By Tom Walker, Director, Assaye Risk
COUNTRY SECURITY OVERVIEW
Iraqi’s have born the brunt of a particularly violent week in which the key cities of Mosul, Kirkuk and Baghdad have all come under attack from high impact bombings and coordinated well-planned combined arms assaults. In what is now nearing one of the most violent years since the 2006-2007 civil war the ISF remain heavily committed and overstretched, with little capacity to deal with a resurgent and ever more powerful al Qaeda (AQ) threat.
Much of the commentary this week has centered on the ever-growing presence and threat posed by Abu Omar Al-Baghdadi and his group the ISIS. The indefatigable rise of Baghdadi has won him many admirers and much support amongst those seeking an opportunity to prove their jihadist credentials. His ultimate goal of securing a caliphate encompassing northwestern Iraq and northern Syria appears to be gaining momentum. In recent weeks the group has began to exert much more control over the remote western desert regions that abound along the Iraq / Syria border, a place where traditionally the Iraqi government has little sway and where the ISF are spread thin and have little effect. Arguably the most worrisome aspect of all of this for the ISF is the knowledge that Baghdadi is a meticulous planner and tactician who has the capability to launch exceptionally well-planned attacks with devastating consequences, evidence of which was seen in the attack against the Baghdad Central Prison (formerly Abu Ghraib) where ISIS launched a coordinated heavy and light weapons attack, followed by ground assault that resulted in at least 500 inmates escaping. This single act parachuted Baghdadi’s reputation anD desire for a more concrete position in western Iraq.
Interestingly over the past month there has been a significant increase in insurgent activity in the western desert and in towns that straddle the major arterial routes that lead in to the desert and beyond, namely Ramadi and Fallujah. The predominant focus has been against ISF and government targets. This activity possibly ties in with recent intelligence findings from an ISF raid against an ISIS training camp that uncovered an ISIS plot to seize border towns near Syria in western Anbar province and Anbar’s main cities of Ramadi and Fallujah. A raid on a camp in Anbar’s desert thwarted the plan just two days before it was to have taken place. Fighters had reportedly planned to attack police stations, an army operations center for four provinces in western and northern Iraq as well as government buildings in Ramadi and western towns, ISF security sources reported. Recovered documents pointed towards an attack that would have involved suicide bombers on foot and in vehicles as well as mortars, similar to the attack on the Baghdad prison facility, the boldest insurgent operation in Iraq in more than five years. Many commentators say that ISIS views Anbar and nearby Mosul city as the core of a wider area that could be wrested from control of the Shi’ite-led Baghdad government and serve as a haven to move freely in and out of Syria. Leading into this ISF officials speaking to Reuters have said that the group has set up two desert areas that it refers to as “wilayah”, a type of governed area; one is called the State of North al-Jazeera, outside the northern city of Mosul, and the other the State of South al-Jazeera, in the Anbar desert. The areas include camps, training centers, command headquarters and stocks of weapons, security officials say. ISIS fighters control villages, oases, grazing areas and valleys in these areas, while the Iraqi army is based in military barracks scattered across the desert, security officials and residents said. “Establishing a geographical area comprising natural resources such as oil and gas and totally dominated by Sunnis is a priority for the ISIS in this stage,” according to a retired senior military officer who was responsible for making plans to combat al Qaeda.