South Iraq Security Report: October 2017

This is October’s edition of my Iraq SIGACT monitoring and analysis report focused on the south (Basra, Muthanna, Dhi Qar, and Maysan). The data collection parameters for recorded incidents are as follows:

> Serious violent crime (e.g. armed car robbery. Violent incidents for which motives are not clear are placed into this category).
> Tribal fighting.
> Terrorism (this includes attacks by militia groups and intra-militia violence).
> Arms trafficking.
> Drug trafficking.
> Kidnapping.
> Protest activity.
> Maritime incidents.

Each report contains 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 “View Large Map” for complete functionality.
2. Pivot table which allows users to easily filter incidents by date, location, 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: October 2017

Pivot Table:


The security environment across southern Iraq remains acutely challenging and the overall political and physical risk outlook from October was negative. October 2017 recorded 58 total security incidents across the south (Basra: 31; Dhi Qar: 17; Maysan: 6; Muthanna: 4). These incidents resulted in 9 killed (Basra: 5; Dhi Qar: 2; and Maysan: 2), and 21 injured (Basra: 18; Dhi Qar: 3). A combination of localised factors (poor governance and a lack of resources) combined with national developments (an escalation in the confrontation between Iraqi federal and Kurdish forces) combined to further exacerbate negative trends across a range of risk types. Persistent levels of tribal violence are posing a threat to oil facilities both directly and by contributing to a general deterioration in security at oil sites. This risk has been increased by the redeployment of certain units from their role protecting these sites to the newly acquired fields around Kirkuk. Incidents of serious violent crime, particularly in Basra province, involving multiple shooting incidents reflect a general deterioration of security effectiveness across the south. SIGACT monitoring, confirmed by security sources, indicate that IS infiltration continues to try and exploit these vulnerabilities to target the local population and strategic infrastructure. Additional security forces have been deployed to protect the tens of thousands of visitors crossing into south Iraq from Iran to take part in the araba’een processions. Governance instability was evident when Basra’s Security Council Chief, Jabar al-Sa’idi, was forced to deny rumours of his resignation. More generally, governance issues continue to limit the likelihood of an effective response to these overlapping problems. Poor services and corruption issues led to an escalation of protest activity, particularly in Basra, where a health crisis, combined with ongoing refuse collection problems, prompted angry demonstrations. Basra Governor, Asa’d al-‘Idani, has been negotiating with Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-‘Abadi, for financial assistance to tackle some of these infrastructure problems. A political struggle between the Basra provincial government and the federal government over control of funding stream, particularly from oil revenues, continues to impede governance performance in Basra. These factors and the trends shaping the security landscape will be explored in detail below.


Tribal violence and threats to oil facilities and workers

Recent months have seen an escalation in incidents of tribal fighting in southern Iraq with 33 tribal clashes leaving 29 dead and 49 injured between August and October. Tribal-related violence and criminality presents several specific risks to energy sector infrastructure and operations. First, there is the physical risk to infrastructure from potential spill-over effects from the clashes themselves. In September, tribal clashes involving mortars and automatic rifles drew close to the vast West Qurnah and Majnoun oil fields. South Oil (SOC), the state-run oil company in Basra, has stated that the violence has begun to scare oil workers and foreign contractors who are refusing to go out to drilling platforms because of security concerns. ‘Abdullah al-Faris, the head of media for SOC stated that: “Tribal clashes close to oil field sites is certainly affecting investment in the energy sector and sends a negative message to foreign oil companies”. ‘Ali Shaddad, head of Basra’s Oil and Gas Council, stated that: “Tribal conflicts have been escalating recently, and this negative development could threaten the activities of foreign energy companies”.[1] Second, the breakdown in security has aggravated tensions with tribes over land ownership rights, compensation, and demands for jobs opportunities for their sons. The result has been a spate of sabotage and siphoning of oil facilities and pipelines, particularly on the route running from Basra to Dhi Qar via Rumaila. October saw multiple incidents of security forces interceding to close down oil smuggling operations from illegal siphoning. Marzan al-Mazani, an MP and member of the Energy Committee stated in early October that: “The security forces and local government must bring forward a special plan for the oil wells and specifically those starting production to protect them from tribal conflicts and smuggling efforts”.[2] Third, a by-product of this general deterioration in effective security for energy sector infrastructure will be increased vulnerability to terrorist attacks from IS infiltration (see below). This should be considered an increasing risk following the redeployment of security forces, who had been protecting energy facilities in the south, to the newly retaken oil fields around Kirkuk. For example, on 20 October a force deployed at the West Qurnah 2 field was sent to Kirkuk to protect oil facilities in the province.


