IRAQ TRACKER 8 JUL: CoR reconvened; IS suicide bomber in S Samarra; IS executes tribal forces in Azwya;

BLUF: Parliament set a new date–July 12th–for its second session, after delaying it until August 12th yesterday. The speaker pro tem still does not expect quorum. An IS suicide car bomber struck south of Samarra at a security checkpoint/recruitment center. IS overran the town of Azwya and reportedly executed 50 tribal fighters who had attempted to resist their advance. That movement may have prompted the bombing of the Azwya Bridge by IQAF Su-25s yesterday.

In Salah ad-Din, an IS suicide car bomber targeted a security checkpoint, killing two ISF members and two civilians. The checkpoint may have been near a recruitment center in Raqqa village, just south of Samarra.  Masalah claims that fighting between IS and Jubour tribe members took place in Baiji late last night, while Shafaq claims that IS overran Azwya and executed 50 tribal fighters upon taking the town, later continuing their DDR campaign that began right after their gains in northern Salah ad-Din.

In Diyala, a local official in Udhaim said that self-defense forces continue to organize in the city, both against insurgent elements and to tamp down looting. He oddly added that IS elements had established a cemetery in Salman Beg. A similar report, this time from a provincial National Reconcilation official, claims that IS had appropriated 20,000 sheep from areas in Salah ad-Din and Ninewa to sell in outlying areas in Diyala. The same source stated that IS had demanded fees from Udahim wheat farmers in exchange for marketing their product, a tactic that may have factored into the town’s decision to turn against the organization and collaborate with ISF and AAH elements.

In Baghdad, an executed body was found in the Fahama area north of the city. Ghazaliyah continues to experience high levels of violence relative to the rest of the city, with gunmen killing a policeman and detonating an IED in the area today.

In Anbar, clashes between a joint SWAT/Sahwa force and insurgents took place near the Albu Farraj Bridge north of the city, indicating that Anbar Operations Command remains effectively under siege. Masalah claims that Jaysh al-Mujahideen and others left Fallujah following a demand for allegiance by IS in the city. I’ll wait for confirmation on that one, but IS has always preferred the city proper, while other armed groups are more comfortable among the suburbs and outlying villages.

In Babil, the first reported Su-25 strike took place in Jurf al-Sakhar, killing 24 militants. The addition of more capable close air support is unlikely to rate a decisive factor in the COIN campaign there.

Politically, DPM Shaways, FM Zebari, and ISCI leader Hakim met, presumably to discuss a non-Maliki future for the country. Sadr met with Saraya al-Salam’s military leadership; he likely wants to telegraph, if not exert, control over his militia, which had in past years eluded him. Chalabi’s INC met and demanded parliament’s meeting take place ASAP.

Pressure from various political parties, not least of which the SLC, factored into Hafez’s decision to move the second CoR session to July 12th instead of August 12th. Still, Hafez has already distanced himself from the session, stating that it won’t reach quorum. The AFP report cites no mainline of evidence of Hafez’s decisionmaking, but I suspect that pressure from individual parties coalesced; the SLC has a political interest in speeding up formation, while others do not want to be tarred as anti-constitutional or stray from the clerical line, which has been in lockstep with adherence to the constitution so far.

Maliki surrogates continue to stress the INA’s adherence to the constitutional “largest bloc, first try at formation” formula.

The notoriously unreliable Bas News cites sources stating that an Iranian delegation asked Gorran to cede the post of Sulaymaniyah governor to PUK to avoid PUK’s losing power relative to KDP in the wider intra-KRG fight; Iran reportedly wants a united KRG front against ISIS, complete with cooperation with Maliki on a third term and outright military operations with the ISF. More reliably, Shafaq reports that the latest negotiations over whether Gorran’s Haval Abu Bakr or PUK’s Aso Mohammed would take the governorship had failed; in Sulaymaniyah Gorran won 12 seats in the provincial elections, while PUK won 11–one will get the governorship, the other the provincial council chairmanship.

