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.

IRAQ TRACKER 3 JUL: IS hits W. Baghdad w/ SVEST; Barzani asks for referendum date, CJCS Dempsey on ISF

BLUF: An IS suicide bomber hit the Shi’a Mustafa mosque in Baghdad’s western neighborhood late night night. Iraqi Kurdistan president Masoud Barzani asked the Kurdish parliament to set a date for an independence referendum. Though Baghdad continues to deny the fact, over 2,500 border guards withdrew from the Saudi border, presumably for deployment. CJCS Dempsey delivered a sobering assessment of ISF capabilities. Baghdad also blindly denies the documented fact that the Su-25 Frogfoots flying over the country are Iranian.

In Baghdad, an IS suicide bomber [SVEST] detonated his explosives late last night at the Shi’a Mustafa Husseiniyah alognside Airport Street in the western neighborhood of Jihad, killing four and injuring 15. Interestingly, this is the second IS suicide bomber attempt at a Shi’a mosque in a week, with one occurring in Kadhimiyah a few days back. One wonders whether the dearth of VBIEDs is a deliberate change in Baghdadi’s tactics or if a limiting factor is pushing down the capability to move VBIEDs into place. Around the same time, an IED was detonated on a police patrol on Abbas Ibn Firdos Square across the street from the Mustafa mosque, suggesting significant freedom of movement for anti-government groups in the Jihad area. Reuters’ Ned Parker delivered a crushing report today on the number of insurgent sleeper cells within Baghdad, while CNN’s Arwa Damon conducted some great interviews with a deployed LAFA unit.

In Anbar, 2,500 DBE (Department of Border Enforcement) officers withdrew from the Saudi border, presumably for redeployment, while Saudi Arabia sent 30,000 men to guard the border. Baghdad continues to stubbornly deny the fact. IA shelling killed another seven civilians in Fallujah.

In Diyala, IS released photos of their conquest of a military outpost likely somewhere near Udhaim. The photos show dozens of abandoned basic cargo trucks, a couple 4x4s, and one T-72 Lion of Babylon tank that appears to remain in working condition. The photos show approximately two platoons of ISIS fighters, and later show these fighters executing seven unidentified men in a ditch. The clashes between IS-led militants and ISF + Shi’a militia in Mansouriyah seem to be escalating, though it doesn’t appear either side maintains the initiative, though ISf claimed to have cleared ad-Walib, a small town just east of Mansouriyah proper.

In Kirkuk, IA Aviation hit a small convoy of IS tankers carrying stolen fuel west of the city. The source offered that militants had stolen 40 tankers’ worth of fuel from the pipeline in that area. The emplacement and detonation of an IED on a federal police patrol at the Kasnazaniyah Hospital in Kirkuk’s southern industrial district indicates that the joint Peshmerga-Iraqi Police security cordon around Kirkuk will necessarily have holes, even as Barzani stood up a new unit with fresh forces in Kirkuk. IS also released 32 Turkish truck drivers it recently kidnapped from the Anjanah area; it will be fascinating to learn what the IS-Ankara negotiations looked like.

In Salah ad-Din, Video surfaced showing a messy scene of men who purportedly targeted the Askari shrine in Samarra.

In Babil, ISF continue to carry out heavy bombardment by artillery and airstrike on Jurf al-Sakhar, today hitting the town’s southern village of Ruwaiyah. Babil announced the graduation of the Hawra Zaynab battalion, composed of 480 troops given two weeks training. The provincial authorities said that 1,700 volunteers were already fighting within the province itself. No word yet on where this battalion will be sent.

In Irbil, Iraqi Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani asked the Kurdish parliament to set a date for a referendum on independence in the KRG. Simultaneously, KRG Natural Resources Minister Ashti Hawrami sent a letter to Iraqi Oil Minister Abdul Karim al-Luaibi threatening to countersue Baghdad if Baghdad continued to “interfere” with KRG oil exports. The letter follows a ruling from the Supreme Court that gave temporary reprieve by holding off on signing a preliminary injunction requested by Luaibi against the KRG; again, this reprieve could very well be very temporary, and it is unclear whether the normally SLC-influenced judicial system will eventually maintain its ruling against Baghdad. The article also mentions that KRG exports to Ceyhan are still at 125,000 bpd, far below where the Kurds thought they’d be–recall that KRG wanted to be exporting 1m bpd by year’s end.

PM Maliki offered amnesty for tribal fighters who had previously worked with ISIS, and said that former Iraqi Army [read: Baathists] men may apply, as well. Unlikely to have any effect without political inclusion of Sunni politicians–individual Sunnis will not apply one a one-by-one basis.

