IRAQ TRACKER 30 JUN: Caliphate announced; Tikrit offensive stalls; (Bela)Russian Su-25s arrive; Saraya al-Salam deployed

Over the weekend, ISIS announced its restoration of the khilafah, or caliphate. The new name is simply Islamic State, abbreviated IS. Read and follow Aaron Zelin and J.M. Berger for great early takes on this development, which promises resounding second- and third-order effects on the military and political contours of the current crisis.

In Salah ad-Din, Baghdad’s push to retake Tikrit stalled over the weekend following progress late last weekend. CNN, citing local residents, says that IA continues to shell the city, an indication that ISF control inside remains exceedingly limited. Reportedly, roads had already been lined with IEDs–a development I warned made re-taking these cities more difficult by the day. Errant IA Aviation strikes, like the one conducted this morning on Tikrit city center that killed civilians, also make that job more difficult. A second airstrike in central Baiji killed mainly women and children, too.  ISF simply cannot afford to alienate the Sunni population further if they want to take advantage of the new opportunity to split non-Salafist Sunni insurgent groups from the Islamic State. An insurgent attack on Tarmiyah that left five IA soldiers dead indicates the enduring difficulty of extending operations north while lines of control remain contested. ISF continues to hold out in Camp Speicher. Two battalions of Saraya al-Salam, Sadr’s Mahdi Army spin-off, joined Badr, AAH, and KH in Samarra. Interestingly, elements from the 3rd Federal Police Division seem to have reconstituted and are fighting in Awenat, just south of Awja and Tikrit.

In Ninewa, further IA Aviation airstrikes targeted the neighborhoods of Siddiq, Wahda, and Najjar in Mosul, causing mainly civilian casualties.

In Kirkuk, heavy fighting in Bashir, just south of the city, culminated late last night with five dead IS fighters and eight wounded Pesh soldiers. Many Turkmen self-defense members were casualties of fighting earlier in the day, and the battle there seems to have stagnated for the moment, with heavy casualties taken on both sides.

Anbar province today saw Habbaniyah police chief COL Hammad al-Fahdawi and three of his bodyguards killed east of Ramadi, further bad news for ISF units that will be trapped between Haditha and Ramadi should the ISF continue to experience losses in the latter. Another hit-and-run attack on an IP checkpoint left four more policemen dead, emblematic of the difficulties ISF has had with severing insurgent links between Ramadi and Fallujah. ISF continue to publish unverifiable claims of successful operations not tied to specific areas in Anbar. ISF CT forces continue to fight with the IA 1st Rapid Intervention Brigade near the Maudhifin Bridge, which takes the international highway through east Fallujah, and in Sejar, a suburb to the northeast of the city. Both areas are contested at present. IS contingents continue to skirmish with ISF in Haditha, while they have surrounded the IA 8th Brigade HQ NW of Ramadi and are now directly assaulting the base.

In Babil, an IED was detonated on an IA patrol in Yusufiyah, killing one soldier in the HMMWV. These attacks are not significant at first glance, but add up day after day to an unsustainable casualty ratio and an inability to foster the freedom of movement necessary for putting insurgents on the defensive. Babil Provincial Council [BabPC] chairman Raad al-Jibouri survived mortar fire on his convoy while riding through Jurf al-Sakhar for unknown reasons. New video from AAH shows their participation in clearing operations in Jurf al-Sakhar, which have rather clearly been unsuccessful. In an item I missed on Friday, reports seemed to edge closer to confirmation the 70 dead prisoners from last week’s IS hit on a convoy near Hilla were executed by their transporters.

Baghdad remains quiet for the moment, thought it continues to witness low-level sectarian activities, such as today’s assassination of a man in Shurta Rabaa and an executed body found in Bayaa–both in the city’s southwest. An MoD official was assassinated on Canal Street, possibly the work of Madhi Army elements that control the Sadr City area.

Fighting continues in Mansouriyah and Jalula in Diyala province, while IA Aviation airstrikes on Anjanah village and Amerli to the east and west of Highway 3 indicates insurgent control there. IS reportedly opened fire on a village in the Qarah Tapa area in the far north of Diyala after residents took down the group’s black flag.

Five Su-25s arrived in Iraq over the weekend, and IQAF commander GEN Anwar Hama Ameen intends to get the aircraft into the fight immediately. The delivery of all 12 should be completed by tonight, with Russian technical advisers to stay on for set-up, ostensibly on a temporary basis. Somehow I doubt that will be the case. Even with a now-expedited timeline for AH-64 Apache attack bird delivery, this case perfectly illustrates how much more flexible the U.S. must become to assist Iraq on a meaningful time scale. The delivery of 75 AGM-114K/R Hellifre missiles over the weekend to replenish Iraq’s empty stores simply will not cut it.

Elsewhere, Diwaniyah sent another battalion-sized contingent of “volunteers” to Baghdad, bringing the province (also called Qadisiyah) to over 4,000 volunteers volunteered. Anonymous sources from the Turkish government said that Ankara will support a unity government in Iraq, but will not back a Kurdish independence bid. Various Iraqi parties have been leaking information about the nomination of possible prime ministers, but I do not consider any of these reports as nonpartisan as of yet. The Sadrists have officially called for a non-Maliki PM, while the INA met, but did not settle the matter. Several Sunni blocs, including Nujaifi’s Mutahidun, Mutlaq’s Arabiyya, and provincially based lists in Anbar and Diyala.

———– writing on iraq RAND’s Dalia Dassa Kaye attempts to make the case that Islamic State gains in Iraq may actually weaken Iranian influence in Iraq. I don’t agree generally, though the point should be made that Iranian proxies in Iraq have failed miserably in their attempts to act as force multipliers for the Iraqi Army.


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