Monday, September 22, 2014

Twelve Security Operations Later And Iraq’s Northern Babil Is No Less Safe

 
As soon as fighting broke out in Anbar at the very end of December 2013 so did violence pick up in nearby Babil. The northern section of the province has been an insurgent base for years with parts of it dubbed the Triangle of Death by the American forces when they were in the country. Today it remains a stronghold of the Islamic State. The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) has tried to clear the area for months now with little to no effect. The trend has been for the government to announce success for an operation, and then to launch another one within days. Babil highlights the on going futility of much of the government’s security plans. 

Northern Babil has seen an increase in Islamic State operations since the start of the year (BBC)
The Iraqi Security Forces have responded with repeated operations in Jurf al-Sakhr, Musayib and Latifiya (IraqSlogger)

Babil has been a top priority of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) for quite some time. Just as the fighting broke out in Anbar in December so did it in Babil. On December 31, 2013 for instance, insurgents blew up 10 houses in Jurf al-Sakhr in the northwest section of the province leading to 84 families fleeing. The Islamic State was responsible as it is the major group in the area and its forces there are directly linked to those in Anbar with men and material moving back and forth to Amiriya Fallujah. It is also a gateway into southern Baghdad province and a likely source for car bombs into the capital. The militants have an extensive network in Jurf al-Sakhr that includes a tunnel system. Nothing much more was heard from the governorate until the end of March when people demonstrated against the deteriorating security situation there. Things got worse in early April when the ISF ended up withdrawing from Jurf al-Sakhr due to attacks. As a result, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sacked the head of the Babil Operations Command General Salah al-Maliki and replaced him with Abdul Aziz Dhalimi who was stationed in Basra. That led to a new security operation to clear Jurf al-Sakhr, and then another five days later focusing upon Sindeej, Abid and Fadhiliya. The Babil provincial council complained that the army did not have enough heavy equipment to be successful and warned of the difficult environment. The Defense Ministry also announced that it was forming a special committee to deal with security in northern Babil. May 11 the Babil police said that it was working from Jurf al-Sakhr north to Musayib, but warned that there were still areas under insurgent control. The next day the police claimed they were successful in clearing the region. Three days later the police were back in Jurf al-Sakhr trying to block insurgents from moving in from neighboring Anbar. The Army air arm was deployed as well using Russian helicopters. May 16 the army said its air strikes were going to be expanded to around Iskandiriya, which is to the east of Jurf al-Sakhr. May 18 the Babil Police Chief General Riyad Abdul Amir al-Khikani said that most of Jurf al-Sakhr was now insurgent free. The costs were high as the Iraqi Red Crescent counted more than 800 families becoming displaced as a result of the fighting. By the end of the month the ISF was back to work in the area fighting in Fadhiliya, Bani Wais and Al Bhbhan. Despite the claims of the security forces the Islamic State appeared to still hold the upper hand. In May for example, it posted pictures on line of it using cranes and bulldozers to take down security outposts and a huge convoy of Humvees that it destroyed in Jurf al-Sakhr. Of course that led to the 6th security campaign that started on June 18, which including 1,500 new volunteers who joined the ISF after the start of the militant’s summer offensive. June 25 the head of the Babil security committee told the press that 70% of Jurf al-Sakhr had been cleared, but that the ISF were not done yet. At the same time, the army was working to rid Latifiya of insurgents to the northeast of Jurf al-Sakhr. Despite these statements Maliki replaced the head of the Babil Operations Command once again on July 1, showing that the premier was not happy with the alleged progress in the province. That didn’t stop the spokesman for Maliki’s Commander and Chief’s office to say that much of Jurf al-Sakhr had been secured on July 3. Like usual, three days later the Defense Ministry sent a tank battalion to the area. The Babil governor must not have gotten the word as he denied that Jurf al-Sakhr was under insurgent control. He didn’t prove credible either as he announced a new security campaign the next day, which include the new SU-25 attack fighters that Iraq received, and the help of the Baghdad Operations Command. By July 11 the Babil council told the press that two parts of the region were cleared and that two militias, Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas and Asaib Ahl al-Haq, were supporting the ISF. Later, 500 more volunteers were sent to Jurf al-Sakhr, and the Hezbollah Brigades were working there as well. Latifiya was again included in this campaign, and was said to have been secured on July 17, and Jurf al-Sakhr on July 23. As usual the security forces left and IS moved right back in, and by July 27 there was fighting again in Latifiya and Yusifiya. The next day the eighth operation was begun, this time including the elite Golden Division to clear the road from Jurf al-Sakhr to Musayib to the south, while another was started in Latifiya. Only three days passed before the Babil Operations Command said Jurf al-Sakhr was safe again, with another sweep starting on August 1. The ISF were doing so good that Maliki decided to get rid of the head of the Babil Operations Command once again on August 4. The new commander General Abdul Hussein Mahmoud told the press on August 17 that Jurf al-Sakhr was fully under control of the security forces. That was contradicted the next day when the army said it made a tactical withdrawal from Fadhiliya. Another ISF and militia offensive was started there and in Yusifiya, which ended on September 5 with another claim of victory. The twelfth campaign was begun on September 13 in Jurf al-Sakhr this time including the Baghdad and Anbar Operations Command pushing in from Amiriya Fallujah in Anbar to the west and the Babil Operations Command coming from the south starting in Musayib. The U.S. Air Force even hit Yusifiya on September 16 in support of the operation. Like clockwork another sweep by the ISF was started on September 20, which will likely be followed by another and another. The deployment of the army, the police, the elite Golden Division, militias, Russian attack helicopters, SU-25s, and American air strikes have all failed to secure northern Babil. The problem is that the ISF raids an area, and then leaves allowing the militants to move right back in. Some areas have such a strong IS presence that the army and police have not only been denied access, but they have actively avoided them for months despite all the sweeps. A similar pattern has happened in Anbar since January, and more recently in Diyala as well showing the futility of the government’s plans to secure the country.
Iraqi Army mortar teams operating in Jurf al-Sakhr Aug 2014 (AFP)
The ISF has been supported by various militias in northern Babil (AFP)
Despite 13 security operations the Islamic State continues to openly operate in northern Babil as in this picture of it using a crane to dismantle a security outpost in Jurf al-Sakhr in May 2014
September IS still able to take apart security stations in Jurf al-Sakhr

