The initial U.S. assessment, which arrived at the Pentagon Monday, apparently is just as grim. In one of its most alarming findings, according to a Pentagon official, the advisers concluded that while Iraqi troops could defend Baghdad against an attack now, they would be unable to launch the kind of offensive manoeuvres required to fend off the insurgents for the long term, leaving the capital at continued risk. The official asked to remain anonymous because he had not been authorized to discuss the report. The advisers also warned that the majority of Iraqi brigades are infiltrated by either Sunni extremists or Shiite militias, the official said. The assessment will inform the Pentagon's recommendations to President Barack Obama on possible options in Iraq, though there is no public time line for when such recommendations could arrive at the White House. In the meantime, the assessment teams remain in Baghdad, where they would become advisers to the Iraqi military should the White House authorize that step.
As the Pentagon drafts it recommendations, the size of the Iraqi debacle in June is becoming increasingly clear:
Four Iraqi army divisions have simply disappeared and won't be easily resurrected. The 2nd Division was routed from Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, on June 9 at the beginning of the Islamic State's advance, and its four brigades have dissolved. The 1st Division also is basically gone, losing two brigades in Anbar province earlier in the year, then two more during last month's Islamic State onslaught, including one brigade that in the words of the senior Iraqi politician was "decimated" in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad. The same is true of Iraq's 3rd Division. The division's 6th and 9th Brigades fled the Islamic State's advance in the north, and the status of its 11th Brigade is unknown. A small unit of its 10th Brigade is still in Tal Afar, but it is trapped by Islamic State forces. The 4th Division also was routed. Half its members have disappeared -- many suspect they were massacred when the Islamic State captured Tikrit -- and only one small unit is known to still exist, surrounded by Islamists at a one-time U.S. military base near Tikrit known as Camp Speicher (since been taken by IS fighters – 361).
The Iraqi media -- which has been ordered by the government to release only good news about operations in order to promote morale, with threats of prison for journalists who fail to spin events positively -- asserts that an operation cleared the road between the key Iraqi city of Samarra and Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown.
But the effort in fact appears to have stalled 20 miles outside Tikrit. "It's heavily contested and the army and militias can't make headway," the politician said. "There are too many explosive devices on the road." (Since the attack Iraqi forces have withdrawn from the area – 361)
Read the entire article. Two additional points below:
- It is likely that more than four Iraqi Army divisions have dissolved. The 7th Division, based in Anbar, is probably inoperable; the Iraqi government's deployment of 4,000 Shia militiamen to Ramadi is sure proof that both the 1st and the 7th are no longer viable fighting forces. Also, the armoured convoy (likely a company or more) in Khalidiyah that was ambushed and destroyed was from the 9th Division (the 9th has M1 tanks), which is further evidence that the two Anbar-based divisions are offline. See LWJ report, Islamic State routs Iraqi armoured column in Anbar, from two days ago.
Additionally, the 5th and 12th divisions, based in the Tigris River Valley in Salahaddin province north of Baghdad in Tikrit, are also likely to have been dismantled. Reports have surfaced that Iranian-backed Shia militias are guarding the road from Baghdad to Samarra.
Meanwhile the 17th Division, which is in the Sunni Triangle just south of Baghdad, may have reached its breaking point. It has launched numerous offensives in an effort to retake Jurf as Sakhar since the beginning of the year, only to have failed each time.
Read the LWJ report, A protracted struggle ahead for Iraq, which was published by Bill Ardolino on June 24. Weeks before the US military's assessment, we noted that the likelihood of the Iraqi military retaking areas lost during the Islamic State's offensive was slim to none absent significant support from the US. The Iraqi military's inability to retake control of Anbar province since the beginning of January should have made that all too clear.
The Islamic State group has threatened Christians in the Iraqi city of Mosul with death if they do not convert to Islam or pay a tax it was reported on the 19 Jul 14. The Sunni rebel group issued the orders in a letter after Friday (18 Jul 14) prayers. The document states that the order was issued after Christian leaders failed to attend a meeting called by the group. In response, the group says in the letter that Christians must either convert to Islam, pay a tax on non-Muslims known as jiziya, or give up their possessions and leave the city. Failure to do so would result in a death penalty, "as a last resort". Church leaders in Iraq have not responded to the threats officially.
Terrorism Watch reported on the 18 Jul 14 that Since the Islamic State (IS) swept through northern Iraq in early June 2014 it has started a two-pronged strategy to govern the millions of people that have come under its control. While carrying out a hearts and mind campaign in large cities like Mosul it has also set about threatening and intimidating the population especially in the rural areas. This has led to the destruction of hundreds of homes, over one hundred kidnappings, and dozens of reported executions.
