IRAQ TRACKER 10 JUL: IS steals “nuclear materials” in Mosul; Baghdad-KRG escalate further

BLUF: Following Maliki’s escalation from alleging Kurdish collusion with Islamic State in the Mosul offensive, the KRG announced it would boycott further parliamentary meetings, prompting Baghdad to halt cargo flights to Irbil and Sulaymaniyah. I still think a reconciliation, but the two sides are hurtling toward making that scenario and outright impossibility.

Baghdad told the U.N. that IS elements seized 40kg of un-enriched research-use uranium from the University of Mosul–this is likely an attempt to pressure the U.S. to engage militarily in Iraq.

In the south, an arrest warrant was issued for Deputy Governor of Babil Qasim Zamili on account of his support for Mahmoud al-Sarkhi.

In Ninewa, ISF air assets are now striking the Ninewa Operations Command compound, occupied by IS. In Anbar, IA shelling of Fallujah killed another 8 and left 35 wounded. Baghdad saw another 2 men assassinated, likely by Shi’a militias, in the Tobchi sub-division of Hurriya in NW Baghdad.

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IRAQ TRACKER 6/7 JUL: 6ID commander KIA in Garma; IS suicide bombings in Kadhimiayh, Washash; CoR delay

BLUF: IA 6ID commander KIA while inspecting frontlines in Ibrahim bin Ali, Garma. IS suicide bombing targets cafe in Washash, Baghdad last night and suicide car bomber hits a checkpoint in Kadhmiyah today. IA Aviation airstrikes miss in several places. IA Aviation bombs Azwya Bridge, attempting to cut IS supply lines from Baiji/Tikrit to Hawija. Parliament, scheduled to meet tomorrow, pushed back reconvening until August 12th.

In Tuz, mayor Shalal Abdul reported that IA Aviation conducted an airstrike on a house 200m away from the PUK HQ in the Aksu neighborhood. Abdul expressed concern about the airstrike, given the fact that the entirety of Tuz is controlled by Peshmerga. Previous errant airstrikes were clearly instances of mistaken targeting; the political ramifications of strikes this egregious will exacerbate grievances between Baghdad and the KRG. Mortars continue to fall on Ishaqi, which looks like it will not be completely cleared prior to the ISF offensive north.

In Anbar, the IA 6th Infantry Division commander MGEN Najm Abdullah Sudan was killed in action by enemy shelling while inspecting frontlines in Ibrahim bin Ali. Another report says he was killed while visiting a camp for displaced persons in Saadan village in Zawbaa, south of Abu Ghraib. I’m inclined to believe the latter, as insurgent mortar fire killed 4 in the 24th Brigade HQ in Ibrahim bin Ali, which may have prompted conflations. IA shelling in Fallujah killed another eight civilians. The gradual loss of ISF control since early June in Malahma, north across the river from Khaldiyah, can be seen in today’s insurgent victory that left three IA soldiers and a policeman dead. Apparently, ISF remnants continue to operate west of Haditha, though I’m still taking such reports with a heavy grain of salt.

In Kirkuk, IA Aviation conducted airstrikes on the Azwya Bridge, which connects Baiji and Salah ad-Din to the Hawija and Kirkuk area; the source cited humanitarian concerns, since the bridge is frequented by displaced persons fleeing north, but ISF has a long way to go before it significantly affects IS’s ability to move quickly between Hawija, Baiji, and Tikrit. Clashes between IS militants and tribal forces in Azwya and Masakah.  Peshmerga First Brigade commander BGEN Shirko Fatih Shwani stated that the Peshmerga has established a defensive barrier stretching from Sarkaran, northwest of Kirkuk, to Daquq, southeast of Kirkuk.

In Baghdad, an IS suicide bomber last night detonated his explosives inside a cafe in western Baghdad’s Washash neighborhood, leaving five dead. Insurgents continue to operate efficiently in Mashada, just north of the capital, killing four Sahwa members in a home raid at dawn today. Today, an IS suicide car bomber hit a security checkpoint on Dabbash Street in Kadhimiyah, the second suicide bombing there in a week. ISF sweeps continue to grow in number and frequency, suggesting either a a degree of panic at insurgent infiltration of the capital or brazen sectarian targeting–40 people were arrested in Jaara, a town straddling the road from Baghdad to Madain. Another executed body showed up in the Obaidi area.

