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Iraq in December, 2023

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December 1, 2023

  1. ISIS Claims Responsibility for Deadly Attack in Diyala Province. An attack, attributed to the Islamic State (ISIS), involving twin suicide bombings and gunfire on a small bus in Diyala Province, Eastern Iraq, leaves at least 11 dead. Occurring after a political gathering, the assault prompts officials to urge heightened vigilance against ISIS sleeper cells.
  2. Iraq Grapples with Political Fallout Over U.S. Lobbying Scandal. Revelations of Iraqi political figures contracting with U.S. lobbying firms, exposed by ousted Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi, spark political and public debates. Calls for legal accountability and financial mismanagement investigations arise, with implications for figures, including former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
  3. Russia Secures Control Over Iraq’s Largest Oil Discovery in Two Decades. Russia’s recent takeover of Iraq’s Erbil oil field, estimated to hold 7 to 10 billion barrels, signifies a major shift in global oil dynamics. Aligned with Moscow and Beijing’s goal to diminish Western influence in the Middle East, the move reflects a strategic geopolitical alliance. With Iraq selling its 40% stake to Lukoil, the region’s energy landscape undergoes significant transformation, challenging Western dominance.

December 5, 2023

  1. U.S. Base in Syria Hit by Rocket Attacks Launched from Iraq. The U.S. Ramelan base in western Kurdistan (Syrian Kurdistan) was attacked with 15 rockets launched from Iraq, as confirmed by U.S. Central Command. No injuries or damages reported. U.S. bases in Syria have faced recent missile and drone attacks amid regional tensions. The U.S. leads an international coalition against ISIS in Iraq and Syria under Operation Inherent Resolve.
  2. Iraqi Militia Buries Slain Members and Threatens U.S. The Iraqi armed group “Al-Nujaba” buried five members killed in a U.S. strike in Kirkuk, vowing revenge against the United States. The militants were targeted while preparing to launch missiles towards the “Hareer” military base in Erbil. The U.S. described the airstrike as self-defense against an imminent threat. The incident marks a resumption of attacks by Iran-backed militias on international coalition bases in Iraq and Syria after the end of the Gaza ceasefire.
  3. Foiled Attempt to Sell Suspected Mercury for up to $30,000 in Western Iraq. Security forces in Anbar province, western Iraq, arrested two individuals attempting to sell a box containing a substance believed to be mercury for around $30,000. The operation was carried out following information about the sale, coordinated with judicial approvals, leading to the apprehension of the suspects and the confiscation of the suspected mercury.

December 6, 2023

  1. Islamic Resistance” Launches Drone Attack on Ain al-Asad Base in Iraq. The “Islamic Resistance in Iraq” claimed a recent drone attack on the Ain al-Assad base housing U.S. forces in Iraq’s Anbar province. The strike, in response to ongoing Israeli aggression in Gaza, targeted the base that has faced repeated drone and missile attacks. The group, known for attacks on U.S. military sites, warned of a “hot winter” and asserted the decisive role of their missiles and drones. Amid rising attacks, the U.S. Defense Department reported 55 incidents on its military bases in Syria and Iraq since mid-October, resulting in numerous injuries.
  2. Iranian Official Claims Mossad Infiltration in Iraq, Alleges Hidden Agendas. Iraqi Representative Hussein Al-Amiri has accused the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad of operating covertly in Iraq. Al-Amiri, in an interview, painted a picture of Iraq as a battleground for international and regional espionage, implicating Mossad in various disguises such as civil society organizations or multinational companies. He dramatically portrayed these activities as direct threats to Iraq’s national security, with an alleged “malicious and dark agenda” destabilizing the country. Adding to the intrigue, he credited Iraq’s triumph over these clandestine plots to the valor of its security forces and the Popular Mobilization Forces, despite international efforts to paralyze the nation through ISIS. This narrative, seemingly drawn from a spy thriller, highlights the ongoing tensions and conspiracy theories in regional politics.
  3. Al-Maliki Coalition’s Dramatic Call to Expel US Ambassador from Iraq. Ibrahim Al-Sakini, leader of Al-Maliki’s coalition, has put on a theatrical display demanding the expulsion of the American ambassador from Iraq. Accusing her of provoking statements and condemning bombings by American forces, Al-Sakini insists that Iraq’s stability hinges on shutting down the US embassy and showing the ambassador the exit. Amidst this political drama, he also suggests a mysterious alternative plan by the Popular Mobilization Forces if the government doesn’t act on their bold request.

