Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Kurdish Offensive Into Kirkuk’s Daquq Displaces Thousands

At the end of August 2015 the Peshmerga made a rare offensive move into southern Kirkuk. Several villages in the Daquq district were taken in an off and on series of attacks. Soon after stories emerged about the Kurds looting and destroying homes in the area, and several thousand people were displaced in the process. This was the latest example of demographic changes the Kurds are attempting to impose on the disputed territories of northern Iraq.

On August 26, 2015 the Peshmerga attacked the Daquq district of Kirkuk. 14 villages were reported cleared on the first day. There was a pause, and then the offensive began again with another 10 towns seized on September 11, and then ten more on September 13. Then another break occurred before one more town was taken on September 22. As soon as the campaign started there were stories of looting by the Kurdish forces. Two Peshmerga officers told Iraq Oil Report that Kurdish volunteers were responsible. There was also a more systematic destruction of houses in the district. A Peshmerga commander said that homes in four villages were bulldozed. Another troubling trend was the Kurds not letting families that fled the fighting return. A Kurdish General was quoted in The National saying that residents were free to return to the cleared towns, but the paper’s reporter saw only empty villages on a trip through the district. The International Organization for Migration counted 1,805 families displaced from the area, which was over 10,000 individuals. Arab locals claimed that the Kurds were preventing them from returning. As usual the government forces are justifying their actions by stating that the areas are not safe because of explosives and they are afraid of IS infiltration and supporters. The Kurds have carried out similar actions in Diyala and Ninewa of property destruction and forced displacement.  

The Kurds have carried out few offensive operations this year. They are mostly happy to stay in their dug in positions and hold the land they have taken since last year rather than fight the Islamic State. When they do act it is to take more of the disputed territories, which they claim as historically Kurdish. Unless the Peshmerga have local allies, the trend is to destroy homes and displace the locals as they are considered IS supporters. It is also part of the Kurds’ larger plan to reverse Saddam Hussein’s Arabization program that removed thousands of Kurds from northern Iraq and settled Arabs in their place. By changing the populations of these areas they can create more facts on the ground that they are Kurdish and should be annexed to the Kurdistan Regional Government. The post-IS Iraq is much more important for Kurdish leaders than the current war, which is shown in actions like these in Kirkuk governorate.


International Organization for Migration, “Iraq Crisis Response – Situation Report #25 Update: 5 – 15 September,” 9/15/15

Iraq Oil Report, “After Peshmerga victory, homes looted and destroyed,” 9/1/15

Mamoun, Abdelhak, "Kurdish Peshmerga and Anti-Terorism forces liberate 7 villages south of Kirkuk," Iraqi News, 8/26/15
- "Peshmerga liberates villages of Albu-Najam and tel al-Basel south of Kirkuk," Iraqi News, 8/26/15

NINA, "Peshmerga Capture 12 Terrorists In Daquq West Of Kirkuk," 9/13/15
- "Peshmerga forces liberate 10 villages south of Kirkuk," 9/11/15

Sotaliraq, "Freeing of a village south of Kirkuk from Daash control," 9/22/15

Williams, Sara Elizabeth, “Kurds’ smouldering feud could reignite in northern Iraq,” The National, 9/10/15

Xinhua, "Kurdish troops launch offensive against IS in northern Iraq," 8/26/15

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Islamic State Car Bomb Campaign In Iraq’s Salahaddin

In July 2015 the Islamic State initiated its latest car bomb campaign in Iraq. Salahaddin has been a major focus of this new offensive with a huge amount of vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED) being launched there in August. Like in Anbar, almost all of these bombs are being used against the government’s forces, especially in the Baiji area, which the Islamic State has effectively used as a diversionary target for the last several months. Salahaddin however is not only a target of these VBIEDs but a base for further attacks in Anbar and Baghdad provinces.

Salahaddin has seen the most car bombs in Iraq from June to August 2015. There were 50 VBIEDs in the governorate in June with 43 of them destroyed before reaching their target. That went down to 34 car bombs in July as IS began its new campaign and started hitting new areas of the country. Then in August they shot up to 188 VBIEDs with 173 destroyed. That was a total of 272 car bombs, more than Baghdad that saw 58 and Anbar that had 230 during that same period. Since June 608 of these types of bombs have been used with 44% of them taking place in Salahaddin.

Almost all of the car bombs in Salahaddin have been used in the Baiji area, which is in the northern section of the province above Tikrit. From June to August 6 VBIEDs were launched against the Samarra area in the south, 10 in the Tikrit district in the center, 13 in other locations, and 236 in Baiji. The refinery in that last district was heavily contested after the fall of Mosul and Tikrit in June 2014. IS originally wanted to capture the facility to use in its oil industry, but that proved impossible as Baghdad constantly sent reinforcements there. By early 2015 IS decided to use the district as a diversion from its real focus, which was Anbar. From April to May the militants seized the largest amount of the facility to date, and then the day it seized Ramadi it began blowing up the refinery and retreated. After the Anbar offensive began in July IS again launched heavy attacks into Baiji seizing several sections of the town and surrounding villages, which again succeeded in bringing in government reinforcements. IS has perfected small and medium sized infantry attacks beginning usually with a mortar barrage, then a truck or bulldozer bomb that is used to break through government defenses such as berms, usually followed by suicide car bombs that attempt to infiltrate into the security forces and Hashd’s positions, and then finished off with an infantry assault. The intensity of this fighting was shown in two stretches from August 15-17 and August 22-25 when 115 car bombs were used in Baiji with another 28 on August 20.

