This is December’s edition of my Iraq SIGACT monitoring and analysis report focused on the south (now including Wasit). I have started to increase the number of images and videos related to incidents which are now attached to incident reports on the SIGACT map. The data collection parameters for recorded incidents are as follows:
> Serious violent incidents (This category has been changed from “serious violent crime” as I have begun to adjust my methodology. This new category refers to incidents about which insufficient information can be obtained to judge the motive or identify the perpetrators. Consequently, incidents such as IED attacks that may have previously fallen under “Terrorism” may now come under serious violent incidents).
> Tribal fighting.
> Terrorism (this includes attacks by militia groups and intra-militia violence).
> Military incidents.
> Arms trafficking.
> Protest activity.
> Maritime incidents.
Each report contains three elements:
- 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.
- 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.
- Analysis providing political context and examination of trends which emerge from cumulative data collection.
SIGACT Map: South Iraq August 2017
Pivot Table: South Iraq December 2017
The physical and political risk outlook for south Iraq continued to deteriorate in December as the authorities struggled to get a grip on tribal fighting particularly in Maysan and Basra. The political scene also looked increasingly unstable as protest activity spiked in Basra and Dhi Qar, spurred by opposition to planned reforms to the electricity sector but also triggered by a wide variety of more localised grievances. Protests occasionally turned violent and targeted property and individuals connected to local government. Security conditions in Basra City, in particular, began to look increasingly fraught with a worrying spate of attacks targeting police officers in the city. December 2017 recorded 62 total incidents across the south, the highest number since data collection began in August (Basra: 40; Dhi Qar: 16; Maysan: 3; Muthanna: 2; Wasit: 1). This spike was mainly attributable to the uptick in protest activity as Iraqi media continues to under-report on tribal violence. These incidents resulted in 14 dead (Basra: 7; Dhi Qar: 1; Maysan: 5; Muthanna: 1), and 13 injured (Basra: 8; Maysan: 5). These figures are likely to be underreporting the casualties from tribal fighting incidents. These trends and the factors shaping the security landscape will be explored in detail below.
Tribal fighting continues to affect southern provinces reflecting weaknesses in local governance and security forces discussed in detail in previous reports. The full extent of the fighting, numbers of casualties, and especially the identification of tribes involved is not comprehensively covered by local media sources who may fear reprisals. More is revealed on local social media outlets; however, this information is more difficult to corroborate. One major ongoing tribal conflict is continuing in Maysan and seems to be centered on tribes around Qaleh Salih, south of Amarah. Fighting has erupted over control of revenues extracted from the al-Sheeb border crossing between Maysan and Iran (a popular drug smuggling route). Multiple incidents of tribal fighting have occurred in this area resulting in multiple casualties, including civilians, but no precise figures are available. The security situation has deteriorated to the point where the provincial council has asked the federal government to send outside military units to help quell the fighting. These incidents are also drawing security assets away from other southern provinces where they are engaged in surveillance and patrols designed to secure the south from Islamic State infiltration from Anbar province (as occurred during the Fadak checkpoint attack in which 93 were killed). Surveillance aircraft and security forces have been deployed to east Maysan specifically to protect the flow of trade through the al-Sheeb crossing that is being threatened by tribal clashes. On 25 December, ‘Ali Ibrahim al-Daba’oun, commander of the al-Rafidin security operation in the south, announced the redeployment of units from other provinces to Maysan including: the Dhi Qar “task force” regiment; the Muthanna “emergency” regiment; and the Wasit “elite” regiment.
Basra province has also seen sustained incidents of tribal fighting. On 12-13 December, the Hayy al-Murtada in al-Hartha, north of Basra, saw an outbreak of tribal fighting between the al-Karamsha and al-Subeeh tribes, apparently escalating from a fight between young boys at a football game. Gunmen exchanged fire for over an hour and a number of shops were burnt down. Security forces under the command of General Jamil al-Shamri intervened and made 32 arrests. Further north in al-Shafi, tribal fighting on 31 December led to the closing of the Basra-Baghdad highway.
Attacks on police and lawyers in Basra
Basra City has witnessed numerous violent attacks that targeted police and lawyers in December in a worrying trend that deserves careful monitoring over the coming months. On 11 December, a police officer was seriously injured after being shot in the head while on duty in Basra city centre by unknown assailants using Kalashnikov rifles. On the same day an IED exploded at the home of a police officer in the 5 Mile District. On 14 December, the home of a senior police commander was targeted in a grenade attack. IED attacks have also struck two offices belonging to lawyers. Information about these attacks is too scant to make serious judgements at this stage about their motivation or possible perpetrators.
A Month of Protests
Tribal fighting and other violent attacks are just one aspect of a complex of interlocking problems rooted in poor governance, corruption, and political instability that are afflicting the south. Against this backdrop of violence local authorities have also been struggling to respond to a spike in protest activity with 33 protest incidents recorded in December, with most occurring in Basra (18) and Dhi Qar (13).
The month began with thousands demonstrating at protests in Basra and Nasiriyah against proposed reforms to the electricity sector which are perceived by demonstrators as privatising public property and as “theft” from the people. These reforms are part of Prime Minister Haider al-‘Abadi’s economic reform package entailing a rationalisation of the sector to reduce subsidies and overuse. Local governments across the south are struggling to implement the reform package against popular discontent which continued throughout the month. On 29 December, protesters in Nasiriyah burnt tyres and shut down roads around local administrative offices. Many other protests occurred on a range of local issues from demonstrations against the price of imported tomatoes in Safwan, to farmers in Suq al-Shuyukh in Dhi Qar province protesting over the continuing effects of the water shortage crisis discussed in last month’s report. Protests are common occurrences in Iraq, however, the significant spike in incidents, up from 20 in November and 13 in October, gives the impression of local officials struggling to respond to challenges on multiple fronts.