IRAQ TRACKER 6/7 JUL: 6ID commander KIA in Garma; IS suicide bombings in Kadhimiayh, Washash; CoR delay

BLUF: IA 6ID commander KIA while inspecting frontlines in Ibrahim bin Ali, Garma. IS suicide bombing targets cafe in Washash, Baghdad last night and suicide car bomber hits a checkpoint in Kadhmiyah today. IA Aviation airstrikes miss in several places. IA Aviation bombs Azwya Bridge, attempting to cut IS supply lines from Baiji/Tikrit to Hawija. Parliament, scheduled to meet tomorrow, pushed back reconvening until August 12th.

In Tuz, mayor Shalal Abdul reported that IA Aviation conducted an airstrike on a house 200m away from the PUK HQ in the Aksu neighborhood. Abdul expressed concern about the airstrike, given the fact that the entirety of Tuz is controlled by Peshmerga. Previous errant airstrikes were clearly instances of mistaken targeting; the political ramifications of strikes this egregious will exacerbate grievances between Baghdad and the KRG. Mortars continue to fall on Ishaqi, which looks like it will not be completely cleared prior to the ISF offensive north.

In Anbar, the IA 6th Infantry Division commander MGEN Najm Abdullah Sudan was killed in action by enemy shelling while inspecting frontlines in Ibrahim bin Ali. Another report says he was killed while visiting a camp for displaced persons in Saadan village in Zawbaa, south of Abu Ghraib. I’m inclined to believe the latter, as insurgent mortar fire killed 4 in the 24th Brigade HQ in Ibrahim bin Ali, which may have prompted conflations. IA shelling in Fallujah killed another eight civilians. The gradual loss of ISF control since early June in Malahma, north across the river from Khaldiyah, can be seen in today’s insurgent victory that left three IA soldiers and a policeman dead. Apparently, ISF remnants continue to operate west of Haditha, though I’m still taking such reports with a heavy grain of salt.

In Kirkuk, IA Aviation conducted airstrikes on the Azwya Bridge, which connects Baiji and Salah ad-Din to the Hawija and Kirkuk area; the source cited humanitarian concerns, since the bridge is frequented by displaced persons fleeing north, but ISF has a long way to go before it significantly affects IS’s ability to move quickly between Hawija, Baiji, and Tikrit. Clashes between IS militants and tribal forces in Azwya and Masakah.  Peshmerga First Brigade commander BGEN Shirko Fatih Shwani stated that the Peshmerga has established a defensive barrier stretching from Sarkaran, northwest of Kirkuk, to Daquq, southeast of Kirkuk.

In Baghdad, an IS suicide bomber last night detonated his explosives inside a cafe in western Baghdad’s Washash neighborhood, leaving five dead. Insurgents continue to operate efficiently in Mashada, just north of the capital, killing four Sahwa members in a home raid at dawn today. Today, an IS suicide car bomber hit a security checkpoint on Dabbash Street in Kadhimiyah, the second suicide bombing there in a week. ISF sweeps continue to grow in number and frequency, suggesting either a a degree of panic at insurgent infiltration of the capital or brazen sectarian targeting–40 people were arrested in Jaara, a town straddling the road from Baghdad to Madain. Another executed body showed up in the Obaidi area.

In Ninewa, worryingly, IA Aviation conducted airstrikes on the Qirawan subdistrict of Sinjar, which lies at a crossroad approximately 25km southeast of the city. The presence of armed groups there suggests that IS may intend to move on Sinjar even after securing their southern route (Deir Azzor –> Albu Kamal/Qaim –> Fallujah), since it offers an alternate axis of attack from the south. IA Aviation continues to target the northern Rashidiyah area of Mosul city proper, to little avail, simply displacing hundreds of Turkmen families.

In Diyala, fighting continues at Masouriyah, north of Muqdadiyah, over the gas fields there. IA suffered a mortar attack on its HQ in the area yesterday morning, a worrisome sign.

In Babil, provincial authorities established roadblocks stretching from Aswat, NW of Jurf al-Sakhar, to the Razzaza Lake. The authorities now openly speak to newspapers about the role of AAH in clearing operations in the Jurf AO.

Further south, Muthanna province authorities continue to deny the infiltration of anti-government elements across the Saudi border, indicating that armed groups remain interested in facilitating smuggling networks through that area. Most manpower and heavy weaponry comes from IS supply networks in Syria. Authorities in Basra stated that the recent two car bombs in Basra city came from outside the province and were meant to send a message to oil companies. They said that the bombs had been crafted in such a way to defeat bomb-sniffing dogs.

