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 27 JUN: ISIS withdraws from Aalam to Tikrit; 10,000 displaced in Qara Qosh; U.S. mission expands

In Salah ad-Din, intensified IA Aviation airstrike on Tikrit reportedly forced ISIS to withdraw around 50 wounded fighters from the hospital in Tikrit. They were moved to an unknown location. Additionally, locals reported that ISIS withdrew from the nearby town of Alam, seized three days ago, after tribal mediation. They said fighters headed back to Tikrit. More reporting will help conclude whether ISIS withdrew primarily at the behest of tribal leaders it wishes to work with, or because it needs the military power in Tikrit. Federal Police subsequently re-occupied Aalam. IA Aviation airstrikes continue in Tikrit in support of the airborne assault, which began yesterday at the university stadium and saw one helicopter crash after being hit by insurgent fire. It remains unclear how much progress ISOF has made; a video purportedly from the fight showing about a dozen ISIS KIA and 4-5 captured ISIS fighters was released today. Preliminary indications from the Jabour tribe in Salah ad-Din presage further fighting between tribal elements and ISIS in the province.

Peshmerga stationed in Tuz Khurmatu reported that only 500m separates their lines from those of ISIS, which resides in Salman Beg, The Pesh sources added that they had received reinforcements and heavy weaponry as a precaution against a militant assault on the primarily Iraqi Turkmen town.

Just NE of Baiji refinery, the ISF reported that IA Aviation struck an ISIS checkpoint near the village of Adhirban, killing eight civilians, five ISIS fighters, and two vehicles. ISF claimed that ISIS used the civilians as human shields.

The U.S. quietly disclosed that it is now flying Hellfire-armed Predators over Baghdad as a force protection measure for the 140 newly arrived military advisers; the UAVs reportedly fly from Kuwait. U.S. (un)manned ISR flights are up to 40/day.

In Ninewa, displacement of Christian families continues from Qara Qosh and associated areas, following fighting between ISIS and Peshmerga forces there. 10,000 people have reportedly fled so far, says UNHCR. Unconfirmed reports state that ISIS distributed recruitment forms for men aged 18-50.

In Diyala, ISF emphasized their cordon around Muqdadiyah, saying heightened security procedures accompanied patrols by ISF and Sahwa fighters around the city, fearing militant targeting of Shi’a mosques. Up in Sadiyah, tribal fighters ambushed and killed two militants driving from the ISIS-controlled town to the Hamrin Mountains, an historic refuge for insurgents. Unconfirmed reports state that ISIS has banned representation of any other armed groups in Sadiyah. Two other ISIS members died while planting an IED on the outskirts of Sadiyah. In the southern suburbs of Jalula, ISF and Peshmerga forces repelled an ISIS attack on a Pesh barracks, killing three. Clashes continue in Mansouriyah, N of Muqdadiyah, where the IA lost 4 members and, along with tribal fighters, suffered 14 wounded.

In Anbar, gunmen prevented worshipers from attending Friday prayers in Rawa, fearing airstrikes by the Syrian government. ISF reportedly lost control of Tamim district in southwest Ramadi, allowing 12 HMMWVs, 2 tanks, 4 APCs, and a large amount of materiel to be captured. IA Aviation is now carrying out airstrikes on Tamim. Down south in the desert, militias of unclear origin were deployed in Nukhaib. ISIS released a video purporting to show captured ISF members in Rutba.

Fallujah General Hospital educational director Dr. Ahmed al-Shani says that 488 civilians have been killed and 1719 more wounded since fighting in Fallujah began in December 2013. Many of these casualties are as a result of the indiscriminate shelling of the city by Iraqi Army artillery elements.

In Babil, mortars landed on the 38th Brigade base in Jurf, indicating continued lack of security in the area, despite repeated ISF announcements that the area had been cleared.

In Kirkuk, Jaysh al-Mujahideen released a video claiming presence on the road between Kirkuk and Riyadh, and purportedly got one of the captured T-55 MBTs to work.

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In Baghdad, the Supreme Court surprisingly decided to punt on KRG’s independent oil exports, stating that they wouldn’t prevent exports while the case is being studied. Kurdistan continues to feel the effects of the oil crisis, as it relied on Baiji Refinery for 40% of its needs; plus, one of the two refineries in KRG has diverted flows to Kirkuk, which KRG is now supporting.

 

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Elsewhere, ISF evacuated 1,500 Chinese nationals from Salah ad-Din to Baghdad…surprising it took this long.