December 7, 2023

  1. Iran-Linked Drug Networks Dismantled in Basra and Thi Qar. The General Directorate for Drug Control in Iraq announced the dismantling of local drug networks with ties to Iran in separate operations in Basra and Thi Qar provinces. The operations, conducted under judicial orders and military directives, resulted in the seizure of 22 kilograms of crystal meth and the arrest of seven drug traffickers, exposing their local networks linked to Iran.
  2. Iraq’s Vast Gas Reserves: Urgent Need for Accelerated Investment. Environmental expert Adel Al-Mukhtar emphasized Iraq’s massive strategic gas reserves, estimated at around 132 trillion cubic meters, comparable to its oil wealth. Al-Mukhtar urged expedited gas investment to combat environmental pollution caused by gas flaring, suggesting it as an alternative to imported gas for power generation, citing global demand and geopolitical leverage amid the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
  3. Iraqi-Saudi Partnership in Cement Industry Receives Praise from Prime Minister. Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Sudani lauds the collaboration between Iraqi and Saudi private sectors in the cement industry during a meeting with the Saudi ambassador. The partnership, exemplified by the agreement between Diyar and the Saudi Northern Region Cement Company, is expected to foster broader business collaborations, create job opportunities, and enhance economic interconnection between the two nations.
  4. Iraq’s Prime Minister Affirms Strengthened Cooperation with Azerbaijan. Sudanese Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani met with Azerbaijan’s Minister of Digital Development and Transportation, Rashad Nabiyev, discussing bilateral relations and enhancing collaboration in energy, education, communications, infrastructure, housing, and defense industries. Al-Sudani highlighted the strategic development road project and urged Islamic nations to support UN initiatives. The Azerbaijani minister conveyed President Ilham Aliyev’s greetings, expressing a desire to enhance bilateral ties and welcome Iraqi students to Azerbaijani military academies on the government’s sponsorship.

December 8, 2023

  1. U.S. Embassy in Baghdad Targeted in Missile Attack. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad’s Green Zone was struck by several missiles on Friday morning, marking a significant escalation in regional tensions. This attack, which also targeted the American base in the Koniko gas field in northeastern Syria, comes amid heightened conflict between Israel and Hamas. No group has claimed responsibility, but it follows a pattern of attacks against U.S. and international coalition forces in Iraq and Syria by factions allied with Iran. The Iraqi government condemned the attack, emphasizing the protection of diplomatic missions and the pursuit of justice against the perpetrators.

December 12, 2023

  1. U.S. Warns Iraq After Attacks on American Bases. Rocket and drone attacks targeted U.S. military bases in Iraq and Syria on Monday. Washington urged Baghdad to take more action to halt these assaults, warning of “grave consequences” if not addressed. The attacks were claimed by the “Islamic Resistance in Iraq,” linked to armed factions opposing U.S. support for Israel.
  2. Drug Traffickers Arrested, Unlicensed Weapons Seized near Mosul. Security forces in Nineveh, Iraq, captured eight individuals involved in drug trafficking and seized an assortment of unlicensed weapons in the town of Badush, west of Mosul.
  3. Iraq Balances Amid US-Iran Clashes, Fears Gaza Fallout. Iraq grapples with increasing clashes between US forces and Iran-backed groups amid the Israel-Hamas war fallout. The US pressures Baghdad to curb attacks on its facilities, emphasizing the delicate balance as Iran wields influence in Iraq, complicating the situation.

