Saturday, May 30, 2015

Musings On Iraq In The News

My article on why Ramadi fell was reprinted by Iraq’s Al Mada. I was quoted in "The U.S. Ignored Ramadi, Now It's Bombing the Hell Out of It" by Robert Beckhusen in the War is Boring blog, which was later republished in Real Clear Defense

Thursday, May 28, 2015

How The Islamic State’s Caliphate In Iraq Was Originally Ignored

In June 2014 the Islamic State (IS) swept into Mosul taking Iraq’s second largest city. Afterward IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi gave a public sermon in a Mosul mosque declaring the return of the caliphate. That sent shock waves through the international community, but was in fact a long term goal of the group. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who founded the organization that would become IS wanted to form an Islamic state long before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. After he was killed in 2006 his successors began forming a state, but that was largely ignored until their replacement Baghdadi began making it a reality.

Restoring the caliphate was a major goal of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. That started in the early 1990s when he began working with Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi. Together they criticized the west and the Jordanian government, and called for jihad and the formation of an Islamic state. In 2001, Zarqawi and Al Qaeda commander Saif Adl allegedly talked about how the impending invasion of Iraq might provide the opportunity to restore the caliphate. The Muslim Brotherhood largely inspired these ideas. It talked about the caliphate when it was founded in the 1920s, and later in the 1950s its ideologue Sayid Qutb called for radical revolutionary activism, which inspired many groups in the following decades. Zarqawi came from this line of Salafi-Jihadist thought, and tried to implement it in Iraq.

Throughout Zarqawi’s time in Iraq he stated that his goal was to form an Islamic state. In May 2004 for example, he said he was in Iraq to wage jihad and create a state. Two months later he stated that an Islamic state was emerging in Iraq, and in August he claimed he was fighting to launch the caliphate. The next year he issued a strategy document, which concluded with a state. Then in 2006 Al Qaeda in Iraq created the Mujahedeen Shura Council with five other groups, which it said was the start of a new Islamic nation. Zarqawi was killed a few months later, but it was evident from these statements and more that he believed the vacuum created by the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the subsequent war was just the opportunity he had been waiting for to return the caliphate. He thought starting a civil war in Iraq would rally the Sunni population to his side in a jihad against the west and Shiites. The ensuing victory would open the door to a new Islamic era.

After the passing of Zarqawi, Al Qaeda in Iraq would continue on with his vision. Abu Hamza Muhajir also known as Abu Ayub Masri replaced Zarqawi as the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq. He named Abu Omar al-Baghdad as the official leader of the organization. In October 2006 they announced the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), which was to follow in the footsteps of the Prophet Mohammed. It claimed it controlled an area about the size of Medina under the Prophet. That included provinces in Baghdad, Anbar, Diyala, Kirkuk, Salahaddin, Ninewa, and parts of Babil and Wasit. In turn, Muhajir called for Muslims to give baya or allegiance to Baghdadi. This was generally welcomed by jihadis such as Al Qaeda initially, but caused controversy within the Iraqi insurgency. The Islamic Army for example, criticized the idea in 2007. The United States on the other hand didn’t pay much attention, focusing instead upon calling Baghdadi a fake. The Islamic State of Iraq was actually the start of the caliphate, but was almost completely missed in the west. Muhajir and Baghdadi were fulfilling Zarqawi’s plan. The problem was that ISI didn’t have the power in Iraq to actually create a state on the ground. By 2007 for example, it was suffering major setbacks. It also lacked the standing in the jihadist community to convince many others that the caliphate was returning.

It wasn’t until the Syrian war, and the revival of IS that the Islamic state would really gain ground. The conflict in Syria allowed IS to gain new recruits, find new sources of income, and expand into another country. That led to the declaration of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in April 2013. In Iraq, the decline of politics for Sunnis after the 2010 elections, the U.S. military withdrawal in 2011, Sunni protests, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s hallowing out of the Iraqi Security Forces all contributed to the return of IS. By 2014 IS was able to seize Mosul and declared the caliphate on June 29 resulting in the name change from ISIS to simply the Islamic State. This time the announcement was taken much more seriously and gained headlines around the world. IS had proved itself an effective insurgent group seizing huge tracts of land in both Syria and Iraq. That didn’t mean there was universal agreement upon the caliphate within the jihadi community as there were still plenty of dissenters, but IS had made gains like few other Salafists had done before giving an air of legitimacy to the new Islamic state.

