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 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.

IRAQ DAILY TRACKER 18 JUN: ISIS takes Baiji refinery, 3 IP stations in Anbar; kidnaps 40 Indian workers; Rouhani endorses shrine defense,

At dawn, ISIS launched an attack on the Baiji refinery against the IA airborne battalion stationed there in poor tactical position, as ISIS controls much of the city itself. Thought ISF spokesman Atta denied the fall of the refinery–which shut down operations yesterday–sources from the refinery said that the IA battalion, even with IA Aviation helicopter support, failed to stem the assault. Mass surrender again factored in, with 70 IA soldiers reportedly taken prisoner, and one lieutenant quoted as having fled when the battle was clearly lost. Though the foreign refinery workers had already been evacuated, Iraqi workers who took refuge in underground bunkers could be coerced into operating the refinery for ISIS, should the group retain control of the city. Clashes appear to be ongoing in the refinery area, with ISF’s Counter-terrorism Services (CTS) reportedly still fighting.  BAIJI PIC

Across the border, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani further expanded the extent of the Iranian “shrine defense” narrative, which UMD Shi’a Islamist researcher Phillip Smyth predicted and described in a podcast with Karl Morand earlier this week. On the flip side, American president Barack Obama today ruled out immediate airstrikes on Iraqi insurgents, indicating his preference for ISR support, military partnerships, and regional support. In other international aspects, ISIS reportedly kidnapped 40 Indian nationals working for a Turkish construction company near Mosul. Indian nationals have been kidnapped in Iraq before–rarely–and India now joins Turkey on the list of countries with large numbers of nationals in ISIS custody.

Tuz Khurmatu mayor Shalal Abdul–normally a fairly reputable source–announced that ISIS took control of three villages between Tuz and Amerli (85km south) after fighting with Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) that left 20 dead in total, though the Tuz area itself remains in Peshmerga control. In the same area, ISIS kidnapped three Turkish engineers and their Iraqi driver near the Hamrin Mountains, continuing their trend of kidnapping Turkish citizens begun with the seizure of the Turkish consulate in Mosul.

In Mosul, Al Mada quoted citizens who reported that ISIS withdrew its foreign fighters from the area, citing their inability to manage effective governance programs (though whomever is administrating doesn’t seem to be doing any better, with basic conditions of life inside the city deteriorating rapidly). This is the second report to identify such behavior, and while it is unlikely to be wholly true, it speaks to the group’s grasp of economy of force: remove a possible irritant to the population and deploy them where they are most effective–the battlefield. ISIS also reportedly set up a city council, which began reaching out to nearby tribes for support. The citizens also reported that all government institutions have closed, save for the municipal and health ministries, with private banks and government buildings now left unguarded. Niqash interviewed Ninewa Provincial Council head Bashar al-Kikhi in Qara Qosh, who had a number of interesting tidbits, including that no churches or Christians were killed (but that they had all fled), and that he considers Shabak and Yezidi citizens are at risk. He said that ISIS allocated one mosque for repentance ceremonies, and said ISIS exercises full control over what he believed were four other insurgent groups, including preventing JRTN from appointing a new governor.  He puts the original attacking force of ISIS at 200, but said many locals had been previously recruited by ISIS, a credible theory given the longstanding ISIS chokehold over the city.

The battle for Tal Afar continues, with ISF reportedly consolidated at Tal Afar airport and receiving reinforcements from the Shammar tribe of Rabia.

In western Anbar, ISIS attacked and took three police stations–Hamdan, Abu Taliban, and Jazira–in Hit district. Government forces stationed in the outposts fled, and ISIS now controls all three, a significant win in their continued push against overextended ISF in western Anbar. Eastward, a rare bright spot in Anbar theater, where ISF reportedly repelled an ISIS assault on an IA headquarters near the Rawoud Bridge NW of Baghdad. Nine ISIS fighters were killed in the attack, including three foreign fighters. RAWOUD BRIDGEAnbar police announced plans to recruit and deploy three new emergency police battalions to western Anbar and the Iraq-Syria border, the latter of which enjoys increasingly little control by government forces, given recent incursions by ISIS, the Free Syrian Army, and Jabhat al-Nusra. A claim that Sahwa forces are ill-equipped and haven’t been paid in months could be problematic for the Anbar effort, if confirmed. Alter in the day, ISF lost more territory in Anbar, incl. in Albu Dhiab, N of Ramadi, where insurgents still control the highway through the city.