The Islamic State appears to have four main areas it produces VBIEDs in Salahaddin. One is obviously in Baiji. IS holds many of the small towns in the rural areas outside of the refinery, which are likely used to put together the bombs. The Hamrin Mountains in the east is another source of these bombs, which are likely sent out to hit the Tikrit and Samarra areas. A third is probably around Samarra where IS continues to carry out hit and run attacks and bombings. Finally, the fourth area is in the south around Taji and Tarmiya. These camps are used to send car bombs into neighboring Anbar and Baghdad.

Car Bombs In Salahaddin Jun-Aug 2015

Car Bombs
50 – 43 Destroyed
34 – 19 Destroyed
188 – 173 Destroyed

Top Car Bomb Targets By Province Jun-Aug 2015
Baghdad 58
Anbar 230
Salahaddin 272
Total Car Bombs Jun-Jul 608

Location of Car Bombs in Salahaddin
# of Car Bombs
Samarra Area
Tikrit Area
Baiji Area

Monday, September 28, 2015

Analyzing the Islamic State’s Information Campaign, Interview With Australian National Univ's Haroro Ingram

In the west, the Islamic State (IS) is usually described as a new type of insurgent group that is exploiting technological advances to spread its message to create a new global brand of jihad that has attracted followers from around the world. Haroro Ingram, a Research Fellow at the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs at the Australian National University, Canberra argues that IS is actually following in the footsteps of previous insurgent groups. What follows is an interview with Ingram, about IS’s information campaign and how western governments have tried to counter it.

1. Many western reporters and commentators have suggested that the Islamic State’s (IS) media campaign, especially its use of social media and new technology, sets it apart from previous jihadist and insurgent groups. You’ve argued that at its core IS uses very similar communications strategies to those advocated by other insurgency thinkers and revolutionary groups throughout history. Could you explain how IS is following in the path of those older thinkers?

I think it is important that the field doesn’t see IS as simply an historical anomaly and, in doing so, dismisses the important lessons history provides us for not only understanding but countering the IS phenomenon. For those that are interested, this is a major theme in Three traits of the Islamic State’s information warfare and The strategic logic of Islamic State information operations.

The core strategic mechanics of IS’s ‘information operations’ (IO) campaign are not particularly unique. In fact, IS’s IO strategy appears to share some really fundamental principles that can be found in the writings of modern insurgency thinkers such as Mao, Guevara, Minh, Muqrin and others. So let’s take a look at some of these core principles.

Firstly, like many other insurgency thinkers and revolutionary groups, IS seems to understand that modern insurgencies are characterized by two distinct but interconnected ‘competitions’. The first is pretty obvious and broadly recognized in the field: the clash of what Bernard Fall describes as ‘competitive systems of control’ i.e. the battle between rival politico-military apparatuses. The other competition is characterized by the clash of ‘competitive systems of meaning’ i.e. the battle for the perceived credibility and legitimacy of each side’s ‘cause’. 

Secondly, IS mirrors the thinking of other modern insurgency movements by affording ‘information operations’ (some may prefer the terms ‘media’, ‘communications’ or ‘propaganda’) a central strategic role in its politico-military campaign. The result is that IO is rarely used in a secondary and largely reactive strategic role as an ‘information tool’ to let contested populations know when and why a particular action was taken (probably the dominant trait of counterinsurgency IO efforts). Rather, IS uses IO as a means to ‘shape’ the human environment (contested populations, supporters and enemies alike) for its politico-military activities and continues to use IO as a means to sustain and compound those effects in the field. This is not the only way modern insurgencies like IS tend to use IO but it underscores the broader point.

Thirdly, like so many of their historical ‘predecessors’ (Islamist or otherwise), IS leverage both pragmatic (e.g. appeals to security, stability and livelihood) and perceptual (e.g. appeals to the cause) factors in its IO messaging as a means to shape the perceptions and polarize the support of contested populations. What IS does so well in its IO campaign, perhaps better than many of its Islamist predecessors (e.g. AQ), is weave pragmatic and perceptual appeals together in its messaging as a means to align rational- and identity-choice decision-making in its audiences. In doing so, its messaging seeks to harness powerful psychosocial dynamics in its audiences.

Again, these three traits are not particularly unique to IS’s IO campaign. Moreover, a lot of what IS does with its IO campaign isn’t even particularly unique to the militant Islamist milieu. During a recent visit to Kabul University I was exploring the Afghanistan Centre’s extraordinary collection of primary source materials and found a collection of Al Jihad magazine issues which Abdullah Azzam played a central role in producing and disseminating around three decades ago. These issues of Al Jihad were filled with a diverse array of articles – some focused on jurisprudential themes while others promoted the mujahideen’s politico-military efforts or eulogized martyrs – accompanied by eye-catching photos and graphics. The broad similarities with AQAP’s Inspire or IS’s Dabiq are clear.

Now, there is plenty that is unique about IS’s media campaign but its core strategic mechanics aren’t.

2. Western governments have tried to counter the Islamic State’s appeal by arguing that moderate voices within the Muslim community should speak out against the group. There were also the comments by President Obama that IS did not represent ‘real’ Islam. Is it an effective strategy to try to get into a religious debate with IS?

Western governments need to fight the urge to launch a counter-proselytizing campaign against IS (and other militant Islamist groups). At best, such efforts are likely to fail. After all, why should the adherents of a particular faith give any credibility to the ideological opinions of those outside of their faith? At worst, such efforts may act as a catalyst of radicalization by giving veracity to the claims of more radical fringes that suggest Western governments are actively trying to change Islam.