The restoration of the caliphate was a long time coming for the Islamic State. Zarqawi had talked about it years before he even entered Iraq. He wasn’t able to declare it; that was left to his successors Muhajir and Baghdadi. Their announcement was barely even noticed at the time with many either ignoring it or just taking it as a name change for Al Qaeda in Iraq. It wasn’t until IS seized territory in both Syria and Iraq that the caliphate was taken as a reality. IS not only had the power to enforce its pronouncements, but started acting like a state as it always talked about. It has civil servants, provides services, runs schools, etc. It also demanded the loyalty of not only all the other insurgent groups in Syria and Iraq, but of all Muslims around the world. This has gained widespread support from many young jihadis. Now the question is whether IS has the resources to maintain and expand its state.


Bunzel, Cole, “From Paper State to Caliphate: The Ideology of the Islamic State,” The Brookings Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, March 2015

Fishman, Brian, “The Imaginary Emir: Al-Qa’ida in Iraq’s Strategic Mistake,” Combating Terrorism Center, 7/18/07

Kagan, Kimberly, “The Anbar Awakening: Displacing al Qaeda from Its Stronghold in Western Iraq,” Institute For The Study of War and Weekly Standard, 8/21/06-3/30/07

Kazimi, Nibras, “Al-Qaeda Declares Government, Islamic State in Iraq,” Talisman Gate, 10/15/06

Myers, Steven Lee, “Arrest Led to Strike on Two Top Iraq Qaeda Leaders,” New York Times, 4/22/10

Roggio, Bill, “The Awakening, al Qaeda clash in Iraq,” Long War Journal, 12/17/07

Symon, Fiona, “The devil America knows,” Financial Times, 9/24/04

Weiss, Michael Hassan, Hassan, ISIS, Inside the Army of Terror, New York: Regan Arts, 2015

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Categorizing The Iraq Insurgency

Today, the Islamic State (IS) dominates the Iraqi insurgency. It has swallowed up opposing factions and forced others off the battlefield. Up to 2014 however there was a range of militant groups operating in the country. In 2005, Nicholas Haussler attempted to categorize the insurgency into three broad groups. Those were local level actors that were usually based upon kinship. The next were larger enterprises that had access to weapons, independent funding, and connections to international groups and markets. The last was the transnational Al Qaeda in Iraq that networked with Iraqis and others across the region. These groups all interacted and competed with each other at the local to international levels to create the country’s insurgency. Today these different levels still exist, they just operating under the auspices of the Islamic State.

The core of the insurgency was the local chapters. These were usually organized along kinships, clans, occupations, mosques, etc. For example, a person might be a former member of the secret police, be part of a clan and tribe, and go to a specific mosque and draw upon all of those connections to find like minded people who were willing to fight the U.S. and Iraqi government. Ansar al-Islam for example was an Islamist group in Kurdistan that was formed before the 2003 invasion. Most of its core was said to come from one Kurdish clan. These groups were intimately connected to their communities who provided them the space to operate in, recruits, intelligence, and a means of communication. They were responsible for the majority of killings, information gathering, and security for networks. These groups were small and often competed with each other as much as cooperated. They posed a serious challenge to the state with its large bureaucratic structures that made it hard and slow to respond to this threat.

The next type of group was the enterprise. They were usually based upon extended families and clans. Many became criminal rings during the sanctions period. In the 1990s, the government encouraged certain officials and preferred tribes to smuggle goods to get around the international sanctions imposed on the country after its invasion of Kuwait. This allowed them to build up networks into Syria, Turkey and Jordan. These groups were able to expand with the power vacuum after the 2003 invasion. Their activities gave them access to communications, supplies, resources, and accesses to global markets. They also had links to institutions such as political parties, the Iraqi Security Forces, the judiciary, and the bureaucracy through infiltration, intimidation, and bribery. That meant these enterprises could tap into government wages, equipment, weapons, etc. Many of these groups later joined the insurgency providing supply networks and independent financing. They would contract out work to the local level actors to carry out operations.

The last type of organization was the transnational, which was represented by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s Tawhid wal Jihad, which later became Al Qaeda in Iraq. It was made up mostly of foreign fighters, and had networks across the Middle East. The group was organized into cells, many of which acted autonomously. Zarqawi would bring the smaller groups together for large operations. He would also cooperate with local Iraqi groups and enterprises out of their shared interests in overthrowing the government and expelling the Americans. The local groups could cooperate on attacks, while enterprises could launder money or procure weapons. At the same time there was plenty of competition and rivalry, which would often break out into open fighting between them. Eventually Tawhid wal Jihad’s successor the Islamic State would subsume almost all of the other Iraqi groups from the local level to the enterprises after the summer of 2014.

