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.




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 1 JULY: Parliament adjourns til 8 JUL following Kurdish walkout; backlash against ISIS in Mosul and Hajjaj;

BLUF: Parliament convened, but failed to make any progress after a Sunni and Kurdish walkout. JRTN attacked the Islamic State (IS) in two provinces. Russian pilots will soon arrive to fly the Su-25s in combat; 3 are already airborne. IS moved into a village south of Baiji, but was expelled by the Jibouri tribe.

255 out of 328 MPs attended today’s parliamentary session, but the meeting–intended to see discussion of possible leadership candidates–quickly devolved into bickering and was postponed for a week after Allawi’s bloc and then the Kurdish contingent walked out. The Kurdish boycott was prompted by State of Law Coalition MP Kadhim al-Sayadi interrupting a Kurd who had the floor to accuse the Kurds as a whole of collaborating with the Islamic State.

In parliament, the Shi’a MPs present did not make an attempt to maintain quorum by themselves, and the entirety of the parliament essentially ignored Sistani’s call for adherence to the constitutional schedule last week. KRG President Masoud Barzani has announced a press conference for Thursday, where he intends to set a date for a Kurdish referendum on independence, another tactic to push parliament toward swift resolution of the government formation process. In an interview with BBC, Barzani put the timeline at “months” for a referendum, but threw the initiative to Kurdish parliament.

In Ninewa, unidentified gunmen attacked and killed three ISIS members–including a foreign fighter–in the Mosul al-Jadida (New Mosul) neighborhood in the city’s western sector. As Mosul had previously not experienced overt tension between insurgent groups, this activity could represent the initiation of pushback by the Baathist group JRTN or others against the announcement of a caliphate by the Islamic State. The Iraqi Air Force claimed to have struck an IS gathering at the University of Mosul.

An overt JRTN mortar attack on IS positions took place in the IS-controlled town Sadiyah in northern Diyala province; subsequent clashes left 1 JRTN and 3 IS members dead. This area, with its insurgent redoubts in the Hamrin Mountains to the west, has seen fighting between insurgent groups before, including months-long run of tit-for-tat kidnappings and assassination between IS and JRTN recently. Additionally, reports claimed that IS members were burning cigarettes in the town center of Sadiyah, an IS stronghold just northeast of Muqdadiyah. Recent similar behavior–flogging citizens in Sadiyah and other enforcement measures in Qara Tapah–were not seen as often prior to the caliphate announcement. IS continues to exert control over Qara Tapah, today detonating IEDs to destroy 3 houses belonging to Turkmen policemen.

In Salah ad-Din, Islamic State (IS) elements took over a school in Hajjaj village, just south of Baiji, before being expelled from the area by Jubouri tribal elements. This expulsion follows the mediated withdrawal of IS men from Alam just a few days ago, a second sign of wider Jubouri tribal distaste for Caliph Ibrahim. Fighting continues in Tikrit, with 100 vehicles of reinforcements for ISF and associated Shi’a militias rolling through Samarra on their way north today.

In Anbar, IA artillery continued indiscriminate shelling on Fallujah, killing another 9 civilians and destroying the electricity station to the northwest of the city. The ISF can no longer be considered to have operational direction in the Fallujah theater. Anonymous reports claim that the attacking alliance, which contains IS, JRTN, IAI, and Jaish al-Rashideen, is negotiating with Jughaifi and Albu Salman tribal leaders for the safe exit of remaining ISF units in the city.

In Baghdad, low-level sectarian activities continued, with a Ministry of Commerce employee shot and killed in western Baghdad’s Iskan neighborhood and two more people were killed in a home attack in the NW Baghdad area of Rahminiyah. Police found two executed bodies in W Baghdad’s Hurriya area, with another two executed men found in Sadr City’s northernmost reaches.  A clash erupted between Iraqi Army “volunteers” and IS elements in Mashadah, just north of the city, indicating further IS presence in the area following yesterday’s raid on an IA convoy just north in Tarmiyah.