December 13, 2023

  1. Blinken and Iraqi Prime Minister Discuss Threats to U.S. Embassy in Phone Call. Following the U.S. warning, Secretary of State Blinken condemned the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad during a phone call with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi. The call emphasized the need to prevent further attacks on diplomatic missions, highlighting Iraq’s commitment to protecting embassies and the stability of the region.
  2. Iraq and UAE Agree to Trade Financing in Emirati Dirham. Iraq and the UAE have agreed to conduct trade and imports using the Emirati Dirham, with initial financial transactions involving five Iraqi banks. The Central Bank of Iraq announced the commencement of money transfers in Dirhams, aiming to establish relationships with reputable global banks. The move aims to reduce reliance on electronic platforms and align with international practices to enhance Iraqi banks’ trade financing capabilities. Abu Dhabi First Bank expressed interest in contributing to clean energy projects in Iraq.
  3. Iraq’s Anti-Corruption Body Ready to Cooperate with China. The Iraqi Federal Integrity Commission expresses readiness to collaborate with China in preventing and combating corruption. The two sides discuss exchanging expertise and are set to sign a memorandum of understanding. The Iraqi official emphasizes the importance of creating a secure environment for foreign companies, particularly Chinese ones, operating in Iraq, lauding the resilience of Chinese companies against corruption.
  4. Iraq’s Oil Exports to Independent Chinese Refineries Reach 6.95 Million Barrels in November. China’s Customs Administration reports a 17.06% increase in Iraq’s oil exports to independent Chinese refineries, reaching 6.95 million barrels in November 2023. Iraq ranks fifth among the top ten oil-exporting countries to independent Chinese refineries.
  5. Baghdad’s Most Dangerous Drug Dealer Apprehended. Iraqi security forces arrested the notorious drug dealer known as “Son of the Teacher” in a well-coordinated operation in northeastern Baghdad, charged under drug-related offenses.

December 14, 2023

  1. Iraq on High Alert: Elections and U.S. Withdrawal Talks. Iraq is currently navigating a complex array of security challenges. The spokesperson for the Iraqi Armed Forces has acknowledged that the recent assaults on the U.S. Embassy and National Security Agency’s headquarters constitute grave threats to the nation’s sovereignty and security. In response to these escalating tensions, Prime Minister Muhammad Shia’ al-Sudani has heightened Iraq’s military readiness to Alert Level (C), the most severe state of alert, which will remain in effect until December 20. This heightened alert is not only a reaction to the recent attacks on U.S. sites but also a precautionary measure in anticipation of local elections scheduled for December 18. The ongoing discussions regarding the withdrawal of American troops are gaining urgency in light of more than 92 attacks on American forces since mid-October. These discussions are deeply influenced by the broader geopolitical landscape, particularly the U.S. position on the conflict in Gaza. 
  2. U.S. Supports Iraq with Cash Shipments for 2024, Bolstering Banking System. The Central Bank of Iraq has announced that the United States, through the Federal Reserve and the US Treasury Department, has agreed to provide Iraq with cash dollar shipments for the year 2024. This decision follows productive meetings in Dubai, where U.S. representatives recognized the efforts of the Central Bank of Iraq in achieving compliance with international banking standards in 2023. The agreements will aid in supporting Iraqi banks, establishing relationships with correspondent banks, and transitioning towards enhanced balance of accounts. These measures are part of Iraq’s plan to gradually reduce reliance on the electronic platform and focus on financial transfer processes for control, auditing, and analysis. This U.S. support is a significant step in strengthening the Iraqi banking system and preparing it for adherence to international practices. 
  3. Iraqi Forces Destroy Three ISIS Sites in Makhoul Mountains. The General Directorate of Intelligence and Security in Iraq has successfully conducted operations against the ISIS terrorist organization in the Makhoul Mountains. Following accurate intelligence and surveillance of terrorist movements, the Salah al-Din Operations Command’s artillery brigades destroyed three ISIS positions. The operation also targeted solar panels used by the terrorists and disrupted their transportation routes in the region. This action is part of ongoing efforts to combat ISIS’s presence and activities in Iraq.

December 15, 2023

  1. Is Iraq Capable of Protecting Foreign Delegations? Questions arise about the Iraqi government’s effectiveness in safeguarding international delegations, especially U.S. forces. The government’s arrest of individuals linked to the U.S. Embassy attack in Baghdad, some of whom are connected to Iraqi security agencies, highlights ongoing concerns about internal threats. Further complicating matters is the Iraqi Islamic Resistance’s drone strike on Ain al-Asad Air Base in Anbar Province, a direct response to Israeli actions in Gaza, targeting the U.S. military. The recent surge in attacks, including 86 drone and missile strikes on U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria since October, emphasizes the escalating security risks for U.S. forces and the Iraqi government’s challenge in ensuring the safety of international delegations. In a related development, the Biden administration last month renewed exemptions from sanctions on Iran, permitting Iraq to continue purchasing electricity from Iran. The funds, earmarked for humanitarian transactions, are held in an Omani account. Elizabeth Rosenberg, Treasury Assistant Secretary, noted that Iran has accessed these funds twice since the exemption. This financial mechanism is crucial for Iraq, which lacks alternative power sources; discontinuing it could destabilize this key American ally.

