Friday, March 27, 2015

U.S.-Iranian Rivalry Behind Iraq’s Tikrit Operation


At the start of March 2015, Iraqi artillery began firing on Dour, Salahaddin south of Tikrit in the opening salvo of the operation to free Tikrit. The attacking force was 30,000 strong, with Hashd al-Shaabi, also known as Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) the majority of the fighters. Quick progress was made with the towns around Tikrit taken and the city itself surrounded. When it came to assaulting the urban core however improvised explosive devices, snipers, and mounting casualties held up the attackers. That led to a debate between the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and Prime Minister Haider Abadi on one side and Iran and its allies within the Hashd on the other over how to proceed, and specifically on whether to invite Coalition air strikes. This brought up the larger political rivalry between Tehran and Washington over who was going to play the leading role in Iraq.

Iran originally wanted the Tikrit operation to show that it and its partners in Iraq could take a major city without U.S. assistance. Tehran and its partners within the Hashd were formulating the Tikrit plans largely on their own, when Prime Minister Haider Abadi got wind of it. The Iraqi Security Forces were then added, but they would only be around a third of the attackers. Tehran had played a pivotal role in several earlier campaigns in places like Amerli in Salahaddin, Jurf al-Sakhr in Babil, and Jalawla and Sadiya in Diyala. Now having helped the Iraqi forces regain the initiative the Iranians wanted a major victory, and that would be Tikrit, the second large city taken by the Islamic State after the fall of Mosul in June. Tehran wanted to be in the lead without American participation, and to have forces friendly to it such as the Badr Organization, Asaib Ahl Al-Haq and Kataib Hezbollah be in the vanguard of the attack so that they could claim all the glory and political capital from the impending triumph.

In the first week of the operation there was steady progress, but that stalled when central Tikrit was reached. In quick procession the towns around Tikrit fell such as Dour, Alam, Albu Ajeel, and the suburbs of the city itself were penetrated. Iran was right there on the front providing drones, artillery, air strikes, and advisers. The United States was also not involved because of Iran’s leading role. However by the second week of March the advance slowed, and a halt was called. An Iraqi army captain told Niqash that neither the security forces nor Hashd were prepared for the urban fighting they found themselves in, and that IS had laced the area with IEDs and snipers, and were carrying out counterattacks in the surrounding villages throwing the government’s forces off balance. There were also reports of mounting casualties as well. McClatchy Newspapers heard that up to 1,000 men had been killed since the start of the operation, while the Washington Post went to Najaf cemeteries where an estimated 40-60 bodies were being buried a day during the height of the fighting, which would be roughly 500-800 dead alone over two weeks. That set off a heated debate between the parties involved in the attack on how to proceed

There were two camps on how to finish off the Tikrit operation. On the one hand, Iran and its allies wanted a frontal assault upon the city and to keep the Americans out. This was repeatedly made clear by Badr Organization head Hadi Ameri who consistently went to the press to not only criticize the American led Coalition for not truly being an ally of Iraq, but the Iraqi army as well calling them weaklings for wanting Washington’s assistance. In comparison Ameri repeatedly praised the Iranians for everything that they had done. On the other hand Samarra Operations Command head General Abdul Wahab al-Saadi publicly called for Coalition air strikes. Prime Minister Abadi sided with the general, and a formal request for aid was made. That led to reconnaissance flights over the area on March 24, and then attacks the next day. This was a major defeat for Iran and its allies whose whole purpose in launching the offensive was to take the city without the Americans. The inability to take Tikrit however led to a stalemate, which could not be maintained without all sides losing credibility. That opened up the opportunity for the Americans to enter the fray.

U.S. support was not without conditions. Washington requested that the Abadi government have the Hashd refrain from entering Tikrit and have the ISF lead the charge instead. Several of the Hashd forces acquiesced such as Asaib Ahl Al-Haq, Kataib Hezbollah, and Moqtada al-Sadr’s Peace Brigades claiming that they did not trust the Americans. This was a political victory for Washington. There was even some gloating by U.S. defense officials who told the Wall Street Journal, that Iran and the Hashd’s plans had been defeated, and that the U.S. was hoping that this would convince Baghdad that Tehran was not enough to defeat the insurgency and that closer cooperation was needed with the Americans. This was just one round in a much larger play for power within Iraq between the two countries. 

