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Weekly Security Update, 23 – 29 September 2014

By , September 30, 2014 10:03 am

Posted on 30 September 2014 .

Weekly Security Update, 23 – 29 September 2014

By Anne-Laure Barbosa at Constellis Consulting

Security IncidentsHigh levels of violence continued to plague Iraq’s security environment, with general dynamics in line with pre-established patterns. Whilst ISF counter-offensives were successful in re-taking some of the lost territories in Anbar and Diyala, the situation remained generally stagnant, with pro-government forces and insurgents each failing to make major gains. The series of airstrikes conducted by a coalition of Western countries in Iraq continued to be coordinated with a joint force of US and Arab warplanes in Syria, where oil facilities controlled by the Islamic State were targeted with the aim to hit the group’s financial resources. As part of an the overhaul of the country’s armed forces, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi retired two senior generals known for being close allies of former PM Nouri al-Maliki. This decision responds to a dual imperative for Abadi, who needs to distance himself from the legacy of his predecessor, and tackle a security situation which has caused an increasing number of casualties within the ISF. While this measure will hardly impact on the ISF capabilities, it will likely reinforce Abadi’s leadership among the minorities and moderate Shia elements. On 24 September, US President Barack Obama met Abadi for the first time at the UN General Assembly, publicly endorsing the Iraqi leader and promising more arms and equipment. Following last week’s complex attacks in Baghdad and Anbar, US warplanes focused more heavily on areas surrounding the capital, with the aim to deter IS from launching sophisticated and coordinated assaults on Baghdad. The main areas of direct fighting should remain located in northern Diyala, southern Salahuddin, north-eastern Anbar and northern Nineveh.

North

While the situation remains stagnant in most areas of the North, a joint force of Iraqi troops and Shia militias made some gains in Diyala. On 27 September, Iraqi fighters retook the Sudur dam, near Muqdadiyah. This capture follows days of heavy fighting in the area, which left many dead in pro-government and insurgent ranks. Previously on 25 September, a coalition of ISF and tribal fighters had cleared the Shohani area, north of Muqdadiyah, seizing several villages. Meanwhile, airstrikes hit areas of southern Kirkuk, with local intelligence reporting the deaths of two senior IS leaders near the town of Bashir. Airstrikes have focused on areas entirely controlled by IS and the number of casualties is therefore difficult to assess. Warplanes have sought to avoid urban centres, in order to limit civilian losses, and missiles have therefore mainly hit targets such as armoured vehicles. As militants adapt their tactics to new realities, avoiding visible gatherings and blending with local populations, the impact of airstrikes will be limited to constraining IS’s movements, rather than translate in a swift re-capture of territories. Although reporting remains largely interrupted in Salahuddin and Nineveh, local sources reported that militants blew up the Green Church and the Al Arbain mosque in Tikrit, while several public executions were witnessed in Mosul. Clashes between pro-government forces and IS were reported in the vicinity of the Sinjar district and border towns near Syria, with Rabia retaken by Kurdish forces on 30 September. The next days are expected to see additional counter-offensives against IS-held areas of the North.

Central

As previously assessed, IS militants sustained their efforts on northern Anbar, in a bid to drive away ground troops and air support from the North. Following the assault on an army base in Saqlawiya which left 400 to 600 soldiers dead or captured, Iraqi forces besieged by insurgents in the village of Albu Etha, near Ramadi, were forced to abandon their positions after running short of ammunition. While the current status of Albu Etha varies according to sources, a joint force of Iraqi soldiers and tribal fighters reportedly re-captured the town of Sijir, near Fallujah. ISF counter-offensives in Anbar have been considerably hindered by IEDs placed along the main routes. The increased focus of IS on Anbar prompted US warplanes to deploy south of IS’s northern strongholds, with airstrikes reported in areas near al-Qaim, Ramadi and Fallujah. Meanwhile, militant cells continued to hit Baghdad with car bombs, causing dozens of civilian fatalities in Shia-dominated districts. On 25 September, a twin blast in the southern neighbourhood of Mahmudiyah killed seven people and wounded 23 others. The surge in militant activity in Anbar should ensure that government resources assisted by air support remain focused on Baghdad’s western and northern belts for the next days.

South

While the south-eastern governorates remained largely peaceful, ISF counter-offensives in the North could prompt IS to launch incursions in the South. Levels of violence in the South continued to contrast with incidents witnessed in Babil, with sporadic clashes and IEDs inflicting a number of casualties in the northern Jurf al-Sakhar and Iskandariya districts. As IS insurgents have been challenged in the North by a coalition of pro-government forces, their operations in Anbar as a means to distract the ISF could be expanded with VBIED incursions in the South. Additionally, while the reliance on Shia fighters in the North has effectively curbed tribal violence in the South, the ongoing competition for ministerial positions could lead to a renewal of clashes. This form of violence should remain low-level and low-impact however, with the general security outlook remaining aligned with current averages.

