Updates for July 3-10, 2015
- The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is currently imposing a siege on the area of Haditha in western Anbar. The siege has been ongoing since June of 2014 as anti-ISIS forces including Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and tribes have withstood attacks. However, the current status of the siege has produced a serious humanitarian crisis with reports that a sack of flour is currently at $800. ISIS continues to attack the area, but it continues to be repelled. The Iraqi government has reportedly airdropped food and supplies in the area on July 10. The situation remains alarming and if ISIS is able to take control of Haditha, it will result in a massacre given the recent threatening statements made by ISIS spokesperson singling out the anti-ISIS tribes in Haditha.
- Two hundred newly-trained students in the southern Wasit province have reportedly joined Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) and deployed to the battlefield. The students reportedly did so willingly. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research is slated to start voluntary training camps for students and faculty. The PMUs and ISF and widely-supported in Iraq and consequently the ministry announcement is likely to be well-received. Nonetheless, it will have to continue to be voluntary and the ministry should not force students or faculty to enroll in the two-weeks training courses.
- ISIS launched a major attack in areas southwest of Kirkuk city in northern Iraq. The attack was repelled by Iraqi Kurdish forces and airstrikes from the anti-ISIS colaition. ISIS will continue to target Kirkuk as it sees it as a prize. Therefore, the area will require sustained U.S. attention.
- The return of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) is making headway in some areas while delays continue in other areas. In Tikrit, families continue to return and there appears is to be a concerted effort by Iraqi officials to ensure a successful process. Meanwhile, the situation in Diyals is different as IDP return is likely delayed due to security concerns and procedures.
- Clashes continue in Baiji in Salah ad-Din province. Notably, ISF and PMUs are developing capabilities to neutralize suicide car bombs preemptively. If this trend holds, ISIS will suffer setbacks since deploying those car bombs known as SVBIEDs is a hallmark tactic.
ISIS Besieges and Threatens Haditha in Western Anbar
On July 5, the Commander of the Awakening of the western regions of Anbar, Ashur al-Hammadi, confirmed that forces of the Iraqi army, police, and Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) killed twenty members of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and destroyed six vehicles in an attack on the Haditha Dam. ISIS had sent a force from Syria to storm the Haditha Dam. ISIS has executed many of its leaders over the past several months due to over eighty failed attacks to gain control of the Haditha District Center and the Haditha Dam, which are considered to be strategic areas. On July 6, the Jihad Brigades of the PMUs confirmed that they cleared the al-Shiha areas, five km north of Fallujah after fierce fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham ISIS. On July 7, the Iraqi Ministry of Defense confirmed that the Military Intelligence Directorate fired missile strikes on a factory where ISIS manufactured Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs) in the al-Sinai area in Fallujah. On July 7, the Ministry of Defense announced that it sent reinforcements to Anbar including military HUMVEES. ISIS is currently preventing residents of Fallujah from crossing a port west of the city to arrive in safer areas. The Anbar Operations Command previously agreed to open a civilian passage point in the Falahat area, west of Fallujah. However, the deputy head of the Anbar provincial council, Faleh al-Issawi, revealed that “so far has not come out of any person by the specified port.”
On July 8, an anonymous military source confirmed that an SVBIED exploded near a security checkpoint near Fallujah, killing and injuring an unknown number of Iraqi forces. On July 8, Ibrahim al-Fahdawi, head of the Security Committee in Khalidiya, confirmed that the International Coalition launched a strike on an ISIS Headquarters in Hit as a meeting of senior ISIS members was reportedly taking place. On July 8, the governmental war media cell of the Joint Special Operations Command confirmed that the forces from the First Rapid Intervention Division destroyed an SVBIED targeting security forces near the industrial district, east of Fallujah.
On July 9, Ashur al-Hammadi, the commander of the Awakening Forces in the western region of Anbar, confirmed that security forces repelled an attack by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in al-Baghdadi where al-Asad airbase is located. On July 9, Sheikh Ghassan al-Ithawi confirmed that security forces and factions of the Popular Crowd entirely cleared Saqlawiyah from ISIS. Ithawi added that dozens of ISIS members were killed and a number of their vehicles were destroyed in the clashes. On July 9, a source in Anbar Operations Command confirmed that an an anti-ISIS coalition airstrike killed nineteen members of ISIS in the district of Hit, west of Ramadi.
On July 10, ISIS launched an attack on the Khaldiyah area east of Ramadi according to Anbar tribal leader, Mohammed al-Harat. The attacks consisted of mortar fire and also an apparent ground attack that was repelled by anti-ISIS forces.
200 Newly-Trained Students Reportedly Deploy to the Front
On July 6, the governor of Wasit, Malik Khalaf al-Wadi, announced that the first group of volunteer student trainees of the Ashura Brigades in Wasit would begin deploying to combat operation areas against ISIS. These two hundred fighters, many whom are university and high school students, completed training in weaponry, how to dismantle improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and first aid. According to Wadi, these students insisted to join the frontlines.
On July 9, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Haidar al-Abudi, stated that minister Hussein al-Shahristani, has instructed Iraqi universities and higher education institutions to open voluntary military courses for students, faculty, and associated members to be trained to support the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) in the fight against ISIS. Al-Shahristani emphasized that this decision is in response to calls by the religious authority regarding the need to train students to take arms. Al-Shahristani noted that the duration of each training session will not exceed 15 days. The training is voluntary, and training sessions will begin after the Eid al-Fitr holiday.
