Updates: March 14-20, 2015
- As Iraq’s joint security forces secure large areas of Salah al-Din province, the Labaika Ya Rasool Allah offensive comes to a near halt amid a particularly violent effort by Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants to hold onto territory in central neighborhoods in Tikrit.
- Although joint security forces continue to make headway in several areas of Anbar province, the security situation remains uncertain and as a result the humanitarian situation continues to worsen.
- Ongoing operations by Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga and Turkmen Popular Mobilization Units (TPMUs) in Kirkuk are placing pressure on ISIS militants in the district of Hawija – the last significant ISIS stronghold in Kirkuk province – and in the neighboring district of Al-Shirqat – an ISIS stronghold in Salah al-Din province.
- Despite some efforts to protect civilians in conflict zones, new warnings and reports across Iraq raise serious humanitarian and human rights concerns, underscoring challenges faced by the Government of Iraq (GOI) and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in simultaneously waging war against ISIS while protecting and meeting the needs of affected populations.
- With spring fast approaching, reports indicate that the Mosul offensive will begin soon and that residents of Mosul are prepared to support joint security forces in clearing ISIS militants from the city.
Labaika Ya Rasool Allah offensive stalls in Tikrit as Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants resort to suicide attacks and increased use of IEDs to fend off joint security forces advance.
On March 14, deputy governor of Salah al-Din province Ismail Hlob stated that joint security forces were re-evaluating the strength of ISIS militants in the Presidential Sites and surrounding neighborhoods of Tikrit in preparation to clear those areas, but denied that the offensive had been halted. In Kirkuk, an official from the Popular Mobilization units (PMUs), Brigadier General Ibrahim al-Jubouri, indicated that 5,000 PMU fighters were prepared to clear Hawija district in Kirkuk province and Al-Shirqat district in Salah al-Din province, but were waiting for a resupply of weapons and equipment.
On March 15, operations to clear Tikrit stopped as joint security forces encountered large quantities of IEDs emplaced in the remaining pockets of ISIS resistance in the city. Meanwhile, Salah al-Din provincial council member Sabhan Mulla Jiad said that major combat operations in the province had ended and that local anti-ISIS tribal forces that had participated in the offensive would maintain security following the completion of clearing operations.
On March 16, several officials spoke on stalled operations in the Tikrit offensive. For his part, Lt. Gen. Abdul Wahab al-Saadi, commander of Salah al-Din operations, stated that the involvement of the International Coalition would be “necessary” in order to fully clear Tikrit of ISIS militants. However, Diyala provincial police chief Lt. Gen. Jamil al-Shammari pointed out that joint security forces were shifting tactics in the final stages of the operation in order to “protect civilian lives, maintain public and private property, and reduce human and material losses”.
On March 18, as joint security forces were being transferred in support of ongoing clearing operations in Tikrit, Khaz’al Hammad, a member of the Salah al-Din provincial council, warned that more than 200 families in the villages of Al Malha and Al Mazraa, which lie south of Baiji, were now under the threat of an attack from ISIS militants.
Iraqi Security forces (ISF) and Popular Mobilization units (PMUs) participating in Operation Sudanese Martyr, including special operations forces from Iraq’s Golden Brigades, clear territory in Karma sub-district and repel attacks in Ramadi, Anbar. Nevertheless, a deepening humanitarian crisis and extreme violence continue to characterize the situation in the province.
On March 14, Iraqi defense minister Khaled al-Obeidi arrived at the Anbar Operations Command headquarters in Ramadi to discuss ongoing operations to clear Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants from the surrounding areas. However, the security advisor to the Anbar provincial council warned that if reinforcements were not sent to Ramadi soon the lack of security would lead to a humanitarian crisis in the city.
On March 15, ISF killed 24 ISIS militants, dismantled 61 IEDs, and cleared 18 houses in Karma sub-district. In addition, members of the Messianic Youth brigade, a PMU, stated that it had cleared three villages in the sub-district. Lt. Gen. Abdul Amir al-Shammari, commander of Baghdad Operations, noted that the progress of joint security forces in Karma sub-district has removed the threat of attacks on the neighborhoods of Shuala and Kadhimiya in Baghdad.
On March 16, the Anbar provincial council ended the curfew in Ramadi, which had been declared five days earlier following clashes with ISIS militants. Anbar provincial council member Sabah al-Karhoot indicated that substantial supplies of food were arriving in the city to alleviate the developing humanitarian situation.
On March 17, joint security forces seized control of the Sheihah Bridge, an important transportation route, in northwestern Karma sub-district and repelled an attack on Ramadi, killing 50 ISIS militants. Al-Baghdadi sub-district council member Abdul Jabbar al-Obeidi warned of the continuing deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the sub-district, citing the lack of central government attention to the needs of the population. He called on the central government to transport food and medicine by air to Ain Assad Air Base, located in the sub-district.
