The Islamic State has been on the offensive in Anbar for months now. They have launched large attacks across the province trying to spread out the government’s forces and seize new territory. The group has had no real success since October 2014 however, but were recently able to take a dam and several army bases, along with killing the commander of the army’s 1st Division in the last several weeks.
Starting on April 24, 2015, IS began laying siege to the barracks of the 2nd Regiment of the 1st Division in the Thar Thar area north of Fallujah. The Islamic State started with three suicide car bombs upon the base followed by an infantry assault. The next day it caught a convoy with a bulldozer filled with explosives, which killed the commander of the 1st Division General Hassan Toufan, three of his staff officers, and ten other soldiers and wounded another nine. The insurgents also launched a psychological warfare campaign against the surrounded camp by posting a video on line claiming that a mass execution of troops had occurred to sow dissension. The regiment had already been calling for aid and reinforcements for a week, but received no help. By the time the base was taken another 128 soldiers were killed in the fighting, some of which might have been executed by IS. Militants seized the nearby Thar Thar Dam as well, and posted video of it. IS had been pushing in the area for at least a month with similar successes.
In March and earlier in April, IS overran two other army bases in the Thar Thar region. On April 12, IS took the headquarters of the 4th Regiment. Again, the defenses were breached by the use of suicide bombers. In March the 26th Brigade’s headquarters were similarly assaulted and taken. In both cases IS released video footage of its fighters inside the bases amongst destroyed vehicles and equipment.
A member of parliament’s security committee complained that the loss of the barracks was due to poor deployments of units throughout Anbar. He said that soldiers were spread throughout the province in a manner so that they could not support each other. Many of these smaller bases are isolated and often not supplied by the army due to poor logistics and corruption making them vulnerable to attack. Currently the ISF are attempting to retake the area, but given its difficulties there’s no telling whether it can hold the area afterward. The breadth of the province has been a continual problem for the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), which lacks the manpower to hold many areas after they are cleared causing constant security operations in the same areas again and again.
Anbar remains one of the few provinces where IS continues to launch offensive operations. Almost every month it carries out at least one large assault in the governorate. Thar Thar has been its first success there since October 2014. It solidifies its hold upon western Anbar, and as Bill Roggio and Caleb Weiss point out in the Long War Journal IS has been using it as a base to launch attacks into neighboring Salahaddin. Given the large number of losses the fall of the 2nd Regiment camp also harkens back to September 2014 when another barracks in Saqlawiya was overrun. That camp was surrounded for five days with the soldiers inside pleading for help even calling lawmakers and humanitarian groups on their cell phones. The then head of the Anbar Operations Command General Rasheed Flayh called the men whiners. Eventually the barrack was taken with 300-500 soldiers killed in the process. General Flayh was later reassigned and accused of stealing supplies from his troops. Prime Minister Haider Abadi has been attempting to reform the security forces since he took office, but there are still problems with logistics, corruption, and poor leadership that plague the force leading to events like these in Anbar.
Kirkpatrick, David, “Graft Hobbles Iraq’s Military in Fighting ISIS,” New York Times, 11/23/14
Al Mada, “An informed source tells what happened in Thar Thar: Daash used psychological warfare of mass executions,” 4/26/15
- “Parliamentary Security: senior first division leader’s death caused by deployment of military units in a strategic error,” 4/25/15
Radio Free Iraq, “25 April 2015,” Daily Updates from Anbar, 4/25/15
Roggio, Bill and Weiss, Caleb, “Islamic State captures dam, overruns base in western Iraq,” Long War Journal, 4/26/15
- “Islamic State overruns Iraqi Army brigade headquarters north of Fallujah,” Long War Journal, 3/15/15
- “Islamic State overruns Iraqi Army headquarters near Thar Thar,” Long War Journal, 4/14/15
Salaheddin, Sinan and Yacoub, Sameer, “Car bombs driven by foreigners hit Iraq-Jordan border post,” Associated Press, 4/25/15
Xinhua, “Iraqi troops wage tit-for-tat battles with IS in Anbar,” 4/23/15
Zee News, “Senior officers killed in Iraq’s Anbar: General,” 4/25/15