Elsewhere, ISIS mortared an unknown target 10km east of Tikrit, where tribal Sahwa are reportedly deployed, a rather precarious tactical situation for those contingents. ISF spokesman GEN Atta announced the death of another 42 ISIS fighters in the Lakes Region of northern Babil, a regular occurrence as a result of the clearing operations underway there for months. Yet at least ISF do not seem to be suffering serious operational setbacks in that area, a direct result of the number and quality of ISF deployed in northern Babil to prevent insurgent advances toward the Shi’a heartland, beginning with Hilla and Mussayib. Still, the slow pace of advances has led the government to deploy 1500 “volunteers” (possibly/probably Shi’a militia contingents) to Jurf al-Sakhar.

In Diyala. A small clash broke out in Abu Itamur, near Khalis, indicating ISIS presence in the area. One of the four militants killed was Chechnyan, a rarity for the Iraq side of ISIS operations. Further north along the highway, IA Aviation allegedly hit an ISIS meeting in the Udhaim area, leaving 15 militants dead. As an indicator of position, Peshmerga clashed with ISIS near the Jalula Bridge, leaving 2 ISIS dead and 6 Pesh soldiers wounded.

 

IRAQ DAILY TRACKER 17 [updated]: ISIS assaults western Baquba, Maliki fires commanders

AFTERNOON UPDATE

A smattering of interesting tidbits this PM: Niqash reports on the situation in Baghdad: services cut, food prices skyrocketing due to hoarding and cut-off roadways to Turkey (and Jordan, as the Yabani Bridge remains under insurgent control). Additionally, Niqash says that the ostensibly ISF checkpoints previously extant in Baghdad have doubled in number and been replaced by overt deployments of Shi’a militia fighters from Badr Organization, Sadr’s Promised Day Brigades, and Asai’b Ahl al-Haq. This does not augur well for Baghdad’s Sunni residents, should the crisis worsen. Plus, the Post’s team today reported that a Sunni imam and two of his assistants were found executed in the mixed neighborhood of Saydiyah in southern Baghdad, a rare high-profile militia activity.

PM Maliki dismissed four generals, ostensibly for their role in the fall of Mosul, and said he will release on the city’s fall, which will likely be dozens of pages of diverted blame. Former Ninewa Operations Command [NOC] chief LTG Mehdi Gharrawi along with his deputy, Abdul Rahman al-Handal, and the NOC chief of staff, Hassan Abdul Razzaq, all lost their positions. 3rd Infantry Division commander (based in Ninewa) commander BGEN Abdul-Karim was also canned. The problem with this narrative is that PM Maliki promoted LTG Gharrawi from commanding Mosul-based 3rd Federal Police Division back in March, so any blame for Gharrawi’s command decisions should necessarily lie with the Prime Minister’s office.

The Pesh/ISIS fighting in Bashir, just south of Kirkuk, continues–and this short clip shot by Rudaw from the frontlines shows well-equipped Peshmerga fighters (likely KDP-affiliated, given the fact that Rudaw is a KDP channel) engaging ostensibly ISIS on the town’s outskirts. Note the basic tactical proficiency of aiming, belt control, and cover–really quite basic necessities of warfare often absent in IA engagements. And, adding to my earlier note on the Bashir fighting, the insurgent thrust here appears to have been a coordinated three-axis push, with militants hitting town of Dibs, 55km NW of Kirkuk, which ISIS has been using VBIEDs on for the past three months. The third axis was in Mullah Abdullah, a town 25km W of Kirkuk, which ISIS reportedly now controls.

Lastly, a lone VBIED in the Maridi market of Sadr City killed eight and wounded 23; while not uncommon, the heightened tensions in the capital make militia reprisals more likely–the entire point of the longstanding ISIS bombing campaign.

Additionally, preliminary reports are trickling in of ISIS fighting with Turkmen militia forces in Amerli, a town on the highway south of Tuz Khurmatu that lies just NE of the Hamrin Mountains. This–combined–with the Udhaim fighting–indicates that ISIS is attempting to reopen or consolidate its Salah ad-Din-Diyala lines of communication.