Iraq Business News

Weekly Security Update, 16 – 22 September 2014

By , September 24, 2014 5:50 am

Weekly Security Update, 16 – 22 September 2014

By Anne-Laure Barbosa at Constellis Consulting

Security IncidentsOn 16 September, Iraq’s parliament rejected two appointees to head the critical defence and interior ministries, two of the most sensitive positions which remain to be filled. The opposition of the Shia Alliance prevented the parliament from reaching a majority vote, which would have been necessary to approve the appointments of Riad al-Ghareeb and Jaber al-Jaberi. As Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi attempts to fulfil his promise to grant concessions to the Sunnis, completing the formation of an inclusive government will have to overcome long-lasting divisions between the different sectarian and ethnic groups, as well as within the Shia community itself. While negotiations continue in order to fill the five remaining positions in the new Iraqi cabinet, the United States broadened their operational areas, and are now operating over Erbil, Sinjar, the Mosul and Haditha dams, as well as restive territories in northern Babil. Despite the international efforts currently deployed in several parts of the country, Abadi formally ruled out an intervention of foreign ground troops, in a probable attempt at asserting himself as a leader immune to foreign influence. Though Abadi’s position was recently reinforced by the formation of a new government and a leadership style contrasting with Maliki’s, tangible measures towards reconciling Iraq’s antagonistic groups have yet to be discussed and are unlikely before the cabinet is complete. Security dynamics evolved this week, with militants adopting an increasingly defensive posture in the North, as most government resources continue to be allocated on this frontline. As a result central provinces witnessed an increase in militant activity, while levels of violence in the South remained aligned with previous patterns.

North

Kurdish forces launched several offensives to reclaim strategic villages in the plains separating Kurdistan from Mosul, which remains entirely controlled by the Islamic State. Peshmerga units are currently attempting to secure the village of Hassan al-Sham on their way towards Mosul. US airstrikes, without better intelligence on the ground, are likely to be less effective in Iraqi cities and urban centres will be the most challenging to reclaim. As France carried out their first strikes against IS positions in northern Iraq, the United States expanded their air campaign by launching four airstrikes in south-west Kirkuk, destroying a number of vehicles. As Iraqi and Kurdish forces consolidate their positions in Nineveh, further operations were conducted in Diyala’s Himreen, Khalis, Sadia and Muqdadiyah districts, leading to clashes with insurgents. While international support has undoubtedly contributed to stabilising the frontlines and hindering IS’s advance, insurgents have so far maintained their grip on key urban areas. Any important breakthrough remains unlikely in the next weeks, and the security environment should remain stagnant. Most operational areas should remain focused on areas north of Mosul, Sinjar, southern Kirkuk and northern Diyala.

Central

IS militants planned two coordinated attacks in two sections of Baghdad on 18 September, with the aim to free more than a thousand prisoners. The group employed mortar shells, suicide bombers and at least one car bomb in an attempt to infiltrate the Adala Prison in Khadimiya district, and destroy an office of the Badr Organisation in another neighbourhood of the capital. The fact that mortar rounds were fired from areas north of Baghdad demonstrates that IS has the capability to stage complex attacks on the capital without relying on existing cells inside Baghdad. More car bomb attacks were reported in the capital, in the Karada and Mahmudiya neighbourhoods, killing and injuring dozens of civilians. Despite the boldness of these attacks, demonstrating an effort at relieving the pressure put on the northern frontline, the number of VBIEDs remained in line with previous averages. In Anbar, IS militants attacked an army base in the vicinity of Sijir, near Fallujah, which was under siege for a week. Hundreds of soldiers were reportedly captured, killed or injured in the militant offensive, which involved VBIEDs and suicide bombers. The increase in complex operations witnessed in the central provinces demonstrate an apparent willingness to shift the attention of the ISF away from the North, where IS’s advance has been hindered by a combination of military operations and air support. This trend could be prolonged over the next reporting period, as militants appear willing to stretch government resources.

South

A significant increase in criminal activities in Basra owed to a more permissive operational environment, as ISF units from the South continue to assist operations in the North. Following last week’s car bombs, south-eastern provinces avoided major militant incursions, while Babil continued to witness most of the violence. While sophisticated IS operations such as the ones seen in Anbar and Baghdad are unlikely due to a far less favourable terrain to Sunni insurgents, the latter could turn to southern targets, in an effort to stretch the ISF focus further. Any complex attack staged in the South-East will remain isolated, as insurgents lack the capability to launch sustained assaults away from their strongholds. Additionally, the absence of most ISF units could translate in an increase in tribal clashes in Basra, which have been absent this week.

Iraq Business News

Breitling Report: Thursday, September 18, 2014

By , September 18, 2014 1:50 pm