Thursday, May 8, 2014

Deteriorating Security In Northern Babil Province Iraq

When discussing security in Iraq the attention is almost always on Anbar, which is in open revolt against the government. In northern Babil province, which borders Baghdad however, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) has been able to establish bases for launching attacks into the capital and southern Iraq. In February 2014 the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) tried and failed to clear the area. Since then there has been a series of sweeps through the Jurf al-Sakhr section of the governorate with little to show for it. The situation has gotten so bad the provincial council asked Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to immediately send more troops to reverse the deteriorating security situation there. With most forces committed to Anbar however it is unlikely that the government will be able to do much in Babil for now.
The northern section of Musayab district in Babil is where the Islamic State has set up camp (Wikipedia)
Jurf al-Sakhr has been the scene of a number of failed security operations in recent months (BBC)

From 2013 to the beginning of 2014 Babil province was relatively quite compared to the rest of central Iraq. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) would launch a few car bombs in the governorate, but there was less than one attack per day each month. In January 2013 for example there were 24 incidents leading to 71 killed and 178 wounded. Those high casualty figures for a relatively few attacks were due to four car bombs on January 2, 3, and 17 against pilgrims, and January 17 on a checkpoint that caused 46 fatalities and 116 wounded. February there were 13 attacks that caused 25 dead and 64 wounded, again accentuated by two car bombs on February 8 that cost the lives of 16 and wounded another 56. A year later things had hardly changed. January 2014 there were 27 attacks with 11 deaths and 51 wounded, and no car bombs. During that period however ISIS was able to rebuild its networks in the province and establish itself in the northern section around Jurf al-Sakhr. One sign of that was on October 8, 2013 when the 3rd Battalion of the Rapid Reaction Brigade, known as the Scorpion Brigade, got into a gun battle with up to 300 members of ISIS in Jurf al-Sakhr. The following month the army found a bomb making workshop in Iskandiriya that included an underground network. At that time a year long car bomb campaign against southern Iraq was going on. It is likely that ISIS used its camps in Babil to launch many of those attacks.

Security Incidents In Babil 2014

Car Bombs
Suicide Bombs

Iraqi army firing artillery at ISIS positions in Jurf al-Sakhr, March 2014 (Reuters)
Army forces in Jurf al-Sakhr in April 2014 (Al Mada)

Things really started going south in February 2014 when the Iraqi Security Forces (ISIS) launched a clearing operation in the Jurf al-Sakhr region. While the army claimed some victories such as destroying bases and killing several Islamic State commanders the Islamists were able to fight off the ISF, and hold their ground. By the end of the month the ISF suffered a high number of casualties including 43 dead and 75 wounded. In retaliation ISIS carried out a series of attacks and bombings that led to a sharp increase in violence. There were even reports that the Islamists were moving in reinforcements into northern Babil from neighboring Anbar. The 27 incidents, 11 fatalities and 51 wounded in January jumped to 41 in February mostly due to the military operation with 110 killed and 260 wounded. In March there were 40 attacks with 117 dead and 269 injured, and 49 incidents, 89 killed, and 197 wounded in April. That led to demonstrations at the end of March against the deteriorating security situation. In April Maliki sacked the head of the Babil operations Command, while another security operation was launched. That only lasted one day as the ISF withdrew under orders of the premier. Several families fled the area in the aftermath, while the head of the security committee on the provincial council said pulling back the security forces was a dangerous move. Five days later another sweep was ordered, and then another, and another running into May. Despite all the activity there was little to show for it. Violence has increased and so have casualties. The situation has gotten so bad that May 7 the Babil council formally asked Maliki to send more troops with heavy equipment to secure the northern section of the governorate, because the situation was getting worse. This was despite three straight weeks of operations by the ISF. Their call may not be heeded because so much of the army and police are committed to Anbar that there may not be extra forces available. Not only that, but the ISF’s tactics are ineffective. It enters into an area, hunts down gunmen, and then leaves. That’s the reason why there has been little progress in Babil and the entire country as the insurgency has taken off once more this year.

ISIS’s control of northern Babil is a dangerous development. Jurf al-Sakhr lays along Highway 1 and 8 two of the main transportation routes between central and southern Iraq. Directly to the northwest is Anbar and to the southwest is Karbala. The area can therefore be used as a way station for insurgent forces moving from Anbar into the Baghdad belts. It can also act as a forward operating base for car bombs heading into the south. Recently ISIS restarted its bombing campaign there. Just as important the ISF has proven largely ineffective in retarding these developments. The series of security operations there over the last three months has done little. There are probably few extra forces to be sent there as the provincial council has recently requested, and even if they were to arrive the raid and leave tactics do little to improve security. Babil is therefore a microcosm of how the insurgency has been able to spread throughout the country, and why the government has not been able to stop them.


AIN, “IA forces attack ISIL elements in northern Babel,” 5/6/14
- “Maliki replaces Babel Operations Commander assigns new Intelligent Commander,” 4/15/14
- "Urgent…3 ISIS leaders killed within northern Babel armed clashes," 2/9/14
- "Urgent….10 pilgrims killed, injured due to car bomb in Babel," 1/2/13
- “Wide security operation launched in Jurf al-Sakhar,” 4/20/14

Buratha News, “A military source: the fall of Jurf al-Sakhr of Babil province to Daash terrorists,” 4/15/14

Al Forat, “Dozens of citizens demonstrate in Babel due to deterioration of security situation,” 3/29/14
- “Wide-scale security operation starts in north of Babel,” 4/15/14

Al-Mada, "Killing 10 policemen and injuring 20 civilians detonated a car bomb south of Hilla," 1/17/13
-"Shomali district director confirms killing and injuring 72 Attacked blamed on Al Qaeda," 2/8/13

National Iraqi News Agency, "BREAKING NEWS. Killing and wounding 13 people in a second bombing in Shomali south of Babel province," 2/8/13
- "Northern Babil blast casualties up to 87 killed, wounded," 1/3/13
- “Workshop for making IEDs, tunnels discovered in Babil province,” 12/22/13

Al Rayy, “A security source: Daash controlled area in Jurf al-Sakhr and 25 families abandon area,” 4/5/14

Yacoub, Sameer, "Bombs in Iraq kill 26, mostly Shiite pilgrims," Associated Press, 1/17/13

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