[morning report below]

Today, ISIS assaulted three neighborhoods in Baquba–Mafrag, Mualmeen, and Khatoon–showcasing their freedom of movement around the city in a particularly brazen attack on a Mafraq Iraqi Police (IP) station. Though the thrust was repelled by Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) with one IP KIA and 9 ISIS fighters KIA, 35-44 prisoners died during the fighting, prompting conflicting reports immediately from both sides. Tigris Operations Command leader LTG Zaidi stated that the prisoners had been killed by ISIS mortar fire, but the NYT quoted a morgue official who reported that many of the prisoners had been executed at close range, suggesting the presence of Shi’a militia fighters or advisers. An alternate theory is that the prisoners were killed by ISF when they believed the police station was close to falling.pic 2

The NYT also reported on 4 executed men in Baghdad (specifically, Baladiyat, SE of Sadr City), which happened yesterday, as evidence of renewed Shi’a activity. Yet this activity has been occurring near-daily in Baghdad, ramping up after the inception of the Anbar Crisis in December 2013. One thing to note in Diyala: a member of the Kurdish parliament’s Pesh committee stated that Pesh controlled Jalula, but had not deployed to Sadiyah, an interesting report that contradicts earlier reporting and makes more credible anonymous reports that Sadiyah remains wholly in control of ISIS.

Tal Afar remains contested, with AFP quoting Ninewa Provincial Council deputy chairman Nuriddin Qalaban stating that ISIS held most of the city, with ISF and tribal fighters in control of some areas, including “part” of the airport. Qalaban said 50 civilians had been killed in the fighting, and estimated the total militant force at 500-700–these are likely primarily ISIS regulars, which would account for their absence in the military parade held late last week in Mosul, a city which, by the way, allegedly hasn’t had gas, water, or electricity for 72hrs.. Conversely, CDR Abu Walid continues to assert that everything is hunky-dory in Tal Afar, stating the militants only reside in outskirts of the city. That assessment appears unlikely–why else would Baghdad send 1,200 ISOF men to reinforce Walid if he were simply conducting mop-up operations?

In Kirkuk, ISIS reportedly attempted to seize the primarily Turkmen town of Bashir, with its Imam Reza shrine, but were repelled by a joint IP-Peshmerga-Sahwa force, a positive sign of collaboration. At the same time, unconfirmed reports from Kirkuk alleged that ISIS had begun to disarm locals in areas west and southwest of Kirkuk, including Hawijia, the Zab triangle, Rashad, and Abbasi.

pic 1

In Salah ad-Din, ISF made gains west of Balad, reopening the road to Ishaqi and sustaining 29WIA soldiers in the process. In moving west, ISF contingents found the dead bodies of 25 IA soldiers, ostensibly executed by ISIS–which would be a wholly separate execution from that conducted at Speicher Airbase, near Tikrit, on Saturday.

All Iraq News published a preliminary count of volunteers across Iraq‘s south that amounts to over 200,000 warm bodies for the ISF. Watching the structuring of these new units will be critical, as their inexperience and the ad hoc nature of it all leaves the door wide open for militia influence. Baghdad and Sistani may have overdone it by issuing such a wide-ranging call to arms, or might have been more selective in their acceptance process. The IA doesn’t need sheer numbers, especially Shi’a partisans who will be ineffective in both a traditional military and Clausewitzian sense in the places where fighting is actually occurring: Ninewa, Anbar, Salah ad-Din, Kirkuk, and Diyala.

And, because I like to end on a depressing note, militants have continued to encroach on Habbaniyah AB, reportedly having taken several IA watchtowers and heavy fighting occurred at the southern entrance to Habbaniyah itself.

 

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.

ISIS Mosul parade summary

Brief tally of materiel contained w/in ISIS victory parade in Mosul on Friday.

The 130 men participating in the parade did not look like ISIS regulars, judging by their equipment and uniforms. They could either be new recruits or freed prison inmates–hard to tell which. 

The parade consisted of 35, vehicles, of which 17 were appropriated from the Iraqi Army or associated Federal Police/SWAT forces.  pic 1

ISF Swat/FP 4×4

Most of these vehicles were 4x4s, though several medium cargo trucks, an IA fuel tanker, and civilian cars (often used for drive-bys) were seen as well. Only four heavy machine guns were seen in the parade, and only 3 of ISIS’s patented desert camouflage Toyota 4x4s with mounted 12.7mm guns made an appearance, indicating that the bulk of ISIS Ninewa-based forces did not participate.

pic 2

 

Bottom-right: typical ISIS Toyota 4×4 w/ 14.5mm KPVT.

For reference, hree’s what a KPVT sounds like:

It’s a formidable weapon against Humvee and lower-tier MRAPs and APCs.