Babil province continues to see massive bouts of recruitment for the ISF, with Governor Sadiq al-Madloul today announcing two new brigades: the 1st Lion of Babil Brigade and the 2nd Aquilah Brigade; the naming of the latter suggests that the brigade is at least comprised of Shi’a partisans, if not militiamembers themselves. Maliki replaced the Babil Operations Command leader [BabOC] for the fourth time in six months. New commander MGEN Abdul Hussein al-Baidhani was fired in 2006 for allowing widespread looting when his unit took over from the British at Camp Abu Naji in Amara, Maysan.

Outside of Iraq, President Obama sent 300 more U.S. troops to the country, ostensibly for further embassy defense, while the Saudi king announced $500m in “aid” for Iraq, which will likely flow to Iraqi Sunnis exclusively.

–writing on iraq—-

Rod Nordland writes another bizarre piece for the NYT on Chalabi’s path to prime minister. I continue to refuse to take this suggestion seriously.

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.

IRAQ TRACKER 26 JUN: ISIS fights Badr + ISF in Mansuriyah; ISF staging at Ishaqi; ISOF airborne assault @ Tikrit uni; Syria hit Rabiaa?

In Salah ad-Din, sources reported a military buildup of IA and CTS forces near Ishaqi, ostensibly in preparation for the retaking of Tikrit, which ISOF commander Fadhil Barwari has also announced. While IA Aviation has been striking Tikrit for a week now, their softening attempt is not likely to have significantly degraded the militant posture in Tikrit itself, while ISIS robbed the Agricultural Bank of Tikrit last night, leaving with around $6m USD.

      ISOF claims to have carried out a successful airborne assault (with 3 helos) on Tikrit University, which would be a heartening indication that someone in the ISF command structure appreciates initiative in warfare. If the three birds were unaccompanied, IA Aviation probably used Mi-35 Hind Es–which can protect themselves–indicating an assault force of platoon size. As yet, the situation remains unclear as does a similar assault in Sharqat district; though Salah ad-Din governor Ahmed Abdullah al-Jubouri has now confirmed it.  Further south, ISF reported that a contingent of IA M1A1 Abrams MBTs destroyed 4 ISIS vehicles and killed 28 fighters in the Rafiyat area south of Balad, which also indicates continued insurgent freedom of movement in the Balad sub-district.  

      ISF also caught 3 ISIS snipers crossing the river north of Samarra–continued indication of ISIS’s extensive usage of waterways that has included boat-borne explosive attacks on bridges and the employment of mobile pontoon bridges for movement. IA Aviation claimed to have destroyed an ISIS convoy consisting of 4 fuel tankers and 3 arms/ammunition trucks south of Siniyah, a possible indication of resupply by ISIS to its forward operating areas. North of Tikrit, in Sharqat district, ISIS reportedly executed 7 IA soldiers.

In Kirkuk, the contested town of Bashir saw ISIS mortar fire killed three Kurdish peshmerga soldiers and wound two more. North of Kirkuk, in the KRG capital of Irbil, the brother of contorversial Sunni politican Mishan al-Jubouri was assassinated in a hotel by men using silenced pistols. Waiting for more information on that one. Iraqi Kurdistan president Masoud Barzani today visits, Kirkuk–will be inflammatory, for sure. ISIS also held a military parade in Hawija, reportedly consisting of 300 military and civilian vehicles in total.

In Diyala, an ISIS assault using ISF military vehicles hit a security checkpoint in Deli Abbas (Mansouriyah), a large village just northwest of Muqdadiyah–an area that has been heavily contested over the past week. ISIS elements executed a policeman before engaging with ISF backed by tribal fighters, who killed 5 ISIS fighters and destroyed three vehicles. Diyala police chief later cited higher numbers of KIA and alluded to the capture of an ISIS safe house in the village, though conflicting reports mentioned ISIS’s capture of an IA barracks on the town’s outskirts. The counterattack was reportedly led by Transportation Minister Hadi al-Amiri–who also led the attack on Udhaim–and indicates the increasingly active participation of the Badr Organization, led by Amiri, which currently provides security across large swathes of Diyala. Fighting continues, with Iraq Oil Report stating that the advance threatens the Mansouriyah gas field.

Up in Sadiyah, an area of ISIS control, the group burned three shops after owners refused to pay tribute–the first such behavior in Sadiyah in recent memory. East, across the border in Iran, 3 Iranian border guards were killed by unknown gunmen.

