ISHM 12: April 11 – 17, 2015

ISHM_Logo_2016Updates: April 17, 2015

  • A suicide car bomb detonated near the U.S. Consulate in Erbil, capitol of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), killing 3 people and injuring eight others. It is the second serious attack to occur in Erbil, or anywhere in the KRI, over the past year.
  • The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) continued to clash with Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and anti-ISIS tribal fighters in the city of Ramadi in western Iraq’s Anbar province. The fighting is contributing to a new wave of displacement across Anbar, with one report estimating 150,000 displaced over the past week.
  • In Salah al-Din province in north central Iraq, ISIS took control of parts of the Baiji oil refinery north of Tikrit. Given the refinery’s strategic importance, the challenge of clearing the area of ISIS militants, including sleeper cells, will likely persist.
  • Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi headed a ministerial delegation to Washington, DC, his first official visit, and sat down with President Barak Obama to discuss U.S.-Iraq relations, the fight against ISIS, improving governance and economic development, and humanitarian efforts. President Obama announced that the U.S. will provide $205 million in additional humanitarian assistance. The visit comes at a crucial point in the fight against ISIS.
  • A petition signed by 44,000 residents in Basra (representing roughly 2% of the city’s population) was delivered to Iraq’s electoral commission that can initiate the process of converting Basra into an autonomous region.
  • A local official reports that 2,000 families, or 90% of the area’s population, have returned to Muqdadiyah in northeastern Diyala.

Suicide Car Bombing Near U.S. Consulate in Erbil

On April 17, a suicide vehicle borne improvised explosive device (SVIED) detonated near the U.S. Consulate in Erbil’s predominantly Christian neighborhood of Ankawa. According to anonymous security sources, the heavily fortified U.S. Consulate was the intended target of the attack, but the assailants were stopped before reaching a perimeter entrance. Occurring outside a popular café, the deadly attack killed 3 people and injured another 14, according to initial accounts. This attack is striking because, unlike the daily violence that affects the rest of Iraq, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) has been relatively secure.

The last serious attack in the KRI was on November 19, 2014, when a SVIED was detonated outside of the governor’s mansion in Erbil. The explosion killed five civilians and was the first major attack in the KRI in over a year.

ISIS Continues to Seek the Control of Ramadi Amid a Major Humanitarian Crisis

On April 11, the governor of Anbar province, Suhaib al-Rawi, stated that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had ordered the release of weapons to Anbar province for distribution to joint security forces, including tribal forces that are combating the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). On April 11, three armored brigades reportedly arrived in areas outside of Ramadi in support of an offensive to clear ISIS militants from Anbar province.

On April 12, the deputy chairman of the Anbar Provincial Council, Faleh al-Issawi, stated that the International Coalition had conducted airstrikes against ISIS militants in an effort to reinforce units near Ramadi. On April 13, the deputy commander of the Golden Brigade in Anbar province, Brigadier Gen. Abdul Amir al-Khazraji, stated that the International Coalition had conducted airstrikes on ISIS militants in areas surrounding Ramadi.

On April 13, deputy head of the Anbar Provincial Council, Faleh al-Issawi, stated that Iraqi security forces (ISF) reinforcements had arrived in the province, but that major military operations had not yet begun. He called on the local population to join the anti-ISIS tribal forces in the offensive to clear ISIS from the province. On April 13, ISF launched artillery strikes against ISIS militants in Albu Faraj, north of Ramadi, in preparation for an offensive to clear the area of ISIS militants.

The recent escalation in fighting has also led to massive civilian displacement and destruction of property. On April 13, a member of the Anbar Provincial Council, Amal Fahdawi, announced that joint security forces had begun an operation to clear ISIS militants from Albu Faraj, north of Ramadi. The escalation of fighting is contributing to a large new wave of displacement from Anbar, totaling as high as 150,000 over the past week.

On Monday, April 13, representatives of the largest Iraqi PMUs publicly explained their current inactivity in the present military operations in Anbar. In his public statement, Karim al-Nuri expressed the following, “Our forces are present in every place that ISIS exists, but our presence is limited in Anbar. He added, “The Popular Mobilization exists under the control of the General Commander of the Armed Forces.”

