By Anne-Laure Barbosa at Constellis Consulting
Reporting remains almost completely interrupted in the provinces of Nineveh and Salahuddin, and the data available does not account for the large number of kidnappings and high levels of sectarian violence rumoured in territories held by ISIS. As the ISF continues its attempts at pushing north towards Tikrit from their main base located in Samarra, ISIS fighters have intensified their efforts on Baghdad’s southern belt, potentially seeking to distract Iraqi forces currently focused on the northern front. While the international community continued to position itself in favour of a united Iraq, divisions continued to widen in the political sphere, with Kurdish authorities seeking to maximise their leverage and Sunni leaders as well as Shia representatives openly questioning the legitimacy of PM Nouri al-Maliki. Otherwise, Iran continued to pursue a cautious policy towards Iraq, declaring it would back any leader emerging from the parliamentary negotiations, which are still in progress.
The country’s political paralysis showed no sign of improvement over the reporting period, with Maliki rejecting calls to give up his bid for a third term and MPs failing to agree on the appointment of a new government. Iraq’s newly-elected parliament put off its next session for five weeks on 06 June, reflecting the gridlock reached by the main parties and guaranteeing prolonged political stagnation, at least until 12 August. Stagnating dynamics in Baghdad are therefore expected to continue reflecting on the overall security situation in Iraq, with main hotspots for direct fighting between ISF and ISIS remaining in eastern Anbar, northern Salahuddin and western Diyala.
Despite the large scale counter-offensive operation launched last week on Tikrit by the ISF, Shia militias and volunteers, Iraqi forces failed to recapture the city. The fighting continues and remains confined to the outer borders of the Baathist stronghold, with heavy clashes reported in the village of Awja, only a few miles south of Tikrit. Prior to this offensive, militants fired mortar shells on Samarra and nearly hit the Askari mosque, killing 14 civilians in its vicinity. As Iraq has entered the month of Ramadan, attacks on Shia holy sites could increase, especially as such actions would add further fuel to existing tensions. In parallel to the deteriorating security crisis, Kurdish authorities seem determined to capitalise on their extended territorial presence, warning that Peshmerga units would remain positioned in disputed areas. More worryingly for the central Iraqi government, President Massoud Barzani urged Kurdistan’s regional parliament to plan for an independence referendum on 03 July, though he remained evasive on the timeline. In the meantime, unchecked by Baghdad, the KRG will undoubtedly continue to move towards greater autonomy on oil exports. Kurdish forces swiftly filled the vacuum left by the ISF to move into all disputed areas. The main areas of fighting between Peshmerga and ISIS are currently located in the town of Jalawla in Diyala, where insurgents control a predominantly Arab neighbourhood, and southern areas of Kirkuk. Security dynamics are unlikely to be disrupted in the short term and the next week is expected to witness similar levels of violence.
The number of car bombs recorded inside the capital remained well below previous weekly averages, with three VBIED attacks failing to succeed in causing a large number of casualties. The most significant incident occurred at the entrance of Kadhmiya district on 07 July, northwestern Baghdad, when a car bomb targeted a security checkpoint, killing at least five civilians. Most attacks recorded in Baghdad governorate continued to be on its western edges, mainly in Abu Ghraib. Fighting between ISF and ISIS insurgents in Anbar continued to be predominantly concentrated in Fallujah and its outskirts, as Iraqi forces seek to contain the insurgency which has developed in the western desert. The most violent day saw 22 people killed and 17 others injured in clashes involving a complex nexus of tribal fighters, Sunni insurgents and government forces in Fallujah. Other areas along Anbar’s northern corridor, between Fallujah and Qaim, remained contested or controlled by ISIS, with the ISF’s reach limited to a presence in the main cities of Ramadi, Haditha and Hit. The same dynamics will apply over the next days, with any significant change unlikely.
With the month of Ramadan started on 29 June, south-eastern provinces have become natural targets for insurgents seeking to capitalise on the presence of Shia pilgrims converging on holy sites. As such levels of violence recorded in the provinces of Karbala and Qadisiya witnessed a notable uptick. The most significant incident occurred on 02 July in Karbala, when the arrest of anti-government Shia cleric Mahmoud al-Sarkhi sparked clashes between his followers and Iraqi security forces, killing up to 45 people. This arrest comes days after Sarkhi published a letter criticising Sistani’s decree for Iraqis to fight alongside the ISF against Sunni insurgents, in a further reflection of the fragmented political landscape within Shia constituencies. The bulk of the violence in the south continued to be reported in Babil, where ISIS operations have steadily intensified over the past week in an effort to disrupt ISF movements further north. On 05 July, two car bombs went off in succession in a commercial area of Basra, killing at least three civilians. While these attacks demonstrate the continued capability and intent of Sunni radicals to strike the south-east, ISIS operations will remain focused on northern and central governorates.