The rivalry between the Americans and Iranians in Iraq is far from over. Iran might have faced a setback in Tikrit, but the Iraqi government does not have the forces to conduct major operations on its own. It needs the manpower of the Hashd, and especially those aligned with Iran who have some of the best weapons and experienced fighters, many of which are veterans of the Syrian war. Likewise, air strikes can weaken the insurgency, but no ground can be taken with planes. The U.S. is hoping that in the long run its training missions can build up the Iraqi army so that it can be in the lead in security operations, but that is months away. In the meantime that means that all of these groups need to at least have some sort of division of labor to turn back the insurgency. That was already suggested when the Tikrit operation first began with Washington officials talking about playing a larger role in Anbar and with the Kurds in the north, while Iran was in the lead in Diyala, Baghdad, and Salahaddin. At the same time, the two powers are playing for the long run to see which country will have the prominent role in Iraq after the war is over. That outcome is yet to be seen, and the differences between the two will come out many more times before the conflict is finished.

SOURCES

Abdul-Zahra, Qassim and Salama, Vivian, “After US airstrikes, Iraq troops start final push for Tikrit,” Associated Press, 3/26/15

Abdul-Zahra, Qassim and Yacoub, Sameer, “Iraqi commander slams US, hails Iran in fight against ISIS in Tikrit,” Associated Press, 3/14/15

Alsumaria, “The attack on Tikrit, four axes with the participation of 500 fighters of her sons,” 3/26/15

Barnard, Anne, “Iraq’s Drive Against ISIS Reveals Tensions With U.S.,” New York Times, 3/3/15

BBC, “Iraq crisis: Tikrit push ‘no longer led by Shia militias,’” 3/26/15

Beale, Jonathan, “Battle for Tikrit key to Iraq’s future,” BBC, 3/23/15

Coles, Isabel, “Iranians play role in breaking IS siege of Iraqi town,” Reuters, 9/1/14

Dunlop, W.G., “Iraqi army says coalition raids needed in Tikrit battle,” Agence France Presse, 3/15/15

El-Ghobashy, Tamer and Barnes, Julian, “Iran Backs Iraq Military Campaign to Reclaim Tikrit From Islamic State,” Wall Street Journal, 3/2/15

Habib, Mustafa, “Why The Iraqi Army Is Stuck On The Outskirts of Tikrit,” Niqash, 3/26/15

Hameed, Saif, “Iraq special forces advance on Tikrit, U.S. coalition joins fight,” Reuters, 3/26/15

Hewrami, Sirwe, “Shiite militia commander: No Kurdish force took part in Saadiya liberation,” Rudaw, 11/26/14

Karim, Ammar, “Iraq militia chief slams army ‘weaklings’ over Tikrit strikes,” Agence France Presse, 3/22/15

Mably, Richard, Nakhoul, Samia and Parker, Ned, “Iraq request for U.S.-led Tikrit air strikes ‘imminent’: diplomat,” Reuters, 3/24/15

Al Mada, “Abadi plans to unify the crowd under his leadership and efforts to engage the international coalition in the battle for Tikrit,” 3/21/15
- “Ameri: 100 Iranian experts providing “unrequited” assistance,” 3/10/15

Morris, Loveday, “Iraq’s victory over militants in Sunni town underlines challenges government faces,” Washington Post, 10/29/14
- “Iraqi offensive for Tikrit stalls as casualties mount,” Washington Post, 3/16/15

Morris, Loveday and Ryan, Missy, “U.S. forces begin airstrikes in Tikrit, where Iran-backed militias are in lead,” Washington Post, 3/25/15

Al Mustaqbal, “Washington recognizes the role of Tehran and warns of sectarian strife,” 3/4/15

Nissenbaum, Dion and Barnes, Julian, “U.S. Surveillance Planes Aid Fight by Iraq, Iranian-Backed Militias for Tikrit,” Wall Street Journal, 3/24/15

Nordland, Rod and Al-Jawoshy, Omar, “3 Shiite Militias Quit Iraqi Siege of ISIS Over U.S. Air Role,” New York Times, 3/26/15