Politically, Sadr as expected drew back from his previous hardline position on the next PM, stating now that Maliki must go and the SLC must nominate a new PM candidate from within the bloc.

Today, SLC MP Abdul Salam al-Maliki called for the intervention of Federal Supreme Court to cancel speaker pre tempore Mehdi al-Hafez’s delaying the next parliamentary session until August 12th; clearly, the SLC believes it has momentum. Conversely, they may know the session won’t be sped up and are simply going on the record as desirous of rapid government formation.

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Writing yesterday, Thomas Hegghammer argued quite forcefully that the IS caliphate announcement should be considered as a rational decision; he outlines several different rationales–going after the jihadi “youth vote” or creating space for territorial consolidation–and outlines several likely consequences. A must-read.

Joel Wing interviews Rachel Kantz Feder, who advances some quite reasonable thoughts on what prompted Sistani to issue his fatwa; the takeaway is that that fatwa was aimed as much as Iran and IRGC-QF and its proxies as it was aimed at ISIS.

In tangential news, IS in Salah ad-Din posted pictures over the weekend of a destroyed M1A1 Abrams MBT and a downed Mohajer-4 ISR UAV, which they may or may not have shot down themselves–not much of a feat, in any case. Iran has been flying and supplying Mohajers for Syria and Iraq for quite some time.

Eli Lake gets Ali Khedery, James Jeffrey, and Stuart Bowen to deliver scathing quotes about the U.S. failure to anticipate and act proactively in Iraq. Interestingly–I don’t think I’ve seen this before–Lake says the U.S. only flew one ISR mission per day over Iraq pre-Mosul. Kind of incredible.

Reuters’ Isabel Coles, who’s absolutely killing the beat from the KRG, quotes Kurdish VP and aspirant PUK leader Kosrat Rasul Ali as cautioning against independence. Indeed, the PUK’s reasoning may be sound, but the remaining political fights within Kurdistan factor into this, too–about independence, oil exports and revenue sharing, and from which party the national Kurdish president or ministers will come from.

McClatchy’s Hannah Allam interviews Shibil leader Mohamed Thaban al-Shiblawy and Najaf governor Adnan al-Zurfi, both of whom present heartening cases that argue for that idea that if Shi’a militia sectarian activities may not return on the scale previously scene.

UNAMI reports that Iraq now has over 850,000 IDPs. Over 50% are from Anbar.

And Jackson Diehl advertises for Fuad Hussein and doesn’t bother checking even one fact about Iraqi Kurdistan.

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IRAQ DAILY TRACKER 19 JUN: Uptick in Shi’a militia activities south of Baghdad

In Madain, south of Baghdad, unknown gunmen kidnapped 40 people during the night, subsequently releasing 8 of them–such activity is likely indicative of resurgent Shi’a militias, which have been stationed south of Baghdad for some time to prevent ISIS infiltration and power projection into Shi’a cities there. In southern Baghdad’s Abu Dshir (a neighborhood of Dora), 4 executed bodies were found–bringing the total up to 8 bodies in the past three days. Babil and its fount of militias remains a key source of manpower for ISF, today sending 100 men to Tal Afar and 200 men to Samarra, contingents “specially trained for urban warfare [read: AAH etc.].” Cue AIN report: ISCI figure Ishmael Ashour and several of his sons were reportedly killed while fighting in Tal Afar. Confirmation of Shi’a militia activities in the province will be hard to come by, but is key to understanding the overall contours of the crisis.

ISF spokesman GEN Atta made an interesting announcement today vis a vis the future ISF structure, stating that all new volunteers would receive the same “martyr’s compensation” provided families of slain soldiers and essentially signaling the continued future future on new recruits. I expect this path forward–with no attempt to reach out to erstwhile or potential Sunni recruits–will be used to further factionalize the ISF and IA, given the overwhelming predominance of southern Iraqi Shi’a signing up in response to recent calls to arms by Maliki, Sistani, Sadr, and Hakim. Maliki’s dismissal over another 59 ISF officers today supports this hypothesis. And his announcement of salary levels is meaningless, since soldiers often simply don’t receive their pay.

