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.