IRAQ TRACKER 9 JUL: 3 IS car bombs & 50 militia-executed bodies in Babil;

In Babil, three car bombs [VBIEDs] were detonated in quick succession in three different towns: one in the parking garage of the federal court building in the NW Hillah neighborhood of Algiers, one in the town center of Imam, 25km north of Hillah, and another at a cafe in the same town. Death tolls have yet to be reported. ISF found 50 executed bodies in Nile village, just north of Hillah–likely the work of Shi’a militias operating in the area. Raad Jubouri says the executions occurred last night.

In Ninewa, ISF air assets struck depots containing petroleum products in Hammam al-Alil, a small town along the river 20km south of Mosul. This is likely an ISF attempt to disrupt IS supply lines, which have burgeoned of late as a result of oil sales.

In Salah ad-Din, more errant airstrikes targeted four civilian houses, today in the Jikulka area of Dhuluiya, just north of Balad. Two people were killed and 15 injured, and the mayor of Dhuluiya has already requested that the MoD investigatem claiming that no insurgents were present in the area. The inability of the ISF to avoid civilian casualties will cause long-term problems of stability as the immediacy of combating IS wears off. The ISF offensive on Tikrit seems to have been paused in the last few days, possibly for shaping operations of reinforcements.

In Tarmiyah, just south of this incident, an IA patrol was hit by an IED and then set upon by insurgents, leaving three soldiers dead. The Tarmiyah-Taji-Dujail sector continues to see near-daily insurgent hit-and-run attacks, which could indicate long-term problems for securing supply lines for ISF’s northern push.

In Baghdad, another IED was detonated in Ghazaliayh, which continues to see near-constant violence. On the other side, unknown gunmen pulled a barber out of his shop in the Nairiyah part of Baghdad Jadida and executed him; New Baghdad has experienced militia presence for some time now.

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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 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.