Updates for May 1, 2015
- Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi and Iraqi defense officials came under fire this week following unconfirmed reports of 140 Iraqi soldiers being executed by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in the Thar Thar area, north of Fallujah in Anbar province. Those behind the reports claim the massacre took place following an ISIS assault that was eventually repelled, although the evidence being cited appears to be falsely based on images and videos of past massacres. Nonetheless, the story triggered waves of criticism against PM Abadi’s government by some of Iraq’s Shi’a political parties. According to reports, the critique and anti-government protests were primarily orchestrated by allies of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, suggesting Maliki’s willingness to capitalize on any security shortcomings to undermine PM Abadi. These conditions also demonstrate the power of rumors and disinformation campaigns that ISIS is skillful in conducting.
- The proposed legislation by the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee to arm the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi Sunni tribes without involving Baghdad caused reactions that are negative towards the U.S. position in Iraq. The political reactions mean that the U.S. government will now have to launch an effort to reassure Iraqis. It is unclear if the proposed legislation will induce Baghdad to reconsider its positions with regards to expediting the arming of the Peshmerga and the Iraqi Sunni tribes.
- ISIS is still a threat to the Baiji oil refinery in Salah ad-Din province. Throughout the upcoming week, it will important to watch if Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) will be able to continue withstanding ISIS attacks on the refinery.
- There is an emerging security concern in Diyala province in northeastern Iraq which witnessed the clearing of ISIS in late 2014. These security concerns will likely result in the initiation of anti-ISIS security operations. Diyala has witnessed IDP and refugee issues in the past, the Iraqi government will have to prepare for possible exacerbation of IDP and refugee conditions in the province.
- There is a deterioration of IDP health conditions in Salah ad-Din. The conditions have not resulted in a massive crisis yet, but the Iraqi government and non-governmental organizations will have to work on preventing the spread of any health epidemics.
Political Uproar in Iraq after ISIS Attack
On April 25, the commander of Anbar operations, Major General, Mohammed Khalaf, stated that an Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) operation started to clear the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) from the Thar Thar area, north of Fallujah in western Iraq’s Anbar province. On the same day, reports emerged that the commander of the 1st Infantry Division of the Iraqi Army, Brigadier General Hassan Abbas was killed in clashes with ISIS in the Thar Thar area. Additional unconfirmed reports emerged that 140 Iraqi soldiers were also killed in the clashes. As a result of these reports, the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) called on the security and defense committee in the Council of Representatives (CoR) to launch an investigation into the reports of the massacre of Iraqi Army soldiers in the Thar Thar area, north of Fallujah, and stated that Iraqi Defense Minister, Khalid al-Obadi, should be held responsible for the incident. On the same day, Brigadier Gen. Saad Maan, denied that 140 Iraqi Army soldiers had been killed by ISIS in the Thar Thar area, north of Fallujah. Maan, however, confirmed that 13 soldiers had been killed in clashes with ISIS including the commander of the 1st Infantry Division. Maan added that the ISF would launch operations to reclaim the Thar Thar water regulator from ISIS.
On April 26, Brigadier General Saad Maan, announced that joint security forces regained control of the Nazim Taqseem area from ISIS militants.
On April 26, Iraqi Defense Minister Khalid al-Obadi stated that the rumors surrounding a mass execution of Iraqi Army soldiers were false. An anonymous source stated that ISIS had spread rumors regarding the “massacre” in order to confuse joint security forces and populations in Anbar as to the progress being made to clear ISIS militants from the province.
On April 27, Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi stated that the rumors of the massacre of 140 Iraqi Army soldiers in Thar Thar were false and that they represented a piece of the psychological war that ISIS has been waging in Iraq. On Wednesday, April 29, PM Abadi spoke to the House of Representatives and denied that Baghdad or Karbala would see attacks by ISIS, waging his position as PM if that were to be the case. According to his published remarks, “Ramadi is still holding up and there has been no decline in Anbar’s other cities…the security challenge remains and any change to the government would be respected.” He added, “The decision to exit is much easier than the decision to enter…I promise to give up my position in the absence of my ability to protect the citizens and their interests.”
