IRAQ TRACKER 2 JUL: ISF fight followers of rogue Shi’a cleric in Karbala; continued Hawija backlash against IS

In Karbala–a normally placid area–supporters of rogue Sadrist Shi’a cleric Sheikh Mahmoud al-Hassani al-Sarkhi clashed with IA and SWAT forces in the Saif Saeed district of the city. ISF immediately imposed a curfew and cut comms and internet in the province, signaling their worry of metastasizing protests. ISF had surrounded Sarkhi’s home in preparation for an arrest when fighting broke out that left 4 IA soldiers dead and another 12 wounded, with 14 Sarkhi followers dead and another 25 wounded. 10 Sarkhi followers were subsequently arrested. Later, the IA pulled out and was replaced by CTS forces while negotiations continued with Sarkhi himself.

Several policeman were wounded in clashes in Diwaniyah (Qadisiyah) province to the east while preventing Sarkhi supporters from reinforcing their leader. Basra Governor Majid Nasrawi made similar pronouncements about the stability of his territory. Authorities claimed to have arrested 30 Sarkhi followers attempting to enter Karbala, too.

In Salah ad-Din, IA Aviation helicopters struck Islamic State (IS) fuel reservoirs and tankers stationed at the Tikrit Teaching Hospital, a compound just south of the Presidential Palace in the city center, an indication of improved ISF targeting capability. ISF is staging, with Shi’a militia support, at the former 4th Division HQ in Awja, just south of the city.

SimultaneouslyIA Aviation birds bombarded Sharqat, reportedly killing 18 and wounding 18, mostly civilians. One step forward, two steps back. Jelam, the area northeast of Tikrit, is still inhabited by insurgents, as evidenced by continued IA Aviation airstrikes there. 20km north of Hawija, tribal forces, likely operating under the banner of the Hawija Liberation Brigades, retook the Mahouz IP station from IS elements in continued tribal backlash in Hawija’s outlying areas.

 

Further south, an ISIS raid from the lawless area of Nebai, southwest of Samarra, was repelled by ISF and Sadrist Saraya al-Salam elements. That corridor continues to be a crucial link for the Islamic State from Salah ad-Din down to Fallujah and Ramadi.

In Anbar, rare positive news: tribal forces are patrolling from the Turaibil border crossing with Jordan to 125km NE on the international highway, hoping to facilitate trade. They’re also patrolling south from the international highway to Nukhaib, still the forward point of ISF in the province. Another 9 civilians were killed by IA artillery fire in Fallujah.

In Diyala, insurgents began targeting electricity infrastructure, which they recently began in the Fallujah area, as well.

In Babil, the governor’s office claimed that IA Aviation struck an IS gathering in Abd al-Wayis, a village in northwest Jurf al-Sakhar, which left 60 dead and 9 vehicles destroyed. Given the fact that the same office pronounced these areas cleared yesterday, such figures should be heavily discounted.

Basra’s 3 volunteering training centers produced another battalion of fighters, sent north to fight IS.

politics: The Sadrist Trend continues to militate against Maliki’s nomination within INA, with MP Rafi abd al-Jabbar spinning the narrative that makes it seem like the Sadrists are simply being mindful of Sunni and Kurdish distaste for a third Maliki term. Reidar Visser hits back at facile media narratives about the Iraqi political process, noting again that the Shi’a coalition has not lost any ground since the beginning of the government formation process.

DOD announced that the latest contingent of 200 embassy protection soldiers will bring with them RQ-7 tactical Shadow UAVs and AH-64(? model) Apache attack helicopters to protect American personnel. The Department of State gave notice that the U.S. plans to sell 4,000 AGM-144K/R Hellfire missiles to Iraq, a vast improvement over previous tranche sizes. I do not expect Congressional opposition to this sale, though a Senator or two might make noise about Maliki. 

Conversely, the Russians delivered 4 Mi-35 Hind E assault helos and 3 Mi-28NE attack helos today, part of the October 2012 deal, which is nearly complete now. The Russian Su-25 delivery seems to have been misrepresented by the Iraqi MoD–the Su-25s flying over Bghdad yesterday were IRGC-operated Iranian copies, according to IISS analysis.

—– writing on iraq —–

Bassem Mroue, writing for AP, captures the rise of IS Syrian military commander Omar al-Shishani following his role in the seizure of Managh AB in August 2013. Interestingly, Mroue posits that Shishani could grab the top IS military command spot, following the death of former Iraqi military commander Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Bilawi al-Anbari in June 2014’s Mosul clashes–a change that would further, concomitant with the caliphate announcement, tie the two theaters together.

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