Timeline Of Security Operations In Northern Babil 2014

Jan. 6 Army starts 1st security operation launched in Jurf al-Sakhr

Early Apr Army withdrew from Jurf al-Sakhr

Apr 15 PM Maliki sacks head of Babil Operations Command and new security operation launched

Apr 20 3rd security operation launched

May 7 Defense Ministry formed special committee for security in northern Babil

May 11 Babil police start 4th operation from Jurf al-Sakhr to Musayib

May 12 Babil police claim success in operation

May 15 Babil police begin to clear Jurf al-Sakhr

May 18 Babil police chief claimed operations had cleared most of Jurf al-Sakhr

End of May 5th operation started in Jurf al-Sakhr

Jun 18 6th security campaign in Jurf al-Sakhr including 1,500 new volunteers

Jun 26 Army said it cleared Latifiya

Jul 1 PM Maliki replaces head of Babil Operations Command

Jul 3 Commander and Chief spokesman Gen Atta claims several areas of Jurf al-Sakhr secure

Jul 6 Defense Ministry sends a tank battalion to Jurf al-Sakhr

Jul 7 Babil Governor said that insurgents were not in control of Jurf al-Sakhr

Jul 8 Babil Governor announces 7th security campaign in northern section of province

Jul 11 Babil council said that two parts of Jurf al-Sakhr had been cleared with participation of militias, Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas and Asaib Ahl Al-Haq

Jul 12 500 more volunteers sent to Jurf al-Sakhr

Jul 13 Hezbollah Brigades reported operating in Jurf al-Sakhr

Jul 17 Latifiya said to be cleared

Jul 23 ISF said that northern Babil was cleared

Jul 28 8th operation launched to clear road from Jurf al-Sakhr to Musayib

Jul 29 9th operation begun to secure Latifiya

Jul 31 Babil Operations Command claimed Jurf al-Sakhr was safe

Aug 1 10th security sweep started in Jurf al-Sakhr

Aug 4 Head of Babil Operations Command replaced again

Aug 17 Head of Babil Operations Command said Jurf al-Sakhr was fully under control of security forces

Aug 18 Army withdrew from Fadhiliya within Jurf al-Sakhr

Sep 9 Militias and ISF said Fadhiliya and Yusifiya secured

Sep 13 11th operation started in Jurf al-Sakhr

Sep 16 U.S. air strike on Yusifiya in support of operation

Sep 20 12th sweet begun in Jurf al-Sakhr

The fighting in Babil highlights the lack of strategy on the part of Baghdad. It has no plans for how to clear and hold an area in the province. Instead the ISF is repeating the exact same mistakes the Americans made in Iraq before the 2007 Surge, which is to raid and leave. The Islamic State on the other hand remains as strong as ever. Its hold upon Jurf al-Sakhr is unshaken along with its route into eastern Anbar. Not only that, but it is just as strong in Musayib and Latifiya allowing it to attack areas like Mahmudiya to the north, Madain to the east and the southern reaches of the capital. While much of the focus is upon security in places like Ninewa and Salahaddin, Babil is just as important. The Islamic State is expanding its influence in the province and allowing it to advance towards the capital, and the government forces have proven incapable of stopping it.