ISIS Attacks Kirkuk and anti-ISIS Forces Foil Attack
On July 5, the Iraqi Air Force destroyed a factory run by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) dedicated to manufacturing Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs) in the Riyadh sub-district. On July 6, ISIS launched a nighttime attack in southwestern Kirkuk and was able to take control of the al-Mura village. Additional Peshmerga forces and troops from the Counter-Terrorism Group (CTG) arrived and were able to retake the village Monday morning, with the support of airstrikes conducted by the anti-ISIS coalition. On July 7, the police chief of the provincial police department of Kirkuk, Brigadier General Sarhad, confirmed that police in Kirkuk arrested fifteen suspected ISIS members of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in the Bata Village in the Laylan area, northeast of Kirkuk. On July 8, Operations Commander for Peshmerga forces in Southern Kirkuk, General Wasta Rasul, confirmed that the anti-ISIS coalition bombed ISIS hideouts in the village of Shalkh in the subdistrict of al-Riyadh in al-Hawija.
Return of IDPs Continues Amid Critique of Slow Pace
On July 3, member of Diyala’s Provincial Council, Khedhir al-Obaidi, confirmed that the number of families displaced from the province exceeds 30,000 families. Obaidi stated that “the areas of Jalawla and Sadia did not witness any return of displaced people to it,” adding that “security leaders and the provincial council and management of the province [are] working to create all matters and clean up these areas for the return of all displaced families to their areas.” Meanwhile, acting chairman of the Diyala council, Omar al-Karawi, stated that the sub-district of Sadia is expecting the return of more than 200 displaced families next week which will conincide with Eid al-Fatr.
On July 4, the Adviser of the Speaker of the Parliament for National Reconciliation, Wihda al-Jumaili, announced that only 5% of the displaced families have returned to the areas liberated from the control of ISIS. Al-Jumaili considers the low rates of return for these families to undermine efforts for national reconciliation. She said in a statement that “nearly eight months after the liberation of some areas in the Baghdad belt and some of areas of Diyala and Salah ad-Din provinces from ISIS, it has become imperative for the government to believe on the subject of the return of displaced safely and provide all the infrastructure for their reintegration into society as they are citizens and the Iraqi Constitution guarantees their right for a decent life.” She added that, “what we saw after the liberation of a lot of the areas that were under ISIS control is imposing a lot of conditions on displaced people practiced by some parties attributed to the PMU and armed forces thus the number available for the displaced to return to their areas became today very few, only five percent of those displaced returned to Diyala province areas as well as few of them in Jurf al-Sakher area and of Salah al-din areas.”
On July 6, Speaker of the Iraqi Council of Representatives, Salim al-Juburi, announced that more than 4,000 displaced families have returned to the city of Tikrit in Salah ad-Din province and predicted that up to 8,000 more families will be returning within the next few days. Juburi stated “‘the displaced families’ return to the liberated cities depends on the technical and security measures.” Juburi made the statement following a meeting with local Salah ad-Din authorities and added that success in Salah ad-Din can send a good message to the people of Mosul.
On July 7, the Ministry of Displacement and Migration announced that 330 billion Iraqi dinars ($280 million) from the current year’s budget have been allocated to displaced families and confirmed that 70,000 families will receive the grant before the Eid al-Fitr feast.
On July 9, Amir Abbas, the Director of the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration in Soran, Erbil announced the continuous arrival of displaced families to Erbil, adding that so far the province has received about 16,200 displaced people. The displaced are mainly from Anbar province, and are fleeing to Soran, Merga sur, Choman, and Rawanduz. Abbas stated that, “we have distributed aid to displaced people with the support of the Kurdistan Regional Government…the Baghdad government did not provide any assistance to them so far.” Abbas demanded that the concerned authorities “create a large camp” for all the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
In Karbala, the Minister of Displacement and Migration, Jassim Mohammed announced the relocation of 205 displaced families living in a Karbala hotel to the Karbala Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp over the course of the next two days. Mohammed said in a statement that the ministry has completed the construction of 550 caravan out of 1,050 caravans in an IDP camp in Karbala, which was implemented at a cost of 15 billion dinars (almost $13 million). The camps are well-equipped, according to Mohammed.
On July 4, the Director General of the Education Directorate, Hakim al-Jabri in Maysan Province announced that it needs to build more than 400 schools to eliminate the issue of teachers working double-time. Al-Jabri called for the launch of a national campaign to build schools by companies investing in the province.
Baiji Fight Continues to be in Fluid Situation
On July 5, an anonymous military source confirmed that two ISIS VBIEDs targeting military forces killed nine Iraqi soldiers in the al-Asri neighborhood of Baiji and the al-Tamim area southwest of Baiji. ISIS was reportedly able to take control of al-Tamim, Jadida, al-Harijiya, and al-Shat and most of the eastern road parallel to the Tigris River as Iraqi forces withdrew to al-Mazraa and al-Malha, south of Baiji. On July 7, medical and security sources confirmed that three ISIS SVBIEDs exploded in different areas of Baiji, killing nine and injuring twenty-eight fighters in the Popular Mobilization Units. The first attack occurred in the center of Baiji, and the other two occurred in the al-Sikak district to the southwest. On the same day, a security source confirmed that reinforcements from the Iraqi Army and the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) arrived in Baiji. The source added that battles are still occurring in the al-Sikak district and in the central market of Baiji, along with backing by International Coalition aircraft on al-Siniyah subdistrict west of Baiji, al-Sukariya village, and a petrochemical plant to the north.
On July 9, an anonymous security source confirmed that the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) attacked Samarra in the early morning, killing three members of the Popular Mobilization Units and injuring seven others. On July 10, Federal Police forces were able to foil three ISIS SVBIEDs near Baiji.
Ahmed Ali is a Visiting Senior Fellow and the Director of the Iraq Security and Humanitarian Monitor at the Education for Peace in Iraq Center. He would like to thank Sarah Walker, Tarai Zemba and John Chisholm for research support.