it would be naive if not impossible to gloss over the tragedy that Iraq is enduring, we need to look at the whole country – a country almost the size of France, to get the full picture.

We could even allow a little room for optimism, firstly because there are vast, heavily populated areas of Iraq that are effectively walled off from ISIL. These areas host the country’s only “skyscraper” style office buildings, expanding ports and the super giant oil fields that are crucial for supporting the global economy.

A second reason for a modicum of hope is that in the centre and north of the country, ISIL are being challenged by a growing (albeit peculiar) coalition. History shows us that strange coalitions are not barred from victory. On the contrary, they are essential to victory.

In terms of the geographical limits to this current terrorist blitzkrieg, think of Stalin’s tank factories that were located east of Moscow, out of reach of Hitler’s bombers, or Washington in 1864, impregnable to Confederate assaults.

Basra and Nasiriyah are similarly insulated from terrorist activity, and as long as this situation remains Iraq will probably weather this storm. The Iraqi army’s recent victory at Jurf al Sakhar is solid evidence that if anything, the approaches to the south are looking more secure than ever.

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Iraq Buys Small Arms and Ammunition from Iran


By John Lee.

An investigation by Reuters has found that Iraq has purchased $195 million worth of small arms, ammunition and infantry kit from Iran, in addition to artillery ammunition.

The move will likely unnerve some observers in the US, but analysts are still divided over the extent of Iranian influence in Iraq.

Touted by an unnamed State Department spokesperson as a violation of the UN arms embargo against the Iraq’s eastern neighbour, the purchase has not surprised some observers of improved ties between the two countries.

For some time now, Iran has been supplying adjacent Iraqi provinces with gas and electricity, and Iranian companies have won a number of contracts in Iraq from the energy sector to construction.

Iraq has not denied the validity of the claims however, and argues it is a necessary measure due to delays in US arms exports. Iraq continues to fight a robust and revived insurgency in the north and west of the country, and officials have claimed the purchase is an essential security measure.

The scale of the deal is likely to be more of political significance as much as tactical necessity. Iraq’s recent arms purchases from the US and Russia have totalled billions of dollars. In 2013, Iraq signed a $1.1 billion deal with South Korea to buy FA-50 light fighter jets, following a similar $1 billion dollar deal with Czechoslovakia.

(Source: Reuters)

 

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Security Remains Top Risk for Iraqi Journalists


By Laith Hammoudi of IWPR. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Jinan Hussein decided to miss the United Nations conference rather than have her brand new iPhone confiscated by a sentry outside the Green Zone in central Baghdad.

“I wanted to make a call to the UN official who’d invited me to attend a United Nations conference, because the soldier on the gate wouldn’t allow me in as I didn’t have a Green Zone badge and there was no one to escort me,” said Hussein, who works for Al Jazeera English TV. “The soldier threatened to confiscate my phone, saying it wasn’t allowed to make calls in that area. He told me to take out the SIM card and hand him the phone, but I refused.”

Hussein told IWPR that the rigorous security procedures imposed on Iraqi reporters going about their normal business were unreasonable – they obstructed the practice of journalism while doing nothing to improve security.

Since the US-led invasion of 2003, journalists have been attacked by both insurgents and government forces. Dozens of Iraqi and foreign reporters have been killed, kidnapped or disappeared without trace.

The dangerous and volatile environment makes Hasan al-Darraji, a correspondent for the Furat satellite TV channel, more forgiving, even though he has missed many stories from being kept waiting at checkpoints.

“I can’t blame the security forces for anything they do; I can’t complain, because I know how big their responsibility is,” he said. “About a month ago, I was on my way to cover an explosion in Sadr City [part of Baghdad], and I had to wait for over an hour at the checkpoint waiting for permission to access the site of the blast. That was despite showing the soldiers all the requisite permits issued by Baghdad Operational Command.”

Ibrahim al-Sarragy, who heads the Iraqi Association for the Defence of Journalists’ Rights, argues that reporters are more exposed to risk than they need to be because they are not covered by any legislation.

“The Iraqi parliament needs to approve laws regulating journalists’ work and protecting them,” he said.

At the same time, he acknowledged that in terms of rights, journalists were much better off than in some of Iraq’s neighbours, although this freedom was still incomplete.

He said the most recent major incident his association dealt with was two months ago, when a local government head in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, broke into the Al-Nur radio station and dismissed all the staff without any legal justification.

The head of the parliamentary committee for culture and media,. Ali al-Shilah said the lack of a legislative framework was problematic, but it would be wrong to blame everything on government restrictions, since the real danger to journalists came from ongoing violence.

Shilah said he himself raised objections when the speaker of parliament tried to restrict reporters’ movements in the building by requiring them to be escorted at all times. He also challenged a decision to have footage of parliament sessions edited before it was broadcast on TV.

According to Darraji, one of the real limits to the freedom of any journalist is the ownership structure of the outlet he or she works for.

“Every TV channel, newspaper and radio station follows the line of whichever sponsor or political party owns it,” he said. “That’s why we don’t have real professional journalism.”

Laith Hammoudi is IWPR’s editor in Iraq.