 

 

IRAQ DAILY TRACKER 14/15 JUN: ISF redeployments facilitate ISIS tactical gains

Though the rapid advance of ISIS down through Salah ad-Din seems to have stalled, ISF withdrawals from disparate areas in Iraq have opened up secondary exploitation opportunities for Baghdadi’s men, especially in Anbar Province. In Salah ad-Din, the battle lines have been drawn on the highway between Tikrit and Samarra, with ISIS already beginning to booby-trap the city and operate freely on the southern highway to Samarra. Further north, Baiji remains contested, and with ISF reinforcing the Baiji refinery with airborne troops. This deployment indicates that Baiji has not fully fallen, and that the airspace remains permissive enough to allow for airborne insertion. IA Aviation also struck an ISIS repentance ceremony for surrendering ISF at the Fatih Mosque in south Baiji late Friday an airstrike of questionable operational wisdom, since the 70 casualties likely included many of ISF’s own soldiers, who have little choice to surrender in the face of mass execution, like the one conducted at Camp Speicher yesterday, where ISIS executed dozens of Iraqi Air Force students. Samarra Operations Command leader LTG Ali Furaji reportedly mounted a defense with a company of IA men at Speicher. Their fate remains unclear.

South of Samarra, isolated pockets of fighting continue. Samarra Operations Command announced the re-taking of Ishaqi, a small town just west of Balad AB, and reportedly also cleared Dhuloiya, across the river NE of Balad. Yet today the sub-district of Yathrib, just east of Ishaqi, reportedly fell to ISIS after ISF withdrew— if confirmed and consolidated, ISIS will be able to direct mortar and rocket artillery fire on Balad AB from this position. Clashes between ISF and ISIS in Taji indicate that ISIS has maintained its interior lines in the desert area between Taji and Thar Thar Lake, an historic area of ISIS control.

Further north, Mosul is quiet, with Niqash reporting on ISIS attempts to consolidate control against other insurgent groups–particularly JRTN–in its areas of control. Two key stories–the release of 15 Kurdish soldiers by ISIS in Tikrit, plus the release of 4 kidnapped Kurdish truck drivers by a JRTN front group SW of Kirkuk–indicate that the insurgent umbrella broadly wants to avoid provoking the Kurds at the moment. ISIS’s previous statements reaching out to the Kurds could indicate their degree of command and control over other insurgent groups like JRTN, JAI, IAI, etc. Further reports by NiqashVICE, and McClatchy add evidence to the emerging narrative that the ISF did not reflexively retreat from Mosul, but were ordered to withdraw. The numbers given in these reports–500-800 ISIS fighters attacking Mosul last week–support my earlier assertion that total ISIS fighting strength was at 2,000-2,500 country-wide pre-Mosul. This number derives from studying ISIS’ operational tempo, watching its operations, tallying casualty ratios, and factoring in the tactical alliances with other Sunni and Salafist insurgent groups. The number could indeed be as high as 4,000, but I believe most newly minted estimates are high, since they overestimate the competency of the Iraqi Army. ISIS detached at least part of its contingent in Mosul to assault Tal Afar, 90km west, though the attack was repulsed by ISF and tribal fighters in the area after hevay fighting that left 10 dead and 40 wounded, primarily civilians. Diyala’s heavy fighting continues in Sadiyah, Muqdadiyah, and Udahim, all contested areas. Both ISIS and ISF have claimed control of these areas.

Critically, Anbar Province seems to be going downhill in a hurry. In the past two months, ISF had held Fallujah’s outskirts, made small tactical gains–re-taking a bridge both in Fallujah and Ramadi–and had repelled ISIS assaults on the key town of Amiriyat al-Fallujah, which links the Fallujah area of operations to ISIS’s support zone of Jurf al-Sakhar further down the Euphrates. A number of ISF units were pulled from Anbar following the advance of ISIS through Salah ad-Din, leading to significant gains by ISIS and its temporary associates in the province. 7ID HQ was hit in al-Baghdadi (while since that’s happened), the electricity generating station in Haditha was hit (attack repulsed), and intelligence reports warned of a general offensive against ISF along the Euphrates. ISF ceded the entirety of Fallujah’s outskirts, which it had previously used to make probes into Fallujah proper. ISIS now controls the Yabani Bridge and thus the international highway to Jordan, and is well-poised to beseige Habbaniyah now, having taken Albu Shejel village in western Saqlawiyah. ISF contingents were also pulled from the border, presumably to be redeployed.

This development worries me, as Anbar Province was the main focus of the ISIS military effort prior to the fall of Mosul. If ISF overconcentrate north of Baghdad, the western approaches will be wide open, including the PR prize of Baghdad International Airport, ISIS could hit in a Karachi Airport-style attack to further undermine Maliki’s legitimacy.