The Islamic State (IS) has used violence to maintain and expand its hold over northern Iraq. In contested areas along the front lines with the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) the Islamic State has proven ruthless and bloodthirsty. On July 7, 2014 for instance, the group tried to take the town of Ziwiya in Salahaddin. The locals resisted and ran the insurgents off. The next day the IS renewed its attack and killed 50 villagers. Now firmly in control it went about destroying 25 houses in the town using explosives on the 9 Jul. A similar situation occurred in Azwip, Salahaddin. On the 9 Jul insurgents moved into the town and executed 15 people, and then set about levelling the entire place. In two days some 300 homes were said to have been blown up. There have also been cases of mass kidnappings such as on the 2 Jul when 30 Shabak were taken away in Omar Kan, Ninewa. Executions have taken place as well. On the 3 Jul 40 Turkmen were killed in Bashir, Kirkuk by IS, and on the 14 Jul 10 bodies were found in Kokjla, Ninewa west of Mosul. In places more under its control there have been similar acts as well. On the 10 Jul 15 people were carted away in Mosul, and another six on the 11 Jul. In aggregate numbers, 348 houses have been destroyed in Salahaddin since the beginning of Jul 14, 24 in Ninewa, and 20 in Kirkuk. 33 of those belonged to police, which has been a long-standing tactic to intimidate the security forces. This month another 72 people in Ninewa, 46 in Salahaddin, and 1 in Kirkuk have been kidnapped, and 40 executed in Kirkuk, 15 in Salahaddin, and 10 in Ninewa by the Islamic State.
All together these policies show how the Islamic State will run northern Iraq. While it does have programs meant to reach out to the public like offering to pay public employees in Mosul, it also hopes to rule with an iron first. Where it comes up against the security forces it will be even harsher as it wants to win territory and will cajole and threaten those that stand in its way like what happened in the towns of Ziwiya and Azwip in Salahaddin. As time wears on it is likely that more people will be taken away in places like Mosul as well as it imposes itself more and more upon the population. This will show Iraqis exactly what it means to be under the new Caliphate.
Iraq/Syria – On the 19 Jul 14 on the Jihad Watch website the following article of interest was posted. The article was headed by “All-female Islamic State brigade enforces Islamic law on women.” Inspiring piety by means of terror: “One of the women in the brigade came over, pointing her firearm at me. She then tested my knowledge of prayer, fasting and hijab.”
“In Raqqa, an All-Female ISIS Brigade Cracks Down on Local Women,” by Ahmad al-Bahri, Syria Deeply, July 15, 2014:
Their mandate? To apprehend civilian women who do not follow the organization’s strict brand of Sharia law.
Shortly after the Sunni militant group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) retook control of Raqqa earlier this year, it created “the al-Khansaa’ Brigade”, an all-female unit operating in the city. Its purpose is to apprehend civilian women in Raqqa who do not follow the organization’s strict brand of Sharia law, including a mandate that all women be fully covered in public and that they be accompanied by a male chaperone.
“We have established the brigade to raise awareness of our religion among women, and to punish women who do not abide by the law,” says Abu Ahmad, an ISIS official in Raqqa. “There are only women in this brigade, and we have given them their own facilities to prevent the mixture of men and women.”
He says the organization, which has been pushing further into eastern Syria after taking control of the Iraqi city of Mosul and key points on the Iraq-Syria border last month, needs a female brigade to “raise awareness among women, and arrest and punish women who do not follow the religion correctly. Jihad is not a man-only duty. Women must do their part as well.”
The women who join the brigade are either women of Raqqa who wanted to take part in ISIS’s activities there, or, often, the wives of mujahedeen who have come to fight from other parts of Syria or the region.
Though women are assuming new, more powerful roles across Syria – the U.N. now estimates that one in four displaced families in Syria has a female head – residents here say that any “girl power” wrought by the brigade is mitigated by the harsher restrictions they have been tasked with imposing on Raqqa’s women.
“ISIS created it to terrorize women,” says Abu al-Hamza, a local media activist. He says the brigade raided the city’s Hamida Taher Girls School and arrested 10 students, two teachers and a secretary on the grounds that some of them were wearing veils that were too thin. Others were accused of wearing hair clips under the veil, pinning them in a way that showed too much of their faces.
Al-Hamza says that the women subsequently spent six hours in an ISIS detention centre, where they were whipped. “After arresting those women and girls,” continues al-Hamza, “they took them to ISIS prisons and locked them in for six hours and punished some of them with 30 whips each.”
