IRAQ DAILY TRACKER 21/22 JUN: Qaim falls to ISIS; Sadr stages Baghdad military parade

The fall of Rawa and Ana in quick succession after Qaim rates as this weekend’s most significant security development in Iraq, where disparate insurgent elements made significant strategic gains in Anbar province–a development I had warned about last week following large-scale redeployments of Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). ISIS reportedly controls the Qaim border post itself, though it remains unclear to which degree different insurgent groups are mixed in the wider sub-district of Qaim. Reports continue to conflict on whether ISF abandoned their posts at Qaim border post, allowing ISIS to free prisoners from Qaim’s jail and appropriate military equipment from a Qaim IP station before burning it down. Interestingly, the Syrian Arab Army Air Force struck ISIS contingents moving on the last major border crossing left in Iraqi government hands, Waleed. Such strikes serve as important indicators of future cooperation between Baghdad and Damascus, which will likely occur more often as Iranian influence increases, posing problems of optics for U.S. policymakers advocating for support of Baghdad.

Niqash reported from Mosul: armed gunmen run lax checkpoints, all roads are open, basic services are still not nonexistent. The existence of “Wilaya of Ninewa” signs and “trucks of fighters with black flags” indicates that ISIS still calls the shots in the city–as it said it would–even if it has devolved some control to local tribal men, whom it has probably coopted or recruited. ISIS reportedly has not subsidized to any significant degree the life necessity of fuel–since Mosul uses a lot of generators, owing to poor electricity supply–and hasn’t paid any public worker salaries, either.

Two days of fighting ended with a mish-mash of non-government forces in control of most of Qaim, a major border crossing with Syria. Of note are the casualties: 34KIA for ISF, which gives observers a fair idea of how many soldiers ISF loses in typical engagements, despite their press blackout on casualty numbers.

The battle lines in Kirkuk remain similar, with ISIS controlling Mullah Abdullah, W of Kirkuk, and Peshmerga 30km south of them at the former IA brigade HQ in Tal Alwad. It’s still unclear to me whether Peshmerga sprung for IA military materiel left behind because they needed it themselves, or simply to deny the materiel to insurgent groups. In the Shi’a-majority town of Bashir, S of Kirkuk, Peshmerga are fighting in close quarters with ISIS, which has prompted many of the town’s 16,000 residents to flee. Crucially, new clashes emerged between ISIS and JRTN in Kirkuk, leaving blank and blank fighters dead–an escalation of tensions that have plagued the two main insurgent actors for months, though normally in a tit-for-tat kidnapping and assassination campaign.

Following up on yesterday’s story from arms dealers in Iraq’s south, prices for military uniforms and associated gear have reportedly risen 200-300% in Baghdad on the heels of a rush of largely Shi’a volunteers. Continued Shi’a militia activity saw 2 executed men found in Baghdad’s SW neighborhood of Zafaraniya, which brings the total to 10 this week.

In the majority of southern Shi’a cities and Baghdad, Muqtada al-Sadr held parades for his Promised Day Brigades (formerly the Jaish al-Mahdi, or Mahdi Army) after recently announcing the Saraya al-Salam unit. WaPo’s Loveday Morris obtained further confirmation that all Shi’a militias are fighting in Tikrit, Samarra, and Ninewa province. NYT quotes a “Bani Malek” tribal Shi’a militia configuration, which is said to be fighting in 25-man units led by IA officers in Samarra and Baquba. That figure also confirmed that the recent call-up did not come out of the blue; it had been underway for quite some time, as Phillip Smyth and ISW had wrote about months ago.

Buried in a NYT report, we have preliminary evidence that ISIS negotiated with tribal leaders to free the Baiji oil refinery employees only because they wanted those workers to operate the refinery after ISIS completes its operations to secure the area.

Additionally, the U.S. today confirmed that IRGC-QF is in Iraq, the first step in what I hope is a more thorough accounting and naming/shaming campaign as Quds operatives position Shi’a militias for sectarian purposes. The U.S. and Iraq are currently hashing out an agreement for legal immunity and self-defense provisions for U.S. forces, though whatever deal emerges will not represent an official Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Conversely, Jeff Stein reported for Newsweek on the sad state of U.S. HUMINT efforts in Iraq; in effect, the U.S. maintains little to no intelligence presence outside Baghdad, let alone the Green Zone.

writing on iraq

FPRI’s Barak Mendelsohn argued at CNN that Obama’s tack on Iraq policy will fail, owing to the inability of regional actors to contribute anything of use to Iraq’s situation. Again and again, analysts continue to discount what allowing Iran to control ISF means for Iraq’s trajectory.

 

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