South Iraq Security Report: August 2017

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(Note: Viewing via a mobile phone may lead to difficulties using the interactive elements (map, data set).)

This is a new project providing monthly reporting on open-source monitoring and analysis of security related incidents in southern Iraq (Basra, Muthanna, Dhi Qar, and Maysan). The data collection parameters for recorded incidents are as follows:

> Serious violent crime (e.g. armed car robbery)
> Tribal fighting
> Terrorism (this includes attacks by militia groups and intra-militia violence)
> Arms trafficking
> Drug trafficking
> Kidnapping
> Protest activity
> Maritime

Each report will contain three elements:
1. SIGACT Map which allows users to filter by incident type and date and read an incident report by clicking on the map marker. Click “full map” for complete functionality.
2. Pivot table which allows users to easily filter incidents by date, incident type, and/or a named target. E.g. to view a readout of the locations and number of all tribal fighting incidents and resultant number of casualties within a specified range of dates.
3. Analysis providing political context and examination of trends which emerge from cumulative data collection.

SIGACT Map: South Iraq August 2017

Pivot Table: South Iraq August 2017 

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Analysis

The security environment across southern Iraq, and particularly in Basra, remains acutely challenging. The main drivers of insecurity are poor governance and the focus of political and security resources in the north where the Iraqi army and PMUs remain engaged in pushing ISIS from Mosul and Tala’far.

Governance instability in Basra was exacerbated in mid-August by the resignation, and subsequent flight to Iran, of Basra’s governor Majed Nasrawi against whom an arrest warrant had been issued. Nasrawi’s deputy, Sabah al-Bazouny, was arrested and subsequently released. Both men had become embroiled in a corruption scandal involving an energy contract with the UAE. A period of political struggle between Basra’s main Shi’i Islamist political factions ensued over appointing a successor. Regular protests have occurred demanding the appointment of an independent governor with no affiliation to the existing parties. At the end of August, Saad al-Idani emerged as Nasrawi’s replacement. Despite his professed political independence, al-Idani is widely regarded as a surrogate for Ammar al-Hakim and is unlikely to succeed in appeasing protesters. Governance instability adds to deteriorating security conditions across a number of interrelated areas. Local security forces are struggling to contain competition between tribal factions over smuggling and trafficking revenues which has frequently resulted in violent clashes. Drug and arms trafficking are part of this nexus of degraded security and governance capabilities. August 2017 recorded 52 total incidents across the south (Basra: 31; Muthanna: 5; Dhi Qar: 11; and Maysan: 5). These incidents resulted in 18 dead (Basra: 10; Maysan: 8); and 31 injured (Basra: 18; Dhi Qar: 1; Maysan: 12). These incidents break down as follows below.

Tribal fighting accounted for most of the violence in August with 13 incidents in Basra (8), Maysan (4), and Dhi Qar (1) resulting in 17 dead and 30 injured. Insecurity driven by fighting has been exacerbated by the concentration of political and security resources in the north of Iraq where the Iraqi security forces and PMUs have been engaged in fighting against ISIS in Mosul and Tala’far. A degraded security capacity has allowed the expansion of tribal competition of smuggling and other illicit and non-illicit sources of income. Al-Qurnah, just north of Basra City, saw the most incidents of tribal fighting (3, including 1 incident just north al-Qurnah in Naahiyat al-Thugr) followed by Basra City itself (2) and al-Amarah in Maysan (2).  Incidents typically involved light and automatic weapons (Kalashnikovs) and frequently resulted in injury, sometimes fatal, to bystanders. On 19 August in al-Majidia (located on the northern outskirts of Basra City) fighting between two tribes killed 5 including Sheikh Ahmad Taweeh from the al-Karamsha tribe. On 28 August, fighting in al-Uzair between the al-Bu Bakhit and al-Bu Ghannam tribes resulted in 4 dead and a number of injured.    

As ISIS is forced out of its remaining territory in northern Iraq, the evolution of the insurgent threat will see a shift to asymmetric warfare and the sorts of targeted intimate violence which have recently emerged in areas around Kirkuk. However, ISIS has little footprint in the south due to the region’s demography making the strategic high value energy sector targets a difficult proposition. On 5 August the offices of PMU militia group Kata’ib Jund al-Imam, located in al-Tuwaisa, Basra City, were targeted by an explosive device. The perpetrators remain unknown, although the group itself released a statement blaming American and Saudi intelligence. On 18 August the Petronas facility for the Gharraf oil field (approx. 85 km north of Nasiriyah was the target of a rocket attack resulting in no casualties. Three arrests followed and the incident has not been publicly linked to ISIS. On 19 August an IED targeted the offices of Sadrist militia Saraya al-Salam in al-Shatrah, Dhi Qar province, perpetrators unknown. The only officially ISIS-linked incident was the reported arrest on 17 August of an ISIS leader attempting to infiltrate Basra at a checkpoint near Samawah.

Arms and drug trafficking (particularly methamphetamines, heroin, and hash) remains a major problem in south Iraq particularly in areas close to the Iranian border crossing at Shalamcheh and on main transit routes from borders and ports. Al-Zubayr, located on a key route from Basra to the port at Um Qasr and to al-Faw saw 3 drug trafficking related incidents. The most significant incident occurred on 7 August when a joint military and police operation ambushed a significant weapons and drug trafficking gang close to al-Uzair, south Muthanna, making dozens of arrests and seizing weapons and drugs.

Protest activity remains widespread across the south with 16 incidents recorded in August (Basra: 8; Muthanna: 3; and Dhi Qar: 5). Protests can be both locally defined and connected to wider national movements. On 6 and 7 August there were protests in Abu al-Khasib, south of Basra City, driven by localized factors relating to water and electricity supply. Similarly, hundreds protested on 2 August in al-Khidir, Muthanna province, targeting similar localized issues. Regular Friday protests in Basra have targeted corruption and poor service delivery along with political demands for an independent governor to replace Majed Nasrawi. The professed independence of new governor, Saad-al-Idani, has been rejected by protest leaders who regard him as a surrogate for Ammar al-Hakim’s al-Hikma. Elsewhere, Sadrist protesters, sometimes in cooperation with Iraq’s secular civil trend, have engaged in demonstrations within a national political framework, targeting reform of the electoral commission, electoral laws, and general political reform. Nasiriyah and Samawah in Muthanna province saw 6 Sadrist protests of this nature during August.

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