Some western governments have tried to overcome these problems by co-opting ‘moderates’ as the community advocates of such campaigns. I suspect that may actually compound the problem because it tends to be perceived by those most vulnerable to radicalization as the championing of a government-sanctioned Islam by those moderate voices that are most important in countering radical narratives. This is a lever militant Islamist narratives regularly manipulate. For example, AQAP’s Inspire and IS’s Dabiq magazines are filled with articles that compel western audiences to be aware of how governments are seeking to change Islam using ‘moderates’ as agents.

In the media battle against IS and similar groups, it is far better to err on the side of strategies that are more likely to work than less likely. A counter-proselytizing campaign epitomizes the type of strategy that falls into the latter category. It’s very difficult to predict what types of communication strategies will resonate in an audience but surely we can start with working towards our strengths and avoiding our adversary’s strengths.

3. The Islamic State not only uses jihadist-Salafist thought in its information campaigns, but also portrays itself as the champion and protector of Sunnis. What does the group say about its latter role, which doesn’t get as much coverage in the west?

Coverage of IS’s media efforts has tended to disproportionately focus on its extreme violence and proselytizing. While these are important features of its IO efforts, I think it is important that the field develops a greater appreciation for the breadth and diversity of IS’s messaging, especially if better counter-narratives are to be developed.

The bulk of IS’s messaging appears to be devoted to showing how IS are practically addressing the needs of Sunnis via appeals to pragmatic factors like security, stability and livelihood. This type of messaging is characterized by two aims. The first is to promote IS’s system of control and synchronize its narrative and action (what a colleague of mine describes as narrowing their say-do gap). The second is to denigrate its enemy’s system of control and rupture the link between its enemy’s narrative and action (exacerbate their enemy’s say-do gap). IS’s series of mujatweet videos are excellent examples of this dynamic (e.g. mujatweet 7 and mujatweet 3).

The messaging produced and disseminated by IS’s wilayat-based ‘information offices’ tends to be dominated by these very pragmatic appeals. Strategically this makes perfect sense. In order to maximize the appeal of IS’s system of control and diminish the appeal of its enemy’s system of control, IS prioritizes communications that are designed to leverage a population’s need for security, stability and livelihoods in addition to coercing them through violence. Having spent the last couple of years speaking with Syrian opposition elements and Syrian and Iraqi refugees fleeing IS-controlled areas, a common sentiment expressed by these interviewees is the ruthless pragmatism of not just IS politico-military efforts but its communications too.

4. You’ve said that what is unique about IS’s propaganda is its mix of identity- and rational-choice appeals in its messaging. Can you explain what you meant by that?

There is no single factor that explains the apparent effectiveness of IS’s IO campaign nor singularly captures its uniqueness. Rather, it is the cumulative impact of a range of subtle differences that is most significant when trying to understand the appeal of IS’s messaging. And yes, this is a dimension that distinguishes IS from many of its peers.

Appeals to pragmatic and perceptual factors in IS’s messaging are designed to drive different types of decision-making processes in its audiences, especially amongst supporters. Messages that appeal to pragmatic factors, like those I just discussed, are designed to compel its audience to engage in rational-choice decision-making (i.e. decisions based on cost-benefit consideration of options).

In contrast, IS messaging that draws on perceptual factors (IS’s ‘cause’) are designed to present IS as the champion and protector of the in-group identity (Sunnis), IS’s enemies as Others responsible for Sunni-crises, and thus IS as the bearer of solutions to that crises. This type of messaging compels its audiences to engage in identity-choice decision-making (i.e. decisions made in accordance with one’s identity).

While I wont bore you with any of the conceptual and methodological details (instead see here), I have compared the contents of thirteen issues of AQAP’s Inspire, five issues of the Taliban in Khurasan’s Azan and ten issues of Islamic State’s Dabiq and the differences are potentially very significant. While Inspire’s contents are dominated by narratives designed to empower the in-group (Sunni Muslims) and provide operational advice and Azan focuses heavily on in- and out-group identity choice appeals, Dabiq is characterized by a pretty even fusion of identity- and rational-choice appeals.

IS have demonstrated an adeptness for weaving together rational- and identity-choice appeals in their messaging in a manner that is perhaps more nuanced than many other groups. The implications are noteworthy: by weaving together pragmatic and perceptual appeals, IS messaging is designed to align rational- and identity-choice decision-making processes in its supporters. This approach is not only designed to ensure IS messaging appeals to the broadest spectrum of potential supporter motivations but may help to explain the seemingly rapid radicalization of IS supporters from the sidelines to action (whether as foreign fighters or ‘lone wolves’).

5. Finally, what ways can both Arab and Western governments counter IS’s appeal particularly in the ‘media theatre’?

Western counter-narrative efforts against IS have generally been pretty poor. Like many, I thought the State Department’s sarcastic ‘Welcome to the “Islamic State” land’ video is a baffling example of counter-narrative messaging. Indeed, a lot of the messaging that has been released as part of the State Department’s ‘Think Again Turn Away’ strategy appears to be pretty ad hoc and not driven by a coherent overarching strategy. Other western governments have struggled too. For example, the Australian Defense Department’s counter-IS twitter campaign has stumbled through its first few weeks with basic errors that have left their efforts looking very amateurish.

I suspect there are two issues at the heart of many flawed counter-narrative efforts. The first is an intellectual one. Counter-narrative strategies need to be based on a nuanced understanding of an adversary’s IO strategy. This analysis should then inform the overarching counter-narrative strategy. Only then can an effective and coherent messaging campaign be developed and implemented. I suspect this regularly hasn’t happened or, if it has, then the process has not been adequately comprehensive.