Elsewhere in the KRG, Barzani will reportedly name leading PUK figure Barham Salih as KRG’s nominee for the post of Iraqi president; Salih served as DPM in the Iraqi Interim Government at the onset of the Iraq War and has more recently battled the Talabani family and Kosrat Rasul Ali for control of the PUK. From KDP’s standpoint, the choice could reflect either the desire for a powerful consensus pick or the desire to split off PUK factions more sympathetic to wider KDP aims for Iraqi Kurdistan.

In his BBC interview, Qaiz al-Khazali sounded many familiar themes–distrust of the US and West, accusations of Gulf support for ISIS, and most simple aggrandizement for AAH, which he said had prevented IS from taking Baghdad since it had gained critical experience in Syria. Khazali’s comments about Iran hew to the nationalistic side, which allows him to tap into more Iraq-focused Shi’a while simultaneously downplaying the outsized role of Iran in Baghdad.

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National Journal’s Clara Ritger writes about the frankly embarrassing continued support for Ahmed Chalabi among former Bush administration officials, namely Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz here.

McClatchy’s John Zarocostas reports that IS executed 13 Sunni imams upon taking control of Mosul to stifle moderate dissent immediately; residents say IS now dictates the content of Friday prayers.

Reuters reports that IS rounded up 25-60 fmr. IA officers and Baathists [JRTN, likely] to head off challenges; in other news, Mosul governor-in-exile Athil al-Nujaifi estimates that IS gained 2,000 recruits from Mosul so far. Those arrested included fmr Iraqi SOF commander GEN Waad Hannoush and Baath party leader Saifeddin al-Mashhadani.

Egyptian President Sisi’s somewhat surprising support for Iraqi unity earned him congratulations from PM Maliki today.

Former ambassador Robert Ford pens a Foreign Policy piece that essentially calls for either hard partition or some form of enticing the Sunni community with such talk. Rather a non-starter, both because Baghdad can’t imagine such a plan; oh, and, this “Sunni region” has not economy to speak of. Iraqi Sunni political leaders have made very specific demands, none of which Ford includes.

IRAQ TRACKER 4 JUL: Islamic Stat imposes control over Hawija area; continued IS-JRTN fighting in Sadiyah; 3ID remnants arrive in Awja for Tikrit assault

In Kirkuk, Islamic State elements imposed control on four villages that had resisted their presence, taking the homes of each hamlet’s tribal of political leader. In Arumel, a small village home to Hadid tribal leader Anwar al-Asi, IS took Asi’s house after having overrun the village during their push to the Ajil oilfield last week and forcing Asi to flee to Sulaymaniyah. For IS, the strategic position of the village next to the Tikrit-Kirkuk highway and the Hamrin Mountains likely outweighs the costs of alienating tribal elements in the area. In Mahouz, home of Education Minister Mohammed Tamim, tribal elements recently took back the local police station from IS, but the village is likely under ISIS control following the fall of Tamim’s house. In Tal Asfar, another village next to the Tikrit-Kirkuk highway, IS kicked out Hadid tribal leader Sheikh Lukman Dhari al-Asi. Lastly, the home of former MP Yassin al-Obeidi in Riyadh sub-district was overrun. This is the first tangible indication that IS intends to follow through with its plans to pacify its areas of control in the Hawija arc.

In Diyala, clashes erupted between the Islamic State and JRTN for the third time in a week, this time in the eastern villages of Sadiyah. Two men of each side were killed. North of Sadiyah, Peshmerga claimed to have killed five IS elements with an artillery strike on a house in the southern reaches of Jalula as IS returned mortar fire.

In Salah ad-Din, IS used IEDs to detonate the home of Salah ad-Din police chief MGEN Hamad Nams, who had already fled. Simultaneously, IS detonated IEDs on part of the Baiji police directorate, killing four children who were nearby. Critically, 3rd Division elements arrived to reinforce the bulk of the Fourth Division, which has been stationed and staging at its former HQ of Awja over the past week in preparation for a push northward. The 3rd Infantry Division had presumably partially collapsed in the general retreat from Mosul.