Proposed U.S. Congressional Legislation Causes Controversy in Iraq
On April 29, the U.S. House Armed Services Committee proposed clauses within the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY 2016 that impose conditions on the Iraqi central government for receiving $715 million in aid from the U.S. Department of Defense, including ending support of Popular Mobilization units (PMUs) and funneling U.S. military aid directly to the Iraqi Kurds and Iraqi Sunni tribes without oversight from the Iraqi federal government. The proposed legislation would also treat Iraqi Kurdistan and the Iraqi Sunnis as separate countries and will therefore allow for direct arming. On April 30, the US Embassy in Baghdad reaffirmed President Obama’s support to the Republic of Iraq and disavowed the draft legislation in Congress. According to the press release, “US Policy towards Iraq has not changed, and we support a united Iraq…all weapons and military aid will be delivered to the federal government and the Iraqi Security Forces.” The statement added, “The draft law submitted by Congressman Mac Thornberry is not based on state laws and does not reflect the policy position of the United States.” On April 30, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry responded to the proposed legislation in the FY16 NDAA by indicating that the bill impairs Iraqi sovereignty. Prime Minister al-Abadi also issued a statement rejecting the proposed legislation.
ISIS Continues to Attack the Baiji Oil Refinery
On April 25, the commander of Salah al-Din operations, Lt. Gen. Abdul Wahab al-Saadi, stated that reinforcements had arrived near Baiji in support of operations to clear ISIS militants from the city and surrounding areas. On April 26, ISIS militants set fire to several oil depots near the Baiji Oil Refinery
On April 27, ISIS militants attacked the Baiji oil refinery and areas south of the city and, in addition, attacked al-Awara village, south of Dujail, killing several members of the joint security forces.
On April 29, the Iraqi Defense Ministry announced that Iraqi security forces had cleared the road between areas close to and leading to the Baiji oil refinery. On April 29, the governor of Salah al-Din province, Raed al-Juburi, announced that military reinforcements would arrive in support of operations to clear Baiji of ISIS militants. On April 30, it was reported that ISIS militants had taken control of over half of the Baiji oil refinery. Iraqi security forces, meanwhile, controlled other areas but were trapped without important military supplies.
Security Concerns in Diyala with Reemergence of Possible ISIS Activities
On April 25, the head of the security committee in the Diyala provincial council, Sadiq al-Husseini, warned that “sleeper cell” activities in northeastern areas of the province threatened to spread sectarian violence and called on security forces to implement a plan to secure the affected areas. On April 26, the security committee in the Diyala provincial council demanded that adoption of the sponsorship system for IDPs in order to ensure security throughout the province as new IDPs settle within its borders. On April 26, the head of the Qara Tapa sub-district council, Rahim Aziz, announced the start of a campaign to track down sleeper cells in the sub-distrct.
Deteriorating Health Conditions and Iraqi Christians Assist Anbar and Salah ad-Din IDP Families
On April 25, Dr. Mohammed al-Juburi, who is part of a medical team in Salah al-Din, stated that IDP health conditions are deteriorating in the Hardaniyah camp in Dhuluiyah, south of Tikrit. According to Juburi, “the medical team has evidence pointing to the presence of 35 cases of scabies, 5 cases of measles, and 40 different cases of infections.” He called for support from the Ministry of Health. On April 25, Dr. Louis Raphael Sako I, the Patriarch of the Chaldean Patriarchy in Iraq and the world announced that the Church donated food and supplies to 2000 IDP families from Anbar and Salah ad-Din. According to Sako, these supplies are part of an effort to demonstrate solidarity and support between Iraqi Christians and Muslims.
Ahmed Ali is a Visiting Senior Fellow at EPIC. He would like to thank EPIC interns Alec Lynde and Jonathan Frederickson for their research support and contributions this report.