Today the situation in Iraq has changed as the diversity of insurgent groups has largely disappeared due to the power of the Islamic State. Up to the summer of 2014 there was a plethora of organizations active in Iraq, but they have mostly left the battlefield or been integrated within IS. Still elements of these different types of organizations exist, but largely under the umbrella of IS. There are still local Iraqi groups that provide foot soldiers for the Islamic State. Members of certain tribes for example have sided with IS and are likely organized along kinship lines. IS has appropriated many of the crime rings of central and northern Iraq that were once run by independent enterprises. Where the group was strong such as in Mosul, this happened years ago. IS has now expanded these activities after its seizure of so much territory in Syria and Iraq to sustain itself. It has exploited its connections across the region to smuggle oil and antiquities amongst other illegal activities. Finally, IS still acts as the transnational actor coordinating these smaller groups and providing leadership. Haussler’s categories are helpful in understanding how the insurgency was organized as it was never one monolithic group, but rather a conglomeration of like minded people united in their opposition to the new Iraq. It still proves useful today to breakdown the components of the Islamic State.


Haussler, Nicholas, “Third Generation Gangs Revisited: The Iraq Insurgency,” Naval Postgraduate School Thesis, September 2005

McGrath, John, “An Army at War: Change in the Midst of Conflict,” Combat Studies Institute Press, 8/2-4/05

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Will The Hashd Al-Shaabi Change The Face Of Iraqi Politics? Interview With Fanar Haddad

Fanar Haddad is one of the pre-eminent scholars on sectarianism in Iraq. His 2011 book Sectarianism in Iraq, Antagonistic Visions of Unity was a ground breaking work on the topic. Recently Haddad wrote “The Hashd: Redrawing the Military and Political Map of Iraq” for the Middle East institute. That spurred this interview about what impact the Hashd al-Shaabi, the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) might have on the future of Iraqi politics. Haddad can be followed on Twitter at @fanarhaddad.

1. The Hashd al-Shaabi were created after the fall of Mosul when Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called on Iraqis to defend their nation against the insurgency. They have become widely popular since then with dozens of Facebook pages and Twitter posts dedicated to them along with each groups own public relations campaign. How did the Hashd gain such a position in Iraqi society?

Well firstly let’s be clear that the massive popularity of the Hashd is a mostly Shi’i phenomenon. As I have argued and as I think is patently evident to any visitor to Baghdad today, the Hashd has spurred a reinvigorated Iraqi nationalism and jingoism unseen since the early 1980’s and the Iran-Iraq war. However, and again this is patently self-evident, this Iraqi nationalism is of a distinctly Shi’i flavor. Despite what a certain ilk of Iraqi patriot would have you believe, there have always been divergent, sect-centric readings of Iraqi nationalism. These sat alongside other nationalistic imaginations and this is perfectly natural as no people are in total agreement as to the content and meaning of their national affinity. Since 2003, sect-centric forms of Iraqi nationalism have been empowered and have taken centre stage in Iraqi politics and society. These have proven divergent and antagonistic enough to the point of tearing Iraq apart. What I mean by sect-centric Iraqi nationalism is a reading of Iraq’s identity and its past, present and future in an overwhelmingly sect-centric manner. This affects one’s entire understanding of self and other and skews views towards practically everything related to Iraq. While I am not saying this is something that marks every Iraqi today, I think it is wishful thinking to deny that, broadly speaking, there has been a division amongst Iraqis – one that falls along sectarian lines – regarding views towards everything from regime change to the nature of the Ba’ath to Iran to anti-state violence, and today we see it with regards to the Hashd. As I’ve said elsewhere, one way to understand post-2003 Iraq is to view it as a struggle between Shi’a centric state building and Sunni rejection (both of which encompass spectrums of varying degrees but are for the most part concerned with the national ownership and national identity of Iraq – or I should say Arab Iraq – and the configuration of the power relations underpinning sectarian relations).