In Ninewa, the Syrian Air Force reportedly struck ISIS positions in the border town of Rabiaa, an odd report given Peshmerga control of the area. ISIS-Peshmerga fighting in Qara Qosh continues; so far, Pesh forces have suffered 1KIA 8WIA, while ISIS suffered 2KIA 18WIA. Despite the Pesh cordon around Bartella, an ISIS suicide car bomber (SVBIED) got through to the Shabak village of Muwafaqiyah, killing and injuring a number of citizens.

In Mosul, 28 bodies showed up at the morgue, many bearing stab wounds. No idea. ISIS today bulldozed the Hadba Police Directorate. IA Aviation struck an ISIS convoy passing through Hammam al-Alil, roughly 15km south of Mosul along the river. Governor Athil al-Nujaifi is attempting to get Baghdad to pay the salaries of Mosul’s administrative employees by transferring funds to Irbil…unlikely to happen.


In Babil, authorities found 8 more executed bodies in Mahmudiyah. It is unclear where these bodies are from–they could be from a contingent of men kidnapped earlier this week, or recently executed men in response to yesterday’s suicide bombing and mortaring of Mahmudiyah, a Shi’a stronghold just south of Baghdad. ISF continued operations in the Jurf area, citing 15 ISIS fighters KIA.

In Baghdad, an ISIS suicide bomber [SVEST] hit the Quraish gate in the Shi’a neighborhood of Kadhimiyah, leaving seven dead and 34 more wounded. Military leaders began setting up the first joint operations center with U.S. forces. NYT reports on Shi’a militia activities in Baghdad itself, nearing my figure of ~20 executions per week–a far cry from the absolute horror that once was Baghdad, but a telling sign of possibilities to come, should the crisis deepen. Down in Dhi Qar, Maliki replaced MGEN Sadiq al-Zaidi with BGEN Hassan Salman Zaidi.

In Anbar, PM Maliki ostensibly confirmed to BBC that the airstrikes in Rutba and Qaim (and presumably Baaj) were Syrian in origin; Maliki said he had not requested the strikes (doubtful), but welcomed them. ISF’s 1st ISOF Brigade claimed to have cleared Dubbat district in southern Ramadi–unlikely–while dismantling 10 large IEDs that sources reported were “foreign-made;” simultaneously, ISF reportedly lost control of SW Ramadi’s Tamim District and its central strongpoint of the Shaheed IP station. Interestingly, reports from Jordan indicate that the kingdom is in close contact with tribal leaders in western Anbar as a channel of influence that goes beyond their defensive posture on the border. IA + Sahwa are holding the line at Haditha, where fighting continues, as ISF opens 5 sluices of the Haditha dam. Dhi Qar province sent 1,000 members of a Popular Brigade (of volunteers) to the border with Saudi Arabia; many of the Border Enforcement units in that area have been deployed elsewhere.

POLITICS: The first parliamentary meet-up for government formation will occur on July 1st. Al-Hayat cites high-ranking political sources who say that the INA has agreed to dump Maliki, but the source’s report of widespread support for Ahmed Chalabi leaves me suspicious of the origin of the information. Surely Iran and the U.S. do not believe they can pull a PM candidate from outside Dawa? The INA is meeting again today; NYT reports that at least three senior SLC MPs are wavering on Maliki, incl. former NSA Abd al-Karim al-Anzi

While meeting with Kerry in Paris, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman went right after Kerry’s message during his visit to Irbil, wherein he emphasized unity of Iraq. Lieberman said such a move was a “foregone conclusion,” words echoed by Israeli President Shimon Peres, who was at the White House on Thursday. Not entirely surprising, given Tel Aviv’s choice to import Kurdish oil in contravention of the U.S. policy of non-sale prior to resolution of the oil-sharing dispute by Irbil and Baghdad. While in Paris, Kerry also met with GCC leaders to push a second Sunni Awakening and remained noncommital on endorsing or dumping PM Maliki.

