- Joint security forces took back control of Tikrit from Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants this week. As clearing operations continue in areas of Salah al-Din province, military officials have begun planning for future operations in Anbar and Ninewa provinces, although a timeline for those operations has not been set.
- With low oil prices plaguing the Iraqi central government, civil service employees have staged peaceful protests in some provinces and threatened strikes in others if their demands are not met in the coming days and weeks.
- Officials in Diyala, Anbar, and other provinces across Iraq are raising the alarm about the humanitarian crisis. In addition, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) released its March casualty report, which indicates that civilians continue to suffer disproportionately in the war to defeat ISIS.
Following controversial airstrikes by the International Coalition against ISIS targets in Tikrit, and a boycott of the offensive by some Popular Mobilization units (PMUs), joint security forces successfully cleared the city of ISIS militants this week.
On March 28, Jawad al-Talabawi, spokesman for Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, an Iranian-backed PMU, stated that the group was prepared to rejoin the Tikrit offensive once airstrikes by the International Coalition ceased targeting ISIS militants in Tikrit. Several PMUs feared that International Coalition airstrikes would target their movements during the offensive; however, the US Embassy in Baghdad denied reports that airstrikes had targeted joint security forces. Officials confirmed that airstrikes had not taken place at the time of any reported incidents, and additionally, that all airstrikes had been coordinated with the Iraqi Defense Ministry. In response to a destabilizing security situation in areas outside of Baiji, which lies north of Tikrit, 150 members of the Jisat tribe joined PMUs under the command of Hamid Hajim.
On March 29, Jawad al-Talabawi clarified that the participation of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq in any future offensives, including in Ninewa and Anbar, would depend on the cessation of International Coalition airstrikes in those areas. In Tikrit, joint security forces surrounded ISIS militants near the Tikrit General Hospital. Meanwhile, east of the city, joint security forces took control of ISIS headquarters in the Hamrin Mountains, historically a source of militant activity.
On March 30, joint security forces took control of the areas surrounding the Tikrit General Hospital and Tikrit University’s College of Medicine, adjacent to the Presidential Sites, and began clearing the area of IEDs. Later that day, joint security forces raised the Iraqi flag over the Tikrit General Hospital and the government complex to the west, after killing 36 ISIS militants in clashes to take control of southern parts of the city. Meanwhile, in al-Mazraa village, north of Tikrit, Sheikh Ghalib al-Nafous of the Bani Qais tribe called on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to send more reinforcements to the village, indicating that he would hold the commander of the Salah al-Din provincial police and the commander of Salah al-Din operations personally responsible if a massacre were to occur at the hands of ISIS militants due to a lack of security in the village.
On March 31, joint security forces regained control of the old municipal council building in central Tikrit. In addition, joint security forces clashed violently with ISIS militants on the outskirts of the Presidential Sites after cordoning off the area. By early afternoon, they were in control of the Presidential Sites and the al-Alam Bridge, which connects Tikrit to al-Alam sub-district east of the city. Later that evening, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced that joint security forces had recaptured control of Tikrit from ISIS militants, despite small pockets of resistance in some neighborhoods, including in the Qadisiyah neighborhood in northern Tikrit.
On April 1, joint security forces entered the neighborhood of Qadisiyah after ISIS militants in the area escaped and retreated to Al-Shirqat district in northern Salah al-Din province. The mayor of Tikrit, Omar al-Shandah, stated that 250 members of local security forces would be included in plans to boost security in the city following the collapse of major ISIS resistance. Farther north, the Iraqi Air Force launched airstrikes in the villages of al-Malha and Baaja, near the village of al-Mazraa, killing 31 ISIS militants.
On April 2, internet and mobile network service was restored to Tikrit as joint security forces continued clearing areas of the city of IEDs and remaining ISIS militants. In Baghdad, an MP for the Iraqi National Alliance coalition, Kamal Zaidi, stated that the success of joint security forces in Tikrit would be a catalyst for future operations to clear ISIS militants throughout Iraq.
In the aftermath of the Tikrit offensive, Iraqi officials began making preparations for future offensives this spring and summer in Anbar and Ninewa provinces.
On March 28, commander of the Iraqi Federal Police, Raed Shakir Jawdat, announced that 137 villages, sub-districts, and districts across Iraq had been cleared of ISIS militants since the start of operations by joint security forces nearly a year ago.
On March 30, Sheikh Ashour al-Hammadi, commander of the Awakening in Anbar province, reported that Iraqis currently fighting with ISIS had allegedly asked for non-prosecution guarantees in exchange for laying down their arms. This serves as a clear indication that ISIS militants are facing a large degree of uncertainty about the organization’s strength in Iraq following its defeat in the Salah al-Din offensive.