In the U.S. CJCS Dempsey basically sidestepped all significant policy questions, stating that assessments of ISF capability are ongoing. Critically, he brought up the difficulty, if airstrikes are contemplated, of identifying which targets are strictly IS elements and which are JAI, IAI, 1920 Revoltuion Brigades, JRTN, or simple tribal fighters. Exactly.

IRAQ TRACKER 2 JUL: ISF fight followers of rogue Shi’a cleric in Karbala; continued Hawija backlash against IS

In Karbala–a normally placid area–supporters of rogue Sadrist Shi’a cleric Sheikh Mahmoud al-Hassani al-Sarkhi clashed with IA and SWAT forces in the Saif Saeed district of the city. ISF immediately imposed a curfew and cut comms and internet in the province, signaling their worry of metastasizing protests. ISF had surrounded Sarkhi’s home in preparation for an arrest when fighting broke out that left 4 IA soldiers dead and another 12 wounded, with 14 Sarkhi followers dead and another 25 wounded. 10 Sarkhi followers were subsequently arrested. Later, the IA pulled out and was replaced by CTS forces while negotiations continued with Sarkhi himself.

Several policeman were wounded in clashes in Diwaniyah (Qadisiyah) province to the east while preventing Sarkhi supporters from reinforcing their leader. Basra Governor Majid Nasrawi made similar pronouncements about the stability of his territory. Authorities claimed to have arrested 30 Sarkhi followers attempting to enter Karbala, too.

In Salah ad-Din, IA Aviation helicopters struck Islamic State (IS) fuel reservoirs and tankers stationed at the Tikrit Teaching Hospital, a compound just south of the Presidential Palace in the city center, an indication of improved ISF targeting capability. ISF is staging, with Shi’a militia support, at the former 4th Division HQ in Awja, just south of the city.

SimultaneouslyIA Aviation birds bombarded Sharqat, reportedly killing 18 and wounding 18, mostly civilians. One step forward, two steps back. Jelam, the area northeast of Tikrit, is still inhabited by insurgents, as evidenced by continued IA Aviation airstrikes there. 20km north of Hawija, tribal forces, likely operating under the banner of the Hawija Liberation Brigades, retook the Mahouz IP station from IS elements in continued tribal backlash in Hawija’s outlying areas.

 

Further south, an ISIS raid from the lawless area of Nebai, southwest of Samarra, was repelled by ISF and Sadrist Saraya al-Salam elements. That corridor continues to be a crucial link for the Islamic State from Salah ad-Din down to Fallujah and Ramadi.

In Anbar, rare positive news: tribal forces are patrolling from the Turaibil border crossing with Jordan to 125km NE on the international highway, hoping to facilitate trade. They’re also patrolling south from the international highway to Nukhaib, still the forward point of ISF in the province. Another 9 civilians were killed by IA artillery fire in Fallujah.

In Diyala, insurgents began targeting electricity infrastructure, which they recently began in the Fallujah area, as well.

In Babil, the governor’s office claimed that IA Aviation struck an IS gathering in Abd al-Wayis, a village in northwest Jurf al-Sakhar, which left 60 dead and 9 vehicles destroyed. Given the fact that the same office pronounced these areas cleared yesterday, such figures should be heavily discounted.

Basra’s 3 volunteering training centers produced another battalion of fighters, sent north to fight IS.

politics: The Sadrist Trend continues to militate against Maliki’s nomination within INA, with MP Rafi abd al-Jabbar spinning the narrative that makes it seem like the Sadrists are simply being mindful of Sunni and Kurdish distaste for a third Maliki term. Reidar Visser hits back at facile media narratives about the Iraqi political process, noting again that the Shi’a coalition has not lost any ground since the beginning of the government formation process.

DOD announced that the latest contingent of 200 embassy protection soldiers will bring with them RQ-7 tactical Shadow UAVs and AH-64(? model) Apache attack helicopters to protect American personnel. The Department of State gave notice that the U.S. plans to sell 4,000 AGM-144K/R Hellfire missiles to Iraq, a vast improvement over previous tranche sizes. I do not expect Congressional opposition to this sale, though a Senator or two might make noise about Maliki. 

Conversely, the Russians delivered 4 Mi-35 Hind E assault helos and 3 Mi-28NE attack helos today, part of the October 2012 deal, which is nearly complete now. The Russian Su-25 delivery seems to have been misrepresented by the Iraqi MoD–the Su-25s flying over Bghdad yesterday were IRGC-operated Iranian copies, according to IISS analysis.

—– writing on iraq —–

Bassem Mroue, writing for AP, captures the rise of IS Syrian military commander Omar al-Shishani following his role in the seizure of Managh AB in August 2013. Interestingly, Mroue posits that Shishani could grab the top IS military command spot, following the death of former Iraqi military commander Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Bilawi al-Anbari in June 2014’s Mosul clashes–a change that would further, concomitant with the caliphate announcement, tie the two theaters together.