The export of oil from northern Iraq's contested enclave of Kirkuk is to resume under a deal struck between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Iraq's Ministry of Oil announced Nov. 16. With Baghdad's Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline disabled during fighting with ISIS, the so-called KRG pipeline is currently the only method of delivering Kirkuk oil to foreign markets other than through Iran. That route has now also been cut off by the resumption of US sanctions against the Islamic Republic. But Baghdad and the KRG have long been at odds over terms, and the situation was worsened with the central government's seizure last year of Kirkuk and its oil-fields, which had been in Kurdish hands since the KRG routed ISIS from the enclave in 2014. US National Security Advisor John Bolton welcomed the agreement between Baghdad and the KRG as a "promising first step to return to 2017 levels." The KRG pipeline is jointly owned by the Erbil-based KRG, BP and, as of a deal struck one year ago, Russia's Rosneft. (Rudaw, S&P Global, Nov. 16; Reuters, April 19; Rudaw, April 3)
In a joint report released on Nov. 6 (PDF), the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) highlighted the challenges that are faced in providing justice for the families of victims found in mass graves in the territory formerly controlled by the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL). The final number of mass graves found was 202, with an estimated 6,000 to 12,000 victims buried at these sites. However, the final number of victims will not be available until all the sites are exhumed. The victims range from women and children to the elderly and those with disabilities, as well as members of the armed forces and police, and some foreign workers. It is anticipated that more mass grave sites will be found in the coming months and years.
Tara Fares, an Iraqi model and Instagram star, was shot dead at the wheel of her car as she was driving through central Baghdad Sept. 27. The 22- year-old, who has 2.7 million followers on social media, was slain in broad daylight by two men on a motorbike. The assassination has sparked outrage among her fans and admirers. One social media user wrote: "I should note that she was critical of her society and religious misogyny. She was...killed for simply being a woman who doesn't obey their misogynistic rules and challenges them." Fares' murder was the fourth in a series of killings that targeted prominent and outspoken women in the country over the past weeks. Just days earlier, Souad al-Ali was shot dead in Basra, as she and her husband were getting into their car. Al-Ali was a women's rights activist, and one of the major organizers of the recent popular protests in Basra. August was the slaying of Baghdad beauty salon woner Rasha Hassan and plastic surgeon Rafifi Yasiri; both were found dead in their homes. Shimaa Qasim, the 2015 Miss Iraq and current model and Instagram star, has since been receiving death threats, prompting her to flee the country.
Authorities in Ezidikhan, the self-declared Yazidi autonomous homeland in northern Iraq, issued a statement protesting a Turkish air-raid on their territory Aug. 19. The attack, which took place four days earlier, was apparently a targeted assassination of Yazidi leader Zeki Şengali, who is a representative of the Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK), the international body in the political orbit of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Four members of the Yazidi territorial militia, the Sinjar Protection Units (YBS), were also killed in the attack, and a home destroyed. The raid actually took place as Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was on an official trip to Turkey, sparking outrage from some Iraqi officials. "It is a disrespect to Iraq when Turkey crosses our border at the same time as the Iraqi prime minister was visiting them," said Dawid Shex Jundy, a member of Nineveh Provincial Council.
The Provisional Government of Ezidikhan—the self-declared autonomous homeland of the Yazidi people in northern Iraq—has issued a statement flatly rejecting a political deal cut between Baghdad and Kurdish authorities in Irbil to hand control over the claimed territory of Ezidikhan to the Kurdistan Regional Government. Said Ezidikhan Prime Minister Waheed Mandoo Hammo in the July 27 statement: "The Yezidi people reject the Iraq government’s attempt to install the Kurdish Regional Government as the military and political authority over the nation of Ezidikhan without our consent. The Ezidikhan Provisional Government is the sole, legitimate government representing the peoples of Ezidikhan. No decisions regarding the political, economic or strategic actions [of] the nation of Ezidikhan can legitimately be made without our free, prior and informed consent."
Protests against high unemployment, poor government services and corruption that began in Iraq's southern oil hub of Basra have spread to several other cities, including Najaf, Amara, Nasiriya and even Baghdad. At least three have been killed since the protests erupted a week ago. Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi arrived in Barsa to try to calm the situation July 13, flying straight into the city from the NATO summit in Brussels. But the next day he convened a meeting of Iraq's National Security Council, where the decision was taken to cut Internet access in Basra and mobilize army troops to the city. After the meeting he issued a statement accusing "infiltrators" of exploiting "peaceful protests to attack public and private property." He warned: "Our forces will take all the necessary measures to counter those people." Units from the elite Counter-Terrorism Service and the Army’s Ninth Division have arrived in Basra.
Iraq's first parliamentary elections since the defeat of ISIS were supposed to herald a return of stability to the country after 15 years of practically incessant war since the US invasion of 2003. But turn-out in the May 12 poll was at a mere 44%—a record low since 2003. And candidates were openly aligned with foreign powers playing for influence in Iraq. Incumbent Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi's Nasr (Victory) coalition, backed by the US, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, appears to be squeaking past more populist tickets seen to be in the sway of Iran. These include the State of Law coalition of current vice president and former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, who darkly warned that the results could be "rigged through electronic devices" as the returns started to come in. The ruling Dawa Party split into rival coalitions as Abadi and Maliki fell out, and a special law was passed in parliament allowing one party to run in competing lists. A third list, Fatah—headed by Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Badr Brigades paramilitary militia—is considered solidly pro-Tehran. But the surprise so far is the strong showing of the Sairoon (Marchers) bloc, led by Shi'iite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in an unlikely alliance with the Iraqi Communist Party. Independent of outside powers, Sadr played to resentment against the cronyism and corruption endemic to both factions of Dawa.
Turkish air-strikes killed four civilians camping in a rural area of northern Iraq's Qandil Mountains as part of a gathering celebrating the traditional Kurdish spring festival, Nowruz. The March 22 air raid on the Choman district of Iraq's Kurdistan Region was ostensibly aimed at positions of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). But local residents told Kurdistan 24 the young men killed in the strikes, at a site known as Dali Baliani, were all civilians.