 

IRAQ DAILY TRACKER 20 JUN: Foreigners kidnapped by ISIS released; “volunteers” deployed to Taji; ISIS-Pesh ceasefire broken

Interestingly, the 44 foreign nationals (from Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Nepal) recently kidnapped were released to Kirkuk police authorities late last night. The handover appears to have been negotiated by tribal elements, IPs, or Peshmerga, even though Pesh leaders claimed that the hostages had been “rescued.”

In Mosul, residents reported that ISIS bulldozed a statue of Abbasid-era Arab poet Abu Tammam in downtown Mosul. While we have yet to see confirmation of ISIS’s targeting of Iraqi Christian churches in the city, this act of “purification” would not be surprising. Still, the optics of focusing on such objectively trivial matters are poor; residents are far more concerned with provisions of basic services, which remains threadbare. Critically, ISIS reportedly broke the implicit ceasefire that existed between their forces in Mosul and Peshmerga contingents nearby by killing a Pesh captain. If KRG leaders were looking for an excuse to go on the offensive in areas west of Kirkuk, this represents the first chance. Further westward, 8 tribal fighters were killed in an ambush by militants near Tal Afar.

As a measure of the intelligence, support, and reconnaissance capabilities of the ISF, IA Aviation today struck 12 homes in Dhuluiya, north of Balad, with helicopter direct fire after mistaking an Iraqi Police patrol for insurgents. The strike killed a woman and wounded four more people, including a child, while destroying the house of Salah ad-Din Provincial Council member Munir Sheikh Ali Hussein. No enemy forces were reportedly in the area. Strikes like these–rarely reported, frequently papered over–undermine Baghdad’s anemic effort to portray it security operations as primarily concerned with the security of ordinary Iraqis. The advice and training given by U.S. Green Berets in the 14-20 joint operations centers will begin to alleviate some of these problems, especially with what the military calls ISTARS: intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance–or converting ISR into actionable intelligence. Also of note: an Iraqi policeman in Tikrit said that he and many others had resisted the ISIS call to repentance, fearing that ISIS would simply round them up at the designated mosque and execute them all.

The main kinetic activity occurred in Diyala today, where Kurdish Peshmerga continued to trade fire with ISIS militants holed up in central Jalula, NE of Muqdadiyah. Pesh fighters killed two ISIS snipers, Immediately north of Muqdadiyah, where a joint ISF/Sahwa force launched another clearing operation yesterday and killed 4 ISIS militants, insurgent mortar fire targeting Iraqi Police (IP) elements killed three civilians in the contested village of Arab Jubour, and a Federal Police (FP) patrol suffered an IED strike near Muqdadiyah. ISF deployed heavily around Baquba mosques today to prevent ISIS bombings at Friday prayers.

Interestingly, authorities in Taza are now negotiating with tribal leaders in the contested town of Bashir, S of Kirkuk, where Pesh fighters had earlier alleged that ISIS massacred residents upon seizing the town.The source consulted by Mada stated that 14 bodies–mostly women and children–will ideally be placed in ambulances and smuggled out of the town. This development will be an important one to watch and dig into whether the victims were massacred or killed by shelling. Addendum: Pesh forces claim to have killed 30 ISIS fighters so far in the week-long struggle over Bashir. Continued fighting between Pesh and ISIS in Bashir and Jalula belie conspiracy theories being batted around in Baghdad (actively encouraged by politicians) about ISIS-Kurdish cooperation.

Babil province, with its heavy Shi’a militia presence, continues to send contingents of “volunteers” northward–this time, 1,000 sent to Taji, just north of Baghdad. I suspect these deployments are wholly composed of Shi’a militia elements–there’s simply no way ISF could have already organized–let alone trained–the new recruits from last week.

And Baghdad today offered the weakest defense for its non-payment of Sahwa fighters in Anbar province, blaming the “security situation” in the province. Protip, Baghdad: if you don’t pay the guys preventing the province’s fall into complete anarchy, you’re going to have a bad time. Outstanding salaries–months of pay, now–were reportedly given to Sahwa leader Mohamed al-Hayes to distribute, though we’ll see how much of that money actually makes its way to local fighters.

In other news, the KRG struck back at AAH leader Qais al-Khazali’s recent comments and reminded Baghdad that ISF must protect Kurds living in the capital, an early indicator of the post-crisis crisis that will inevitably emerge between Iraqis and Kurds.

Niqash reported from Karbala on skyrocketing weapons prices; driven by volunteering surge, with many of the weapons coming from inside the Iraqi Army itself.

Friday prayers summary still to come.