I have spoken to Syrian opposition groups who are involved in a daily battle against IS propaganda and, despite many of them engaging in in-depth analysis of IS messaging with the expertise one would expect from locals, they remain very cautious with the messaging they disseminate for fear of counter-productive consequences. Many western efforts have not demonstrated such a nuanced awareness of the ramifications of ill-conceived messaging and continue to forge crudely ahead.

The second is an issue of personnel. More often than not the architects of anti-IS messaging campaigns are the same COIN IO specialists who are broadly recognized to have lost the IO war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and AQI in Iraq or the CT strategic communications experts who have been overwhelmed by AQ propaganda for over a decade. New ideas are desperately needed in the ‘media theatre’ and this may often mean bringing in new people.

More specifically, the approach of Western (more broadly non-Muslim) and Arab (more broadly Muslim) governments should have some fundamental differences. For example, governments of Muslim majority countries should make some attempt, if a light-footed and careful one, to actively engage in debates about pertinent religious issues.

Broadly speaking though, the core principles of an anti-IS counter-narrative campaign should be based on similar strategic principles to those applied by our adversaries. This would involve developing and disseminating messaging that attaches IS to perceptions of crisis, links solutions to ourselves (i.e. government efforts), highlights the synchronicity of our narrative and action while disrupting the connect between IS’s narrative and action. From a western perspective, this would ideally be pursued while avoiding the minefield of engaging in a counter-proselytizing campaign. Having a broad strategic framework as a driver would help to ensure a coherence to the messaging that is produced in the short, medium and long terms whilst facilitating the flexibility necessary to leverage situational factors.

While this may seem a very rational-choice heavy counter-narrative approach, it is designed to take advantage of what has thus far been a strength of IS’s IO campaign: the interweaving of its rational- and identity-choice appeals. By demonstrating how IS in fact isn’t providing solutions, is causing perceptions of crisis and regularly disseminates hypocritical messaging, its identity-choice appeals that declare that it is the provider and protector for Sunnis weakens considerably. However, a communications strategy that isn’t synchronized with effective politico-military efforts in the field will be susceptible to IS’s highly effective counter-narrative efforts. These points may seem simple or even obvious to many but they have rarely been applied effectively against IS (or AQ for that matter).

In short, without considerable and frankly very unlikely changes to the way that COIN IO and CT strategic communications campaigns are developed, I suspect IS and others will continue to enjoy a strategic advantage in the ‘media theatre’.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Musings On Iraq In The News

My interview with Daveed Gartenstein-Ross in IS leader Omar al-Shishani was mentioned in “One of ISIS’ top commanders was a ‘star pupil’ of US-special forces training in the country of Georgia,” by Jeremy Bender for Business Insider. My article on the Islamic State's on going car bomb campaign in Anbar was reprinted by Real Clear Defense.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

How The Baath Expanded Throughout Iraq’s Society In The 1980s

Iraq’s Baath Party began as one of many Arab nationalist groups vying for power in Iraq. After its first attempt at power failed in 1963 it was finally able to assume control over the state in 1968. It went from a small minority to including a rather large share of the population. This expansion was fueled by the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s when the Baath transformed itself from a political group into one that ran social organizations, assisted the public to access services, while running the government as well. This moved into all sectors of society was facilitated by a massive recruiting program especially into areas of the country where the Baath were not represented such as amongst secondary students and women. Kanan Makiya in his famous book Republic of Fear wrote about all of the punishments and coercive techniques Saddam Hussein used to rule. New analysis based upon captured Baath documents such as that of Professor Joseph Sassoon and Professor Dina Rizk Khoury showed all of the rewards and incentives that the party also used to stay in control. That didn’t mean that repression was not used, but that there was much more to running Iraq for 35 years then just fear.

The Baath Party went from obscurity to a corporatist, semi-fascist organization that attempted to dominate every aspect of life in Iraq. In 1963 there were only around 3,000 party members out of an estimated population of 7.8 million people. That compared to 2002 when the Baath had 69 branches across the country, 612 sections, 3,787 divisions, 32,852 cells, 76 secretary generals, 1,027 branch members, 6,128 section members, 45,537 division members, 223,662 active members, 254,081 apprenticed members, 27,242 candidates, 1,113,211 supporters, and 2,328,080 sympathizers for a grand total of 3,999,044 Baathists. Out of a population of 25 million, the party encompassed 15.6% of the people, a much higher percentage than communist parties in the Soviet Union and Eastern bloc during their heyday. The elite of the party who made decisions were around 2.4% of the total Iraqi populace, while active members were 4%. Many of these members joined during the 1980s when membership grew 140% from 1986-2002. This was due to a huge recruiting drive by the Baath to be represented in each sector of society so that they might be monitored and controlled.

The impetus for this expansion was the Iran-Iraq War. On September 22, 1980 Iraq invaded Iraq in what Saddam believed would be a short war. On September 28, Tehran refused a cease-fire offer from Baghdad destroying the initial plan to seize territory and then end the war. The long and bloody conflict that developed afterward shifted the entire focus of the Baath Party. Before it was based upon an Arab nationalist and modernizing ideology. The war made it concentrate upon managing the security of the country through both military and civilian means. That included maintaining support for the war, monitoring dissent and public opinion in general, watching over the military, hunting down deserters and draft dodgers, as well as delivering goods and services. The population came to rely upon the Baath to gain access to the state making it far more then just a political party.