Zainab is a local teen who was arrested by female members of ISIS four months ago.
“I was walking down the street when a car suddenly stopped and a group of armed women got out,” she says. “They insulted me and yelled at me. They took me to one of their centres and kept me locked in a room. Nobody talked to me or told me the reason for my detention. One of the women in the brigade came over, pointing her firearm at me. She then tested my knowledge of prayer, fasting and hijab.”
The fighter told Zainab she had been arrested because she had been walking alone, without an escort, and because her hijab was not worn properly. “You should be punished for taking your religion lightly,” she told Zainab, before threatening harsher punishment should she be arrested again.
Two hours later, she was released. But for Zainab – and other women here – the message was clear.
“The brigade has created fear among the women and girls of Raqqa,” she says. “We’ve seen how they move, always watching women on the street, raiding schools, arresting students and locking them in for hours.”
At least 60 people have died in clashes after suicide bombers and fighters attacked a bus transferring convicts from a prison north of Baghdad it was reported by the Iraqi police on the 24 Jul 14. Security and medical officials stated that about 50 prisoners were among the dead, many of them burnt beyond recognition. A number of policemen also died. "At least 60 people, prisoners and policemen, were killed in a suicide attack followed by several IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and shooting," an Interior Ministry official said. It was not immediately clear who launched the assault, which targeted a security convoy escorting a bus that was transferring the 60 prisoners, many of them held on terrorism charges, from the main prison in Taji, roughly 25km north of Baghdad. It came a year almost to the day after fighters attacked the same prison in Taji and another facility in Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad, killing at least 20 members of Iraq's security forces. Officials said at the time that no inmates had escaped from Taji prison but 500 broke out of Abu Ghraib. Multiple bombings occurred in the Baghdad area. The most deadly attack was in Sadr City, a Shiite neighbourhood. Two car bombs killed 21 people. A roadside bomb detonated in the al-Zafraniya area of southern Baghdad on Wednesday, killing two and injuring three people. In the Ur district of eastern Baghdad, two car bombs killed 4 people and injured 12. Security in Baghdad remains lax. The multiple bombings suggest an attempt to divert pressure on Islamist forces fighting in northern Iraq. In Mosul, the Iraqi air force attacked a suspected Islamic court and prison building. The government claimed that 300 prisoners held in the basement escaped because of the air strikes. A government statement said the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) was holding the 300 people for ransom. A spokesman for Jabbar Yawar, the Secretary-General of the Peshmerga forces of Kurdistan, said today that "the Iraqi Peshmerga forces seized control of Wanah and deployed additional forces around the vicinity of Zumar, west of Mosul.
ISIL and the Kurdish militias clashed at a location east of Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomous region it was reported on the 6 Aug 14. ISIL forces beat back Kurdish attacks and shelled villages in the area. Kurdish TV reported 2 villages within 20 miles of Erbil are now under ISIL control. ISIL and Kurdish forces also clashed at a village 25 miles southwest of Erbil. Airlines have begun cancelling flights to Erbil. Governments, including the US, have issued flight warnings to avoid flying over Kurdistan. In the north ISIL is proving that it can stand up to the Kurds. Recent clashes are the closest ISIL forces have come to Erbil. The fighting thus far strongly indicates that ISIL intends to attack Erbil and has the capability to enter if, even if it cannot hold it. Once an area falls to ISIL forces, it either remains under ISIL control or it is depopulated and destroyed. The Kurds are not fighting as well as they boast. The Kurdish offensive appears to be sputtering and is getting outflanked by ISIL's forces. As yet there is no sign of Iraqi air support for the Kurds. The Kurds are showing that they need significant military assistance. Thus, far Iraqi and Kurdish forces have shown that they do not have an effective defence against ISIL's highly mobile tactics. If ISIL forces reach Erbil, they will massacre civilians. Around Baghdad, the bombings suggest a pattern of harassing Shiite neighbourhoods and probing to find weaknesses in Baghdad's security. Shiites neighbourhoods appear more vulnerable than expected. (KGS Nightwatch 6 Aug 14)
Iraq/United States – Barack Obama has authorised airstrikes over Iraq in order to prevent "genocide” from being carried out by Islamic State jihadists it was reported on the 7 Aug 14. The US president confirmed in a late-night address that US military planes had already dropped aid to the 40,000 Yazidi religious minority who have been trapped for days on Mount Sinjar, in the Kurdish northern region, after being driven out of their homes by Islamic State fighters. Mr Obama announced in a televised statement from the White House that he would approve targeted strikes on the fighters should they advance south towards the city of Erbil. He said the military action was also designed to protect US advisers and personnel stationed at the consulate in Erbil. 361 COMMENT: Whereas the air strikes and the aid will be welcome there has to be an assessment regarding the IS ability to strike US military aircraft. No-one will be sure except the US military as to what Syrian and Iraqi military equipment has been seized by the IS. If they have access to anti-aircraft missiles or heavy weapons then these could be deployed to counter any air attack. Although a feel good factor will be assured by the American population that they are assisting the Iraqi and Peshmerga fighters the same will not be said should one of its aircraft be downed by anti-aircraft fire and a pilot captured. COMMENT ENDS
Israel/Sudan – Israeli newspapers reported said that Israeli forces attacked an arms arsenal in Sudan on the 18 Jul 14. One report said that the arsenal contained rockets for Hamas. Sudanese media reported an explosion at the arsenal. This attack indicates that Israel's Operation Protective Edge incorporates an expansive understanding of the rocket threat. It also indicates that the rocket supply connection from Iran to Sudan and ultimately to Hamas remains intact.
