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.

 

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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.

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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 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.

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.

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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.