KRG PM Nechirvan Barzani and Kirkuk governor Najmuddin Karim visited Ankara to meet with Erdogan, Davetoglu, Hakan, and Yildiz; both sides seemed to see eye to eye on the need for an inclusive Iraqi government, though KRG’s words were, of course, far more explicit. KRG President Masoud Barzani, meanwhile, took a morale-boosting tour of Kirkuk.

Elsewhere, Mutahidun lieutenant Mohammed Iqbal criticized yesterday’s decision by Maliki to hold off on paying salaries in contested zones, accusing the PM of sectarian bias, since the decision primarily affects Sunnis. 

writing on iraq

Buzzfeed’s Mike Giglio continues his string of fine reporting, this time following an AAH fighter from Karbala who had been fighting in the Damascus countryside with AAH’s expeditionary groups. He was called back from leave while in Karbala when ISIS overran Mosul; AAH deployed to Mosul, Ramadi, and Diyala (the last two of which have seen low-level, covert Shi’a militia activity for some time). The fighter’s account at the end–of AAH deployments coincident with, but not operating with, Iraqi Army elements–is fascinating, and new evidence of AAH-only operations beyond their normal advisory role. A quote further up is also telling–that many AAH recruits drop out of training because it is so difficult…which speaks to the professionalism of the IRGC-QF and Hizballah training contingents in Iraq, a far cry from the normal ISF training procedures and even further from the one-week course new recruits are now getting.

Plus and interesting report in Newsweek about the capabilities of Iraqi intelligence services. Shane Harris on FPM reports on the difficulties social media companies have in purging their services of jihadi propaganda. WINEP’s Matt Levitt provides a thorough overview of a potential expansion of Lebanese Hezbollah deployments in Iraq–particularly likely if AAH and KH continue to falter in their areas of operations.

Another worrying report from Reuters on ISIS’s C2 abilities w/r/t other Sunni insurgent groups, countered by a fine report by Mushreq Abbas on differing ideologies amongst insurgent actors.

IRAQ DAILY TRACKER 24 JUN: ISF credibility hits new low; ISIS hits Ramadi funeral; ISIS in Mosul to stay