On April 14, a member of the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, Fadel al-Ghraoui, announced that ISIS had displaced hundreds of families in areas surrounding Ramadi and killed 35 civilians, including a child and three women. In addition, no humanitarian assistance has reached those that have been displaced and many have moved into active combat zones in Anbar province, putting them at higher risk for humanitarian disaster.

On Tuesday, April 14, anonymous sources within Anbar reported on the rapidly growing wave of displaced families that are fleeing from the military operations. Over the past week, it is estimated that 1,500 families have fled from northern Ramadi and al-Hawz. Although officials from the UNHCR estimate that 150,000 individuals have fled since the commencement of operations, there are no reliable numbers. Those that cannot flee from Western Anbar province are essentially stranded, as local government agencies have neither the money nor the staff to reach them. Shi’a Religious authorities donated 200 tons of food aid for the displaced.

On Tuesday, April 14, the New York Times reported that US officials leveraged air support operations on the condition that PMUs were excluded from participating in the clearing of Anbar province. Sabah Kharhut, chairman of the Anbar Provincial Council, was reportedly present at the discussions and stated, “The [U.S.] Ambassador told us that the Americans will not launch strikes on ISIS locations until after the withdrawal of PMU from the area”.

On April 15, ISIS militants took control of the Albu Ghanam area, east of Ramadi, following the withdrawal of Popular Mobilization units (PMUs). On April 15, the security advisor to the governor of Anbar province, Aziz Tarmoz, stated that fierce fighting had broken out between joint security forces and ISIS militants, in the regions Albu Ghanam, Albu Soda, Albu Mahal, east of Ramadi. He called for the intervention of the International Coalition to support joint security forces in those regions. On April 15, the head of the security and defense committee in the Council of Representatives (CoR), Hakim Zamili, announced that reinforcements were being sent to Ramadi in support of joint security forces fighting ISIS militants in areas east of the city and stressed that joint security forces should not rely on International Coalition airstrikes, which have not been implemented despite calls by local leaders. On April 15, the deputy chairman of the Anbar provincial council, Faleh al-Issawi, stated that Anbar province was under threat of control by ISIS militants and that the city of Ramadi could collapse if reinforcements were not sent in support of joint security forces. Issawi noted that Popular Mobilization units (PMUs) had been involved in security operations in recent days, but that they suddenly withdrew without providing an explanation.

On Wednesday, April 15, an anonymous source in Anbar reported on the most recent wave of displacement from Ramadi, which contained hundreds of families from the northern villages. In recent days, fighting has rapidly spread. According to the source, “The mass displacement is due to the continuation of fierce battles and confrontations between security forces and ISIS. As of this time, a majority of the IDPs are fleeing to Khalidiyah and Amiriyat al-Fallujah.

On April 16, a spokesman for the Department of Defense, Col. Steve Warren, commented on recent events in Iraq, noting that Ramadi would remain an area of contention between joint security forces and Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants, but that the Pentagon had ruled out the possibility of ISIS capturing the city. He added that the International Coalition had stepped up airstrikes in the area in support of joint security forces. In addition, Col. Warren stated that the use of International Coalition airstrikes in Tikrit would serve as a model for future U.S.-Iraqi cooperation. On April 16, the deputy governor of Anbar province, Mahdi Saleh Numan, announced that joint security forces were preparing to clear ISIS militants from the areas east of Ramadi that have been captured in recent days. He noted that 40th Street in Ramadi marks the boundary between joint security forces and ISIS militants. On April 16, Baghdad Operations Command and the Anbar provincial council formed a joint committee to address the growing displacement crisis in Anbar, noting that 2100 civilians have fled to the capital in recent days and over 1400 have fled to other areas. On April 16, a spokesman for Joint Special Operations Command, Brigadier Gen. Saad Maan, announced that joint security forces were in control of Ramadi, but that the areas of Al-Sufia and Albu Ghanem, east of the city, remained under the control of ISIS militants. He indicated that joint security forces were prepared to launch an operation to clear the two areas of ISIS militants.

