Updates: February 7-13, 2015
- The head of the Parliament’s Security and Defense Committee alleged that the anti-ISIS coalition is providing weapons to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham via airdrops. This sentiment was echoed by an Iraqi Shi’a MP. This is a concerning development even though it is rhetorical. However, the rhetoric is gaining attention and could undermine the anti-ISIS effort.
- ISIS launched a major offensive targeting the town of al-Baghdadi in western Anbar province. Baghdadi is home to the al-Asad airbase where there are currently 300 U.S. military advisors. Baghdadi was attacked in the past but ISIS is likely seeking to control the airbase. This attack was also unique given reports that ISIS activated sleeper cells in the city, which if confirmed would be a first within the city center. There will likely be a wave of displacement if ISIS gains control of Baghdadi and the loss of Baghdadi would be a serious blow to the anti-ISIS effort in Anbar. Therefore, the Iraqi government and relief community must prepare for that contingency.
- Baghdad Operations Command launched operations in Baghdad and its environs to secure the capital. This effort took place as violence continued in Baghdad with the capital area witnessing car bombs and Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks.
- Significant clashes continued in the northern province of Kirkuk between the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga and ISIS.
- ISIS and the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) clashed around the city of Samarra in Salah ad-Din. These clashes are notable given Samarra’s status as the home to important religious shrines, including al-Askari Shrine.
Increasing Accusations against the International anti-ISIS Coalition as National Guards Law Draft is reportedly under Review
On February 12, Iraqi Shi’a member of the Council of Representatives (CoR) from the National Alliance, Ali al-Bderi, stated that there is a “strange phenomenon that is repeated daily with weapon-loaded planes landing… for terrorist groups from unknown sides.” Bderi’s remarks followed February 10 comments by Sadrist MP and head of the CoR’s Security and Defense Committee, Hakim al-Zamili, that criticized the international anti-ISIS coalition and alleged that it is airdropping weapons to ISIS.
There were also reactions to the newly proposed laws of the National Guards and possibly national amnesty. On February 7, member of the CoR from the State of Law Alliance (SLA), Mohammed al-Saihud, expressed opposition to the proposed laws of National Guards, Accountability and Justice Law, and General Amnesty. According to Saihud, those who “talk about releasing guilty prisoners want to get the political process into chaos.” Saihud added that the SLA would seek to block some of the proposed laws. MP from the Iraqi Sunni National Forces Union (NFU), Ahmed al-Salmani, stated that the passage of the General Amnesty law is particularly important.
On February 11, the CoR decided to postpone discussion on banning the Ba’ath party “until further notice” and member of the NFU Mutahidun Intisar al-Juburi stated that there are issues with the legal mechanisms with regards to the National Guards Law and that the CoR leadership has requested a review of those mechanisms from the cabinet. Juburi added that there might be discrepancies according to Iraqi Sunni ministers in the draft law approved by the cabinet and the draft that reached the CoR. According to Juburi, the CoR leadership is investigating the matter. Meanwhile, President Fouad Masum, ratified the 2015 budget on February 10.
Anbar Governor Refuses Deployment of the Popular Mobilization Units and ISIS Attacks Major Airbase in Anbar
On February 7, 200 Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) member were repositioned in Al-Kaserat area, near the town of al-Baghdadi in western Anbar reportedly in preparations to attack Baghdadi which is home to al-Asad airbase. On February 7, coalition airstrikes also targeted ISIS position in western Anbar and also reportedly in Ramadi. On February 9, members of the Al-Obaid and Albu Mahal tribes clashed with ISIS in the Horan Valley area, outside of the al-Baghdadi district. On February 10, governor of Anbar province Suhaib al-Rawi stated that he did not request assistance from Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) which include Iraqi Shi’a militias due to “problems” that can trigger.
Governor Rawi added that only the army and police forces should have jurisdiction in Anbar province. On February 11, ISIS attacked the Albu Ghanim area, east of Ramadi but the attack was repelled. On February 12, ISIS launched a major offensive targeting al-Baghdadi sub-district which is home to the al-Asad airbase. The attack included penetration into the city by ISIS and reported activation of sleeper cells. ISIS elements targeted government offices including the police station.
As the attack was underway, Sheikh Naim al-Gaoud from the Anbari Albu Nimr tribe immediately warned that areas near al-Baghdadi and Hit are in danger of falling to ISIS if Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi does not send reinforcements to bolster ISF. Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) supported by anti-ISIS coalition airstrikes repelled the attack. Al-Baghdadi is important given that it is the largest ISF base in Anbar and there are over three hundred U.S. military advisors stationed in the base.