December 19, 2023

  1. Helicopter Crash Claims Iraqi Pilot’s Life During Election Security Mission. A military helicopter crashed in Tuz Khurmatu, northern Iraq, killing one pilot and injuring another due to a technical malfunction. The incident occurred during a mission to support the security plan for provincial council elections. The deceased pilot, Colonel Marwan Jalal, and the injured pilot, Captain Ala Salman, were part of the election security efforts.
  2. Iraq’s Financial Initiatives for Kurdistan: Gesture or Solution? Despite symbolic financial gestures from Baghdad to Kurdistan, the economic and political crisis persists. Recent allocations for Kurdistan’s parliamentary elections and emergency funds are viewed cautiously, as Baghdad continues to withhold the region’s budget share. The initiatives aim to prevent a collapse of public services in Kurdistan amid tensions, highlighting the underlying need for a swift resolution to the budget deadlock.
  3. Border Trade at Shalamcheh Crossing Halted Due to Iraqi Elections. Iranian customs announced the suspension of export and trade activities at the Shalamcheh border crossing during the Iraqi elections from December 18 to 19, 2023. While passenger movements continue, the halt affects commercial truck shipments through this border point.
  4. Iraq’s Heavy Reliance on Oil Poses Economic Threat. Iraq’s Ministry of Finance revealed that over 95% of the federal budget, exceeding 106 trillion dinars in ten months, relies on oil revenues. Economic experts warn of the risks associated with such dependence, urging diversification into agriculture, industry, and tourism, alongside promoting foreign direct investment and enhancing financial transparency and accountability to build a more resilient and sustainable economy.

December 20, 2023

  1. Missile Attack Targets Ain al-Asad Airbase. Ain al-Asad Airbase in Iraq’s western Anbar province was subjected to a missile attack, with two missiles striking the vicinity early Wednesday. The attack, aimed at the base hosting U.S.-led international coalition forces against ISIS, caused no injuries or material damage among the stationed forces.
  2. Iran Strengthens Influence in Iraq Amid Shiite Forces’ Electoral Success. Iranian-backed Shiite forces claim top positions in Iraq’s provincial council elections, solidifying Tehran’s grip on Iraqi politics. The alliances led by current conservatives and those allied with Iran dominated results in key provinces. The “Building” coalition, led by Hadi al-Amiri, and the “State of Law” alliance, led by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, secured leading positions. The election outcome reflects Iran’s growing influence, raising concerns about its impact on Iraq’s political landscape.

December 21, 2023

  1. Rocket Attack on U.S. Base in Iraq Spurs Security Response. A rocket attack targeted a U.S. military base in Iraq at 7:30 am on December 20th, with a 122mm rocket fired at the Ain al-Asad Air Base. The attack’s origin was traced to a modified truck capable of launching multiple rockets. In response, the U.S. is seeking to strengthen cooperation with Iraq to counteract such attacks on American forces. 
  2. Turkiye Destroys 14 PKK Targets in Northern Iraq. Turkiye’s Ministry of Defense has announced the destruction of 14 Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) targets in northern Iraq, along with the neutralization of several militants. Turkish airstrikes also targeted caves, hideouts, and warehouses associated with the rebel group, according to Anadolu Agency. Turkiye continues its airstrikes on targets in Syria and Iraq, considering the PKK as a designated “terrorist organization.”
  3. Shiite Forces and Al-Halbousi Alliance Emerge Victorious in Iraqi Provincial Council Elections. The Iraqi provincial council elections, the first in a decade, revealed the influence of tribes and financial power on the political scene and witnessed a significant decline in voter turnout. Shiite parties and the Al-Halbousi-led “Advancement” list secured victories. The elections also highlighted the absence of the Sadr movement, and some civil forces withdrew, benefiting Iran-affiliated groups and traditional political parties.
  4. Iraq Affirms Commitment to International Cooperation. Iraq’s Prime Minister, Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, met with the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, to discuss the successful local elections and emphasized Iraq’s dedication to completing constitutional requirements and supporting administrative decentralization.

 

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