Efforts to tackle tribal violence are impeded not only by a lack of resources, but by the overlapping of tribal networks with local police and security forces. Consequently, the latter are sometimes reluctant to intervene in tribal incidents. On 13 October, gunmen stopped a child on the street in Bani Hashim, Maysan province, and after inquiring as to his name and discovering his tribal affiliation, shot and killed him. Local reports stated that the incident took place within sight of security forces who failed to take any measures to prevent the killing, or respond to the incident.

The video below captures a serious outbreak of tribal fighting on 16 October between the ‘Abadah and al-Bo Bikheet tribes in al-‘Amarah, Maysan province.

Islamic State infiltration and terrorism

As mentioned in last month’s security report, Iraq’s southern provinces have been taking measures to increase security following the attack by IS on the Fadak checkpoint and adjacent restaurant. These measures include digging ditches to protect towns from open desert expanses, deployment of surveillance drones and aircraft, and reinforcement of security forces (although the stretching of resources has meant reliance in some places on tribal units). Attempts at infiltration by IS members continued in October indicating that this is a high risk factor in the short to medium-term. On 3 October, Major General ‘Ali Ibrahim (head of al-Rafidin security task force), announced that security forces had intercepted a major terrorist convoy consisting of 15 vehicles with heavy weapons and PKM machine guns attempting to infiltrate and target Dhi Qar and other southern provinces from Anbar. On 3 October, an IS member from Salah ad-Din was arrested trying to infiltrate into Dhi Qar through the Tall al-Laham checkpoint. On 24 October, an IS member in al-Shirqat area of Salah al-Din was arrested at the Mitham al-Tamar checkpoint south of Nasiriyah. On 25 October, two IS members from the Ninewa branch were arrested attempting to infiltrate into Muthanna. On 31 October, one IS member from Babil was arrested by security forces in Dhi Qar province. October also saw several attacks on civilian targets including the 22 October IED attack on a coffee shop close to al-Sa’di junction in Basra. The perpetrators of many of these attacks remain unknown and could be linked to local disputes, however, terrorism cannot be ruled out. A total of 12 terrorist incidents were recorded in October, up from 7 in September, although casualty figures were far lower due to the high human toll of the September Fadak attack.

1The HQ of al-Rafidin task force headed by ‘Ali Ibrahim


Serious violent crime

The pressures on security forces outlined above are also leading to an increase in serious violent crime incidents. October recorded 7 such incidents resulting in 3 deaths and 6 injuries, compared to 5 incidents in September (2 killed; 2 injured) and 3 in August (1 injured). This trend culminated in a serious breakdown in security in Basra province at the end of October. On 30 October, gunmen with automatic weapons attacked a vehicle in Zubayr injuring 4. The motive appears to be theft as the family from Safwan were returning from Baghdad where they had received compensation for a land development. Two separate incidents occurred in the morning of 31 October, in al-Kurfaniyya west of Basra, and al-Hartha to the north. Gunmen opened fire killing 2 and injuring 1.  This type of physical risk will increase as political and resource pressures continue to deteriorate security capacity across the south.


Basra budget crisis

Poor governance and corruption remain important underlying causal factors exacerbating many of the risks outlined above. In October this also manifested in protests as crises in service provision hit sensitive targets, particularly in the health sector. Multiple demonstrations were held over a financial crisis and scarcity of medicines at Basra’s Children’s Hospital, while Muthanna’s Health Department announced it was suffering from a “financial crisis” and that its current funding was not enough to meet medical needs and supply medicine.

2: 14 October, protest over financial difficulties at Basra’s children’s hospital

Basra Governor, Asa’d al-‘Idani, revealed on 26 October, during a trip to Baghdad to try and see PM Haider al-‘Abadi, that Basra’s treasury was empty and the province was suffering a deteriorating financial situation after the blocking of petrodollars from its budget. PM Haider al-‘Abadi has taken more direct control over funding of Basra’s budget following corruption charges which forced out the ISCI officials who headed the Basra governorship in August. This has led to a political struggle over the budget, with ‘Idani seeking to regain prerogatives currently in the hands of ministers in the federal government. ‘Idani has argued that the budget shortfalls have left the local government in Basra unable to carry out its basic functions and left many infrastructure projects unfinished. ‘Idani announced on 28 October that he had reached an agreement with ‘Abadi on the provision of funds to the Basra treasury for infrastructure building and services. This would allow for the completion of building work on 50 schools that had been halted due to lack of funds, as well as dealing with the refuse collection troubles that are blighting the city, and renewing the salaries on contracted teachers and other workers. However, the political struggle over the control of resources will continue to have a detrimental effect on local governance in Basra contributing to political instability and inhibiting the development of infrastructure and services.



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