IRAQ TRACKER 25 JUN: New threat to ISIS in Hawija; ISIS takes Ajil oil field; escalation in Kirkuk; Maliki rejects unity govt; Haditha in dire straits; Balad AB being shelled

In Kirkuk, the ostensibly organic Sahwa militia, “Hawija Liberation Brigades,” announced that it had killed 3 ISIS members in Mahooz village, about 20km north of Hawija along the Little Zab River. The continued growth of an anti-insurgent movement in these critical areas could pose serious problems for ISIS’s protection of its lines of control from Mosul and the Zab Triangle out to its fronts south of Kirkuk and in southern Salah ad-Din province. Reported ISIS execution of three Hawija Sahwa members and kidnappings of suspected Sahwa fighters in the villages of Sada and Aqulah, south and north of Hawija, respectively. Continued developments in Hawija’s surroundings will be a critical indicator of ISIS staying power. The militant campaign in Kirkuk appears to have picked up, with a suicide bomber in the arms market of Rahimiwa, Kirkuk and the assassination of Council of Iraqi Turkmen elder and prominent businessman Fatih Mohamed Shaker, which comes only a day after militants shot and killed the Turkmen leader of the Kirkuk City Council. Continued mobilization of Iraqi Turkmen self-defense forces will continue and likely expand beyond initial Sahwa creation in Taza following the ISIS advance on nearby Bashir. Cooperation between Turkmen Sahwa and Peshmerga continues, though both sides are wary of one another.

In Salah ad-Din, witnesses reported that ISIS completely controls the Ajil oil field–the province’s largest–northeast of Tikrit, a field that borders the Kirkuk oil field. Local tribes, who had backfilled departing Iraqi Police, fled following the fall of Alam two days ago. The Ajil field is capable of 20,000 barrels per day, but has not produced since ISIS moved into the area. The group’s seizure of Arumel and Hamel villages, which straddle the Kirkuk-Tikrit highway north of the Hamrin Mountains, was reportedly not met well with the local tribesmen. In Tikrit itself, IA Aviation continues incessant and inaccurate airstrikes, killing 12 more people today, adding to the 20+ killed in the past couple days. As I warned last week, the inability of ISF to rapidly clear Yathrib, a village directly adjacent to the north of Balad AB, has led to shelling of the base by militants, corroborated by several sources. It will get worse, if insurgents gain the operational freedom to bring in indirect fire larger than their normal 82mm mortars. Further, the “clearing” of Ishaqi appears to have only minimally ocurred: militants hit the house of deputy governor of Salah ad-Din governor, Sheikh Ismail Khudair al-Halab, leaving 32 casualties. Heavy fighting continues at the Baiji refinery, where a colonel with a small contingent of CTS soldiers are essentially surrounded by militants after the remaining 400 IA soldiers of 38/9Bde fled.

In Diyala, provincial police chief MGEN Jamil al-Shammari denied reports that Camp Ashraf had fallen, echoing earlier statements by officials that ISF currently control both Camp Ashraf and Udhaim, to the north. If the situation persists, the re-taking of Udhaim represents the first significant ISF victory in its counter-offensive, a particularly important one that serves to insulate Diyala from the infiltration of ISIS through its areas of control in Salah ad-Din.

In Babil, an ISIS suicide bomber struck market cafe in Mahmudiyah, while militant mortar fire hit several different areas in the city; the combined attacks left at least 12 dead. This is the first significant ISIS push in Babil since the onset of the Mosul offensive, and will likely prompt a rapid increase in AAH forward operations.  ISF operations in Jurf and Alexandria killed 4 ISIS men and resulted in the seizure of a VBIED/IED manufacturing factory in Jurf, a common occurrence.

In Ninewa, ISIS reportedly probed Peshmerga positions in Qara Qosh, a large town SE of Mosul where the Ninewa Provincial Council has been reconstituted. IA Aviation helicopters hit Muhallabiyah, a large village located 25km southeast of Tal Afar–indicating that ISF do not control that area. Unconfirmed reports indicate that Syrian aircraft struck the center of Baaj, a desert town 125km SW of Mosul. North of Mosul, ISIS reportedly seized..

Down in Baghdad, PM Maliki, speaking in his weekly Wednesday address, rejected the outside call for a National Salvation Government of Shi’a, Sunni, and Kurds–as expected. Though Maliki cited the guidance of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in his decision to bring the State of Law Coalition to the opening round of government formation, he also stressed the constitutional right of SLC to have the first shot at forming a government. Other political leaders have as yet been unable to form a unified front or collect support for an alternative Prime Minister. 3 men were killed in an attack at a liquor store in eastern Baghdad’s Zayouna neighborhood, typically a sign of Shi’a militia activity.

In Anbar, militants assaulted Barwana, a southeastern suburb of Haditha–ISF detonated the Barwana pontoon bridge yesterday. The militant advance appears to have ISF and its tribal allies surrounded, with one escape route to the south, which will be open to significant amounts of harassment. NYT quoted an IA officer who asked dam employees to open the floodgates, which would essentially render static the military situation for both ISIS and ISF. Desperation, indeed.

Anbar Provincial Council deputy chairman Faleh al-Issawi generally supported the government’s tactical withdrawal from the Iraqi-Syrian border, called for increased air support in the province, and announced his worry that Anbar’s fall could be worse than the fall of Ninewa. Of note: Issawi said that previous negotiations, designed by PM Maliki and tribal leaders to split tribal fighters away from ISIS, are on pause. Anbar Operations Command leader GEN Rashid Fleih made the astute observation that airstrikes in the desert are easier than those conducted inside cities, all the while waxing rhapsodically about making western Anbar “a graveyard for ISIS.” Less talking, more maneuver, general. Both men averred that Haditha would represent a decisive military engagement–that remains to be seen.

 

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