Reactions to demilitarized Baghdad Neighborhoods
On February 1, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi ordered the four areas of Mansour, Saydiyah, Adhamiyah, in addition to Karrada to be “weapon-free.” On February 7, Baghdad’s deputy governor, Jassim al-Bakhati, stated that the decision is welcome and is intended to represent a test that can be expanded throughout Baghdad if it proves to be successful. Bakhati added that the decision was motivated by political parties present in residential areas and are using weapons to cause difficulties for the population. Bakhati added that the Ministry of Interior will eventually have sole security provision authority in Baghdad. Member of Baghdad’s provincial security committee, Thamer al-Sarhid, stated that the decision is intended to “[clear] members pretending to be with the PMUs” and that some parties and organizations have set up checkpoints. Baghdad provincial council member and member of the Badr Organization, called on PMU members to use the weapons and ammunition on the battle field instead of Baghdad.
Security Forces Seek to Secure Baghdad as Violence Continues in the Capital and its Environs
On February 7, two attackers wearing explosive vests (SVESTs) attacked two locations in Baghdad. The first SVEST attacker targeted a restaurant in the Baghdad al-Jadida neighborhood killing 30 civilians and injuring 66 others. The second SVEST attacker targeted the Arabi market killing 6 civilians and injuring 28 others. On February 8, Baghdad Operations Command (BOC) announced that its forces conducted several operations south and west of Baghdad city. The areas included Shurtan near Abu Ghraib, Halabsa, Arab Jassim, Ahmed al-Hel, and Tal al-Dir near Taji. The operations resulted in seizing Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and weapons caches.
On February 9, a Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) exploded in the Kadhmiyah district in northwestern Baghdad killing at least 10 people and injuring 3. On February 10, a VBIED detonated near a market in Mahmudiyah, south of Baghdad, killing 2 people and injuring 11 others. On February 11, BOC forces conducted operations in Baghdad’s vicinities targeting armed elements. On the same day, mortar rounds fell in the Shula neighborhood in northeastern Baghdad and resulted in injury of seven civilians. On February 12, an IED exploded near a market in al-Rashid area in southern Baghdad and another IED exploded near a market in the Amil District, southwest of Baghdad. The attacks resulted in the death of three people and injury of 16 civilians.
The Persistent Clashes in Kirkuk and Around Samarra
On February 7, ISIS destroyed a bridge that connects the Nahrwan area with the Khalid area southwest of Kirkuk Province. According to sources, the attack is intended to disrupt any operations by the Iraqi Kurdish Pershmerga or other forces towards Kirkuk. On February 8, a security sources stated that a convoy carrying Hadi al-Ameri, Iraqi Shi’a member of the Council of Representatives (CoR), the secretary general of the Badr Organization, and a senior leader in the PMUs, came under attack by ISIS near Kirkuk. The attack did not result in any injuries and Ameri was visiting Kirkuk during that period.
On February 10, an international coalition airstrike reportedly killed 15 ISIS members in Hawija, southwest of Kirkuk. On February 11, ISIS attacked Peshmerga positions in the Daquq and Taza areas in southern Kirkuk and the attack was repelled with the assistance of the international anti-ISIS coalition airstrikes. In Salah ad-Din, the Brigades of Jihad, a PMU formation operating in Salah ad-Din province, repelled an ISIS attack near Huwaish on February 8, west of Samarra city. On the same day, Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) reportedly secured the road from Samarra to Baiji and Iraqi Air Force in addition to coalition airstrikes targeted ISIS elements east of Baiji.
On February 10, two SVBIEDs detonated on the road linking Samarra and Thar Thar southwest of Samarra city. The attack killed 6 members of the ISF and wounded 29 others. On February 11, an SVBIED detonated at Speicher airbase, located north of Tikrit, killing 2 members of the ISF and injuring 13 others. On February 11, an SVBIED targeted the Federal Police in Mkeshfa, north of Samarra, wounding 5 members of the Federal Police. On February 11, an SVBIED targeted the Muthana Complex which is located between Samarra and Thar Thar.
On February 11, Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and PMUs also reportedly secured positions in the Baiji area including a bridge in the Fatha area. On February 12, 14 members of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) were killed and 12 were injured in clashes with Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants in al-Zalaya and Mkeshfa, south of Tikrit. On February 12, member of the CoR’s Energy Committee, Zahir al-Abadi, stated that ISIS is “smuggling 300 of [oil] barrels a day from the Ajil field in the Alam sub-district, east of Tikrit.” Abadi called for the Iraqi government to target those “ISIS hideout” and highlighted that funds from these fields are helping ISIS.
Ahmed Ali is a Visiting Senior Fellow at the Education for Peace in Iraq Center