Thursday, June 26, 2014

Iraq’s Western Front Is Anbar Next To Fall?

Back in December 2013 Prime Minister Nouri al-Malik instigated the current fighting in Iraq by making a poor political decision in Anbar. In the middle of December the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) ambushed the leadership of the Iraqi Army’s 7th Division and killed all the commanding officers along the Anbar-Ninewa border. The premier announced a security operation to clear the province of insurgents, which rallied most of the country behind it. Maliki decided to take the opportunity to arrest Parliamentarian Ahmed Alwani from the Iraqi Islamic Party who had been one of the more vitriolic speakers at the Anbar protests, and then shut down the Ramadi demonstration site. Immediately afterward gunmen were seen in many of the provinces’ cities. Fighting quickly ensued and Fallujah and much of the surrounding area fell to militants. Since that time Baghdad has continuously claimed that it has the situation under control and that the insurgency is losing the fight there. The reality has been much different. Since ISIS’s surge across much of northern Iraq in June 2014 the security situation in Anbar has gotten worse and it appears that it could be the next province to fall.
The insurgency is pushing from Qaim and Rawa in the west and Fallujah in the east to squeeze out the government forces in between in places like Haditha, Hit, and Ramadi (Institute for the Study of War)

There has been heavy fighting in Anbar throughout June with the insurgency holding the upper hand. Starting on June 7, 2014 20 Islamic State of Iraq (ISIS) gunmen stormed the Anbar University campus in Ramadi and held thousands of students hostage. They were repelled, but not before they raided the school’s treasury of 15 billion dinars. The insurgents then continued their campaign to cut off the major thoroughfares in the province to limit the mobility of the security forces (ISF). June 9 the bridge from Fallujah to neighboring Amiriya Fallujah in the south was blown up. The next day the bridge from Amiriya Fallujah to Baghdad was detonated. Starting in May the ISF said that it was launching a major operation to clear Fallujah, but it has gone nowhere. That’s because it has not been able to secure the insurgent bases and supply lines surrounding the city and has had its own cut by the bombings of these bridges. Things really turned for the worse starting on June 12 when the security forces began collapsing. The ISF withdrew from Kubaisa near Hit after a short gunfight, lost Saqlawiya to the north of Fallujah after a determined attack, almost lost Baghdadi, which is between Haditha and Hit, and suddenly withdrew from the Anbar-Syrian border near the town of Qaim and the major entrances to Fallujah with no provocation. That included fleeing the Mazra army base and leaving most if not all of its equipment behind. That was followed by the ISF fleeing Rawa, Ana, and Qaim on June 14. ISIS also took the border crossing from Qaim into Syria. That secured all the major towns in western Anbar along Highway 12 the major travel route through the province. The next day insurgents tried to storm the Tahadi power plant that supplies electricity for most of province, fired rockets at the Al-Asad army base the home of the 7th Division, and started fighting in Garma to the east of Fallujah. June 16 insurgents laid siege to Habaniya air base. The ISF responded with a security operation in southern Ramadi, retook Qaim, and sent in reinforcements, while the deputy head of the council Faleh Issawi claimed Rawa, Anan, Saqlawiya, Amiriya Fallujah, and Khalidiya had all been cleared. Those victories were short lived as the militants quickly recaptured Qaim, Rawa, Ana, Rutba, two small towns outside of Haditha, and the major border crossings to Syria and Jordan. The governing council was so alarmed by these advances that it told the press it was afraid the entire province was about to fall, while the Iraqi command claimed that these reversals were in fact a tactical withdrawal so that the security forces could regroup and attack again. By June 25, Haditha, which is the next major town on Highway 12 was nearly surrounded, and officials were afraid Ramadi might go next. Radio Free Iraq, which has been keeping track of the security situation in Anbar estimated that up to 85% of the province is now under insurgent control. It is important to note that while the Islamic State has done plenty of fighting in Anbar there are several other major groups involved as well, such as the Baathist Naqshibandi and its Military Councils, Jaysh al-Mujahadeen, many tribes, and others. Together they have made the security forces chase them across Anbar, while seizing town after town. 
Military Council firing mortar in Anbar (via Jawad Aymenn al-Tamimi)
Captured tanks and armored personnel carriers at Mazra army base (via Jawad Aymenn al-Tamimi)
 Insurgents taking down security barriers in Saqlawiya (via Alexandre Massimo)
Captured army equipment in Qaim (via Alexandre Massimo)
Captured border police vehicles in Qaim (via Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi)

Just as the Iraqi forces collapsed in Ninewa and parts of Kirkuk and Salahaddin in June, it has done the same in much of Anbar. The border crossings with Syria and Jordan are now under insurgent control, along with much of the area around Fallujah. The militants are now attempting to seize the remaining towns and cities between those two points such as Ramadi, Haditha, and Hit. The security forces, allied tribes, and the militias were already doing a bad job in holding the province before the June offensive started. They have repeatedly gone into the same towns again and again, but then leave allowing the insurgents to move right back in. Now they are fleeing like they have in the rest of the country. That could lead to the fall of Anbar, and another huge setback for the Iraqi government. The fact that it has not come up with any clear strategy to reverse the advances of the insurgency helps explain why these failures continue to occur.