Jordon – A local jihadist group on the 23 Jul 14 denounced Al Qaeda leaders as illegitimate and pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State (IS). In a statement, the Sons of the Call for Tawhid and Jihad, the youth wing of Jordan’s hard-line Salafist movement, denounced leading Al Qaeda clerics Abu Mohammad Al Maqdissi and Abu Qatada as “illegitimate”, pledging heir full support for the Islamic State and its recently announced caliphate. In the statement, the jihadists rebuked Maqdissi and Abu Qatada for their criticism of the IS and refusal to recognise their Islamic caliphate. The group went on to threaten Maqdissi — former head of the Jordanian Salafist movement and vocal critic of IS — urging him to “return to righteousness”. The statement, posted on jihadist web sites and forums, stressed “the right and duty of all to support IS”. The Sons of the Call for Tawhid and Jihad coalition of young jihadists reportedly represent over 70 per cent of Jordan’s 6,000-strong Jihadi Salafist movement. The statement comes one week after Maqdassi issued a fatwa (Islamic edict) declaring the recently announced caliphate as “null and void”, questioning the IS' leadership and adherence to Islamic principles. According to researcher and expert in Islamist movements Hassan Abu Haniyeh, the recent tensions come as part of a wider ideological split within the jihadist movement dating back to the 2006 rift between Al Qaeda leadership and Abu Mossab Al Zarqawi, former head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, IS' predecessor. While Maqdissi and Al Qaeda have long pushed for a more gradual approach for establishing an Islamic state, preaching the need to reach a consensus among Muslim scholars and clerics, Abu Haniya says Zarqawi and his more hard-line followers advocated establishing a state by force, rejecting cooperation with other Islamists or other national groups. “The gains by the Islamic State in Iraq shored up support not only in its base, but won the support of many jihadists who previously had reservations," Abu Haniya said. Pro-Al Qaeda clerics and Salafist leaders claim that the movement has suffered mass defections to IS in recent weeks, with Jordanian fighters aligned with Jabhat Al Nusra in the Syrian towns of Daraa and Ghouta Sharqiyeh pledging their allegiance to IS. Mohammad Shalabi, or Abu Sayyaf, head of the Jordanian Salafist movement, said as many as 800 Nusra fighters have switched sides and joined IS over the past three weeks.