From 1985-1989 Baath offices multiplied across Iraq as a result of its new responsibilities. The party tried to recruit new members and build new officers in areas where it was weak before. The Baath bureau in Baghdad for example grew to 19,274 members by 1988 or 5% of the population. It also moved into schools to gain young supporters. From 1987-88 of 95,477 male secondary students in Iraq 60.8% were brought in as supporters, 20.5% as advocates, and 4% as advanced advocates. This was the basis for the party’s high representation amongst the public that it achieved by 2002.

During the Iran-Iraq War the Baath launched policies to interact with the public called “cohabitating” and “perpetuating ties” which were aimed at both monitoring the public for potential dissent as well as addressing their needs to maintain their support. One of the main ways the Baath was able to achieve this was via the various social committees it created such as the Committee to Oversee the Affairs of the Martyrs and the Missing and the General Federation of Iraqi Women. The former highlighted the new roles the Baath was expected to perform during the war as one of its main jobs became helping the families of dead and captured soldiers work their way through the government bureaucracy so that they could receive benefits. The committee also responded to public complaints about red tape to get several laws passed to help out with issues such as inheritance, which was a major problem for families of deceased soldiers. The General Federation of Iraqi Women played a similar role as well as helping to improve the lot of females during the war, which was promoted by the Baath as part of its modernization program. The Federation pushed for more opportunities for women in jobs, government positions, and within the military. By 1987 850,000 women were in the federation with branches in 62% of the country’s neighborhoods. These groups and others made visits to families across the country several times a month. They also conducted surveys to hear people’s concerns, meet their needs, and maintain surveillance of them. This all facilitated the Baath’s expansion into Iraqi society that it felt was a necessity to win the war and maintain control over the country.

During the 1980s the Baath Party was both a tool of repression and part of the social welfare state. For example, it ran counterinsurgency campaigns in southern Iraq to hunt down the huge number of deserters that grew as the war dragged on. At the same time, it became the way for the people to receive services and benefits, which were all crucial to keeping up the social order and morale during the war. Saddam wanted to control all aspects of the country and that’s what he used the Baath Party for. It became a quasi-fascist and corporatist instrument for ruling Iraq. As Professor Khoury wrote in the 1980s everyone and no one was a Baathist as it became the main means to interact with the state whether people believed in the party or not.


Khoury, Dina Rizk, Iraq in Wartime, Soldiering, Martyrdom and Remembrance, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013

Sassoon, Joseph, Saddam Hussein Ba’th Party, Inside an Authoritarian Regime, Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, Sao Paulo, Delhi, Tokyo, Mexico City: Cambridge University Press, 2012

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Violence Unchanged Last 5 Weeks In Iraq

For the last five weeks the number of attacks have remained relatively stable in Iraq. This is another sign that the war in Iraq has largely stabilized and become deadlocked. The government is on the offensive in several parts of Anbar province along with Salahaddin, but showing mixed results, while bombings continue unabated in Baghdad. The rest of the country remained relatively quite.

Musings On Iraq counted 122 security incidents from September 15-21, 2015. That was lower than the previous weeks, which witnessed 144 attacks September 8-14, 139 from September 1-7, 136 from August 22-28, and 135 from August 15-21. Baghdad led the country with 50 attacks, followed by 21 in Salahaddin, 18 in Anbar, 16 in Ninewa, 8 in Kirkuk, 5 in Diyala, 3 in Babil, and one each in Kurdistan and Wasit.

There were 323 deaths and 488 wounded reported in the press during the week. That broke down to 2 Sahwa, 20 members of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), 55 fighters from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and 246 civilians killed, and 2 Hashd al-Shaabi, 5 Sahwa, 44 ISF, and 437 civilians injured. Baghdad had the most fatalities with 88. After that there were 82 in Salahaddin, 55 in Kurdistan, 45 in Ninewa, 30 in Anbar, 9 in Diyala, 6 in Babil, and 4 each in Kirkuk and Wasit. Overall casualties have crept up slightly from 699 August 15-21, to 638 August 22-28, to 637 September 1-7, to 762 September 8-14, and 811 September 15-21. Since losses are so underreported due to government silence it’s impossible to tell whether this was a real increase or just better coverage.

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
Mar 1-7
Mar 8-14
Mar 15-21
Mar 22-28
Mar 29-31
2,553 + 4
2,381 + 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
May 22-28
341 + 1,499
May 29-31
164 + 646
2,417 + 1,499
1,898 + 646
Jun 1-7
Jun 8-14
522 + 405
Jun 15-21
Jun 22-28
Jun 29-30
Jul 1-7
Jul 8-14
Jul 15-21
597 + 4,024
Jul 22-28
Jul 29-31
453 + 8
3,079 + 4,024
Aug 1-7
650 + 760
Aug 8-14
Aug 15-21
Aug 22-28
Aug 29-31
112 + 5
2,180 + 760
Sep 1-7
Sep 8-14
Sep 15-21