Prothero, Mitchell, “Operation to retake Tikrit from Islamic State stalled by heavy casualties, discord,” McClatchy Newspapers, 3/20/15

Rudaw, “PMF leader Amiri: ‘the US cannot protect Iraq,’” 3/19/15

Salama, Vivina and Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Coalition official: US-led force providing surveillance flights over Islamic State-held Tikrit,” Associated Press, 3/24/15

Salih, Mohammed, “Iran gathers power in Iraq as US further sidelined,” Al Monitor, 3/17/15

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Iraq: Confident In PM And Government, But Hesitant About Economy


Gallup just released a new public opinion poll of Iraqis that was conducted at the end of 2014. 1,003 Iraqis from all of the country’s provinces were asked three questions about their confidence in the new Prime Minister Haider Abadi, what they thought of the government overall, and their opinion of the economy. Both the premier and government got high marks, but many Iraqis believed that the economic situation in the country was deteriorating.

The first question was did people approve or disapprove of the prime minister. Haider Abadi received a 72% positive rating. This was across the board with 78% in Baghdad, 78% in the south (Basra, Dhi Qar, Maysan and Muthanna), 74% in the mid-Euphrates (Najaf, Babil, Wasit, Qadisiyah, and Karbala), 72% in what Gallup termed the “Sunni Heartland” (Anbar, Kirkuk, Diyala, Ninewa, and Salahaddin), and 53% in Kurdistan (Irbil, Dohuk, and Sulaymaniya). That topped Maliki’s numbers who had a 50% approval rating in May-June 2014 and a 51% in September-October 2013. Maliki got especially low scores in Kurdistan and the Sunni Heartland with 12% and 30% respectively in May-June 2014. Maliki was in a two year dispute with the Kurdistan Regional Government over its oil policy, and his attempt to arrest Finance Minister Rafi Issawi set off a year long protest movement, which accounts for his low scores in those two parts of the country. The only area where Maliki did better than Abadi in the last two surveys was in the Mid-Euphrates where Maliki received 77% and Abadi 74%. Otherwise the country seems pretty happy with the change in leadership and the premier’s statements about reconciliation appeared to have won over a majority of every section of Iraq.

Do you approve or disapprove of the way _ is handling his job as prime minister

Maliki
Maliki
Abadi

Sep-Oct 2013
May-June 2014
Nov-Dec 2014
Iraq Overall
51%
50%
72%
Baghdad
57%
54%
78%
South
68%
77%
78%
Mid-Euphrates
69%
77%
74%
Sunni Heartland
40%
30%
72%
Kurdistan
13%
12%
53%


The second issue in the Gallup poll had to do with the central government and whether people had confidence in it or not. Again, the numbers were higher compared to the two previous surveys. For the country overall, 60% said they had confidence in Baghdad. Even 51% in the Sunni heartland and 55% in Kurdistan had a good view. In the previous poll from May-June 2014 only 43% were confident in the government, and 50% in September-October 2013. In the former approval ratings were as low as 40% in Kurdistan and 30% in the Sunni heartland. Again, Maliki’s policies were likely responsible for the low numbers in the 2013 and mid-2014 surveys, and the change in government has led to new optimism reflected in the newest results.

Do you have confidence in the national government or not?

Sep-Oct 2013
May-June 2014
Nov-Dec 2014
Iraq overall
50%
43%
60%
South
54%
53%
66%
Baghdad
45%
44%
65%
Mid-Euphrates
55%
54%
63%
Kurdistan
41%
40%
55%
Sunni heartland
52%
30%
51%


Finally, Gallup asked Iraqis about whether they thought the economy was getting better or worse. The good feelings expressed in the first two questions were not replicated in the third where 56% said things were going badly, with only 37% saying better, and 5% saying the same. In June 2014 Iraqis were split with 45% saying things were better and the same number saying worse, while in October 2013 48% said things were worse, and 43% better. The drop in oil prices, which Iraq is dependent upon, and the subsequent budget problems the country is going through was likely a major factor. The war and massive displacement of people, has also increased jobless and poverty rates in Iraq adding additional pressure to an already troubled economy.

