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ISHM: March 19 - 26, 2020

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Key Takeaways:

  • **Shia Blocs Fail To Agree On Supporting PM-Designate Adnan al-Zurfi; Al-Khazali Calls For Giving The Care-Taker Government Emergency Powers; Fatah Coalition Tells Zurfi To Step Down – **On March 20, *Reuters *reported that the U.S. government was “enormously disappointed” with Baghdad’s ineffective efforts to protect American personnel from repeated militia attacks. On March 21, the Hikma bloc said a meeting between Shia political leaders failed to produce an agreement on supporting PM-designate Adnan al-Zurfi amid “absolute and irreversible” opposition by the Fatah and State of Law coalitions to Zurfi’s selection. Meanwhile, Asaib Ahl al-Haq leader Qais al-Khazali reiterated the call for granting “emergency powers” to Adil Abdul-Mahdi’s care-taker government. The Nasr coalition, to which Zurfi belongs, called for replacing the care-taker government with a new one “as soon as possible.” On March 24, the PUK said that voting to approve a government led by Zurfi was contingent on the normalization of conditions in Kirkuk and agreements on the Kurdistan region’s share of the federal budget. Meanwhile, a KDP member confirmed that talks between the main Kurdish parties and Zurfi have not started yet, expecting talks to commence “after the Shia political house achieves consensus.” On March 25, the head of Fatah’s bloc in Parliament said that Fatah continues to reject the way by which President Salih selected Zurfi because it “violated the constitution and political norms,” asking Zurfi to step down. Earlier thi week, Moqtada al-Sadr had sent a message to other Shia blocs saying that he opposed discussing anything related to replacing Zurfi with another candidate.

  • **International Coalition Pulls Troops, Transfers Base To Iraqi Forces; Turkey And PKK Violence Escalates In The KRI; New Rocket Attack Hits Baghdad – **On March 20, the U.S.-led international coalition against ISIS said that it was reducing its personnel level in Iraq in response to COVID-19 as Iraqi security forces (ISF) halted their training programs in response to the outbreak. The coalition also handed the Qayyara base back to the ISF. On March 21, Iraqi air force F-16 jets bombarded ISIS hideouts in the Himrin mountains, killing “tens” of the militants. On March 21, an IED explosion in Anbar killed two Iraqi soldiers and wounded four others. On March 22, an IED killed one woman in in Diyala and another IED explosion killed one member of the popular mobilization forces (PMF) and wounded two southwest of Baghdad. On March 23, the Turkish military killed or captured two members of the PKK in Duhok. On March 25, a mortar attack by PKK militants killed two Turkish soldiers and wounded two others. Turkish forces responded with a new offensive, killing or capturing eight PKK members. On March 23, two IEDs wounded two ISF members and one civilian in Diyala. On March 23, clashes between the ISF and ISIS militants in Salah ad-Din killed an ISF officer and three ISIS militants. On March 24, unidentified militants killed a family south of Baghdad, torched their home, and set up an IED that later wounded a member of the ISF. On March 24, a militant attack on the Tarmiyah power station north of Baghdad killed one of the facility’s guards and injured two more. On March 25, an IED killed two members of the ISF in Diyala. On March 26, two rockets struck near the Baghdad operations command center in the Green Zone. There were reports of casualties. more…

  • **Iraq Extends Curfews And Travel Bans To Contain COVID-19 But Crowded Pilgrimage Raises Risks; Confirmed Cases Double, Fatalities Triple This Week – **On March 22, senior cleric Ali al-Sistani asked people to stay at home in a bid to contain the COVID-19 outbreak during an annual Shia pilgrimage to a major shrine in Baghdad. Despite government warnings and Sistani’s message, many worshipers insisted on performing the pilgrimage, with little intervention from the security forces. The UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs said the government’s decision to stop millions of foreign pilgrims from entering the country was a “significant achievement” that contributed to containing the pandemic, but warned that failure to stop thousands of local Iraqis from crowding the pilgrimage site means that “an increase in the number of daily cases recorded is expected in coming weeks.” On March 24, Iraq’s Central Bank said it received ID44 billion (~ $36 million) in donations earmarked for purchasing respirators needed to treat COVID-19 patients. On March 26, Iraq extended a week-long curfew that was announced last week to April 11 in an attempt to control the spread of COVID-19. Despite airport closures, Iraqi authorities continued to operate limited special flights to repatriate Iraqis stranded in foreign countries. The KRG too extended the curfew in its provinces until April 1. In Baghdad, security forces told residents to stay at home unless they have an emergency, warning that they would arrest anyone who violated the curfew. The Iraqi army said its units will help local police and authorities enforce the curfew. On March 26, the Iraqi Ministry of Health reported that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has risen to 382, more than double the 177 cases reported a week earlier. Fatalities from the outbreak have tripled over the last seven days, rising from 12 to 36. Seven of the deaths and 36 of the new infections were reported within the previous 24 hours alone. more…

  • **Iraq Awards Gas Processing Contract To China’s CPEEC; KRG Struggles To Pay Oil Companies; U.S. Shrinks Baghdad’s Iran Sanctions Waivers – **On March 23 Iraq awarded CPEEC, a Chinese oil services firm, a contract valued at $203.5 million to establish gas processing infrastructure at the Majnoon oilfield in Basra. On March 25, industry sources said the KRG has not been able to make the latest monthly payments to oil companies operating in the KRI due to financial difficulties. Two companies operating fields in the KRI warned that the delay would undermine their plans to invest in new oil works. On March 26, the U.S., citing Iranian interference in Iraqi politics, granted Iraq a mere 30-day extension on a previous waiver that allows the country to purchase gas and electricity from Iran despite American sanctions on Tehran. more…

For more background on most of the institutions, key actors, political parties, and locations mentioned in our takeaways or in the stories that follow, see the ISHM Reference Guide.