Violence In Iraq Sep 2015 by Province
Sep 1-7
Sep 8-14
25 Incidents
52 Killed: 5 Civilians, 10 Hashd, 13 ISF, 24 Sahwa
45 Wounded: 8 Civilians, 10 Sahwa, 12 ISF, 15 Hashd
10 Shootings
4 Suicide Bombers
3 Suicide Car Bombs
2 Mortars
19 Suicide Bombers Killed
20 Car Bombs Destroyed
24 Incidents
29 Killed: 4 Civilians, 8 Hashd, 17 ISF
57 Wounded: 13 Hashd, 19 ISF, 25 Civilians
10 Shootings
2 IEDs
2 Suicide Bombers
2 Suicide Car Bombs
2 Mortars
4 Suicide Bombers killed
5 Suicide Car Bombs Destroyed
1 Motorcycle Bomb Destroyed
13 Car Bombs Destroyed
2 Incidents
2 Killed: 2 Civilians
5 wounded: 5 Civilians
5 Incidents
4 Killed: 4 Civilians
14 Wounded: 4 ISF, 10 Civilians
1 Shooting
3 IEDs
58 Incidents
73 Killed: 2 ISF, 71 Civilians
199 Wounded: 8 ISF, 191 Civilians
11 Shootings
28 IEDs
8 Sticky Bombs
2 Car Bombs
1 Grenade
2 Car Bombs Destroyed
57 Incidents
65 Killed: 1 Sahwa, 2 Hashd, 4 ISF, 58 Civilians
154 Wounded: 14 ISF, 140 Civilians
14 Shootings
22 IEDs
10 Sticky Bombs
1 Car Bomb
2 Grenades
3 Incidents
1 Wounded: 1 ISF
2 IEDs
1 Sound Bomb
8 Incidents
14 Killed: 5 ISF, 9 Civilians
24 Wounded: 1 ISF, 23 Civilians
4 Shootings
2 IEDs
1 Car Bomb
1 Mortar
12 Incidents
16 Killed: 3 Hashd, 4 ISF, 9 Civilians
20 Wounded: 1 ISF, 1 Asayesh, 3 Hashd, 15 Civilians
5 Shootings
5 IEDs
1 Car Bomb
1 Incident
2 Sound Bombs
1 Incident
1 Car Bomb Destroyed
4 Incidents
1 Killed: 1 Civilian
1 Wounded: 1 Hashd
2 Shootings
2 Car Bombs Destroyed
6 Incidents
29 Killed: 9 Civilians, 20 Peshmerga
121 Wounded: 6 Civilians, 115 Peshmerga
2 Shootings
3 IEDs
2 Incidents
95 Killed: 95 PKK
2 Turkish Air Strikes
21 Incidents
116 Killed: 8 Peshmerga, 108 Civilians
22 Wounded: 2 Peshmerga, 20 Civilians
10 Shootings
3 IEDs
1 Rocket
1 Mortar
13 Incidents
104 Killed: 8 Peshmerga, 32 ISF, 64 Civilians
4 Shootings
1 Mortar
1 Incident
19 Incidents
27 Killed: 6 ISF, 21 Civilians
56 Wounded: 21 ISF, 35 Civilians
7 Shootings
4 IEDs
1 Mortar
12 Suicide Bombers Killed
1 Suicide Car Bomb Destroyed
21 Incidents
26 Killed: 6 Hashd, 9 Civilians, 11 ISF
27 Wounded: 7 Hashd, 9 ISF, 11 Civilians
11 Shootings
4 IEDs
1 Car Bomb
2 Suicide Bombers Killed
9 Suicide Car Bombs Destroyed
1 Motorcycle Bomb Destroyed
1 Car Bomb Destroyed

Sep 1-7
18 Incidents
30 Killed: 4 ISF, 26 Civilians
56 Wounded: 6 ISF, 50 Civilians
9 Shootings
1 Rockets
2 Mortars
3 Suicide Car Bombs Destroyed
3 Incidents
6 Killed: 6 Civilians
19 Wounded: 19 Civilians
3 IEDs
50 Incidents
88 Killed: 2 Sahwa, 6 ISF, 80 Civilians
303 Wounded: 5 Sahwa, 9 ISF, 289 Civilians
13 Shootings
19 IEDs
4 Sticky Bombs
1 Suicide Bomber
3 Car Bombs
2 Rockets
2 Suicide Bombers Killed
5 Incidents
9 Killed: 1 ISF, 8 Civilians
11 Wounded: 2 ISF, 9 Civilians
3 Shootings
1 Sticky Bomb
2 Motorcycle Bombs Dismantled
1 Car Bomb Dismantled
1 Incident
55 Killed: 55 PKK
1 Turkish Air Raid
8 Incidents
4 Killed: 4 Civilians
3 Wounded: 1 Civilian, 2 Hashd
2 Shootings
1 Rocket
16 Incidents
45 Killed: 5 ISF, 40 Civilians
9 Shootings
21 IEDs
1 Rocket
21 Incidents
82 Killed: 4 ISF, 78 Civilians
96 Wounded: 27 ISF, 69 Civilians
15 Shootings
4 IEDs
2 Suicide Car Bombs
3 Mortars
1 Car Bomb Destroyed
1 incident
4 Killed: 4 Civilians
1 Shooting
The Anbar offensive that started on July 13 continued to show mixed results. The government forces are stuck in the rut of clearing towns and then having to go back into them again and again, something that the current campaign as supposed to solve, but hasn’t. The third week of September was a perfect example. On September 13 Husaiba that is to the east of Ramadi was declared cleared for the fifth time, and then a new operation started on September 15. The joint forces have been stuck on East Husaiba as well, which was said to be freed on August 30 for the third time, and then the sixth operation there started on September 16. September 17 the joint forces went back to Shihabi in the Fallujah area after it was cleared on July 14. September 17 the sixth operation since the start of August began in Khalidiya Island, which is in between Ramadi and Fallujah. The government forces also had to go back into southern Ramadi’s Tamim neighborhood on September 18, which was freed back on July 30, 5 Kilo that is right outside of the city on September 19 after it was freed a month before, and Humaira also south of Ramadi on September 19 when it was said to be cleared on August 8. The joint forces have also been drawn into sweeps through the Haditha district during the week, which is in western Anbar, and Amiriya Fallujah in the east, while continuing with its attempt to re-take the Garma area.