(Source: IWPR)

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UN Sec-General Concerned About Iraq Security


On July 29, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed alarm about the deterioration of the security situation in Iraq.  “The Sectretary-General condemns, in the strongest terms, the acts of terrorism and the heightened sectarian violence, which are aimed at ripping apart the country’s social fabric,” Ban’s spokesperson said in a statement. “The killing of at least 50 people in a wave of car bombings, in predominantly Shiite areas, is just the latest occurrence of the kind of heinous violence which is becoming all too commonplace.

According to Reuters, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an Al Qaeda affiliated group, said it orchestrated the wave of car bombings in revenge for the mistreatment of the country’s Sunni community.

The Secretary-General extended his deepest condolences to the families of the victims and the Government of Iraq, and wished the wounded a speedy recovery. The Secretary -General also urged the Iraqi authorities to bring the perpetrators of these attacks to justice.

“Iraq is at another crossroads,” Ban’s spokesperson said. “Its political leaders have a clear responsibility to bring the country back from the brink, and to leave no space to those who seek to exploit the political stalemate through violence and terror. The Secretary-General urges Iraqi political leaders to address the legitimate grievances of all Iraqi communities by entering into a serious dialogue with a spirit of compromise, and by passing overdue legislation without further delay.”

The statement also added that the United Nations stands ready to assist the Government and people of Iraq in overcoming the crisis.

(Source: UNAMI)

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Video: Maliki Reshuffles Security Chiefs


From Al Jazeera. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Iraq’s prime minister has ordered a reshuffle of his senior security commanders, including those in charge of the capital Baghdad.

A major escalation in sectarian violence has pushed the government deeper into a political crisis.

Al Jazeera’s Omar al-Saleh has more from Erbil:

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Weekly Security Update


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By Tom Walker, Director, Assaye Risk

COUNTRY OVERVIEW

Heightened levels of violence and increased sectarian tensions dominated reporting in Iraq this week.  The relative uneasy calm of last week was shattered by an increase in bombings, IDF attacks and assassinations across the country, with the majority of the violence predominantly in the North and Centre of Iraq.  In line with this higher tempo of attacks the number of country wide fatalities rose proportionally to a 2013 high of approx. 170 killed during the week (the majority by IED actions), further bringing the yearly total up to appox. 483.  The increased operational tempo of the ISF has continued through the week, however in contrast to previous weeks the hard stance and dampening affect seen last week appears to have had little effect on insurgent operations in key areas such as Mosul and Diyala.

Interwoven themes – The Iraqi budget, the demonstration movement and mounting sectarian tensions – dominated the national media this week. Friday prayers on 01 Mar once again saw a mass mobilisation of the Sunni community across the country in protest against GoI.  Despite the peaceful nature of the movement the fact that Sunnis are now mobilising in such large numbers has alarmed Western diplomats, who fear the demonstrations could re-spark the sectarian conflict that plagued the country between 2005 and 2008.  This increase in activity by the Sunni community has led to a classic counter reaction from Shia insurgents groups, taking the form of heavy posturing, widespread intimidation and assasinations, most notably by a new group called the Mukthar Army, an Iranian backed militia, who rose to prominence earlier this year. Furthermore, much is being reported of the accusations, made by Sunni politicians, that the authorities are seeking to escalate sectarian tensions through similar means in order to provoke a strong sectarian backlash that provides the pretext to forcefully break up the protest movement.

At the international level the conflict from Syria spilled across into Iraqi territory this week with sharp consequences.  The early part of the week saw increased activity by rebel groups inside Syria targeting government positions in close proximity to the Iraqi border.  Incursions, strafing and rocketing were reported along the length of the Iraqi / Syrian frontier with Rabee’a border crossing point coming under direct contact from fighting inside Syria.  Syrian warplanes repeatedly violated Iraqi airspace apparently bombing and strafing the Yaarabiya border crossing point in Nineveh province from Iraqi airspace.  Reports also suggested that the Iraqi Army had fired upon Syrian rebels.  Of particular note was the ambushing in western Iraq of a convoy repatriating Syrian soldiers who had fled intense fighting on the border, which resulted in the deaths of approx. 62, including 9 members of the ISF.

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Weekly Security Update


By Gary Sandiford, Olive Group’s Dubai based assessments manager.  Olive Group is a leading provider of security and technology solutions and has operated continuously in Iraq since 2003.

 

Overview

Olive Groups Iraq statistics are drawn from multiple sources, including media reporting and direct liaison with in country assets. Included within the statistics are a minority sub-set of serious incidents which may not be purely attributable to insurgent/terrorist groups, such as murder, kidnappings and organised crime activities.

The total number of reported incidents in Iraq for the period 21-27 January 2013 was 161.  This marks a reduction from last week’s exceptionally high figure; however, it still remains above the current twelve month average of 126 and represents a relatively busy period for many northern and central areas of the country.  As such the approximate two month phase of heightened (if uneven) violence can be seen to have continued this week.  While the Baghdad and North regions recorded slightly above average incident levels for the week, it is the North Central and West Regions that contributed most to the relatively high total.  The South Central and South East Regions by contrast remained very subdued.  Of particular note, there were numerous large mass-casualty attacks this week, including a suicide-bombing at a Turkmen funeral in Tuz Khormato, and a small series of vehicle-bomb attacks across the Baghdad Region.

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