Updates:February 21-27, 2015
- Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) destroyed cultural and historic artifacts in the city of Mosul in northern Iraq. These actions have added to the loss of priceless cultural heritage since ISIS took control of the city of Mosul.
- Security problems continue in Diyala province amid a deepening humanitarian crisis, increased civilian kidnappings, and numerous assassination attempts against provincial officials.
- Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) that include Iraqi Shi’a militias, and anti-ISIS tribal forces launched a campaign to clear the city of Tikrit and Salah al-Din province in northern Iraq of ISIS. These operations are likely to lead to waves of population displacement that local authorities are preparing for them.
- ISF and anti-ISIS tribal forces continued operations in Anbar to clear ISIS in the sub-district of al-Baghdadi district in western Anbar following the arrival of reinforcements.
- Following the lifting of nightly curfews in Wasit, Muthana, Maysan, and Dhi Qar security forces increased their presence as preemptive security measures.
ISIS has opened up a new front in its war against cultural diversity in Iraq, increasingly targeting historic and culturally important sites and artifacts
On February 21, ISIS blew up the Virgin Mary Church in the al-Arabi neighborhood in northern Mosul. On February 22, ISIS militants used IEDs to destroy the Mosul Public Library and burn its contents, destroying over 8,000 rare books and manuscripts. According to the Fiscal Times, the library housed “manuscripts from the eighteenth century, Syriac books printed in Iraq’s first printing house in the nineteenth century, books from the Ottoman era, Iraqi newspapers from the early twentieth century and some old antiques like an astrolabe and sand glass used by ancient Arabs”, among other historical items. On February 26, ISIS released a video that shows militants destroying ancient Assyrian artifacts dating back thousands of years with sledgehammers and other jackhammers. The artifacts were being housed at the Cultural Museum of Mosul.
Problems emerge in Diyala as provincial officials struggle to address humanitarian issues
On February 21, the head of Abu Saida sub-district in Diyala, Harith al-Rubaie, stated that there are over 1,000 orphaned children in the sub-district and the surrounding villages and has called on government agencies to provide support for these children. On February 25, the Diyala Council Reconstruction Committee released results from its survey of the province, finding that clashes between ISIS and anti-ISIS forces destroyed nearly 72 villages across the province in recent months. The Council of Ministers has pledged $4.2 million for reconstruction, but officials cite that more money is needed to expedite the process. On February 22, a local source reported that there had been five kidnappings in the previous week in Muqdadiya district, despite the district having been cleared of ISIS militants several weeks ago. On February 24, an IED detonated outside the home of Najat al-Tai, a member of the Diyala Provincial Council, in the Camp Saad neighborhood in eastern Baquba, although nobody was killed or injured in the assassination attempt. Following this attack, on February 25, an IED detonated at Diyala University in Baquba, targeting the head of the Security Committee in Diyala Province Sadiq al-Husseini, however the IED caused only material damage.
Several measures are being taken in response to the deteriorating situation in the province. On February 23, the Diyala Police Chief announced the introduction of a human rights education program for all the province’s officers, part of which will include respecting the media. On February 25, Diyala Provincial Council member Ahmad al-Rubaie revealed a new security plan for the province that called for greater coordination with the Interior Ministry and an increased security presence across the province.
ISF and PMUs close to launching full campaign to clear ISIS in Tikrit
On February 21, PMUs arrived in Samarra in preparation for the campaign. The PMUs were tasked with clearing Muskashafah district and other suburban areas south of Tikrit. On February 22, as the campaign in Salah al-Din escalated, ISIS militants kidnapped 23 civilians in Al-Shirqat district, north of Tikrit, on charges of cooperating with security forces. Civilian kidnappings by ISIS have spiked in response to the growing pressure that ISF has placed on ISIS militants operating in Salah al-Din and neighboring provinces. In Kirkuk province, Sheikh Anwar al-Asi of the Obaidi tribe reported that ISIS militants had kidnapped over 200 men and detained 42 women in children in five villages between Kirkuk and Baiji over the last two months. A security source in Salah al-Din province also reported an increase of ISIS kidnappings in recent weeks, in villages between Baiji and Tikrit and in villages between Tikrit and Samarra, in order to prevent young men from joining ISF and PMUs in fighting against ISIS. Despite this, the Governor of Salah al-Din province Raed al-Juburi has called on young men to join ISF, PMUs, and other anti-ISIS tribal forces in combating ISIS, encouraging them to train with these units at camps in Tuz Khurmatu and Samarra.
On February 24, Juburi announced that over 5,000 fighters from the PMUs had arrived in areas surrounding Tikrit to participate in the offensive. As these forces clashed with ISIS militants in the suburbs, the Governor stated that in coordination with the Ministry of Displacement and Migration, two camps for those displaced by the conflict would be opened in Samarra and Tuz Khurmatu districts to the south and east of Tikrit.
On February 26, joint military forces began assaulting the city of Tikrit, with clearing operations making limited progress in the area between Al Dor and the city directly to the north. Heavy artillery fire continued to target areas under ISIS control.
Clashes continue between ISF and ISIS in al-Baghdadi area
On February 21, ISF and anti-ISIS tribal forces launched an operation to clear the residential apartment complex housing about 6,000 residents that had been under siege by ISIS militants since February 14. ISF and anti-ISIS tribal forces were successful in breaking the siege and clearing ISIS from the residential apartment complex, killing 40 ISIS militants, destroying 17 vehicles, detonating 7 IEDs, and destroying 4 weapons caches in follow-on operations. However, 30 kidnapped civilians were found dead in a ditch in al-Baghdadi during ISF and anti-ISIS tribal forces clearing operations. The civilians had been shot in the head and then burned before being disposed of in the ditch.
On February 22, despite facing obstacles, ISF and anti-ISIS tribal forces continued clearing al-Baghdadi on two fronts, pushing toward the center of the district. On February 23, ISF and anti-ISIS tribal forces cleared the district police station of ISIS militants, killing 20 of them in the operation. On February 24, ISF and anti-ISIS tribal forces recaptured a water purification plant and clearing operations in the same area led to the release of 750 civilians who had been trapped by ISIS militants. On February 26, the commander of Anbar Operations Major General Qassim Mohammadi announced that a majority of al-Baghdadi had been cleared of ISIS militants although several operations are still ongoing.
New security procedures implemented in Baghdad and southern provinces as streets reopen and curfews lift
On February 24, as roads continued to reopen throughout the capital, the Deputy Chairman of the Security Committee in the Baghdad Provincial Council Mohammed al-Rubaie announced that the Ministry of Interior would begin using vehicles and K9 units developed to detect explosives at more checkpoints throughout the city by early March.
On February 25, the Commander of Rafidain Operations Command Lieutenant General Abdul Mazhar al-Azzawi announced that after security forces lifted nightly curfews in Wasit, Maysan, Muthana, and Dhi Qar provinces in southern Iraq, they have subsequently increased security measures. The new measures include the deployment of intelligence units, tightening procedures at checkpoints, increasing patrols, and securing the borders to the provinces.
Alec Lynde and Jonathan Frederickson are research interns at the Education for Peace in Iraq Center