In accounting for the Hashd’s popularity we need to be mindful of the above. Regardless of whatever intentions initially underlined the Hashd’s emergence, it has turned into perhaps the most significant manifestation of Shi’a centric state building yet. Unlike say the army, the Hashd is a product of the post-2003 environment: it reflects the realities of post-2003 Iraq; it is organic and it is unencumbered by older frames of reference that – even if still recognized as an ideal – are increasingly difficult to turn into reality. This makes the Hashd phenomenon capable of fostering a feeling of empowerment and mobilization that the army, as an institution, has been incapable of doing since 2003. Beyond that, for its supporters, the Hashd’s popularity is grounded in a sense of legitimacy that has rarely been paralleled by any actor or institution in post-2003 Iraq and that has certainly not been paralleled by post-2003 Iraq’s political classes. This is just one way in which the Hashd has fulfilled a pressing need for a significant Iraqi demographic, namely the need for legitimate and inspirational figures, leaders or institutions. Of course the Hashd’s legitimacy is derived from the legitimacy granted by the same demographic to the marji’iya and to Ayatollah Sistani – you could say that, for many Shi’as, Sistani’s call to mass mobilization grants the Hashd the ultimate ISO standard!

In addition to legitimacy and Shi’a empowerment, the Hashd’s popularity is further extended by the results that they have achieved. Supporters of the Hashd will say that the Hashd took the fight to ISIS and has achieved significant results in Diyala, Babil and Salah al Din. More broadly, the narrative of the Hashd sustains its popular appeal: while detractors will focus on the seasoned and Iranian-linked armed groups that compose vital parts of the Hashd phenomenon, supporters focus on a different aspect: the selfless impoverished youths of Baghdad and southern Iraq who selflessly answered the call to defend (and crucially to avenge) Iraq. These people, supporters will stress, stand in stark contrast to the scheming, corrupt, ineffective and self-interested political classes. More divisively, many supporters will also argue that this ideal-type of Hashd volunteer stands in stark contrast to the majority of Sunnis who they will accuse of, at best a callous complacency and at worst murderous complicity with ISIS. Finally, central to the narrative of the Hashd (and again in contrast to all others according to its supporters) the Hashd is fighting for Iraq. It is the savior without which Baghdad and all of Iraq would have fallen to ISIS. It is the pinnacle of national sacrifice (the contentious issues surrounding what constitutes ‘national’ are of course overlooked) and it is composed of ‘our boys’, salt-of-the-earth sorts – or wild il khaybah in Iraqi parlance – defending sacred national soil. Needless to say this is a far cry from how the Hashd is generally viewed by Iraqi Sunnis despite some notable exceptions. 

2. The Hashd began as a Shiite paramilitary force. Now some Sunnis, Christians and Turkmen have joined in as well. Do you think that will change the image of the Hashd or will they be known as a Shiite sectarian one?

It is not impossible for perceptions of the Hashd to evolve into something like a national (albeit inevitably Shia dominated) institution. The extreme ends of the spectrums of both Shia centric state building and Sunni rejection will always insist on viewing the Hashd as a Shi’a centric force. But I think that for many – one hopes the majority – of Iraqis, perceptions regarding the Hashd will be dictated more by the actions of the Hashd and less by pre-existing bias and prejudice. A rare and very fragile silver lining to Iraq’s ongoing war is that we have seen some instances of previously unthinkable cooperation between the Hashd/Shi’a militias and local Sunni forces. If such cooperation is carefully managed and supported it can be repeated elsewhere ultimately extending the ‘Hashd franchise’ to Sunni Iraq. In theory this could turn the Hashd into a cross-sectarian successor of the Awakening or into a decentralized parallel Iraqi army. However, there is much militating against this optimistic scenario: from the extremist elements on all sides to the immeasurable mistrust that exists in Iraq today to the fact that such a scenario would inescapably entail Sunni Hashd formations being answerable to Shia militias.

I think three factors will be crucial to the question of the Hashd’s future and particularly to the question of Sunni buy-in: behavior, progress and empowerment. If excesses are kept to a minimum and the Hashd makes progress on the field and, crucially, if cooperating Sunni forces are rewarded (something easily done: after all someone has to administer recaptured territory) then there is no reason to doubt further Sunni buy-in. Conversely, excesses will feed into Sunni fears and into Sunni militant messaging and inadequate rewards will act as a disincentive for potential Sunni partners. Success is also crucial: if the Hashd gains momentum (and provided excesses and rewards are adequately managed) then buy-in could come from those simply betting on the winning horse. Furthermore, every defeat the Hashd suffers hardens sectarian entrenchment on all sides and within the Hashd itself. I would imagine that the more success and the more territory recaptured, the more the Hashd and their supporters would be inclined to see themselves as saving Iraq. Conversely, the more defeats and setbacks the more they would be inclined to retreat into a Shi’a-garrison mentality. This has certainly been noticeable amongst Hashd supporters on social media and elsewhere: vacillating between ‘liberate Iraq’ to ‘to hell with Iraq’ depending on the ebb and flow of war! Finally, of course, battlefield success strengthens the Prime Minister’s hand and consequently his vision to integrate the Hashd into the institutions of the state – something that may help polish perceptions regarding the Hashd and extend its membership further beyond Iraqi Shi’as.

