IRAQ TRACKER 26 JUN: ISIS fights Badr + ISF in Mansuriyah; ISF staging at Ishaqi; ISOF airborne assault @ Tikrit uni; Syria hit Rabiaa?

In Salah ad-Din, sources reported a military buildup of IA and CTS forces near Ishaqi, ostensibly in preparation for the retaking of Tikrit, which ISOF commander Fadhil Barwari has also announced. While IA Aviation has been striking Tikrit for a week now, their softening attempt is not likely to have significantly degraded the militant posture in Tikrit itself, while ISIS robbed the Agricultural Bank of Tikrit last night, leaving with around $6m USD.

      ISOF claims to have carried out a successful airborne assault (with 3 helos) on Tikrit University, which would be a heartening indication that someone in the ISF command structure appreciates initiative in warfare. If the three birds were unaccompanied, IA Aviation probably used Mi-35 Hind Es–which can protect themselves–indicating an assault force of platoon size. As yet, the situation remains unclear as does a similar assault in Sharqat district; though Salah ad-Din governor Ahmed Abdullah al-Jubouri has now confirmed it.  Further south, ISF reported that a contingent of IA M1A1 Abrams MBTs destroyed 4 ISIS vehicles and killed 28 fighters in the Rafiyat area south of Balad, which also indicates continued insurgent freedom of movement in the Balad sub-district.  

      ISF also caught 3 ISIS snipers crossing the river north of Samarra–continued indication of ISIS’s extensive usage of waterways that has included boat-borne explosive attacks on bridges and the employment of mobile pontoon bridges for movement. IA Aviation claimed to have destroyed an ISIS convoy consisting of 4 fuel tankers and 3 arms/ammunition trucks south of Siniyah, a possible indication of resupply by ISIS to its forward operating areas. North of Tikrit, in Sharqat district, ISIS reportedly executed 7 IA soldiers.

In Kirkuk, the contested town of Bashir saw ISIS mortar fire killed three Kurdish peshmerga soldiers and wound two more. North of Kirkuk, in the KRG capital of Irbil, the brother of contorversial Sunni politican Mishan al-Jubouri was assassinated in a hotel by men using silenced pistols. Waiting for more information on that one. Iraqi Kurdistan president Masoud Barzani today visits, Kirkuk–will be inflammatory, for sure. ISIS also held a military parade in Hawija, reportedly consisting of 300 military and civilian vehicles in total.

In Diyala, an ISIS assault using ISF military vehicles hit a security checkpoint in Deli Abbas (Mansouriyah), a large village just northwest of Muqdadiyah–an area that has been heavily contested over the past week. ISIS elements executed a policeman before engaging with ISF backed by tribal fighters, who killed 5 ISIS fighters and destroyed three vehicles. Diyala police chief later cited higher numbers of KIA and alluded to the capture of an ISIS safe house in the village, though conflicting reports mentioned ISIS’s capture of an IA barracks on the town’s outskirts. The counterattack was reportedly led by Transportation Minister Hadi al-Amiri–who also led the attack on Udhaim–and indicates the increasingly active participation of the Badr Organization, led by Amiri, which currently provides security across large swathes of Diyala. Fighting continues, with Iraq Oil Report stating that the advance threatens the Mansouriyah gas field.

Up in Sadiyah, an area of ISIS control, the group burned three shops after owners refused to pay tribute–the first such behavior in Sadiyah in recent memory. East, across the border in Iran, 3 Iranian border guards were killed by unknown gunmen.

In Ninewa, the Syrian Air Force reportedly struck ISIS positions in the border town of Rabiaa, an odd report given Peshmerga control of the area. ISIS-Peshmerga fighting in Qara Qosh continues; so far, Pesh forces have suffered 1KIA 8WIA, while ISIS suffered 2KIA 18WIA. Despite the Pesh cordon around Bartella, an ISIS suicide car bomber (SVBIED) got through to the Shabak village of Muwafaqiyah, killing and injuring a number of citizens.

In Mosul, 28 bodies showed up at the morgue, many bearing stab wounds. No idea. ISIS today bulldozed the Hadba Police Directorate. IA Aviation struck an ISIS convoy passing through Hammam al-Alil, roughly 15km south of Mosul along the river. Governor Athil al-Nujaifi is attempting to get Baghdad to pay the salaries of Mosul’s administrative employees by transferring funds to Irbil…unlikely to happen.

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In Babil, authorities found 8 more executed bodies in Mahmudiyah. It is unclear where these bodies are from–they could be from a contingent of men kidnapped earlier this week, or recently executed men in response to yesterday’s suicide bombing and mortaring of Mahmudiyah, a Shi’a stronghold just south of Baghdad. ISF continued operations in the Jurf area, citing 15 ISIS fighters KIA.