Critically, areas of Samarra proper remain contested, as ISIS and co. launched a probing attack on an Iraqi Police [IP] station today in Mutassim, a southwest neighborhood of the city. Reportedly, ISF weathered the attack with the help of IA Aviation helo support, leaving 8 ISIS militants dead. Also in Samarra, a mortar attack hit the central Dubbat district, with shells falling near the Shawwaf shrine and government buildings–the Askari shrine is two blocks over.

Baiji refinery remains contested, though the tactical situation for remaining ISF units does not look promising, no matter the happy-go-lucky pronouncements of Baghdad. Tribal mediators were reportedly able to negotiate the release of 300 staff from the refinery area, indicating that ISIS plans to run the refinery itself, an interesting choice. To the northwest, ISIS reportedly seized a 20-truck convoy of food intended for Sinjar in another attempt to force displacement.

ISF and other pro-government forces continue to be relocated as if in a game of Risk, with 400 tribal volunteers slated to be sent to Ramadi to join the fight in that contested city. I continue to believe that Baghdad remains insufficiently concerned about the continued security deterioration in Anbar Province, where ISIS and co. has made significant gains since the inception of the Mosul crisis, including in the critical outskirts of Fallujah, which facilitate both freedom of movement and VBIED funneling into the western neighborhoods of Baghdad. In Saqlawiyah, just NW of Fallujah, ISF reports preparations for an offensive on ISIS positions in the area, which lies somewhere between “heavily contested” and “ISIS-controlled.” ISF continues to announce tactical victories in Ramadi, but haven’t advanced or executed any useful maneuvers in weeks. Hearkening back to yesterday, when ISF clashed with ISIS near the Rawoud Bridge, the mortaring of adjacent town Saba al-Bour indicates continued presence of militants in the area. Interesting, ISF are reporting that ISIS distributed videos of their beheading seven citizens from Garma and its associated village of Ibrahim Ben Ali for “failing to cooperation with the organization.” I’ll wait for confirmation on this, since we haven’t seen it before in Garma.

In Diyala, ISF continues to engage ISIS and co. in villages north of Muqdadiya, and the Peshmerga continue to clash with ISIS in Jalula, killing 4 militants in an artillery strike today in the town’s expansive southern villages that stretch down and link up with the ISIS stronghold of Sadiyah.

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Of note: the mayor of a small town in Muqdadiyah area stated that ISF confiscated 2 ISIS vehicles w/ Saudi license plates and found “large amounts” of cash from from Syria and pre-2003 Iraq, indicators of cashflow directions.

In Kirkuk, the Kurdish Peshmerga lost 4 men on patrol after clashes with ISIS in the town of Bashir, with heavy fighting continuing. Several Kurdish figures have expressed worries the 15,000 families of Bashir are facing harsh treatment by ISIS and have called for liberation of the town by a joint force of Peshmerga, Iraqi police, tribal fighters, and Turkmen self-defense forces.

In international relations, the UAE recalled its ambassador to Iraq, citing Maliki’s sectarian policies, while U.S. President Obama announced the deployment of 100 Special Forces advisers to Iraq, who will first establish a joint operations center. Alissa Rubin and Rod Nordland report over at NYT that McGurka and Beecroft met with Speaker of Parliament and Mutahidun leader Osama al-Nujaifi and INC leader Ahmed Chalabi, who, I expect, is not actually in the running, but wants to play kingmaker. The article is jarring if you come in without any context–as is a similar report by Carol Lee and Jay Solomon in the WSJ–but bother rely entirely on quotes from anti-Maliki politicians and others who stand to gain if he’s ousted. Has anyone ever begun to consider what the consequences of such a course of action would be?

Additionally, the WSJ’s Julian Barnes ran a story dripping with hyperbole, writing that ISIS had taken over a chemical weapons complex!  All the bad things are coming! In reality, the areas between Anbar Province and Salah ad-Din–the desert areas east of Lake Thar Thar and NW of Baghdad–have been under ISIS control for many years and were once believed to house ISIS leadership when the organization was still AQI and ISI. Maybe they did actually enter a complex they hadn’t before–I don’t know–but there’s nothing there of value anyway and no reason they couldn’t have done so whenever they liked before. In other news, Roger Cohen alerts us that Iraq is just like Afghanistan, which is just like Kosovo which was just like Bosnia. Granular, indeed. David Ignatius drops in to tell us how Iraq is like sports and we can just replace its elected Prime Minister with a wave of our hand. Fantastic.