BBC, “Iraq violence: Dozens killed by Baghdad bombings,” 6/7/14

Buratha News, “Combat and logistical reinforcements to Anbar for security forces after achieving great victories with clans in 7 areas,” 6/17/14
- “Start the process of an extensive security campaign in the district of Rawa, west of Ramadi cleared of “Daash,”” 6/16/14

Al Forat, “ISF liberate Saadan area in Anbar province,” 6/20/14

El-Hamed, “ISIS and the Anbar Crisis,” Sada, 6/12/14

Independent Press Agency, “Army regains control of the areas west of Ramadi,” 6/19/14

Al Jazeera, “Sunni rebels seize more towns in Iraq,” 6/22/14

Al Mada, “Anbar Operations regain control of Qaim after the storming of Daash,” 6/17/14
- “Anbar police declared an emergency to send three regiments to fight Daash in the western regions of the province,” 6/18/14
- “Armed groups re-open ports Fallujah after the withdrawal of the army surrounding the city,” 6/12/14
- “Army forces preparing to storm the center of Saqlawiyah to purify it from Daash,” 6/19/14
- “Expectations of the armed seizure of Anbar due to the withdrawal of the army and the provincial council says state control of over 80% of cities,” 6/14/14
- “The start of a major military operation to cleanse the western regions and border crossings in Anbar,” 6/24/14

Namaa, Kamal, “Iran rejects U.S. action in Iraq, ISIL tightens Syria border grip,” Reuters, 6/22/14

National Iraqi News Agency, “Breaking News..The army is launching a violent attack on militants west of Falluja,” 6/17/14
- “Clashes between the Awakening and the ISIS in al-Qaim east-west Anbar,” 6/19/14
- “Defense Ministry confirms that the security forces control Alwaleed and Trebil border ports,” 6/23/14
- “Helicopters bombed the military oil depot in Habbaniyah after being controlled by ISIS,” 6/16/14
- “Security forces and the sons of the tribes in Ramadi control al-Tash area and Street 60 after the expulsion of the terrorists,” 6/21/14
- “The withdrawal of the army from Kubaisa district western Anbar,” 6/12/14

Radio Free Iraq, “09 June 2014,” Daily Updates from Anbar, 6/9/14
- “10 June 2014,” Daily Updates from Anbar, 6/10/14
- “12 June 2014,” Daily Updates from Anbar, 6/12/14
- “13 June 2014,” Daily Updates from Anbar,” 6/13/14
- “14 June 2014,” Daily Updates from Anbar,” 6/14/14
- “15 June 2014,” Daily Updates from Anbar, 6/15/14
- “21 June 2014,” Daily Updates from Anbar, 6/21/14
- “22 June 2014,” Daily Updates from Anbar, 6/22/14
- “25 June 2014,” Daily Updates from Iraq, 6/25/14

Al Rafidayn, “Daash holding 15 employees hostage at the University of Anbar and steal $ 15 billion from its treasury,” 6/9/14
- “The fight against terrorism: Ninety percent of the city of Ramadi became freed,” 5/9/14

Al Rayy, “The start of a military operation to regain control of the area in Karabilah based Western Anbar,” 6/17/14

Xinhua, “Iraqi security forces withdraw fro border with Syria,” 6/12/14
- “Iraqi troops withdraw form three cities in Anbar,” 6/22/14


bb said...

Indeed ironic that the only force standing between Obama and Biden presiding over the spectacular evacuation of the US embassy live from beginning to end on CNN and Fox is the shiite militias willingness to fight the greatest hand to hand bloodbath ever seen in middle east.

Will this be Moqtada's finest moment do we think Joel? Or will he cut and run?

Joel Wing said...

Sadr was actually very reluctant to get involved in the fight. He has always fought the image of being a militia leader and wants to be seen as a politician. That being said his men are said to be fighting in Anbar. There are many other militias there as well, which are all backed by Iran. According to Phillip Smyth they have not fully committed to Anbar however, perhaps because they didn't think it was worth the losses for what is a majority Sunni area. Diyala, Salahaddin, Babil, and Baghdad are where the majority of militiamen are at with some outside Tal Afar in Ninewa as well.