In Baghdad, an ISIS suicide bomber [SVEST] hit the Quraish gate in the Shi’a neighborhood of Kadhimiyah, leaving seven dead and 34 more wounded. Military leaders began setting up the first joint operations center with U.S. forces. NYT reports on Shi’a militia activities in Baghdad itself, nearing my figure of ~20 executions per week–a far cry from the absolute horror that once was Baghdad, but a telling sign of possibilities to come, should the crisis deepen. Down in Dhi Qar, Maliki replaced MGEN Sadiq al-Zaidi with BGEN Hassan Salman Zaidi.

In Anbar, PM Maliki ostensibly confirmed to BBC that the airstrikes in Rutba and Qaim (and presumably Baaj) were Syrian in origin; Maliki said he had not requested the strikes (doubtful), but welcomed them. ISF’s 1st ISOF Brigade claimed to have cleared Dubbat district in southern Ramadi–unlikely–while dismantling 10 large IEDs that sources reported were “foreign-made;” simultaneously, ISF reportedly lost control of SW Ramadi’s Tamim District and its central strongpoint of the Shaheed IP station. Interestingly, reports from Jordan indicate that the kingdom is in close contact with tribal leaders in western Anbar as a channel of influence that goes beyond their defensive posture on the border. IA + Sahwa are holding the line at Haditha, where fighting continues, as ISF opens 5 sluices of the Haditha dam. Dhi Qar province sent 1,000 members of a Popular Brigade (of volunteers) to the border with Saudi Arabia; many of the Border Enforcement units in that area have been deployed elsewhere.

POLITICS: The first parliamentary meet-up for government formation will occur on July 1st. Al-Hayat cites high-ranking political sources who say that the INA has agreed to dump Maliki, but the source’s report of widespread support for Ahmed Chalabi leaves me suspicious of the origin of the information. Surely Iran and the U.S. do not believe they can pull a PM candidate from outside Dawa? The INA is meeting again today; NYT reports that at least three senior SLC MPs are wavering on Maliki, incl. former NSA Abd al-Karim al-Anzi

While meeting with Kerry in Paris, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman went right after Kerry’s message during his visit to Irbil, wherein he emphasized unity of Iraq. Lieberman said such a move was a “foregone conclusion,” words echoed by Israeli President Shimon Peres, who was at the White House on Thursday. Not entirely surprising, given Tel Aviv’s choice to import Kurdish oil in contravention of the U.S. policy of non-sale prior to resolution of the oil-sharing dispute by Irbil and Baghdad. While in Paris, Kerry also met with GCC leaders to push a second Sunni Awakening and remained noncommital on endorsing or dumping PM Maliki.

KRG PM Nechirvan Barzani and Kirkuk governor Najmuddin Karim visited Ankara to meet with Erdogan, Davetoglu, Hakan, and Yildiz; both sides seemed to see eye to eye on the need for an inclusive Iraqi government, though KRG’s words were, of course, far more explicit. KRG President Masoud Barzani, meanwhile, took a morale-boosting tour of Kirkuk.

Elsewhere, Mutahidun lieutenant Mohammed Iqbal criticized yesterday’s decision by Maliki to hold off on paying salaries in contested zones, accusing the PM of sectarian bias, since the decision primarily affects Sunnis. 

writing on iraq

Buzzfeed’s Mike Giglio continues his string of fine reporting, this time following an AAH fighter from Karbala who had been fighting in the Damascus countryside with AAH’s expeditionary groups. He was called back from leave while in Karbala when ISIS overran Mosul; AAH deployed to Mosul, Ramadi, and Diyala (the last two of which have seen low-level, covert Shi’a militia activity for some time). The fighter’s account at the end–of AAH deployments coincident with, but not operating with, Iraqi Army elements–is fascinating, and new evidence of AAH-only operations beyond their normal advisory role. A quote further up is also telling–that many AAH recruits drop out of training because it is so difficult…which speaks to the professionalism of the IRGC-QF and Hizballah training contingents in Iraq, a far cry from the normal ISF training procedures and even further from the one-week course new recruits are now getting.

Plus and interesting report in Newsweek about the capabilities of Iraqi intelligence services. Shane Harris on FPM reports on the difficulties social media companies have in purging their services of jihadi propaganda. WINEP’s Matt Levitt provides a thorough overview of a potential expansion of Lebanese Hezbollah deployments in Iraq–particularly likely if AAH and KH continue to falter in their areas of operations.

Another worrying report from Reuters on ISIS’s C2 abilities w/r/t other Sunni insurgent groups, countered by a fine report by Mushreq Abbas on differing ideologies amongst insurgent actors.

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