3. Some of the larger Hashd groups were established militias or came from political parties such as the Badr Organization, Asaib Ahl Al-Haq, Kataib Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr’s Peace Brigades, and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. Some Iraqi organizations that were fighting in Syria returned after the fall of Mosul such as the Khorasani Brigade, and there are also plenty of newer ones as well like Firqat al-Imam Ali. Almost all of the older groups were involved in politics. What do you see as the fate of these new groups after the war with the Islamic State is over? Will some of them just go home? Will some become in elections?

This will be something to watch out for in the presumably distant future when the ISIS threat is sufficiently reduced. I think it’s unlikely that the newer groups you refer to will not expect a political dividend from the war with ISIS. The Hashd’s popularity is something no realistic Iraqi politician can ignore today and we are already seeing it impacting on Shi’a political dynamics. Two years ago the limit of Hadi al Ameri’s [of the Badr Organization] political ambition would have been to play second fiddle to Maliki, today – and as a direct result of his role in the Hashd – he may well be one of the most popular Iraqi politicians. I think that the Hashd phenomenon will continue to alter political dynamics amongst Iraq’s Shi’a elites. We will also likely see competition between the various groups that constitute the Hashd over political position particularly after the ISIS threat is diminished – a competition over who can ‘out-Hashd’ the other. As for the newer groups you mentioned, they may be subsumed under stronger or more established political forces some of which are also active in the Hashd. In that sense we may see ‘Hashd’ turn into a political brand with various political formations emerging each trying to claim the political capital of the Hashd – we briefly saw something similar with the ‘Intifadha’ brand where several formations laid claim to what was perceived to be the political capital accruing from association with the rebellions of 1991. Another possibility is that newer groups would clash with more established ones for influence and political position. This would mirror what we have already seen in previous years such as with the clashes between the Sadrists and Badr and then later between AAH and the Sadrists. A similar dynamic could emerge in ‘post-ISIS’ Iraq.

4. Former prime minister and current Vice President Nouri al-Maliki has attempted to align with some of the established Hashd groups such as Asaib Ahl Al-Haq in what many consider a move to return to power. What do you think of Maliki’s attempts and does it have any chance of being successful?

The success of Maliki and others who are trying to undermine the government with a pro-Hashd stance will largely depend on how ISF and the Hashd fare on the field. The more ISF are seen to be failing the more those trying to use the Hashd as a vehicle with which to undermine the PM will be strengthened. Recently there was the rather suspicious controversy over the ‘Tharthar massacre’ and how some political figures associated with the Hashd and Maliki tried to capitalize on it. That attempt failed – if anything it highlighted the limits of Maliki’s political support. However, this can change and military developments will shape political options and room for maneuver – as highlighted by the recent loss of Ramadi and Abadi’s adoption of a more Hashd-reliant policy than he would have liked.

Using the Hashd to undermine the PM is not the most effective tactic; after-all Abadi is not anti-Hashd and he is no doubt mindful of the need to claim as much credit as possible for whatever success the Hashd achieves. In trying to do so he will be well placed to position himself as the PM leading the war effort but he will also have to contend with rivals more directly connected to the Hashd. 

5. Finally, some of the political parties such as the Sadrists and the Supreme Council have become increasingly critical of the Hashd. Sadr for example, has made several statements condemning what he calls “brazen militias” who attack civilians and are undermining the government. What is the nature of the dispute between these groups, and will we see more arguments in the future?

I think this falls into the category of newer forces clashing against older ones. On the one hand Sadr has been fairly consistent in defending the national framework and the institutions of state which would explain his comments regarding the ‘brazen militias’. On the other hand however, this is likely a response to the rising popularity of rival groups who compete (perhaps outcompete) with the Sadrists for the same demographic.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Aftermath Of The Fall Of Ramadi In Iraq

The third week of May 2015 was marked by the fall of Ramadi in Iraq’s Anbar province. The fighting for the city caused huge casualties amongst the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), tribes and civilians, especially as the Islamic State (IS) carried out executions during the entire operation. The battle for Ramadi showed the limits of reporting in Iraq as most of the papers were caught up in Anbar and dramatically reduced their coverage of the rest of the country.