Do you think the economic conditions in Iraq as a whole are getting better or getting worse?
Oct 2013
June 2014
Dec 2014
48% getting worse
45% getting worse
56% getting worse
43% getting better
45% getting better
37% getting better
6% same
6% same
5% same


SOURCES

Owen, Travis and Fakreddine, Jihad, “Iraqis Have High Hopes for New Prime Minister,” Gallup, 3/19/15

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Islamic State Enters The European Drug Trade


It has often been said that the Islamic State (IS) operates like a mafia. The group has been largely self-sufficient since 2005 relying upon a number of criminal activities to fund itself. After its recent success in Syria and Iraq it also acquired control of several oil fields that greatly boosted its ability to raise money. Declining oil prices, Coalition air strikes, and the loss of two fields recently in Salahaddin has now hurt that industry. Since the group has such large costs to maintain its forces and hold over its territory it must now find other sources. There are reports that the drug trade might be becoming a new money making activity for IS.

Starting in 2014 European law enforcement and intelligence agencies began reporting that the Islamic State had become a major player in the continent’s drug trafficking. In October 2014 for example, Spanish intelligence said that IS was importing drugs to Europe to finance itself. It would smuggle drugs in and then bring back weapons, foreign fighters and other items to Syria and Iraq. The next month, Russia’s Federal Drug Control Service told the press that IS was supplying nearly half of Europe’s heroin with its main drug source being Afghanistan. The head of the agency, Viktor Ivanov said that this was a renewable resource for IS. A later report in March 2015 claimed that IS was making $1 billion annually from this illicit trade. That amount seems far too high, but it is undoubtedly making a lot if it has gained an important hold on the narcotics trade.

The Islamic State needs money and lots of it to maintain its control over Iraq and Syria. It needs to pay fighters, provide pensions to the families of its dead, run factories and deliver services. For years now it has relied upon criminal activities to pay for itself. Getting involved in the drug trade would be in line with that history, and more importantly, could provide a huge amount of funds. It is also extremely hard to crackdown upon given its illegal nature. If the Spanish and Russian reports are true, it has already become a major player. IS has proven amazingly resourceful throughout its life, and has constantly sought new ways to fund itself, and narcotics might just be its latest endeavor.

SOURCES

Paraszczuk, Joanna, “Russia Claims IS Supplying Half Of All Afghan Heroin Coming To Europe,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 11/26/14

Sharkov, Damien, “Islamic State Use Drug Trade to Bankroll Their Jihad, Says Spanish Intelligence,” Newsweek, 10/20/14

Timothy, Odultolu, “ISIS Earns $1 Billion Dollars Annually For Delivering Afghanistan Heroin,” Gidi Post, 3/8/15

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Security In Iraq 3rd Week Of March, 2015


Reported violence was slightly down in the third week of March, 2015 in Iraq. Attacks were roughly the same as the previous week, while casualties dropped. The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and Kurdish peshmerga continued their offensives in eastern Anbar and southern Kirkuk respectively, but the major operation in Tikrit stalled and has been on hold as reinforcements were called up, and a debate appeared to be underway between all the involved groups on how to proceed.

There were 141 security incidents reported in the press. The real number is much higher. That was very close to the previous week when there were 133, and down from the first week of the month when there were 172. That averaged out to 21.2 reported attacks per day, down from 23.3 in February, and 26.2 in January.

For the week Baghdad had the most incidents with 51, followed by 28 in Salahaddin, 20 in Anbar, 19 in Ninewa, 8 in Kirkuk, 7 in Diyala, 5 in Babil, and one each in Basra, Irbil and Maysan. Irbil was a rare occasion, and was the result of the Islamic State firing rockets into the province on March 15, but luckily nothing was hit. Basra was also struck by a truck bomb on March 18 killing 12 and wounding 30. This was the first time southern Iraq was hit by any type of vehicle borne bomb since Najaf at the end of October 2014.

