Updates for May 15, 2015
- The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) launched an offensive in Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar in western Iraq. The attack resulted in ISIS seizing control of central areas in Ramadi including government buildings. The attack appears to have taken advantage of bad weather conditions. This timing was likely chosen by ISIS to limit the effectiveness of anti-ISIS airstrikes. Ramadi has not fallen yet as there is still a presence of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in the city. Additionally, the Iraqi government has sent reinforcements to the city’s vicinity to launch a counteroffensive. There is reportedly a new wave of displacement as 1,000 families from Ramadi have fled to areas east and south of the city.
- The Iraqi government contained a possible wave of sectarian violence in Baghdad this week. On May 14, unknown individuals attacked a building that belongs to the Sunni Endowment in Baghdad’s Adhamiyah district. The events took place as mostly Shi’a pilgrims carried out the annual pilgrimage to the Imam Kadhim shrine in northern Baghdad’s Kadhimiya district. Many pilgrims have to go through Adhamiyah to get to the shrine. The quick response by Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi has helped calm tensions. It will be important, however, for the Iraqi government to continue with a proactive approach given the presence of groups and opponents who seek to undermine PM Abadi.
- Authorities in Diyala Province in northeastern Iraq are preparing for the final examinations as the school year comes to an end.
ISIS Launch Major Attack in Ramadi and Seize Control of Central Areas of the Provincial Capital
On May 15, three suicide car bombs, also known as Suicide Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (SVBIEDs) targeted the government complex in central Ramadi in Anbar province. The attacks were followed by clashes between security forces and members of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Later, member of the Anbar provincial council, Athal al-Fahdawi, stated that ISIS attacked the government complex with ten SVBIEDs resulting in the death of civilians and members of the security forces. Fahdawi added that the attacks targeted the government complex including “the police directorate and governorate’s building.”
An anonymous source stated that ISIS had launched an attack starting on Thursday night, May 14, that took advantage of bad weather. According to the source, ISIS was able to penetrate three areas in Ramadi. An anonymous police source stated that ISIS took control of areas in central Ramadi, al-Qatanah, and al-Jamiyah neighborhoods. By 10 PM Baghdad time, local reports indicated that ISIS took control of the government complex and other areas in Ramadi. The Ministry of Defense issued a statement calling on the anti-ISIS forces in Ramadi to continue to withstand ISIS attacks.
As ISIS took control of areas in central Ramadi, a military source from the Anbar Operations Command (AOC) stated that ISIS members and patrols roamed streets in Ramadi. According to the source, ISIS announced that it forbids people from leaving their homes and threatened those attempting to leave with death. ISIS also reportedly executed 17 members of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). Member of the Anbar Provincial Council, Amira Aday al-Dulaimi, stated that more than 1000 families fled Ramadi to Khalidiyah, southern Iraq, and Baghdad as a result of the ISIS attacks and ongoing clashes. Dulaimi added that relief and aid should be provided as soon as possible. Later in the day, the Iraqi government dispatched three battalions from Baghdad, Habbaniyah, and Kahlidiyah to the vicinity of Ramadi in order to reinforce the ISF and anti-ISIS tribes in the city according to an AOC source. In Baghdad, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi met with security commanders in order to discuss developments in Anbar.
Tensions in Baghdad during Pilgrimage
On May 12, an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) targeted pilgrims participating in the annual visit to the Imam Kadhim shrine in Baghdad. The attack took place in the Tobchi neighborhood in northwestern Baghdad and resulted in the death of two pilgrims and injury of eight. On May 14, an anonymous source in the Ministry of Interior (MoI) stated that “unknown individuals” attacked and burned the investment building that belongs to the Sunni Endowment in the predominantly Iraqi Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiyah. The attackers also burned adjacent houses. The MoI source added that there were rumors of a suicide bomber and IEDs in a road near the building and that the building’s guards attempted to disperse the crowds by firing warning bullets in the air. Nonetheless, the building was attacked. The source finally stated that security forces intervened and evacuated the guards after a period of time that “was not short” in addition to closing roads that lead to Adhamiyah. Immediately after the events, security forces were also deployed in large numbers in Adhamiyah according to an anonymous source within MoI to handle any possible fallout from the Adhamiyah events.
Meanwhile, PM Abadi issued a statement stating that the events took place at a building that belongs to the Sunni endowment not the Headquarters of the Endowment and the statement added that the events were triggered due to a rumor propagated by the “people of sedition” of a suicide bomber that was planning to target the pilgrims. The statement clarified that security forces moved quickly to contain the situation and that any further attempts to destabilize the city will be faced sternly by the security forces. In the morning of May 15, PM Abadi visited both al-Kadhmiyah and Adhamiyah to inspect the areas. In the meantime, the Baghdad Operations Command (BOC) commander Abdul Amir al-Shammari announced that the BOC arrested 15 individuals including some suspected of having played a role in propagating the rumors in different areas in Baghdad that caused the stampede. On May 14, a “responsible security source” stated that 30 individuals were arrested and early investigations indicate that the most of those who attacked and burned the investment building “are from outside Baghdad.” On May 14, one of Iraq’s Vice Presidents, Osama al-Nujaifi, who is an Iraqi Sunni issued a statement that described what happened in Adhamiyah from “aggressions on citizens of the city from sectarian militias that exploited the pilgrimage.” The statement added that those “militias… attempted to break in into the Imam al-Adham shrine [in Adhamiyah] was it not for the force that was dispatched by the Prime Minister.” Nujaifi finally called on PM Abadi to form a force in Adhamiyah that will be composed of the area’s people to provide protection in the area.
Student Examinations Set in Diyala
The Diyala education directorate announced that it is preparing for the final exams in the province. According to the directorate’s head Jaafar Maan al-Zarkoushi, there is coordination with security authorities in the province to secure exam centers. Zarkoushi added that there is coordination with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to facilitate the process for Internally Displaced Students (IDS). Over 67,000 are slated to participate in the exams for the final years in elementary, middle, and high schools.
Ahmed Ali is Visiting Senior Fellow and the Director of the Iraq Security and Humanitarian Monitor at the Education for Peace in Iraq Center
Ahmed Ali is a Visiting Senior Fellow at the Education for Peace in Iraq Center.