There were 123 security incidents in the media from May 15-21. That was the lowest since the 121 reported the first week of April. That wasn’t because violence suddenly decreased, but rather was the result of the press being fixated upon the fight for Ramadi. The Iraqi papers barely covered the rest of the country during that period. Much more was going on in the rest of Iraq, it just wasn’t mentioned.

While attacks were way down the number of casualties was quite high due to Ramadi. 961 people died and 380 were wounded during the week. Most of those were in the Anbar provincial capital where IS executed over 500 ISF, sahwa and civilians during and after its capture. In total 848 were killed in Anbar, followed by 51 in Baghdad, 19 in Salahaddin, 16 in Kirkuk, 12 in Ninewa, 7 in Basra, 5 in Diyala, and 3 in Babil. The dead consisted of 1 Hashd al-Shaabi, 43 sahwa, 334 ISF, and 583 civilians, while the injured were made up of 3 sahwa, 11 Hashd, 162 ISF, and 204 civilians. Like attacks the real numbers were surely higher.

Violence In Iraq By Week 2015
Jan 1-7
Jan 8-14
Jan 15-21
Jan 22-28
Jan 29-31
Feb 1-7
Feb 8-14
Feb 15-21
Feb 22-28
687 + 386
Mar 1-7
Mar 8-14
Mar 15-21
Mar 22-28
Mar 29-31
2,459 + 4
2,371 + 150
Apr 1-7
Apr 8-14
Apr 15-21
Apr 22-28
Apr 29-30
162 + 7
182 + 299
May 1-7
May 8-14
May 15-21

Violence In Iraq By Province May 2015
May 1-7
May 8-14
34 Incidents
75 Killed: 21 ISF, 30 Hashd, 24 Civilians
103 Wounded: 54 ISF, 49 Civilians
15 Shootings
19 IEDs
1 Suicide Bomber
2 Suicide Car Bombs
2 Mortars
2 Rockets
36 Incidents
74 Killed: 16 ISF, 2 Sahwa, 9 Hashd, 47 Civilians
176 Wounded: 62 ISF, 7 Hashd, 26 Sahwa, 81 Civilians
26 Shootings
14 Suicide Car Bombs
4 Mortars
8 Incidents
5 Killed: 5 Civilians
20 Wounded: 5 Hashd, 15 Civilians
1 Shooting
3 IEDs
2 Sticky Bombs
1 Sound Bomb
68 Incidents
105 Killed: 3 ISF, 1 Sahwa, 101 Civilians
234 Wounded: 7 ISF, 5 Sahwa, 222 Civilians
28 Shootings
28 IEDs
4 Sticky Bombs
1 Suicide Car Bomb
2 Car Bombs
1 Rockets
46 Incidents
99 Killed: 2 ISF, 3 Sahwa, 94 Civilians
218 Wounded: 9 ISF, 2 Sahwa, 207 Civilians
15 Shootings
22 IEDs
1 Sticky Bomb
1 Suicide Car Bomb
3 Car Bombs
1 Mortar
1 Incident
1 Shooting
9 Incidents
23 Killed: 3 ISF, 1 Asayesh, 19 Civilians
23 Wounded: 8 ISF, 3 Asayesh, 12 Civilians
4 Shootings
2 IEDs
1 Sticky Bomb
18 Incidents
89 Killed: 10 ISF, 1 Sahwa, 78 Civilians
66 Wounded: 7 ISF, 59 Civilians
7 Shootings
5 IEDs
1 Suicide Bomber
2 Suicide Car Bombs
9 Incidents
10 Killed: 1 Peshmerga, 1 Hashd, 8 Civilians
17 Wounded: 4 Peshmerga, 13 Civilians
4 Shootings
3 IEDs
1 Mortar
7 Incidents
13 Killed: 4 Peshmerga, 9 Civilians
6 Wounded: 5 Peshmerga, 1 Civilian
4 Shootings
11 Incidents
342 Killed: 324 Civilians
5 Shootings
25 IEDs
17 Incidents
26 Killed: 2 ISF, 24 Civilians
2 Wounded: 2 Peshmerga
8 Shootings
20 IEDs
1 Sticky Bomb
22 Incidents
89 Killed: 79 ISF, 8 Hashd, 2 Civilians
73 Wounded: 54 ISF, 10 Hashd, 9 Civilians
22 Incidents
113 Killed: 61 ISF, 52 Civilians
61 Wounded: 32 ISF, 8 Hashd, 21 Civilians
13 Shootings
1 Suicide Car Bomb
1 Car Bomb
1 Mortar