Those attacks led to 299 deaths and 503 wounded. Again, the actual statistics are higher than what gets in the press. The dead broke down to 1 Sahwa, 8 Hashd al-Shaabi, 32 Peshmerga, 62 ISF, and 196 civilians, while the injured were 5 Sahwa, 36 Hashd, 50 Peshmerga, 58 ISF, and 354 civilians. By province that broke down to 92 killed in Salahaddin, 74 in Baghdad, 50 in Anbar, 37 in Ninewa, 24 in Kirkuk, 12 in Basra, 5 in Diyala, 4 in Babil, and one in Maysan. The third week’s totals were down from the previous one’s 348 killed and 656 injured.

For the month there have been an average of 48.5 killed per day and 83.1 wounded. That was down from February’s 61.7 dead and 95.8 injured, and January’s 74.4 fatalities and 93.3 wounded. This continued the trend of casualties declining since the summer.

Violence In Iraq By Week Jun. 2014-2015
Date
Incidents
Dead
Wounded
Jun 1-7
228
612
1,020
Jun 8-14
234
1,889
890
Jun 15-21
177
804
755
Jun 22-28
207
740
800
Jun 29-30
59
127
236
JUN
905
4,172
3,701
Jul 1-7
203
526
651
Jul 8-14
214
577
628
Jul 15-21
230
444
1,009
Jul 22-28
224
589
801
Jul 29-31
66
163
230
JUL
937
2,299
3,319
Aug 1-8
270
1,122
885
Aug 9-14
180
710
1,152
Aug 15-21
150
731
499
Aug 22-28
156
523
798
Aug 29-31
59
125
289
AUG
815
3,211
3,623
Sep 1-7
169
616
751
Sep 8-14
168
467
731
Sep 15-21
170
625
794
Sep 22-28
157
396
576
Sep 29-30
49
126
287
SEP
713
2,230
3,139
Oct 1-7
175
456
687
Oct 8-14
189
560
880
Oct 15-21
159
499
780
Oct 22-28
160
346
596 + 1,230
Oct 29-31
72
574
227
OCT
755
2,434
3,170 + 1,230
Nov 1-7
154
611
828
Nov 8-14
134
470
607
Nov 15-21
139
323
479
Nov 22-28
139
321
640
Nov 29-30
40
206
535
NOV
606
1,931
3,089
Dec 1-7
148
581
482
Dec 8-14
156
233 + 166
444 + 1,113
Dec 15-21
133
377
340
Dec 22-28
161
558
494
Dec 29-31
91
117
233
DEC
689
2,032
3,106
Jan 1-7
184
434
464
Jan 8-14
170
730
493
Jan 15-21
182
390
515
Jan 22-28
189
466
894
Jan 29-31
90
288
529
JAN
815
2,308
2,895
Feb 1-7
155
380
688
Feb 8-14
170
406
559
Feb 15-21
165
573
364
Feb 22-28
165
371
687 + 386
FEB
655
1,730
2,683
Mar 1-7
172
372
587
Mar 8-14
133
348
656
Mar 15-21
141
299
503

