At dawn, ISIS launched an attack on the Baiji refinery against the IA airborne battalion stationed there in poor tactical position, as ISIS controls much of the city itself. Thought ISF spokesman Atta denied the fall of the refinery–which shut down operations yesterday–sources from the refinery said that the IA battalion, even with IA Aviation helicopter support, failed to stem the assault. Mass surrender again factored in, with 70 IA soldiers reportedly taken prisoner, and one lieutenant quoted as having fled when the battle was clearly lost. Though the foreign refinery workers had already been evacuated, Iraqi workers who took refuge in underground bunkers could be coerced into operating the refinery for ISIS, should the group retain control of the city. Clashes appear to be ongoing in the refinery area, with ISF’s Counter-terrorism Services (CTS) reportedly still fighting.
Across the border, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani further expanded the extent of the Iranian “shrine defense” narrative, which UMD Shi’a Islamist researcher Phillip Smyth predicted and described in a podcast with Karl Morand earlier this week. On the flip side, American president Barack Obama today ruled out immediate airstrikes on Iraqi insurgents, indicating his preference for ISR support, military partnerships, and regional support. In other international aspects, ISIS reportedly kidnapped 40 Indian nationals working for a Turkish construction company near Mosul. Indian nationals have been kidnapped in Iraq before–rarely–and India now joins Turkey on the list of countries with large numbers of nationals in ISIS custody.
Tuz Khurmatu mayor Shalal Abdul–normally a fairly reputable source–announced that ISIS took control of three villages between Tuz and Amerli (85km south) after fighting with Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) that left 20 dead in total, though the Tuz area itself remains in Peshmerga control. In the same area, ISIS kidnapped three Turkish engineers and their Iraqi driver near the Hamrin Mountains, continuing their trend of kidnapping Turkish citizens begun with the seizure of the Turkish consulate in Mosul.
In Mosul, Al Mada quoted citizens who reported that ISIS withdrew its foreign fighters from the area, citing their inability to manage effective governance programs (though whomever is administrating doesn’t seem to be doing any better, with basic conditions of life inside the city deteriorating rapidly). This is the second report to identify such behavior, and while it is unlikely to be wholly true, it speaks to the group’s grasp of economy of force: remove a possible irritant to the population and deploy them where they are most effective–the battlefield. ISIS also reportedly set up a city council, which began reaching out to nearby tribes for support. The citizens also reported that all government institutions have closed, save for the municipal and health ministries, with private banks and government buildings now left unguarded. Niqash interviewed Ninewa Provincial Council head Bashar al-Kikhi in Qara Qosh, who had a number of interesting tidbits, including that no churches or Christians were killed (but that they had all fled), and that he considers Shabak and Yezidi citizens are at risk. He said that ISIS allocated one mosque for repentance ceremonies, and said ISIS exercises full control over what he believed were four other insurgent groups, including preventing JRTN from appointing a new governor. He puts the original attacking force of ISIS at 200, but said many locals had been previously recruited by ISIS, a credible theory given the longstanding ISIS chokehold over the city.
The battle for Tal Afar continues, with ISF reportedly consolidated at Tal Afar airport and receiving reinforcements from the Shammar tribe of Rabia.
In western Anbar, ISIS attacked and took three police stations–Hamdan, Abu Taliban, and Jazira–in Hit district. Government forces stationed in the outposts fled, and ISIS now controls all three, a significant win in their continued push against overextended ISF in western Anbar. Eastward, a rare bright spot in Anbar theater, where ISF reportedly repelled an ISIS assault on an IA headquarters near the Rawoud Bridge NW of Baghdad. Nine ISIS fighters were killed in the attack, including three foreign fighters. Anbar police announced plans to recruit and deploy three new emergency police battalions to western Anbar and the Iraq-Syria border, the latter of which enjoys increasingly little control by government forces, given recent incursions by ISIS, the Free Syrian Army, and Jabhat al-Nusra. A claim that Sahwa forces are ill-equipped and haven’t been paid in months could be problematic for the Anbar effort, if confirmed. Alter in the day, ISF lost more territory in Anbar, incl. in Albu Dhiab, N of Ramadi, where insurgents still control the highway through the city.
Elsewhere, ISIS mortared an unknown target 10km east of Tikrit, where tribal Sahwa are reportedly deployed, a rather precarious tactical situation for those contingents. ISF spokesman GEN Atta announced the death of another 42 ISIS fighters in the Lakes Region of northern Babil, a regular occurrence as a result of the clearing operations underway there for months. Yet at least ISF do not seem to be suffering serious operational setbacks in that area, a direct result of the number and quality of ISF deployed in northern Babil to prevent insurgent advances toward the Shi’a heartland, beginning with Hilla and Mussayib. Still, the slow pace of advances has led the government to deploy 1500 “volunteers” (possibly/probably Shi’a militia contingents) to Jurf al-Sakhar.
In Diyala. A small clash broke out in Abu Itamur, near Khalis, indicating ISIS presence in the area. One of the four militants killed was Chechnyan, a rarity for the Iraq side of ISIS operations. Further north along the highway, IA Aviation allegedly hit an ISIS meeting in the Udhaim area, leaving 15 militants dead. As an indicator of position, Peshmerga clashed with ISIS near the Jalula Bridge, leaving 2 ISIS dead and 6 Pesh soldiers wounded.