On March 18, ISF gained control of the road linking the Sheihah Bridge, captured two days earlier, to the Japanese Bridge, which lies east of Ramadi. In Haditha, 10 civilians died of starvation as the central government failed to deliver humanitarian supplies to the district in response to the depreciating security situation in that part of the province. On the other hand, Iraqi interior minister Mohammad Ghabban agreed to train 3,000 members of tribes in Anbar province to join the Federal Police and provide security in the province. The volunteers will either be trained in Baghdad or at Ain Assad Air Base in al-Baghdadi sub-district.
On March 19, Maj. Khudair Abbas of the Muthana Brigade reported that ISIS militants had resorted to booby-trapping trees, telephone poles, mosques, and homes in an attempt to slow the advance of joint security forces into Karma sub-district.
Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga and Turkmen Popular Mobilization Units (TPMUs) push closer to the village of al-Bashir in ongoing operations to clear Daquq district and western areas of Kirkuk province of Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants.
On March 15, ISIS militants destroyed a bridge along Highway 3 linking the districts of Daquq and Kirkuk after Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces made significant gains in the center of Daquq.
On March 16, Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga cleared the villages of Khaled, Saad, and Al-Wahda in Daquq district in a continued push toward the village of al-Bashir. In a press conference, Turkmen MP Hassan Turan announced that joint security forces had cleared over 1,000 km2 of land in Kirkuk of ISIS militants.
On March 17, TPMUs cleared several more villages in the vicinity of al-Bashir and the head of a TPMU in Taza, Yilmaz Shahbaz Najjar, stated that TPMUs controlled the areas surrounding al-Bashir, but those clearing operations were being delayed due to the presence of large quantities of IEDs in the village.
Amid ongoing security operations, new warnings and reports predict that the central government has a long road to recovery and healing after the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is finally pushed out of Iraq. Nevertheless, there are signs of slow progress.
On March 14, the parliamentary committee on education revealed that an estimated 20,000 students did not regularly attend primary school in the 2014-2015 academic year. In addition, the Ministry of Education stressed that 10,000 new schools would need to be built in order to accommodate displaced populations in Iraq.
On March 15, the Ministry of Human rights reported that there are at least 1 million Iraqi widows who are in need of urgent assistance. The United Nations reports the number at over 2 million and has called on the central government to employ widows in industry and government rather than simply providing small cash transfers. To that end, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) launched the first Women’s Offices in the provinces of Basra and Karbala, an effort that includes “advocating for women’s and girls’ equal rights, combating discriminatory practices and challenging the roles and stereotypes that affect inequalities and exclusion”.
On March 16, the governor of Diyala province confirmed that 100 displaced families were returning to several villages in the vicinity of Sinsil, which lies just north of Muqdadiya. In Salah al-Din province, Sheikh Mohammed Suleiman al-Jubouri announced that 150 of the 3,300 displaced families from Al-Alam sub-district would return following clearing operations by joint security forces in previous weeks.
On March 18, Human Rights Watch released a new report that documents the extent of human rights abuses committed by Popular Mobilization units (PMUs) in operations to clear Amerli sub-district in September 2014. However, the parliamentary integrity committee confirmed that PMUs have not committed any human rights violations during the Labaika Ya Rasool Allah offensive in Salah al-Din. In addition, on March 19, Iraqi National Alliance MP Adnan Hadi al-Asadi argued that the Human Rights Watch report was based on “suspicious sources”.
On March 19, the Baghdad provincial council allocated nearly 519 million USD for the development of infrastructure in the capital. It is hoped that the projects will provide jobs for over 30,000 residents. In Kirkuk, provincial governor Najmaldin Karim criticized the aid distribution policies of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), arguing that those policies fail to support displaced families. And in Baghdad, the UN High Commission for Human Rights (UNHCHR) reported that ISIS militants “may have” committed genocide against Yazidis and other war crimes and crimes against humanity during its occupation of Iraq territory.
There have been multiple indications that the Mosul offensive will begin soon and preparations are being made by joint security forces, Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants, and residents of Mosul.
On March 14, a media official in the Kurdistan Democratic Party, Said Mmousine, reported that 150 Kurdish families had fled from the city of Mosul to the sub-district of Wanah, which is under the control of Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
On March 17, a medial official in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Giyas Surji, noted that ISIS militants injured in fighting in Kirkuk and Salah al-Din are being transferred by the hundreds to hospitals in Mosul for treatment, but that ISIS leaders have ordered that severely injured militants be shot instead due to the high volume of injuries and the lack of facilities to treat them all.
On March 18, residents in Mosul reported that Iraqi military aircraft had dropped leaflets over the city, calling on residents to support the Iraqi security forces (ISF) and assist them in clearing ISIS militants from the city. ISIS militants have built a network of trenches surrounding the city using child labor. The network is known as the “Fence of the Caliphate” and is intended to prevent ISF and Popular Mobilization units (PMUs) from entering the city.
On March 19, flyers were posted on buildings, homes, and telephone poles across Mosul advertising the formation of volunteer militias to support Iraqi security forces (ISF) in future operations to clear the city of ISIS militants. The flyers were quickly taken down. Youth in the city of Mosul also distributed leaflets detailing the launch of the “Enough Silence” campaign, which calls on residents to rise up against ISIS militants who have destroyed religious symbols and historical artifacts and restore Mosul as a “beacon of social and peaceful coexistence”.