Violence By Province In Iraq March 2015
Province
Mar 1-7
Mar 8-14
Anbar
24 Incidents
71 Killed: 22 ISF, 31 Sahwa, 18 Civilians
77 Wounded: 31 ISF, 46 Civilians
14 Shootings
1 IED
1 Suicide Car Bomb
3 Mortars
1 Rocket
23 Incidents
58 Killed: 34 ISF, 1 Sahwa, 23 Civilians
147 Wounded: 26 ISF, 8 Sahwa, 113 Civilians
7 Shootings
1 IED
24 Suicide Car Bombs
1 Rocket
3 Mortars
Babil
5 Incidents
8 Killed: 1 Hashd, 7 Civilians
13 Wounded: 2 Hashd, 11 Civilians
1 Shooting
3 IEDs
1 Sticky Bomb
4 Incidents
8 Killed: 1 ISF, 7 Civilians
33 Wounded: 4 ISF, 29 Civilians
4 IEDs
1 Car Bomb
Baghdad
56 Incidents
75 Killed: 7 ISF, 4 Hashd, 5 Sahwa, 59 Civilians
229 Wounded: 16 ISF, 13 Sahwa, 16 Hashd, 184 Civilians
15 Shootings
30 IEDs
6 Sticky Bombs
1 Car Bomb
3 Mortars
2 Rockets
47 Incidents
88 Killed: 5 ISF, 83 Civilians
245 Wounded: 10 ISF, 1 US Soldier, 234 Civilians
15 Shootings
25 IEDs
4 Sticky Bombs
2 Car Bombs
1 Mortar
Basra
5 Incidents
4 Killed: 4 Civilians
3 Shootings
1 Sticky Bomb
-
Diyala
13 Incidents
17 Killed: 3 Hashd, 14 Civilians
23 Wounded: 3 ISF, 4 Hashd, 16 Civilians
6 Shootings
3 IEDs
3 Sticky Bombs
1 Car Bomb
2 Incidents
3 Killed: 2 ISF, 1 Civilian
3 Wounded: 3 ISF
1 Shooting
1 IED
Kirkuk
1 Incident
1 Killed: 1 ISF
1 Shooting
12 Incidents
103 Killed: 1 ISF, 23 Hashd, 26 Peshmerga, 53 Civilians
105 Wounded: 10 ISF, 5 Hashd, 87 Peshmerga, 3 Civilians
8 Shootings
1 IED
1 Suicide Bomber
4 Car Bombs
1 Mine
Ninewa
31 Incidents
120 Killed: 2 ISF, 118 Civilians
12 Wounded: 12 Civilians
17 Shootings
11 IEDs
20 Incidents
18 Killed: 1 ISF, 17 Civilians
10 Wounded: 1 Peshmerga, 9 Civilians
12 Shootings
5 IEDs
Salahaddin
37 Incidents
76 Killed: 24 ISF, 28 Hashd, 24 Civilians
233 Wounded: 54 ISF, 122 Hashd, 57 Civilians
18 Shootings
14 IEDs
1 Suicide Bomber
6 Suicide Car Bombs
1 Car Bomb
3 Mortars
25 Incidents
70 Killed: 61 ISF, 3 Hashd, 6 Civilians
113 Wounded: 98 ISF, 6 Hashd, 9 Civilians
9 Shootings
12 IEDs
3 Suicide Bombers
3 Suicide Car Bombs

Province
Mar 15-21
Anbar
20 Incidents
50 Killed: 5 ISF, 45 Civilians
80 Wounded: 8 ISF, 72 Civilians
9 Shootings
2 Suicide Bombers
3 Suicide Car Bombs
4 Mortars
2 Rockets
Babil
5 Incidents
4 Killed: 2 ISF, 2 Civilians
10 Wounded: 6 ISF, 2 Hashd, 2 Civilians
3 Shootings
1 IED
1 Sticky Bomb
Baghdad
51 Incidents
74 Killed: 6 ISF, 1 Sahwa, 1 Hashd, 66 Civilians
254 Wounded: 21 ISF, 5 Sahwa, 228 Civilians
13 Shootings
34 IEDs
4 Sticky Bombs
Basra
1 Incident
12 Killed: 12 Civilians
30 Wounded: 30 Civilians
1 Truck Bomb
Diyala
7 Incidents
5 Killed: 5 Civilians
4 Shootings
3 IEDs
Irbil
1 Incident
1 Rocket
Kirkuk
8 Incidents
24 Killed: 20 Peshmerga, 1 Hashd, 3 Civilians
59 Wounded: 50 Peshmerga, 8 Hashd, 1 Civilian
6 Shootings
2 IEDs
Maysan
1 Incident
1 Killed: 1 ISF
1 Shooting
Ninewa
19 Incidents
37 Killed: 12 Peshmerga, 25 Civilians
9 Shootings
4 IEDs
Salahaddin
28 Incidents
92 Killed: 48 ISF, 6 Hashd, 38 Civilians
70 Wounded: 23 ISF, 26 Hashd, 21 Civilians
15 Shootings
6 IEDs
3 Suicide Bombers
2 Suicide Car Bombs
1 Mortar
1 Rocket

