IRAQ TRACKER 5 JUL: IS caliph reveals himself; Iranian pilot KIA;

BLUF: The Islamic State released a short video showing IS leader and self-styled “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi leading Friday prayers in Mosul. Maliki fired the IGC and IFP commanders and rebutted Nujaifi’s attempt at pressuring him. An Islamic State suicide car bomber hit a security checkpoint south of Samarra, killing 12 IA soldiers.

PM Maliki continues his purge of high-ranking security officials, today retiring LTG Ali al-Ghaidan, commander of Iraqi Ground Forces, and LTG Mohsen al-Kaabi, the chief of Iraqi Federal Police. The affiliations and competency of their replacements will be critical. Additionally, Maliki pushed back against growing calls for his replacement as PM, one day after Speaker of Parliament and Mutahidun leader Osama al-Nujaifi attempted to pressure Maliki by saying that he’d relinquish the speakership if Maliki did the same with the premiership. It is unlikely either man will give up easily. Maliki also sent an emergency police regiment (III/Special Assignment) from Dhi Qar up north.

Iranian state TV channel Fars reported on the death of likely IRGC officer COL Shoja’at Alamdari Mourjani, continuing the “shrine defense” narrative by saying that Mourjani had been killed fighting to defend Samarra. The exact circumstances of his death are as yet unknown.

The Baghdadi video opens up many questions, such as why Baghdadi decided to reveal himself now after years of secrecy and OPSEC so intense that we had only a blurred photo from the Iraq War previously. As J.M. Berger noted at the end of last week, the general reaction to the khilafah announcement had not been overwhelming at all outside extant pro-IS circles. Sadly, Baghdad has chosen to ignore the video, further damaging their credibility by stating that the video was fake, since IA Aviation had wounded Baghdadi in an airstrike and he’s in Syria, recuperating. The response is understandable, given likely criticism over Iraqi military incompetency with respect to his appearance in Mosul. The Telegraph’s Ruth Sherlock met with some of Baghdadi’s childhood acquaintances, receiving quotes that generally line up with most assessments of Baghdadi. Quiet, efficient, intelligent.

In Salah ad-Din and Kirkuk, tribal fighters near Rashad, south of Kirkuk, killed an IS leader in his car, while IS detonated explosives on the water and electricity infrastructure in Mahouz, a village northwest of Hawija where IS pushed out tribal leaders recently. IS also continued targeting the Hawija-based Obaidi tribe, kidnapping a tribal elder in the village of Assous 30km south of Kirkuk after he failed to pledge allegiance to IS or provide the group with 20 vehicles and 500 weapons. This follows fighting last night between IS and the “Mintafuda Tribal Council” in Abbasi and Tel Ali that left seven IS members dead and 10 more wounded. The tribal fighters had recently distributed leaflets in Zab and Sharqat warning IA and IP recruits not to pledge to IS.

The JRTN Youtube channel continues to post daily updates showing insurgent control of Baiji, suggesting that IS/JRTN tensions have not bled south from fighting in Hawija; other JRTN videos show presence at Baquba and in the siege of the IA 8Bde HQ near Ramadi. ISF dismantled another 40 IEDs on the highway between Samarra and Tikrit–whether these were placed previously or continue to be placed by infiltrators as ISF + militias move northward is a critical indicator of insurgent strength in the area. ISF continues to skirmish outside Tikrit and maintain their hold-out in the Baiji refinery, today deflecting a dual thrust by IS on the northern and southern gates of the refinery complex.

In Basra, two VBIEDs [car bombs] were detonated simultaneously at a restauraunt in Manawi al-Basha, a southern neighborhood, and at the Buraq Hotel on Istiqlal Street, after one one VBIED in Basra in June. These VBIEDs are normally chalked up to IS–they’re the only insurgent group capable of penetrating this far south.

In Ninewa, IS released pictures of their destroying a number of Shi’a husseiniehs in Mosul. A senior IA source finally reported the fall of Tal Afar, describing commander Abu Walid’s withdrawal as necessary because “staying in [those] circumstances was suicide.” The commander reported that insurgents were able to bring heavy mortar fire to bear and used suicide bombers to open holes in ISF defenses.

In Anbar, IS detonated explosives on a bridge serving the international highway in Sawlawiyah. It’s unclear which bridge was targeted, but I presume that it was the Yabani Bridge, a previous ISF position recently taken by IS. Significantly, the ISF engaged IS on the highway in the area today–making the attempt a possible response to tactical ISF gains. This will further serve to cut off existing ISF contingents in Haditha and Hit from resupply by Baghdad. IS-led militants continue to make gains in Ramadi, today hitting several IP stations in the city’s south, burning 3 watchtowers, stealing 4 IP vehicles, and killing four policemen. In Haditha, ISF claimed to have carried out clearing operations in Khafsa, a small town west of Haditha that affords access to the highway to Syria; presumably, the town was being used as a staging area by IS.

In Baghdad, two tortured and executed bodies showed up in Shula, a Shi’a-majority neighborhood in northwest Baghdad with a heavy and active Shi’a militia presence. Gunmen killed a family of four in their house in Bawi, Madain, south of the capita–likely Shi’a militias. Two more civilians were killed in a hit-and-run attack with machine guns on a car traveling on the Mohamed al-Qasim Expressway in eastern Baghdad. The attack is a time-worn IS method, but could be other groups, too. Two IEDs targeted the municipal council building in Sadr City’s Muzaffarabad Square. An IED hit the Suad Naqib Mosque in central Ghazaliyah, a mixed neighborhood with heavy insurgent presence. Baghdad Provincial Council released a statement acknowledging sectarian killings and kidnappings in areas south of the capital, and requested that Iraqi Federal Police be given the lead role in investigating such occurrences. Another IED exploded on the Mechanic’s Bridge in Dora, an area of increased insurgent activity recently.

In Babil, ISF claims to have killed five IS leaders, including the Wilayat al-Janoub emir Mohammed al-Janabi. I’ll believe it when I see it.

An IA-affiliated Youtube channel released footage of what it reports to be an execution of an IS militant; if confirmed, this would be the first instance I’ve seen of the IA purposefully putting out an execution video. The Sadrist Saraya al-Salam also released video of their executing a suspected IS militant by gunfire after hanging him from a heavy machine gun mounted on a 4×4.

 

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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.