So far the Anbar offensive has suffered from three major shortcomings. First, there is a massive manpower shortage. After Ramadi fell in May the Hashd complained that they were being kept out of the province, and that if they were allowed in they would rectify the situation. Unfortunately the Hashd have not committed many fighters. There are approximately 10,000 total men focused upon Ramadi and Fallujah compared to 30,000 that took Tikrit. Part of the reason for the shortage is the fact that the government continues to give into diversionary attacks by the Islamic State in other parts of Anbar and Baiji in Salahaddin, which spreads out its forces. The third issue is the lack of unity of command. Many Hashd forces act independently of Baghdad. For instance, the government wanted to take Ramadi after it fell, but then IS posted a video of an execution of a soldier from Sadr City in Fallujah, and the Hashd unilaterally decided to take that area instead. Now the joint forces are spread out across the entire corridor between the two cities. That is going to drag out the operation for several more weeks and even months when a quick strike on Ramadi back in May might have been able to re-take it.

Security Operations In Anbar Sep 15-21, 2015
East Husaiba
Khalidiya Island
Ramadi, Tamim
7/13/15 center cleared
7/19/15 operation
7/14/15 cleared
8/4/15 operation
7/26/15 operation
7/18/15 center reached
7/21/15 cleared
9/17/15 operation
8/12/15 operation
7/30/15 cleared
7/26/15 operation

8/16/15 operation
9/18/15 operation
7/27/15 cleared
8/2/15 operation

8/29/15 operation

7/29/15 operation
8/6/15 cleared

9/5/15 operation

8/16/15 operation
8/10/15 operation

9/17/15 operation

8/17/15 cleared
8/25/15 operation

8/31/15 operation
8/30/15 cleared

9/10/15 operation
9/16/15 operation

9/13/15 center cleared

9/15/15 operation

5 Kilo
Albu Hayat
Amiriya Fallujah
7/20/15 operation
7/14/15 cleared
7/21/15 operation
7/21/15 operation
8/20/15 operation
7/22/15 cleared
8/2/15 operation
9/19/15 operation
7/30/15 operation
9/16/15 operation
8/19/15 operation
8/8/15 cleared

8/22/15 operation

9/19/15 cleared
9/19/15 cleared

9/21/15 operation

Shootings and bombings continued throughout Baghdad. There were 15 incidents in the east, 14 in the south, 10 in the north, 5 in the center, and 4 in the west. That included three car bombs, one in the south and two in the east, and three suicide bombers, one in the center, and two in the west. IEDs and sticky bombs were the main form of violence.

Attacks In Baghdad Sep 15-21, 2015
Center: 5 – 1 Attempted Kidnapping, 1 Kidnapping, 1 Shooting, 1 Suicide Bomber, 1 IED
East: 14 – 2 Car Bombs, 4 Kidnappings, 4 Shootings, 4 IEDs
Outer East: 1 – 1 IED
North: 5 – 1 Rocket, 2 Shootings, 2 Sticky Bombs
Outer North: 5 – 1 Shooting, 4 IEDs
South: 8 – 1 Car Bomb, 3 Shootings, 4 IEDs
Outer South: 6 – 1 Shooting, 2 Sticky Bombs, 3 IEDs
West: 3 – 1 Rocket, 2 Suicide Bombers
Outer West: 1 – 1 IED
Unknown: 2 – 1 Shooting, 1 IED

Diyala had very few incidents during the third week of September, with just five, but included another attempted car bomb. As part of IS’s new car bomb campaign it has tried to set off a vehicle borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) at least once a week in the province. Otherwise, IS is using Diyala to carry out attacks upon eastern Baghdad.

Turkey conducted another wave of air strikes against Kurdistan. On September 15 Ankara claimed to have killed 55 PKK fighters as a result.

There were more executions in Ninewa. The Islamic State killed 45 people in Mosul, Qayara, and Hamam al-Alil during the week. That included an imam, a former candidate, two journalists, four mayors, and five police. IS also blew up 21 homes belonging to Christians on the Ninewa Plains, and made one attack upon the Kurds in the Sinjar district.

The fighting in Salahaddin’s Baiji district remains inconclusive. Propaganda is so heavy that progress is very difficult to discern there. Politicians, the security forces, and the different elements of the Hashd all make their own separate announcements about Baiji, which are often contradictory. That’s how 80% of Baiji can be declared freed in the middle of August and then a few days later it goes down to 50% and then up to 60% and then 70% in two days by the middle of September. Similar numbers have been given for the Baiji Refinery going from 70% controlled in the middle of August, down to 50% and then up to 60% on September 18. The government forces have also refocused upon the IS stronghold of Siniya, which is just outside of Baiji. On September 1, 5 and 19 the town was said to be surrounded, and then miraculously cleared in between all that even though fighting is still going on there. Again, the lack of unity of command causes all of this confusion about what is actually going on in the province not to mention that the district has no strategic value anymore. Instead, IS is using it to hold down government forces and distract from Anbar.