ISIS held another military parade in Mosul last night–looking forward to reviewing that–while they reportedly bulldozed the Sheikh Fathi shrine west of the city today. The ISF commander in the area, Abu Walid, announced a new offensive in Tal Afar, but it remains unclear whether or not he still exercises command over whatever ISF contingents remain in western Ninewa province. A security source reported that ISIS continues to booby-trap its areas of control in Mosul, a development I warned would make re-taking seized cities more difficult by the day. Government employees are still working without pay in Mosul, and Baghdad today announced that salaries would only be paid in areas of government control, a product of both security concerns and an effort to showcase the ineffective governance capabilities of ISIS and its temporary allies. In Babil, ISF reportedly arrested 3 “Baath Party members” [read: JRTN] in Diriyah, a town just south of Madain. JRTN does not maintain a strong presence in Babil, where a heavy mix of Shi’a militias proliferate, with ISIS operating solo in the northwestern areas of the province that abut Anbar Province. Continued reports of these kind could indicate an extension of JRTN operational presence. ISF’s announcement of 24 ISIS KIA by IA 31/8Bde in northern Babil operations continues a months-long trend of announcing successful advances in Jurf al-Sakhar, an ISIS stronghold. Additional details include that 5 of the 24KIA were Qatari or Syrian, and ISIS reportedly used civilian shields in the fighting. In reality, that area of operations remains a stalemate. In Baghdad, Masalah is reporting that gunmen executed a hit-and-run attack on the Kirkuk Provincial Council chairman. I’m waiting for independent confirmation on this, but it could be any number of actor. In Salah ad-Din, Sammara Operations Command Iraqi Army elements reportedly clashed with ISIS in the Jelam desert area northeast of the city, claiming 40 ISIS KIA and 8 technicals destroyed. At the same time, 50 families (~200 people) fled from Yathrib, just north of Balad AB, across the Tigris into a village in Dhuluiya, which the ISF recently cleared, to a certain degree. Beating back insurgent advances in Yathrib–today ISF claimed to have killed 12 ISIS fighters–remains critical for ISF in terms of providing force protection to Balad AB. Reports coming out of Baiji refinery are near-unbelievable (40 ISIS KIA, etc) but fighting does appear to continue in the center of the complex; outside, IA Aviation claims to have killed 19 insurgents in airstrikes today, while PM Maliki announced his promotion of all ISF members fighting at the refinery. A Shi’a militia group entitled “Popular Defense Brigades” (still unclear who) met up with IA units on the Baghdad-Samarra roadway. The continued emphasis by government figures on volunteers joining up through official ISF channels serves as a decent indicator that much of the extant recruitment is occurring outside that framework into full-blown Iranian proxies or organic Shi’a militias unanswerable to ISF. ISF spokesman GEN Atta continues to stretch credulity with today’s announcement of the retaking of Waleed and Turaibil border crossings. These reports are no longer solid indicators of ISF operational presence or intent; rather, they are interesting markers of PM Maliki’s strategic communications plan. Indeed, a corroborating Anbar Operations Command announcement of a military offensive in western Anbar does nothing to reinforce Atta’s claims. In Anbar, Outside of Fallujah, in the still-under-construction University of Fallujah grounds to the south and in Sejar to the northeast, ISF Golden Division counter-terrorist elements killed 9 ISIS snipers. Finally, ISF reinforced Nukhaib, replacing local Iraqi Police with Federal Police–the town remains extremely vulnerable, especially to a basic siege. ISIS in Ramadi used a suicide car bomb [SVBIED] to hit a funeral for IA colonel Majeed Mohammed, who was recently killed in Rawa while leading the 28th Brigade. Prominent tribal leaders in Anbar–many of whom are anti-Maliki–announced that they will defend Haditha and its hydroelectric dam with the Iraq Army against an impending ISIS assault, a welcome development for Baghdad, which desperately needs tribal support to hold territory in Anbar. Over in Diyala, fighting continues in Udhaim, with ISF claiming 21 ISIS KIA and 2 vehicles destroyed–ISF have reportedly stood up popular committees of local tribal fighters to hold gains in Udhaim. ISF and tribal fighters continue to skirmish with ISIS on the outskirts of Sadiyah, an ISIS stronghold northeast of Muqdadiyah. Families in northern Sadiyah are leaving for Khanaqin as Peshmerga and tribal fighters battle ISIS there. In Kirkuk, WaPo’s Abigail Hauslohner delivers a fine report with the most granular detail yet on the ISIS massacres carried out upon seizure of Bashir and its associated farming villages. Such behavior further alienates local communities, which were already fairly anti-ISIS, given the massive response to an ISF recruitment drive initiated by the 12th Infantry Division carried out in March. other news NYT’s Tom Erdbrink reports on the intra-Shi’a divisions, emphasizing return of spat between Sistani and Sadr. McClatchy’s Hannah Allam has an incredible scoop from captured DOD documents analyzed by RAND that put ISIS’s outside funding at 5-10%, showing a tiered organization that requires each level to kick back 20% of income to the next higher level, where Mosul would funnel money back out to areas of fighting; also, martyr payments were the group’s largest expense; further, ISIS soldiers made only $40/mo in the period surveyed, highlighting the ideological sway of the group. Concomitantly, WINEP’s Lori Plotkin Boghardt also swats down the “outside funding” narrative, highlighting Saudi counter-financing efforts and the pervasive push by militant groups to get their donors to push money through Kuwait, a more permissive environment–or using cash transfers to avoid authorities in Riyadh.

IRAQI DAILY TRACKER 16 JUN: Tal Afar contested; BIAP safe

Topping off, conflicting reports of mortar or rocket fire on Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) have been twice denied by the Ministry of Defense (MOD), who allege the reports were misinformation from Saudi-funded al-Arabiya satellite TV, which often toes an anti-government line and uses the vocabulary of “tribal revolutionaries.”  Elsewhere in Baghdad, 5 executed bodies showed up in eastern Baghdad’s Baladiyat neighborhood, a not-uncommon occurrence that often reflects Shi’a militia activity.

