Updates: Feb 28 – March 6, 2015
- The Labaika Ya Rasool Allah offensive to retake Salah al-Din province continues. While joint forces have made progress in eastern areas of the province, they continue to face stiff resistance in and around the city of Tikrit, including an estimated 8,000 IEDs intended to block their advances.
- Contradictory statements made by officials in Turkey, the United States, and Iraq could be a signal of strained relations. The United States, and the International Coalition that it leads, have not been included in the Salah al-Din offensive, although Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) have played an overtly large role in this military operation. According to one report, there are over 23,000 members of the PMUs currently operating in Salah al-Din province.
- As Iraq continues to face budget shortfalls due to low oil prices, military operations are being ramped up in several areas of the country and populations continue to face displacement and a lack of funding for humanitarian aid. This has placed enormous stress on local and provincial governments who cannot support these displaced populations without funds from the central government.
Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), and anti-ISIS tribal forces launched a major offensive to retake Salah al-Din province and a minor offensive to retake the sub-district of Karma in Anbar province from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).
On March 1, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi arrived in Samarra to launch the offensive to retake Salah al-Din province from ISIS. Joint forces, which include ISF, PMUs, and anti-ISIS tribal forces, assembled near the Adhaim Dam in northern Diyala province, across the border from Tooz and Al-Daur districts in eastern Salah al-Din province. Highway 3, which connects Baghdad to Kirkuk, was closed in preparation for the offensive.
On March 2, joint forces launched the offensive to retake Salah al-Din province from ISIS after delays related to security concerns in Samarra had postponed operations for several hours. Joint forces moved into northern areas of Salah al-Din province in order to prevent ISIS militants from escaping to strongholds in Hawija in western Kirkuk province. Additionally, joint forces crossed into Sur Shnas in northern Samarra district and continued to push toward the border with western Al-Daur district. Finally, joint forces crossed into eastern Al-Daur district on the border of Diyala province and began pushing southwest to retake villages throughout the district.
On March 3, joint forces continued to make progress in northern and eastern areas of Salah al-Din and pushed closer toward Tikrit, advancing into Al Jallam Zone in western Al Daur district.
On March 4, Iraqi Federal Police Captain Raed Shakir Jawdat stated that joint forces had cleared 97 towns and districts in Salah al-Din province of ISIS militants and had completed the first phase of military operations in the offensive. In northern Salah al-Din province, joint forces launched an operation to clear Alalam sub-district and Albu Ajil village, east of Tikrit. In southern Salah al-Din, joint forces cleared a housing complex near the border between Samarra district and Al Daur district.
On March 5, joint forces continued to push into Alalam sub-district and recaptured the Ajil oil field in northern Salah al-Din province. In southern Salah al-Din, joint forces continued to push from Samarra district into Al Daur district along the main road that connects Samarra to Tikrit. In eastern Salah al-Din, joint forces recaptured another eight villages. Meanwhile, the Iraqi Defense Ministry announced the start of Operation Sudanese Martyr to retake Karma sub-district in Anbar province from ISIS, which lies northeast of the city of Fallujah. Joint forces advanced toward the village of Subhayat in the sub-district, overcoming resistance by ISIS militants.
There have been signs of increased cooperation between Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), and anti-ISIS tribal forces in the offensive to retake Salah al-Din province from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).
On March 3, it was reported that 1,000 residents of Samarra had volunteered to join security forces in the offensive to retake Salah al-Din province, indicating that many of the young men were motivated to join after joint forces launched the offensive on March 1.
On March 4, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi spoke over the phone with US Vice President Joe Biden and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon about ongoing military operations in Iraq, specifically in Salah al-Din province, and about efforts being made toward national reconciliation and inclusion in the Iraqi central government. Mr. Ban Ki-moon praised the efforts being made by Mr. al-Abadi to protect civilians and build trust between participants in the Salah al-Din offensive.
On March 5, the Abu Saida sub-district in Diyala province sent 500 fighters from 20 tribes to join joint forces in the offensive to retake Salah al-Din province from ISIS. Additionally, Secretary General Sheikh Akram al-Kaabi of the Nagaba Brigades, a PMU, stated that his forces were training two regiments of local volunteers to participate in the offensive in Salah al-Din with joint forces.
Miscommunication and missteps abound between Turkey, United States, and Iraq over role of foreign militaries in defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Iraq.
On March 3, Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz announced that he would travel to Baghdad to meet with Iraqi central government officials, stating that Turkey was prepared to provide logistical support to Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and that it had not ruled out the possibility of providing more direct combat support in the offensive to retake Mosul from ISIS.
On March 4, in a House Armed Services Committee hearing, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey suggested that “Iran’s role in an Iraqi military offensive to recapture Tikrit could be positive as long as it does not fuel sectarian divisions in the country”. Additionally, in a joint press conference with Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz in Baghdad, Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi stated that the “planning, timing, and implementation” of operations to retake Mosul would be conducted by Iraq and that “Iraq will not be assisted by any other forces during the battle”.
On March 5, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu stated that while Turkey would provide support to Iraq in the Mosul offensive, it would not be involved in direct military operations. Following a statement made by the Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi on March 4, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest discussed the “multi-sectarian nature” of the Salah al-Din offensive and stated that Iraqi officials would control the timeline of the Mosul offensive and that Iraqi forces would take the lead in that offensive.
Iraqi central government continues to deal with budget issues in the face of increased military expenses and a need of a greater spending on the humanitarian crisis.
On March 3, the Baghdad Provincial Council encouraged the Diyala Provincial Council to repatriate the 60,000 families currently living in Baghdad to their homes in Diyala. Although the province was cleared of Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants last month, many families fear the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) that continue to operate independently in the province and do not believe that they are safe in their homes.
On March 4, despite budget shortfalls and limited funds for humanitarian aid, the Ministry of Displacement and Migration, under a directive from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, announced that it would work with UNHCR to set up two camps in Samarra to receive displaced Iraqis from the Salah al-Din offensive. In Diwaniyah, Naim Hassan, Director of the Federation of Iraqi Contractors expressed concern that only 1.7 million USD of the pledged 8.58 million USD had been received for humanitarian purposes in the city. Meanwhile, the Independent High Commission of Human Rights in Iraq warned of an impending “catastrophe” if humanitarian aid is not delivered to al-Baghdadi sub-district, which has been subjected to fierce fighting between joint forces and ISIS militants over the past several weeks. Furthermore, in Baghdad, Iraq’s Oil Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi stated that Iraq’s debt owed to foreign oil companies reached 20 billion USD.