IRAQ TRACKER 4 JUL: Islamic Stat imposes control over Hawija area; continued IS-JRTN fighting in Sadiyah; 3ID remnants arrive in Awja for Tikrit assault

In Kirkuk, Islamic State elements imposed control on four villages that had resisted their presence, taking the homes of each hamlet’s tribal of political leader. In Arumel, a small village home to Hadid tribal leader Anwar al-Asi, IS took Asi’s house after having overrun the village during their push to the Ajil oilfield last week and forcing Asi to flee to Sulaymaniyah. For IS, the strategic position of the village next to the Tikrit-Kirkuk highway and the Hamrin Mountains likely outweighs the costs of alienating tribal elements in the area. In Mahouz, home of Education Minister Mohammed Tamim, tribal elements recently took back the local police station from IS, but the village is likely under ISIS control following the fall of Tamim’s house. In Tal Asfar, another village next to the Tikrit-Kirkuk highway, IS kicked out Hadid tribal leader Sheikh Lukman Dhari al-Asi. Lastly, the home of former MP Yassin al-Obeidi in Riyadh sub-district was overrun. This is the first tangible indication that IS intends to follow through with its plans to pacify its areas of control in the Hawija arc.

In Diyala, clashes erupted between the Islamic State and JRTN for the third time in a week, this time in the eastern villages of Sadiyah. Two men of each side were killed. North of Sadiyah, Peshmerga claimed to have killed five IS elements with an artillery strike on a house in the southern reaches of Jalula as IS returned mortar fire.

In Salah ad-Din, IS used IEDs to detonate the home of Salah ad-Din police chief MGEN Hamad Nams, who had already fled. Simultaneously, IS detonated IEDs on part of the Baiji police directorate, killing four children who were nearby. Critically, 3rd Division elements arrived to reinforce the bulk of the Fourth Division, which has been stationed and staging at its former HQ of Awja over the past week in preparation for a push northward. The 3rd Infantry Division had presumably partially collapsed in the general retreat from Mosul.

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Back in Washington, Dana Priest and Aaron Gregg report that no Iraqi “team” has qualified to fly the F-16 and none will until mid-August. Individual pilots are indeed ready, as has been reported before, but flying a fourth-generation fighter jet requires more than one servicemember. The flight teams are not the limiting factor, in my opinion–the infrastructure to support the F-16 contingent doesn’t yet exist. Nor do the F-16s really matter all that much, given the fact that Iraq is calling is airstrikes from both of its neighbors, Iran and Syria.

Finally, the U.S. military reports that it has begun scrambling to fit AGM-114K/R Hellfires to aircraft other than the two extant AC-208s; given the fact that SOCOM and

 

 

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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 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.

 

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.