On Thursday, April 16, the Ministry of Defense announced that the Anbar Provincial Council approved for the inclusion of PMUs in the defense of Ramadi, which has seen widespread violence in recent weeks from ISIS. Tahseen Ibrahim, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, stated, “The PMUs are planning to enter the fight against ISIS, in coordination with the Anbar clans and the provincial council.” On Thursday, April 16, the Baghdad Provincial Council announced that plans were in process to accommodate the thousands of individuals fleeing from violence in Ramadi and Anbar Province. According to Brigadier Saad Maan, “Two places have been identified in Dabbash and the Dora district for temporary hosting grounds.” The immediate risk is that sleeper agents are hidden amongst the families, but Operations Command is hesitant to turn anyone away. According to the most recent estimates, over 2,000 Anbaris have arrived in the Capital. As of April 17, the fighting continued in Ramadi with a contest over the Grand Mosque in central Ramadi and government offices.

Contests Continues Over the Baiji Refinery

On April 11, joint security forces clashed with ISIS militants at the Baiji Oil Refinery, north of Tikrit, killing 15 ISIS militants. On April 11, the International Coalition conducted airstrikes against ISIS militants near the Baiji Oil Refinery, killing 20 ISIS militants. On April 11, joint security forces were able to secure control over the perimeter of the Baiji Oil Refinery following a large attack by ISIS militants on the area.

On April 12, the commander of Salah al-Din Operations, Lt. Gen. Abdul Wahab al-Saadi, denied reports that ISIS militants had gained access to the Baiji Oil Refinery, indicating that clashes between ISIS militants and joint security forces were continuing and that 100 ISIS militants had already been killed in the clashes.

On April 13, an MP from Salah al-Din province, Mishan al-Jubouri, warned that reinforcements needed to be sent to joint security forces defending the Baiji Oil Refinery following intense clashes with ISIS militants in the area over the previous days. On April 13, Iraqi security forces (ISF) reinforcements arrived in Al Mazraa village in support of an operation to clear ISIS militants from Baiji district, north of Tikrit.

On April 16, member of the Salah al-Din provincial council, Khazaal Hamad announced that ISIS remained in control of parts of the Baiji Oil Refinery, but that joint security forces would move to clear them from the area over the next few days. On April 16, joint security forces reportedly cleared two neighborhoods, al-Tameem and the Industrial, in Baiji district of ISIS militants.

Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi Visits Washington

On Monday, April 13, the office of PM Abadi reported that he will be heading a delegation of senior ministers that are travelling to Washington this week in an effort to secure greater military support and supplies for its fight against ISIS. The Iraqi delegation was accompanied by Adel Abdul-Mahdi, the Minister of Oil, Khalid al-Obaidi, the Minister of Defense, Hussein al-Shahristani, Minister of Higher Education, Hoshyar Zebari, Minister of Finance, and Faleh al-Fayad, the National Security Advisor. During the visit, PM Abadi met with President Barack Obama and after the meeting the U.S. pledged over 200 million in humanitarian assistance to Iraq. PM Abadi also met with Vice President Joseph Biden, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, and Secretary of State John Kerry. This was Abadi’s first visit to Washington as Prime Minister.

Basrans Petition for Autonomy in Iraq

On April 16, the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) acknowledged the receipt of nearly 44,000 signatures, which account for 2% of Basra province’s population, to initiate the process of converting the province into autonomous region. IHEC’s spokesperson, Miqdad Sharifi stated, “The Board of Commissioners will consider this request and we will discuss it next week…we will afford it all proper consideration.”

Council of Muqdadiyah in Diyala Announces the Return of 2,000 Families

On April 15, Adnan al-Tamimi, Chairman of the Muqdadiyah local Council in Diyala province, announced the return of 2,000 families to the area. In his public statement, he reported, “More than 2,000 displaced families have returned to their homes in the district of Muqdadiyah Center.” Furthermore, he added, “This number represents 90% of all displaced residents since the beginning of violence last year.”

Ahmed Ali is a visiting senior fellow at the Education for Peace in Iraq Center. He would like to thank Alec Lynde and Jonathan Frederickson for the research support.

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