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Back in Washington, Dana Priest and Aaron Gregg report that no Iraqi “team” has qualified to fly the F-16 and none will until mid-August. Individual pilots are indeed ready, as has been reported before, but flying a fourth-generation fighter jet requires more than one servicemember. The flight teams are not the limiting factor, in my opinion–the infrastructure to support the F-16 contingent doesn’t yet exist. Nor do the F-16s really matter all that much, given the fact that Iraq is calling is airstrikes from both of its neighbors, Iran and Syria.

Finally, the U.S. military reports that it has begun scrambling to fit AGM-114K/R Hellfires to aircraft other than the two extant AC-208s; given the fact that SOCOM and

 

 

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.

Here’s a look at ISIS military capabilities in Baiji

A complete version of the Baiji military parade from the end of last week has been posted; what follows is a rough accounting of the military capabilities displayed in the parade, which are likely either being used in today’s assault on the Baiji refinery in the town’s north or at least representative of the forces at ISIS disposal in the area.

The parade contained 35 identifiable ISIS vehicles, 2 of which were normal trucks and 6 of which were Iraqi Army HMMWVs (Humvees). The other 27 vehicles were Toyota or captured ISF Ford 4×4 pickup trucks, 7 of which had heavy machine guns mounted (12.7mm DShKMs or 14.5mm KPVTs). DShKM on captured IA HumveeBeing ferried were 210+ fighters, most of whom looked like regular ISIS fighters based on their gear, vice the new recruits     seen recently in Mosul. The true numbers for both vehicles and fighters in the parade are likely higher, given that not all ISIS-associated forces are recognizable, but this gives a decent indication of the type of forces arrayed against ISF in Baiji–the rough equivalent of a U.S. military reconnaissance battalion, which prizes agility over armor, maintaining basic supporting fire capabilities through the usage of 12.7mm or 14.5mm AA guns mounted on 4x4s, or the M2 “Ma Deuce” .50cal (12.7mm) mounted on a HMMWV.KPVT 14.5mm on Toyota 4x4

Interestingly, ISIS repurposed an ISF ambulance as a rolling loudspeaker platform, using the powerful electrical systems that power sirens to blast jihadi music in the midst of the parade. Repurposed ambulance

Additionally, the population gathered for the parade appeared extremely supportive. Of course, one cannot determine level of support from such little evidence–and people are intimidated–but the size and excitement of the crowd does not augur well for future ISF attempts to retake insurgent-held portions of Baiji.

Parade crowd

Thomas Gibbons-Neff, who writes the military-focused Checkpoint blog for the Washington Post, recently added some granularity to the discussion of  ISIS military capabilities in Iraq, noting that the ISIS forces displayed professionalism in equipment preparation and basic tactical combined arms proficiency. 

Mass of ISIS fighters in a 4x4

IRAQ DAILY TRACKER 18 JUN: ISIS takes Baiji refinery, 3 IP stations in Anbar; kidnaps 40 Indian workers; Rouhani endorses shrine defense,

At dawn, ISIS launched an attack on the Baiji refinery against the IA airborne battalion stationed there in poor tactical position, as ISIS controls much of the city itself. Thought ISF spokesman Atta denied the fall of the refinery–which shut down operations yesterday–sources from the refinery said that the IA battalion, even with IA Aviation helicopter support, failed to stem the assault. Mass surrender again factored in, with 70 IA soldiers reportedly taken prisoner, and one lieutenant quoted as having fled when the battle was clearly lost. Though the foreign refinery workers had already been evacuated, Iraqi workers who took refuge in underground bunkers could be coerced into operating the refinery for ISIS, should the group retain control of the city. Clashes appear to be ongoing in the refinery area, with ISF’s Counter-terrorism Services (CTS) reportedly still fighting.  BAIJI PIC

Across the border, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani further expanded the extent of the Iranian “shrine defense” narrative, which UMD Shi’a Islamist researcher Phillip Smyth predicted and described in a podcast with Karl Morand earlier this week. On the flip side, American president Barack Obama today ruled out immediate airstrikes on Iraqi insurgents, indicating his preference for ISR support, military partnerships, and regional support. In other international aspects, ISIS reportedly kidnapped 40 Indian nationals working for a Turkish construction company near Mosul. Indian nationals have been kidnapped in Iraq before–rarely–and India now joins Turkey on the list of countries with large numbers of nationals in ISIS custody.