Security Operations Baiji District May-Sep 2015
Baiji Refinery
5/7/15 Operation
5/22/15 cleared
5/2/15 cleared
5/21/15 66% cleared
5/30/15 outskirts cleared
5/31/15 cleared
5/30/15 central Baiji entered
6/30/15 50% cleared
6/11/15 operation
6/10/15 60% cleared
7/6/15 40% cleared
8/11/15 operation
6/22/15 80% of Baiji district cleared
7/23/15 80% cleared
8/22/15 reached
6/29/15 operation
7/25/15 40% cleared
8/28/15 cleared
6/30/15 center cleared
8/3/15 40% cleared
9/1/15 surrounded
7/2/15 90% cleared
8/5/15 60% cleared
9/5/15 surrounded
7/6/15 operation
8/15/15 70% cleared
9/9/15 cleared
7/21/15 center reached
8/25/15 50% cleared
9/11/15 70% cleared
7/22/15 85% of Baiji district cleared
9/9/15 center cleared
9/19/15 surrounded
8/7/15 Baiji surrounded
9/18/15 60% cleared

8/16/15 80% cleared

8/24/15 50% cleared

8/25/15 90% of Baiji district cleared

8/31/15 operation

9/14/15 center cleared

9/17/15 60% cleared

9/19/15 70% cleared

Finally, one of the only good bits of news coming out of Iraq was a dramatic decline in car bombs from September 15-21. There were just 10 total VBIEDs launched during the week, with half of them being destroyed. That compared to 34 the week before, and 31 the first week of the month. The decline might just be a temporary dip since IS’s bombing campaigns usually last several months, and this is only the third.

Car Bombs In Iraq, September 2015
Sep 1
Haditha x3, Anbar
Khalis, Diyala
Sadoun St, Baghdad – 1 destroyed
Sep 2
Garma & Tal al-Mushahid, Anbar – 3 destroyed

Sep 3
Shaab & Shuhada, Baghdad
Garma, Anbar – 4 destroyed
Siniya, Salahaddin – 1 destroyed
Sep 4
Haditha & Zoba, Anbar – 3 destroyed

Sep 5
Albu Aetha & Humaira Anbar– 5 destroyed

Sep 6
Bashir, Kirkuk – 2 destroyed

Sep 7
Albu Aetha, Anbar – 5 destroyed
Karrada, Baghdad – 1 destroyed

6 – 25 Destroyed
Sep 8
East of Ramadi, Anbar – 2 destroyed

Sep 9
Ain Assad, East Husaiba & Husaiba, Anbar – 3 destroyed

Sep 10
Albu Soda, Anbar
Jawaanh, Anbar – 1 destroyed
Siniya, Salahaddin – 1 destroyed
Sep 11
Jaraeshi, Anbar – 1 destroyed

Sep 12
Albu Jwari, Salahaddin
Anbar Univ, East Husaiba – 7 destroyed
Hajaj, Salahaddin – 4 destroyed
Sep 13
Albu Aziz, Anbar
East Husaiba & Garma, Anbar – 4 destroyed
Albu Jwari & Baiji, Salahaddin – 5 destroyed
Sep 14
Nusour Sq, Baghdad
Khalis, Diyala
Ain Al-Tamur, Karbala – 1 destroyed
5 – 29 Destroyed
Sep 15

Sep 16

Sep 17
Wathbah Sq, Baghdad
West of Haditha, Anbar – 1 destroyed
South of Tikrit, Salahaddin – 1 destroyed
Sep 18
5 Kilo, Anbar – 1 destroyed

Sep 19
Baiji Refinery x2, Salahaddin
Saqlawiya, Anbar – 1 destroyed
Baquba, Diyala – 1 destroyed
Sep 20

Sep 21
Amin & Shuhada, Baghdad
5 - 5 Destroyed


Alsumaria, "Security forces find booby-trapped car bomb and two motorcycle bombs in Baquba," 9/19/15

Independent Press Agency, "Security forces control more areas in Fallujah," 7/14/15

Al Mada, "12 elements of Daash killed in process of clearing south Ramadi," 9/18/15
- "Federal police kill 7 Daash in Ramadi," 9/17/15

Mamoun, Abdelhak, "24 dead, 121 wounded, the final outcome of 2 suicide bombers in Baghdad," 9/17/15
- "12 ISIS elements, including Saudi national, killed east of Ramadi," Iraqi News, 9/15/15

Al Masalah, "Control of the area around Ramadi," 8/30/15
- "The destruction of a car bomb west of Haditha," 9/17/15
- "Killed 20 Daash in battles clearing Ramadi, Fallujah and Garma," 9/17/15,

New Sabah, "Security file," 9/19/15

NINA, "Army force destroys armored vehicles for Daash south of Tikrit," 9/17/15
- "Dozens of terrorists killed, their equipment and vehicles destroyed in different parts of Anbar," 9/16/15,
- "Federal Police liberation of center of Husaybah," 9/13/15, - "The International Coalition destroys a car bomb driven by a suicide bomber west of Ramadi," 9/18/15
- "Security Forces, Supported By Tribal Fighters, Liberate Areas South Of Ramadi," 9/19/15,
- "Two people killed, nine others wounded in southwest Baghdad," 9/21/15

Al Rayy, "Media cell declares Humera area south of Ramadi cleared," 8/8/15

Reuters, "Turkish jets hit Kurdish militant camps in Iraq, at least 55 killed: sources," 9/19/15

Rudaw, "ISIS assault defeated in Hardan," 9/21/15

Salaheddin, Sinan, "Islamic State claims responsibility for 2 suicide attacks in Baghdad," Associated Press, 9/17/15

Sarhan, Amre, "Al-Hashed al-Sha'bi militia foils suicide attack by ISIS north of Fallujah," Iraqi News, 9/19/15

Shafaq News, "45 ISIS elements including a leader in ISIS in liberation of al-Tameem area south of Ramadi," 7/30/15

Sotaliraq, "Amin bombing toll rises to 58 dead and wounded," 9/21/15

Xinhua, "IS militants launch 4 suicide bombings in central Iraq," 9/19/15

Expansion of the Hashd al-Shaabi’s Influence In Iraq, Interview With Clingendael’s Erwin van Veen

(Getty) Erwin van Veen is part of the Clingendael Institute in the Netherlands, which has released a series of reports about the Hashd ...