Syria – Fighters from the Islamic State group had seized a gas field in the desert region of Palmyra in the Syrian central province of Homs it was reported on the 17 Jul 14. The militants on the 17 Jul morning attacked the Shaer gas field, east of the ancient site of Palmyra, killing 90 guards. There were possibly over 270 guards, government officials and militia personnel loyal to the president were missing with no-one sure as to what has become of them. 361 COMMENT: With the Islamic State taking control of oil and gas facilities within its proclaimed Caliphate they will be able to sell the products on the black market bringing in much needed funds to use for procuring weapons and other such necessities that it requires in an attempt to govern its new state. COMMENT ENDS
The jihadist Islamic State group launched multiple attacks on government-held territory across northern and north-eastern Syria on the 24 Jul 14. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was the first time that IS, accused by rival rebel groups of focusing its formidable firepower more on them than on the Damascus regime, had launched such coordinated assaults on army positions. The jihadists went on the offensive near the main northern city of Aleppo, in Hasakeh province in the northeast and in Raqa province around their Euphrates valley stronghold. IS has been buoyed by sweeping victories north and west of Baghdad last month that prompted it to declare a pan-Islamic state straddling Iraq and Syria. In Hasakeh province, the jihadists killed 11 soldiers in an attack on an army base. They also launched a brazen assault on the ruling Baath Party provincial headquarters in Hasakeh city, over which witnesses said they saw the IS flag flying. The mainly Kurdish city has remained under government control, although much of the surrounding countryside is under the control of Kurdish militia who have also been battling the jihadists. In Raqa province, which is mainly held by IS, the jihadists attacked two positions of the army’s 17th Division, sparking fighting that left dozens of dead and wounded. In one of the attacks, two suicide bombers, one a Saudi, blew up trucks packed with explosives. IS posted photographs on its Twitter account of six decapitated corpses that it said were soldiers of the 17th Division. East of Aleppo, the jihadists launched an assault on the Kuwayris airbase, sparking fierce fighting around the perimeter. The jihadists are seeking to expand the fiefdom they have carved out along the Euphrates Valley by taking the battle to neighbouring government-held areas after routing rival rebels in Deir Ezzor province in the east earlier this year.
A new jihadist group known as the Jamaat Ahadun Ahad, or the Group of the One and Only, has released a video of its training camp in Syria it was reported in the LWJ on the 12 Aug 14. The group is led by a Chechen commander and includes fighters from Chechnya, Europe, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan and several Arab countries. The video was published on Jamaat Ahadun Ahad's YouTube page. The video shows a rudimentary camp situated in a large clearing surrounded by woods. Several tents are visible. The exact location of the camp was not disclosed, but it may be located in the Syrian province of Latakia, where the group is said to concentrate its efforts. Dozens of Jamaat Ahadun Ahad fighters appear in the video. The fighters are shown conducting small unit drills, including conducting assaults and ambushes, patrolling, and breaking contact while under fire. In one drill, featured at the end of the video, a mock patrol is ambushed by a group of camouflaged fighters, who are instructed to quickly take weapons and ammunition from dead troops before leaving. Although the Jamaat Ahadun Ahad fighters appear to be well armed and equipped, they are not wearing uniforms, unlike fighters in a number of other jihadist training camps. Many of the fighters in the video are also apparently not concerned about covering their faces.
Yemen – An aide to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh said on the 14 Aug 14 that Mr. Saleh’s security team had uncovered a plot to kill Mr. Saleh with explosives planted in a tunnel running to a mosque inside his residential compound in Sana, the capital. Yemen’s authorities said. Mr. Saleh, who stepped down in 2012 amid mass protests after more than three decades in office, remains an influential figure and still has many enemies. He has survived at least two assassination attempts. Abdullah al-Mughrabi, Mr. Saleh’s private secretary, said security guards received a tip from one of the people involved in digging the tunnel. An Interior Ministry official said that three suspects were in custody and that others were being sought for questioning.
Yemen/United States – Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula called on Islamists to target the United States, after Washington launched air strikes in Iraq against Islamist militants who operate as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In a statement published on a Twitter account affiliated with the franchise’s local affiliate, Ansar al-Shariah, AQAP said on the 15 Aug 14:
“... We declare our solidarity with our Muslim brothers in Iraq.”
“We call on all Islamist groups ... to go after America as part of its plan for jihad, militarily, economically, or through the media.”
“And we call on every Muslim, especially anyone who can enter America, to champion his brothers by going to war against America with everything he can.” The account could not be readily identified. The AQAP terrorist group offered their “brothers” in Iraq some advice on dealing with U.S. drone strikes that the Yemen-based group has had to contend with for the past few years. In its statement, AQAP advised its fellow Islamist fighters to be wary of spies “because they are the main factor in specifying targets,” to be careful when dealing with telephones and Internet networks, and to disperse in fields if there is a heavy concentration of planes. “We reaffirm to our Muslim nation that we stand in one trench with our Muslim brothers in Iraq against the American Crusader and Iranian conspiracy,” the statement said.
Earlier this week a top AQAP leader hailed the ISIS’ seizure of swathes of Iraq.
On the 15 Aug 14 three Yemeni soldiers and two al-Qaeda militants were killed when security forces foiled an attack by insurgents in the eastern province of Hadramout. The state news agency Saba said security forces had confronted al Qaeda militants who had placed three car bombs in the Hadramout provincial capital of al-Mukallah. It said several militants were killed and several soldiers wounded. “The fighters ... managed to destroy three car bombs in the Sitteen Street in al-Mukallah before they reached their targets,” Saba said, quoting a military source.