Thursday, August 14, 2014

Iraq report 15

Latest developments in Iraq

The following information has been provided largely through Kurdish sources. The situation is fluid and intense, to say the least.  

One problem facing the Kurdistan Regional Government is a shortage of money to address its mounting responsibilities. There is a real concern being expressed in Arbil that -- despite the will -- available foreign exchange might soon dry up in the local banking centre if new infusions of cash are not received. This would affect the ability of the Kurdish Regional Government to pay the salaries of civil servants and even the vaunted Pershmerga militia fighters. 

One reason for this problem is that a dispute over oil has caused the central government to stop all payments to the KRG. That Baghdad would devote time and money to preventing the KRG from independently recovering even a small fraction of what it is owed is inexplicable, especially as the federal government fights a massive insurgency by IS and struggles to maintain its own institutions. 

Hopefully, the incoming administration of prime minister-designate, Haidar al-Abadi, will reverse this situation and seek to address Kurdish (as well as Sunni) grievances. 

The NCF met al-Abadi a few weeks ago and was impressed. He takes a no-nonsense view of Kurdish efforts to extract money from the central government while seeking an independent source of income abroad. However, he is far more flexible than his predecessor, Nuri al-Maliki, who continues to resist his replacement at the time of this writing, despite his rapidly diminishing support.

Diyala Province
Peshmerga forces have been forced to retreat from Jalawla by IS having failed in their counter offensive. An indeterminate number of Peshmerga were killed in the fighting and the area is now under complete IS control
Arbil Province
Refugees - those the UN disingenuously calls internally displaced persons (IDPs) - continue to flood into the Kurdistan Region, with estimates at well over one million people in need of critical humanitarian aid. This number will only rise as Yezidis from Sinjar continue to be rescued and brought to the Kurdistan Region for medical attention. Immediate humanitarian aid, in terms of food, water, housing, medical supplies, and funds, is desperately needed. Prior to the Islamic State's (IS) offensive in Sinjar (Singal) and theNinevah (Ninawa) Governorate, the Kurdistan Region hosted nearly one million refugees and IDPs. 
Makhmour town and the surrounding villages are back under Peshmerga control after four days of fighting (Makhmour District is in the extreme South of Arbil Province and is technically part of the disputed territories)The town Gwer, also in Makhmour District, located about 25 miles southwest of Arbil, is also under Kurdish Peshmerga control again. These efforts have been aided by US airstrikes, although continuous air support is necessary in order to hold these towns.

Lufthansa have cancelled flights to Arbil leaving MEA, Turkish Airlines, and Royal Jordanian as the only three major carriers operating to Arbil. The US Consulate in Erbil remains open and operational, although some non-essential staff have been relocated.
Ninevah Province
Bashika district in the Ninevah Plane (Eastern Ninevah) is now partially under IS control
Fighting between Peshmerga and IS continues in the Al-Shallalat district to the North of Mosul

The town of Zummar, near the Syrian border, remains largely under IS control, though the Peshmerga forces are making headway

IS remains in control of Christian towns and villages including Qaraqosh. IS fighters still control Tel Afar, Tel Keyf, and other towns in Ninevah Governorate. 

Sinjar district, still under IS control, is the scene of fierce clashes with Peshmerga. Limited airstrikes by the US military are taking place in and around Sinjar, in support of Kurdish Peshmerga operations to maintain a corridor to evacuate civilians, and a limited number have been escorted to safety. A massive air search and rescue is also underway to locate civilians stranded on Mount Sinjar. The Sinjar mountain range stretches almost 50 miles along the Iraq-Syrian border and is 3,000 foot high at its highest point, with extremely rugged terrain. Between 30,000 and 40,000 refugees (predominantly but by no means exclusively Yezidis) are estimated to still be on the mountain (some press estimates of numbers approaching 100,000 are not credible). Hospitals and clinics in the Duhok area have received thousands of rescued Yezidis, with over 100 doctors volunteering for the relief efforts. Unimaginable atrocities continue to be committed against Christian and Yezidi minority populations throughout Ninevah Governorate. In Sinjar, An indeterminate number of Sinjar women captured by IS have been relocated to Mosul and are being forcefully married off to IS militants. The US military has been conducting airdrops of food and supplies on Mount Sinjar since Thursday. It has been reported that these were dropped from a great height which would seem to negate or seriously reduce its actual effectiveness.  France, Canada, Italy, Germany, and the UK have also pledged to support humanitarian relief efforts. On Sunday August 10, the United Kingdom began with an initial airdrop of food and supplies over Mount Sinjar from two British C130s. The UK has pledged to contribute a total of £13 million for refugees and IDPs in Iraq.

The most immediate direct threat facing the area is IS control over Mosul Dam, putting the group in control of the most substantial water and electricity asset in the region. The dam is poorly constructed and aging, and requires regular maintenance to prevent catastrophic failure; a 2006 assessment by the US Army Corps of Engineers called it "the most dangerous dam in the world". IS has claimed that they will destroy the dam if they lose control of the area. Such an event would send a wave 63 feet high through the city of Mosul, and cause widespread flooding along the Tigris, one of the most densely populated regions of Iraq
Baghdad would also experience serious flooding. Analysts estimate over half a million people would be killed.

Babil Province

An IS attack on the town of Jurf Al-Sakhar fifty miles south of Baghdad has been repelled

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