Ninewa province’s Tal Afar, west of Mosul, remains contested, according to locals–Western press reports of its fall are perhaps too generous to ISIS. ISIS-led forces may have taken some neighborhoods, but the fighting continues to be heavy between insurgents and Iraqi Security Forces backed by tribal fighters; on the other side, the announcement of a Tal Afar-based “Tribal Military Council” indicates the operational presence of the Baathist JRTN group, which participated in the Mosul strike, as well. It will be interesting to see the trajectory of continued cooperation between ISIS and JRTN, given pre-Mosul tensions and the attempt by ISIS to impose unilateral control over insurgent territorial gains in Mosul. What does not seem to be in contention is the movement of large numbers of Tal Afar residents west toward Sinjar: up to 200,000 more internally displaced persons. The condition and whereabouts of LTG Abu Walid, appointed by PM Maliki to lead Ninewa Operations Command and reportedly spearheading the defense of Tal Afar, remain unknown. Rudaw reported within a span of 20 minutes both that he had been captured and was slated to be publicly executed by ISIS, or that he is safe and remains in command.  A local source in Mosul indicated that ISIS has imposed control over basic life necessities in ISIS-controlled areas of Mosul, an indication that the seized $425m will at least partially be directed toward subsidies; on the other hand, numerous reports are warning that ISIS has called for the destruction of Mosul’s churches. I’ll be interested to whether or how quickly they implement such a plan.

Elsewhere in Iraq, the battle lines remain much the same. IA Aviation struck ISIS contingents in Tikrit, both in the presidential palace complex and al-Hussein mosque in the city center. ISF men continue to pour into Samarra, this time an “elite police contingent” from Babil province, a worrying trend if it continues. To the west, insurgents deployed in two towns west of the border town of Qaim, reflecting a decreased ISF presence; they were met immediately by Iraqi Police working with local Sahwa fighters in fighting that left heavy casualties on both sides. Further down the Euphrates, Rawa’s mayor announced a joint ISF/Sahwa clearing operation of the sub-district–the continued cooperation of tribal fighters in Anbar will be a crucial indicator of both Sunni attitude toward Baghdad, the deterioration of which could leave massive security gaps, given a decreased ISF presence in Anbar. Again further down the river, my worries were realized as the gains made yesterday by ISIS the Habbaniyah area were translated into further power projection, as IA Aviation had to strike a military fuel depot seized by insurgents to prevent their usage of the fuel. The fuel depot was apparently close enough to Taqaddum Airbase that insurgents could have begun preliminary shelling, had IA Aviation not moved in self-defense first. On border issues, the Department of Border Enforcement (DBE) personnel returned to their HQ west of Ramadi after an alleged tactical retreat, while two brigades of DBE personnel arrived in Anbar from Basra and Wasit for deployment to the border (9/4Bde DBE from Basra, and 7/4Bde DBE from Wasit).

In the province of Diyala, fighting continues around Muqdadiyah, Sadiyah, and in Udhaim, a critical connecting point between the provinces of Diyala and Salah ad-Din, where ISF rescued the brother of the Udhaim Municipality Council’s chief, who was kidnapped by ISIS three days ago. The city remains contested, and ISF continues to reinforce Camp Ashraf. Near Khalis, an al-Ahad TV reporting duo were attacked, and the photographer killed; Ahad is the TV channel of Shi’a militia group Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, indicating that some degree of the fighting in Diyala is being done by Shi’a militias–an unsurprising fact, given their deployment with Iranian IRGC forces late last week. Still, it’s important to have continued indicators of presence. East of Muqdadiyah and Sadiyah the fighting has been heavy, and it’s impossible to accurately map conflicting claims; one thing to note has been the heavy involvement of Peshmerga up in Sadiyah–according to their own casualty counts, nearly 80% of their casualties have occurred there, including in an errant IA Aviation strike that indicates the extreme tactical entanglement of ISF, ISIS, and Peshmerga forces in the area.

Overall, ISF has bounced back, as we expected, in Salah ad-Din and Diyala, preventing further ISIS penetrations into the northern belts. Yet this was always the easiest part. As ISIS digs in, retaking the fallen cities will take much, much longer. I continue to worry about the redeployment of capable forces from Anbar, Babil, and the southern provinces. Replacements will be less effective, receive rudimentary training, and will be susceptible to militia influence, recruitment, and participation in sectarian activities.

Post will be updated as developments occur throughout the day.