On April 1, the vice chairman of the security committee in the Salah al-Din provincial council, Khalid al-Khazraji, stated that joint security forces in Tikrit would move to clear areas along the border with Anbar province, west of the city. In addition, joint security forces in southern Kirkuk province would move west to clear ISIS militants from al-Shirqat district, which lies to the north of Tikrit. In Baghdad, Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi met with top military officials to discuss preparations for an offensive to clear Ninewa province of ISIS militants.
Budget cuts due to low oil prices increasingly threaten Iraqi livelihoods. Overall, 60% of full time employees in Iraq work in the public sector and the government provides roughly 40% of jobs in the economy.
On March 28, the Oil Guild of Kirkuk released a statement that criticized North Oil Company’s business practices and called for non-violent protests outside its headquarters in Kirkuk if a deal between management and employees could not reached by April 1. The North Oil Company is one of 16 companies that make up the Iraqi Ministry of Oil.
On March 30, representatives of employees in the Iraqi Ministry of Industry and Minerals in Babil demanded that salaries for the previous five months be delivered and a central payment system be implemented to avoid delayed payments in the future. Employees were prepared to launch demonstrations if the government did not meet their demands faithfully.
On March 31, reports surfaced that the Iraqi central government’s payments to civil service employees in Ninewa province had been reduced in recent months. Although this reduction likely extends from the budget crisis, ISIS has used the cuts as a propaganda tool to reinforce its point that that the central government has abandoned Mosul’s residents.
On April 1, in response to the rumors surrounding reduced pay to civil service employees in Ninewa province, government officials issued public statements vowing that all employees would be paid in full. However, the central government is attempting to limit how much of that money falls into the control of ISIS militants, who have heavily taxed salaries in the past.
On April 2, over 300 Ministry of Health employees demonstrated outside of the Dhi Qar provincial council building in Nasiriyah in opposition to proposed pay cuts in the province by 90,000-150,000 dinars per month.
A new UNAMI report details Iraqi casualties in the month of March and confirms the high cost of the war against ISIS to civilian populations and the need for greater protection of civilians across Iraq in future offensive operations.
On March 28, as attacks by unidentified gunmen targeting civilians continued across Diyala, provincial police chief Lt. Gen. Jamil al-Shammari, announced that provincial police officers would tighten security measures along the 40km stretch of road between Baquba and Muqdadiya and called for the cooperation of families in the area to report any suspicious activity to police.
On March 30, the al-Baghdadi sub-district police chief, Qasim al-Obeidi, stated that ISIS militants had continued launching mortar and rocket attacks against residents of the al-Baghdadi residential complex. He requested that Iraqi Army Aviation and the Iraqi Air Force target ISIS militants who have been launching the attacks from across the Euphrates River.
On March 31, Iraqi Interior Minister Mohammad Ghaban specified that the Interior Ministry had spared no effort in securing religious institutions and places of worships for Iraqis of all religious backgrounds in order to protect them from attack and destruction by ISIS militants. In Anbar province, a ban on roaming was enacted in Ramadi as violent clashes broke out between security forces and ISIS militants. In Diyala province, the chairman of the security committee in the Diyala provincial council, Sadiq al-Husseini, conveyed that 40% of the recent attacks in the province have been the result of conflicts between families and tribes, and have not been related to ISIS militants.
On April 1, UNAMI released its casualty figures for the month of March, which are considered to be the absolute minimum due to UNAMI’s limited access to certain areas of Iraq, especially in Anbar province, in which it relies on reports from the Anbar Health Directorate. In March, over 997 Iraqis were killed and another 2,172 were injured “in acts of terrorism and violence”. Over 73% of those killed and over 82% of those injured were civilians. This is not a new trend, however. Since late December 2013, when ISIS began seizing territory in Iraq, civilian casualties have vastly outnumbered those of joint security forces, including PMUs, across the country. This disparity continues to be a concern, especially as joint security forces prepare for offensives in Anbar and Ninewa following the success of the offensive in Salah al-Din.
On April 2, the security advisor to the governor of Anbar province, Aziz Tarmooz, announced the lifting of the ban on roaming in Ramadi, which lasted a total of three days in order to prevent unnecessary civilian casualties in clashes between Iraqi security forces and ISIS militants in the city. In addition, Tarmooz noted that Iraqi security forces had cleared the areas of Albu Jaleeb and Albu Ayaa, north of Ramadi, of ISIS militants and were in control of the International Highway in those areas.