In Ninewa, worryingly, IA Aviation conducted airstrikes on the Qirawan subdistrict of Sinjar, which lies at a crossroad approximately 25km southeast of the city. The presence of armed groups there suggests that IS may intend to move on Sinjar even after securing their southern route (Deir Azzor –> Albu Kamal/Qaim –> Fallujah), since it offers an alternate axis of attack from the south. IA Aviation continues to target the northern Rashidiyah area of Mosul city proper, to little avail, simply displacing hundreds of Turkmen families.

In Diyala, fighting continues at Masouriyah, north of Muqdadiyah, over the gas fields there. IA suffered a mortar attack on its HQ in the area yesterday morning, a worrisome sign.

In Babil, provincial authorities established roadblocks stretching from Aswat, NW of Jurf al-Sakhar, to the Razzaza Lake. The authorities now openly speak to newspapers about the role of AAH in clearing operations in the Jurf AO.

Further south, Muthanna province authorities continue to deny the infiltration of anti-government elements across the Saudi border, indicating that armed groups remain interested in facilitating smuggling networks through that area. Most manpower and heavy weaponry comes from IS supply networks in Syria. Authorities in Basra stated that the recent two car bombs in Basra city came from outside the province and were meant to send a message to oil companies. They said that the bombs had been crafted in such a way to defeat bomb-sniffing dogs.

Politically, Sadr as expected drew back from his previous hardline position on the next PM, stating now that Maliki must go and the SLC must nominate a new PM candidate from within the bloc.

Today, SLC MP Abdul Salam al-Maliki called for the intervention of Federal Supreme Court to cancel speaker pre tempore Mehdi al-Hafez’s delaying the next parliamentary session until August 12th; clearly, the SLC believes it has momentum. Conversely, they may know the session won’t be sped up and are simply going on the record as desirous of rapid government formation.

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Writing yesterday, Thomas Hegghammer argued quite forcefully that the IS caliphate announcement should be considered as a rational decision; he outlines several different rationales–going after the jihadi “youth vote” or creating space for territorial consolidation–and outlines several likely consequences. A must-read.

Joel Wing interviews Rachel Kantz Feder, who advances some quite reasonable thoughts on what prompted Sistani to issue his fatwa; the takeaway is that that fatwa was aimed as much as Iran and IRGC-QF and its proxies as it was aimed at ISIS.

In tangential news, IS in Salah ad-Din posted pictures over the weekend of a destroyed M1A1 Abrams MBT and a downed Mohajer-4 ISR UAV, which they may or may not have shot down themselves–not much of a feat, in any case. Iran has been flying and supplying Mohajers for Syria and Iraq for quite some time.

Eli Lake gets Ali Khedery, James Jeffrey, and Stuart Bowen to deliver scathing quotes about the U.S. failure to anticipate and act proactively in Iraq. Interestingly–I don’t think I’ve seen this before–Lake says the U.S. only flew one ISR mission per day over Iraq pre-Mosul. Kind of incredible.

Reuters’ Isabel Coles, who’s absolutely killing the beat from the KRG, quotes Kurdish VP and aspirant PUK leader Kosrat Rasul Ali as cautioning against independence. Indeed, the PUK’s reasoning may be sound, but the remaining political fights within Kurdistan factor into this, too–about independence, oil exports and revenue sharing, and from which party the national Kurdish president or ministers will come from.

McClatchy’s Hannah Allam interviews Shibil leader Mohamed Thaban al-Shiblawy and Najaf governor Adnan al-Zurfi, both of whom present heartening cases that argue for that idea that if Shi’a militia sectarian activities may not return on the scale previously scene.

UNAMI reports that Iraq now has over 850,000 IDPs. Over 50% are from Anbar.

And Jackson Diehl advertises for Fuad Hussein and doesn’t bother checking even one fact about Iraqi Kurdistan.

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.

 

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.