Car Bombs In Iraq March 2015
Date
Location
Dead
Wounded
Mar 1



Mar 2
East of Samarra, Salahaddin
4

Mar 3
South of Tikrit, Salahaddin
4
12
Mar 4



Mar 5
Abu Dishir, Baghdad
Alam & Tal Ksaiba x3, Salahaddin
7
37
Mar 6



Mar 7
Bastan, Anbar
Bani Saad, Diyala
Tuz Kharmato, Salahaddin
13
47
Total
10
28
96
Mar 8
Zoba, Anbar
Mahmudiya, Babil
Jamila, Baghdad
10
32
Mar 9
Mullah Ali x3, Kirkuk
5
30
Mar 10
Mullah Abdullah, Kirkuk
Baiji, Salahaddin
2
16
Mar 11
Ramadi x17, Anbar
Hurriya, Baghdad
Diom, Salahaddin
29
79
Mar 12
Saqlawiya, Anbar
3
5
Mar 13
Diom, Salahaddin
6
11
Mar 14
Ramadi x5, Anbar
11
14
Total
34
66
187
Mar 15
Ramadi, Anbar
5
7
Mar 16



Mar 17
Ramadi, Anbar


Mar 18
Um Qasr, Basra
12
30
Mar 19



Mar 20
Huiysh, Salahaddin

6
Mar 21
Ramadi, Anbar
Thar Thar, Salahaddin
2
8
Total
6
19
51


After a yearly high of 34 vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) in the second week of March, there were just six the third week. Ramadi continued to be the main target with three detonating there from March 15-21. Just like previous weeks as well the security forces and Hashd were the favorite targets with five out of six aimed at them. There were far more VBIEDs that were launched by the Islamic State but were destroyed before reaching their target. The totals of 19 dead and 51 wounded from the 6 car bombs were also probably low as complete numbers for some of the attacks were not reported.

Just like the previous week both the government and Islamic State were carrying out major operations in Anbar. The Islamic State continued its heavy attacks in Ramadi. The government center and Howaz district were assaulted several times during the week. For example, March 15 Howaz was hit by a suicide car bomb on an army base, followed by an infantry assault, along with an attack on the northeast and mortar fire. The next day, the northwest was hit, then the Andalus and Dhobat sections were struck by 2 suicide bombers, a suicide car bomb, followed by an infantry attack on March 17. The government forces on the other hand, were focused upon carrying out the second phase of its clearing sweep through the Garma area. Several villages were cleared in the process. This operation was started in an attempt to end indirect fire on Baghdad’s western suburbs. Despite all the activity the overall situation in the province has been deadlocked for months. IS has made some small advances in Ramadi over the last few months, but many neighborhoods remain contested. The government forces remained undermanned as well, unable to hold territory that it clears.

Baghdad had almost the same number of casualties the third week of March as the second. There were 74 dead and 254 wounded from March 15-21 compared to 88 killed and 245 injured from March 8-14. Since the start of the month there has been 89 improvised explosive devices. These are the major threats to the province accounting for most of the casualties.

Starting last week the Kurdish peshmerga moved out of the disputed territories into southern Kirkuk in a supporting operation to the one in Tikrit, Salahaddin. The Kurds have made steady progress with a number of towns in the Daquq and Bashir area taken. The Hashd forces have also become involved in these maneuvers. The ultimate goal is to take Hawija, which remains the main insurgent stronghold in the governorate.

The major news however was in Salahaddin where the Tikrit operation was put on hold towards the end of the second week of March. The official reason was for civilians to exit the battle zone and for reinforcements to be called up. There were also plenty of reports about divisions between the Iranians, pro-Iranian Hashd groups, the ISF and Baghdad over strategy and tactics. One is over the role of the United States led Coalition. The Americans have not been involved because of the large role played by Iran, which was Tehran’s plan. The Iranians along with their allies amongst the Hashd wanted to show that they could defeat the insurgents without the Coalition. As casualties have mounted and IED fields and snipers have slowed the advance the ISF have been calling for Washington’s help. The head of the Samarra Operations Command for example, General Abdul Wahab al-Saadi was quoted in the press on March 15 saying that he asked the Defense Ministry to request Coalition air strikes. Badr Organization head Hadi Ameri in turn, criticized the army for asking for that help. Prime Minister Haider Abadi is said to support the military in this debate. Iran and the Hashd are also reportedly pushing for a head on assault of Tikrit, while Baghdad and the ISF are looking for an alternative that could reduce casualties. In the meantime Tikrit remains surrounded, and when these differences are resolved the city will fall. The geopolitics of the situation need to be resolved first.

SOURCES

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