SOURCES

Abdul-Zahra, Qassim and Yacoub, Sameer, “Iraq launches push for militant-held northern city,” Associated Press, 6/28/14

AIN, “35 ISIL elements killed, 3 ISIL shelters destroyed northern Babel,” 6/21/14
- “Babel Operations Commander replaced,” 8/4/14
- “IA forces attack ISIL elements in northern Babel,” 5/6/14
- “Maliki replaces Babel Operations Commander assigns new Intelligent Commander,” 4/15/14
- “MoD announces liberating many areas of Jurf al-Sakhar district northern Babel,” 7/21/14
- “Several areas of Jurf al-Sakhar district freed from ISIL terrorists, says Atta,” 7/3/14

Ali, Ahmed, “Anbaris Weigh Negotiations with Maliki,” Institute for the Study of War, 1/6/14

Alsumaria, “Launching a military operation in Latifiyah and killed a number of Daash elements,” 7/29/14
- “Source: tactical withdrawal of army troops from the north of Babylon Fadiliyah,” 8/18/14

Buratha News, “Al Bhan and Arab in Jurf al-Sakhar cleared of Daash rats,” 7/11/14
- “Commander of operations near Babylon announce resolution of battle in Jurf al-Sakhr,” 5/23/14
- “Governor of Babylon: purge 70% of areas north of Babylon, and access to the edge of Amiriyat Fallujah,” 6/25/14
- “The killing of 20 embers of Daash in security operation in Jurf al-Sakhr,” 7/8/14
- “The killing of Mufti of Jurf al-Sakhr Musab al-Owaisi with 70 other terrorists in violent clashes in the north of Babylon province,” 7/13/14
- “A military source: the fall of Jurf al-Sakhr of Babil province to Daash terrorists,” 4/15/14
- “Open the road between Jurf al-Sakhr and Musayyib after killing more than 115 Daash,” 7/28/14
- “The outbreak of violent clashes in Latifiiyah and Yusufiyah between the security forces and the terrorist rats Daash,” 7/27/14
- “Sons of Iraq clearing the last stronghold of terrorism in Latifiya of Daash terrorists,” 7/17/14
- “The start of a major military operation in Jurf al-Sakhr,” 8/3/14

Al Forat, “Babel Operations Command announces fully controlling Jurf al-Sakhar district,” 7/31/14
- “Babel: To escape from fighting; more than 800 families displace from Jurf al-Sakhar,” 5/18/14
- “Camp of ISIL destroyed in Jurf al-Sakher,” 6/15/14
- “Dozens of citizens demonstrate in Babel due to deterioration of security situation,” 3/29/14
- “ISF carry out wide security operation in Jurf al-Sakher,” 9/20/14
- “Terrorists of ISIL defeated in Jurf al-Sakher,” 8/17/14
- “Wide-scale security operation starts in north of Babel,” 4/15/14
- “Wide security operation conducted in northern Babel,” 1/7/14

Georgy, Michael and Rasheed, Ahmed, “Tunneling through triangle of death, Islamic State aims at Baghdad from south,” Reuters, 8/4/14

Independent Press Agency, “Army dominates most areas of North Babylon, kills dozens of Daash,” 7/23/14

Al Mada, “Announces the remove of “Daash” ground forces from the vicinity of Baghdad and is seeking to take control of the helm of Fallujah,” 5/12/14
- “Babylon Council enhances the security forces in Jurf al Sakhr with 500 volunteers,” 7/12/14
- “Babylon demanding Maliki urgent stop the deterioration of security in Jurf al-Sakhr,” 5/7/14
- “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
- “Launching a massive military operation to encircle and cleanse the area north of Babylon in Fadiliyah,” 9/16/14
- “Three kilometers shunned by soldiers and Daash to keep them in northern Babylon,” 9/17/14

Al Masalah, “The displacement of 84 families and 10 houses bombed north of Babylon,” 12/31/13

National Iraqi News Agency, “/9/ Gunmen killed ,/15/ others arrested in different operations in northern Babylon,” 5/27/14
- “/34/ Elements of the IS killed and wounded in military operation in Jurf al-Sakhar,” 9/13/14
- “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
- “Maliki changes the Babylon Operations Commander,” 7/1/14
- “A wide security operation started to hunt down the remnants of the IS elements north of Babylon,” 8/1/14

New Sabah, “Purge Fadhiliya North Babylon and control over the desert road between Jurf al-Sakhr and Fallujah,” 9/19/14

Radio Nawa, “Daash militants deployed again in Jurf al-Sakhr, three days after their expulsion,” 7/26/14

Al Rafidayn, “Police Babylon: clearing areas stretching between Musayyib and Jurf al-Sakhr of Daash,” 5/11/14

Al Rayy, “8 killed, including Daash of Moroccan nationality pounding them in Jurf al-Sakhr,” 5/16/14
- “17th Army Brigade announces the cleansing of Latifiyah fully of Daash terrorists,” 6/26/14
- “Popular Battalions with the support of the security forces cleansed area of Fadhiliya in Yusifiya of terrorists,” 9/5/14
- “A security source: Daash controlled area in Jurf al-Sakhr and 25 families abandon area,” 4/5/14

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

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