May 15-21
46 Incidents
848 Killed: 321 ISF, 40 Sahwa, 488 Civilians
186 Wounded: 129 ISF, 57 Civilians
30 Shootings
8 IEDs
19 Suicide Car Bombs
2 Car Bombs
5 Mortars
2 Rockets
2 Incidents
3 Killed: 3 Civilians
11 Wounded: 11 Civilians
2 IEDs
44 Incidents
51 Killed: 4 ISF, 1 Hashd, 3 Sahwa, 43 Civilians
108 Wounded: 20 ISF, 3 Hashd, 3 Sahwa, 82 Civilians
17 Shootings
18 IEDs
7 Sticky Bobs
1 Suicide Car Bomb
1 Car Bomb
1 Mortar
2 Incidents
7 Killed: 7 Civilians
4 Wounded: 4 Civilians
2 Shootings
5 Incidents
5 Killed: 5 Civilians
6 Wounded: 6 Civilians
1 Shooting
3 IEDs
4 Incidents
16 Killed: 16 Civilians
1 Sticky Bomb
8 Incidents
12 Killed: 12 Civilians
3 Shootings
12 Incidents
19 Killed: 10 ISF, 9 Civilians
65 Wounded: 13 ISF, 8 Hashd, 44 Civilians
3 Shootings
6 IEDs
1 Suicide Car Bomb
1 Mortar
1 Rockets

Car Bombs In Iraq May 2015
May 1

May 2
Garma, Anbar
Karrada x2, Baghdad
May 3

May 4
Baiji Refinery, Salahaddin
May 5
Garma, Anbar
Karrada, Baghdad
May 6

May 7
Baiji x2, Dour, Hamrin x2, Salahaddin
May 8
Baladrooz & Kanaan, Diyala
May 9
Karrada, Baghdad
May 10
Fallujah x3, Anbar
Shaab, Baghdad
Taji & Tarmiya, Salahaddin
May 11

May 12
Sadoun St & Tahrir Sq, Baghdad
May 13

May 14
Dulab x9 & Jubba x2, Anbar
May 15
Ramadi x11, Anbar
May 16
Fallujah & Ramadi, Anbar
Baiji Refinery, Salahaddin

May 17
Ramadi x7, Anbar
Shurta, Baghdad
May 18

May 19
Haswar, Anbar
Abu Ghraib, Baghdad
May 20

May 21


IS upped the number of vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) for the third week in a row. In the first week of May there were 11 VBIEDs, followed by 22 the second, and 24 the third week. 21 were in Anbar alone showing the heavy fighting there. Many more were destroyed before reaching their intended targets. 43 people were reported killed in these attacks and another 56 wounded. Again, the actual figures are far higher as many casualties were not reported for the car bombings in Anbar.

Anbar was obviously the major focus in Iraq during the third week of May. IS successfully took Ramadi after 17 months of trying. Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey told the press that the ISF commander in the city ordered a withdrawal out of fear that the bad weather in the area would prevent coalition air support from being called him. The use of ten Oklahoma City size truck bombs also helped break down the defenses throughout Ramadi. From the very start, IS also executed over 500 civilians, sahwa and ISF members. It was reported that IS had hit lists of people they wanted to kill, and were going door to door looking for them. The militants weren’t done either as they continued to push east into Husaiba and Khalidiya.

Back in Baghdad the fall of Ramadi has led to a series of recriminations. Sheikhs in Anbar have accused the ISF of abandoning them during the fighting. A State of Law parliamentarian said that Ramadi showed that the Iraqi government should only rely upon the Iranians rather than the U.S who was accused of helping IS. Dawa members also went after ISF officers in Anbar claiming that they had fled without consulting with the prime minister, were lying about the strength of their units, and some had contacts with the Islamic State. Finally, a spokesman for Asaib Ahl Al-Haq said that the fall of Ramadi was due to Prime Minister Abadi listening to the Americans to keep the Hashd out of the fight. Abadi and the Americans had gained strength from the victory in Tikrit over Iran and its friends within the Hashd after their attack stalled, but now were put back on the defensive due to the events in Anbar. This back and forth political battle will continue into the future.