Tuz Khurmatu mayor Shalal Abdul–normally a fairly reputable source–announced that ISIS took control of three villages between Tuz and Amerli (85km south) after fighting with Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) that left 20 dead in total, though the Tuz area itself remains in Peshmerga control. In the same area, ISIS kidnapped three Turkish engineers and their Iraqi driver near the Hamrin Mountains, continuing their trend of kidnapping Turkish citizens begun with the seizure of the Turkish consulate in Mosul.

In Mosul, Al Mada quoted citizens who reported that ISIS withdrew its foreign fighters from the area, citing their inability to manage effective governance programs (though whomever is administrating doesn’t seem to be doing any better, with basic conditions of life inside the city deteriorating rapidly). This is the second report to identify such behavior, and while it is unlikely to be wholly true, it speaks to the group’s grasp of economy of force: remove a possible irritant to the population and deploy them where they are most effective–the battlefield. ISIS also reportedly set up a city council, which began reaching out to nearby tribes for support. The citizens also reported that all government institutions have closed, save for the municipal and health ministries, with private banks and government buildings now left unguarded. Niqash interviewed Ninewa Provincial Council head Bashar al-Kikhi in Qara Qosh, who had a number of interesting tidbits, including that no churches or Christians were killed (but that they had all fled), and that he considers Shabak and Yezidi citizens are at risk. He said that ISIS allocated one mosque for repentance ceremonies, and said ISIS exercises full control over what he believed were four other insurgent groups, including preventing JRTN from appointing a new governor.  He puts the original attacking force of ISIS at 200, but said many locals had been previously recruited by ISIS, a credible theory given the longstanding ISIS chokehold over the city.

The battle for Tal Afar continues, with ISF reportedly consolidated at Tal Afar airport and receiving reinforcements from the Shammar tribe of Rabia.

In western Anbar, ISIS attacked and took three police stations–Hamdan, Abu Taliban, and Jazira–in Hit district. Government forces stationed in the outposts fled, and ISIS now controls all three, a significant win in their continued push against overextended ISF in western Anbar. Eastward, a rare bright spot in Anbar theater, where ISF reportedly repelled an ISIS assault on an IA headquarters near the Rawoud Bridge NW of Baghdad. Nine ISIS fighters were killed in the attack, including three foreign fighters. RAWOUD BRIDGEAnbar police announced plans to recruit and deploy three new emergency police battalions to western Anbar and the Iraq-Syria border, the latter of which enjoys increasingly little control by government forces, given recent incursions by ISIS, the Free Syrian Army, and Jabhat al-Nusra. A claim that Sahwa forces are ill-equipped and haven’t been paid in months could be problematic for the Anbar effort, if confirmed. Alter in the day, ISF lost more territory in Anbar, incl. in Albu Dhiab, N of Ramadi, where insurgents still control the highway through the city.

Elsewhere, ISIS mortared an unknown target 10km east of Tikrit, where tribal Sahwa are reportedly deployed, a rather precarious tactical situation for those contingents. ISF spokesman GEN Atta announced the death of another 42 ISIS fighters in the Lakes Region of northern Babil, a regular occurrence as a result of the clearing operations underway there for months. Yet at least ISF do not seem to be suffering serious operational setbacks in that area, a direct result of the number and quality of ISF deployed in northern Babil to prevent insurgent advances toward the Shi’a heartland, beginning with Hilla and Mussayib. Still, the slow pace of advances has led the government to deploy 1500 “volunteers” (possibly/probably Shi’a militia contingents) to Jurf al-Sakhar.

In Diyala. A small clash broke out in Abu Itamur, near Khalis, indicating ISIS presence in the area. One of the four militants killed was Chechnyan, a rarity for the Iraq side of ISIS operations. Further north along the highway, IA Aviation allegedly hit an ISIS meeting in the Udhaim area, leaving 15 militants dead. As an indicator of position, Peshmerga clashed with ISIS near the Jalula Bridge, leaving 2 ISIS dead and 6 Pesh soldiers wounded.