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.
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.