Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Iraq’s Southern Front Babil Province Where The Islamic State Has Free Reign 

Most of the attention on Iraq has been focused upon the deteriorating security situation in Anbar in the west, and Ninewa and Salahaddin in the north. In the south however in Babil province the insurgency has been growing in strength since late-2013. The government has launched six security operations in the northwest section of the governorate this year, deployed militias there, and claimed success every time, but the sheer number of offensives points to the failures of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). More importantly the Islamic State (IS) has been able to use its bases in northern Babil to connect with its forces in Anbar in its ultimate goal to surround and move on the capital.
Jurf al-Sakhr in northwest Babil and the surrounding areas have become an Islamic State stronghold (IraqSlogger)

Despite what the central and provincial government has said northwestern Babil has grown more violent for more than a year now. Back in October 2013 for example, there was a gunfight between the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and 300 insurgents in Jurf al-Sakhr. That was a huge amount of fighters rarely seen in Iraq at that time pointing to the strength of the militants there. Events like those led the ISF to launch the first of many security operations there on January 6, 2014. Insurgents responded by attempting to assassinate the local police chief twice at the end of the month. The regular security forces suffered heavy casualties as well. For instance, on February 8 an army unit was ambushed leading to one soldier being killed and 31 wounded. The next day a car bomb targeted an army patrol causing the death of two soldiers and wounding six including three soldiers. February 11 improvised explosive devices aimed at checkpoints left two Federal Police and two soldiers dead and eleven Federal Police and eleven soldiers wounded. Finally, eleven soldiers were killed and three wounded in a gun battle on February 14. That was followed by six car bombs aimed at civilians in the third week of the month that left 15 fatalities and 77 injured. Another suicide car bomb in Hillah on March 9 resulted in 50 dead and 160 wounded. By the end of the month there were demonstrations against the deteriorating security situation in the province. A few days later Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the army to withdraw from the area to re-group. The head of the security committee on the Babil council criticized the premier’s decision, while sources told the press that the Jurf area had fallen to the Islamic State. In mid-April Maliki replaced the head of the Babil Operations Command. That set the stage for the second security offensive that began that month. This time militias were deployed to the northeastern section of the province to support the ISF. At the beginning of May the Babil council complained that not enough was being done to fight the insurgency, while on May 12 the police said Jurf al-Sakhr to Musayib was now free of militants. Then on May 15 the third operation was announced. Forces were deployed from Jurf al-Sakhr to Iskandiriya. Three days later the Babil provincial police chief claimed the Jurf area was safe once again, followed by the Babil Operations Command stating the same thing on May 23. Despite those statements the Iraqi Red Crescent noted that 800 families had fled the area due to the fighting, while the Islamic State posted pictures on Twitter of a destroyed ISF convoy, captured equipment, and the destruction of security checkpoints and installations using heavy equipment such as cranes and bulldozers. That led to the 4th campaign on May 31, and more statements about progress against the insurgents. After the fall of Mosul in early June a 5th operation was started that included 1,500 volunteers. By June 22 the spokesman for Maliki’s Office of the Commander and Chief General Qasim Atta said that Jurf was cleared once more, but the head of the Babil security committee told the press that there were still some insurgents there. June 28 fighting broke out there again, Maliki replaced the head of the Babil Operations Command July 1 for the second time, General Atta repeated his claim that Jurf was cleared on July 3, while July 6 a tank battalion was sent to northern Babil for the sixth operation, which started on July 8. The fighting in the province mimics what has happened in Anbar. In both governorates the ISF has launched operation after operation in the same areas only to have the insurgents either fight off the army and police or re-infiltrate the area later. Despite all the repeated statements northwest Babil is no more secure today than it was before the first of six operations were launched there. This points to the strategic failure of the security forces. They are a reactive force that has lost the initiative to the militants, and cannot hold any territory in Sunni areas like Jurf al-Sakhr no matter how many times they might go in.

 Captured HUMVEE in Jurf al-Sakhr by IS
Islamic State using cranes to dismantle a security checkpoint in Jurf al-Sakhr
 ISF convoy ambushed and destroyed by IS in Jurf al-Sakhr
Captured members of the local Sahwa in Jurf al-Sakhr
Captured arms and munitions from the ISF

Security Incidents Babil 2014

Northern Babil is part of the Islamic State’s plan to surround and attack Baghdad. Since 2013 IS has been rebuilding its networks and cells in and around the capital into what are known as the Baghdad belts. The Jurf al-Sakhr area represents the southern front. With its advances in Anbar, IS has been able to move its forces back and forth between eastern Anbar and northern Babil, while expanding into areas like Abu Ghraib in western Baghdad and the rural areas surrounding Latifiya and Mahmudiya in northern Babil and into southern Baghdad province as well. Babil has also been used to launch car bombs into southern Iraq. The security forces have proven incapable of stopping this expansion of the Islamic State’s influence. That opens the door for IS to move closer to its ultimate goal of restarting the fighting in the streets of the capital in its attempt to overthrow the government. That won’t be successful because Baghdad is overwhelmingly Shiite, but if the ISF were competent it could stop this from happening in the first place. Instead a sixth futile operation has just gotten underway in northwest Babil as the IS moves ahead with its plans.


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Agence France Presse, "Iraq suicide bombing death toll rises to 50," 3/10/14

AIN, "2 car bombs explode in Hilla," 2/18/14
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- “Babylon launches a second operation to clear its north and stresses “we launched 300 rockets,” 5/15/14
- “Defense decided to form a higher committee to visit North Babylon and meet the demands of the military,” 5/7/14
- “Governor of Babylon denies insurgents control Jurf al-Sakhr: proactive operations against insurgent pockets,” 7/8/14
- “Jurf al-Sakhr receives 700 displaced families after the start of military operations in the peripheries,” 5/19/14

Al Masalah, “The displacement of 84 families and 10 houses bombed north of Babylon,” 12/31/13
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- "Killed three civilians and wounded 14 by a roadside bomb attack in Hilla," 2/18/14
- "Killed two people and wounded 27 by a roadside bomb near a residential building in Alexandria, Babylon," 2/18/14

National Iraqi News Agency, “/9/ Gunmen killed ,/15/ others arrested in different operations in northern Babylon,” 5/27/14
- “1,500 volunteers to fight alongside the security forces, sent to the north of Babylon,” 6/18/14
- “Army makes significant progress in north of Babylon area,” 6/2/14
- “Babylon Police Chief announces liberating most of Jurf al-Sakhar areas from the militants,” 5/18/14
- "BREAKING NEWS…14 soldiers killed, wounded north of Hilla," 2/14/14
- "Car bomb goes off southern Baghdad," 2/9/14
- “Maliki changes the Babylon Operations Commander,” 7/1/14
- "Police Chief of Jurf al-Sakhar Survives an Assassination Attempt by an Explosive Device," 1/30/14
- "Urgent..16 militants of Qaeda killed north of Babylon, clashes are continuing," 2/14/14

Al Rafidayn, “Atta confirms cleanse Jurf al-Sakhr of sleeper cells and killing more than a dozen “terrorists,”” 6/22/14
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Al Rayy, “8 killed, including Daash of Moroccan nationality pounding them in Jurf al-Sakhr,” 5/16/14
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Salah, Amjad, "Killing an officer and wounding 31 soldiers, the bombing was followed by a gun battle north of Babylon," Alsumaria, 2/8/14

Shafaq News, “Tank battalion on its way to northern Babel to free it from ISIL,” 7/6/14

Sotaliraq, “Jurf al-Sakhr front forgotten war in Iraq and the suffering of new entrants of Asaib Ahl Al-Haq,” 5/30/14

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