Baghdad continued to be a major target, but casualties dropped there compared to the previous week. From May 15-21 there were 44 incidents just around the 46 from the week before, and way down from the 68 seen during the first week. There were 51 fatalities and 108 injured during the third week, down from the 99 deaths and 218 from the previous one. There were two car bombs during the week, one at an army base in Abu Ghraib, and another on a market in Shurta. There were also 19 IEDs and 7 sticky bombs, which led to the majority of the dead and wounded. The number of extra judicial killings in the province continued at a high pace. There were twelve bodies discovered across Baghdad, which was just around the fifteen found the week before. So Far there have been 51 bodies dumped in parts of the governorate this month compared to 38 during April. The return of mass casualty car bombs and displaced Anbaris who have been blamed for these terrorist acts has apparently prompted Hashd and other Shiite elements to pick up the pace of these murders, although some are also the work of insurgents.

Violence in southern Iraq is dreadfully under reported, but during the week Asaib Ahl Al-Haq got caught up in a tribal conflict in Basra leading to a shoot out that killed six and wounded four on May 18. The removal of much of the security forces from the southern provinces to fight the insurgency has given rise to an increasing number of lawless acts such as gang activity, tribal conflicts, and deadly political rivalries throughout the region. The media is catching only a small portion of this. 

In Salahaddin the effort to relieve the Baiji refinery continued. Throughout the week government forces made steady progress towards the area, finally reaching the complex by the last day of the week. The fighting for Baiji highlights the manpower shortages Baghdad is facing as the region was cleared in October-November, January, February, and April. Whenever the area is attacked, reinforcements are sent in, but they then withdraw allowing IS to move back in. This has occurred throughout the country again and again. Unless there are strong local actors such as in Amerli and Alam in Salahaddin or the place was totally emptied such as Jalawla in Diyala, Jurf al-Sakhr in Babil and Tikrit the government has not been able to hold many areas after clearing operations. They simply lack the manpower to do so. That means Baiji will likely come under threat once again in the coming weeks.


AIN, "Car bomb explodes on Al-Tameem bridge, western Ramadi," 5/16/15

Associated Press, "Amid battles with ISIS, suicide attacks kill 10 people in Iraq," 5/15/15
- "Iraqi premier: Don't abandon Anbar to Islamic State group," 5/17/15
- "Iraqi troops repel ISIS attack on Anbar town," 5/19/15
- "Suicide car bombs kill 10 Iraqi troops in besieged Ramadi," 5/17/15

BBC, "Islamic State crisis: Militants seize Ramadi stronghold," 5/15/15

Daragahi, Borzou and Solomon, Erika, “Ramadi’s fall casts doubt on al-Abadi’s control of Iraq war,” Financial Times, 5/19/15

Al Forat, "2 citizens killed, 8 others wounded by car bomb southeast Baghdad," 5/17/15

Al Jazeera, "State patrolling perimeter of Abu Ghraib and the government mobilized to retake Ramadi," 5/19/15

Al Mada, “Albu Fahd committed to the Battle of Ramadi: we were betrayed by the army,” 5/22/15
- “Dawa Party fall of Ramadi: the disappearance of 15,000 troops and Daash captured enough weapons to fight for a whole year,” 5/20/15

Al Masalah, "Tribal conflict in Basra," 5/18/15

NINA, "8/ members of the Federal Police killed near the Baiji refinery," 5/16/15

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “Shi’ite Fighters Mass For Counterattack On IS-Held Ramadi,” 5/19/15

Radio Free Iraq, "18 May 2015," Daily Updates from Anbar, 5/18/15

Al Rafiydan, "Hezbollah Brigades regain control of army headquarters in Fallujah," 5/16/15

Shafaq News, “Maliki’s coalition calls government to rely on Iranian advisers rather than Americans,” 5/19/15

Stars and Stripes, “Dempsey Says Iraqis Weren’t Driven Out of Ramadi, They Drove,” 5/22/15

Xinhua, "IS militants capture government compound in Iraq's Ramadi," 5/15/15

Yacoub Sameer, "Islamic State militants seize government compound in the capital of western Anbar province," 5/15/15

Youssef, Nancy, “Iraqis Now Blaming U.S. for Losing Ramadi to ISIS,” Daily Beast, 5/21/15

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