Weekly Security Update, 05 – 11 August 2014

By Anne-Laure Barbosa at Constellis Consulting

Security IncidentsAfter months of parliamentary deadlock, President Massoum nominated Haider al-Abadi as Prime Minister on 11 August, effectively removing incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki from office. This nomination follows lengthy and opaque negotiations between Massoum and leaders from the Shia National Alliance, of which Maliki’s State of Law coalition is a member. The overt opposition of the Iraqi religious establishment and rival Shia party leaders to Maliki’s third term, and increasing divisions within Maliki’s own bloc, allowed Shia MPs to form a separate majority and designate Abadi as their leader. Abadi is himself a member of Maliki’s Dawa party and is seen as a far less polarising figure. The deadline to designate a Prime Minister was set on 10 August before the parliament agreed to adjourn discussions to 19 August, and Maliki immediately deemed Abadi’s appointment unconstitutional, vowing to file a complaint to the Federal Court. As this reaction demonstrates, Maliki, who is set to remain Prime Minister until a government is formed, is unlikely to give up power easily. After his speech, Maliki appeared to have commanded troops to seal off the Green Zone, where most government buildings are located. This display of force in the vicinity of state institutions is another sign that the competition for power unfolding in Baghdad will persist in the coming weeks, although resisting pressures from within and outside Iraq will be increasingly harder to sustain for Maliki. This power struggle will continue to impact on the security solutions to the IS threat. These political maneuvers come amid a deteriorating security situation in the North, where militants continued their advance into Kurdish-controlled areas of Nineveh, prompting the US government to authorise airstrikes on the region. The next days are likely to witness a continued military focus on Sinjar and districts around Mosul recently captured by IS.

North

Following the capture of Sinjar last week, Sunni insurgents confirmed their momentum by capturing additional territories and towns on 07 August. Militants seized the Mosul Dam, before going eastward toward Erbil. Iraq’s largest Christian city, Qaraqosh, was also captured by insurgents following the Peshmerga retreat, sparking the exodus of its inhabitants. Meanwhile, some 50,000 Yazidis are thought to have been trapped in the mountains after fleeing Sinjar, though some of them have been rescued. The possibility of a genocide against religious minorities has been given as the main rationale behind the authorisation of US airstrikes in support of Kurdish counter-offensives in the region. The American military support bore its first fruits, allowing Kurdish forces to re-capture Makhmour and Qwer, the areas closest to Erbil located only a few miles from Kurdistan’s borders. In Jalawla, Diyala, insurgents managed to repel the sustained Kurdish offensives launched against the town over the last weeks, claiming full control of the area. While the majority of IS fighters pulled out from Kirkuk to regroup towards Mosul, militant cells continued to be responsible for a significant number of civilian casualties. On 07 August, two car bombs exploded in the Tis’een area of Kirkuk city, killing 11 locals and injuring 28 others. The main areas of fighting will remain located in Nineveh over the next days, as Kurdish troops supported by airstrikes attempt to progress westward.

Central

On 12 August, Iraq’s newly-designated Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi won endorsements from the United States and Iran, increasing pressure on Maliki to support a smooth political transition. The power struggle in Baghdad may translate in an increase in levels of violence in the capital, where politicised armed factions are co-located with ISF units loyal to Maliki. Despite troop deployments in the capital ordered by Maliki, their significance was tempered by a senior government official assuring that ISF commanders were loyal to Massoum. No further sign of opposition from Maliki was witnessed on 12 August, as Abadi began maneuvering to form a cabinet within the next month. While fears of a military standoff in Baghdad eased, tensions were still high in the capital at the time of writing. On 06 and 07 August, six car bombs hit Shia neighbourhoods of Baghdad, killing dozens and injuring over 100 civilians. The core of IS operations in Anbar remained focussed on Ramadi and Haditha, where insurgents are attempting to capture the strategic dam. Tribal alliances still appear to be in favour of the government and their defence lines are expected to hold in the near term.

On 12 August, Iraq’s newly-designated Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi won endorsements from the United States and Iran, increasing pressure on Maliki to support a smooth political transition. The power struggle in Baghdad may translate in an increase in levels of violence in the capital, where politicised armed factions are co-located with ISF units loyal to Maliki. Despite troop deployments in the capital ordered by Maliki, their significance was tempered by a senior government official assuring that ISF commanders were loyal to Massoum. No further sign of opposition from Maliki was witnessed on 12 August, as Abadi began maneuvering to form a cabinet within the next month. While fears of a military standoff in Baghdad eased, tensions were still high in the capital at the time of writing. On 06 and 07 August, six car bombs hit Shia neighbourhoods of Baghdad, killing dozens and injuring over 100 civilians. The core of IS operations in Anbar remained focussed on Ramadi and Haditha, where insurgents are attempting to capture the strategic dam. Tribal alliances still appear to be in favour of the government and their defence lines are expected to hold in the near term.

South

Political tensions in the capital also manifested in the Shia-dominated South, where several pro-Maliki demonstrations in Maysan and Muthanna governorates were witnessed over the reporting period. Should the situation deteriorate as Maliki clings to power, his rivals could attempt to remove him forcefully, sparking Shia infighting between their numerous and competing tribes. Meanwhile, levels of violence in Babil remained stagnant and below their post-IS offensive averages, as insurgents continue to focus on Kurdish-controlled or contested areas of the North. The likelihood of high-impact attacks against the South-East remains assessed as low considering IS’s current priorities on the consolidation and expansion of their positions in the North.

 

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