By Anne-Laure Barbosa at Edinburgh International
Anbar excluded, casualty figures released by the UN stated that at least 1,273 people were killed and another 2,010 injured in ISIS-related violence across Iraq. Taking into account the areas where ISIS are in full control, these figures are likely to be much higher and the data published by the UN should be considered as the absolute minimum. The most striking incident occurred in Anbar on 30 October, when hundreds of Sunni tribesmen were executed or kidnapped by ISIS. The death toll is estimated at 322. The killings took place after ISIS seized the Albu Nimr village last week, which had been resisting ISIS for days without apparent ISF support. While Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is a much more conciliatory figure than his predecessor, he has yet to deliver on promises to support Sunni tribes in Anbar, which are plagued by divisions and accused of misusing government funds. Abadi’s agreement on the creation of a 30,000-strong force of volunteers from Anbar to fight ISIS is unlikely to appease the grievances voiced by moderate Sunni tribes, the full inclusion of which will determine the longer-term trajectory of Iraq’s precarious security situation. Levels of violence are expected to remain stagnant over the next weeks, with ISIS-related attacks concentrated in the northern and central governorates.
Amid stagnating dynamics, the most important clashes occurred in Salahuddin as the ISF continued their operation to retake the Baiji district. A series of militant attacks on the Baiji refinery was repelled by the ISF over the reporting period, killing dozens of insurgents. Despite the incapacity of militants to seize the infrastructure and outgun the pro-government units benefitting from air support, the repetition of these assaults demonstrates that ISIS has the freedom to operate in most parts of the Baiji area. Despite the recent ISF gains in Baiji, the IEDs placed on roads ensure that the advance of pro-government forces will be slow. As the Kurds consolidate their control of Zumar, a coordinated attack on Sinjar could follow in the next days. Meanwhile, the airstrike campaign appeared to be refocused in Diyala, where an operation was launched and cleared the Shohani, Sudur and Sherwin areas west of Baquba. Dozens of ISIS members were reportedly killed in pro-government offensives conducted in the province. Elsewhere the status quo prevailed, with no major advance reported from either side. Following the recapture of Jurf al-Sakhar last week, south of the capital, ISIS seem to have shifted their focus to Baghdad’s northern belt, with an increase in incidents reported south of Samarra.
ISIS escalated its attacks in the capital, as militants continued to operate freely in an increasing perimeter of Anbar governorate. The series of territorial advances made by insurgents over the past weeks resulted in a dramatic rise in civilian casualties as ISIS retaliated against hostile Sunni tribesmen in Albu Nimr. The bloodshed resulted in over 300 people killed and a number of civilians kidnapped, raising fears that Anbar may ultimately fall to insurgents and become a launching pad for attacks on the capital. Levels of violence in Baghdad remained aligned with previous averages. Despite the celebrations of Ashura which was reflected in several civilian gatherings in Shia-dominated districts of the capital, ISIS failed to inflict high casualties. Car bombs and mortar shells aimed at targeting pilgrims nonetheless caused dozens of fatalities in the eastern and southern neighbourhoods, demonstrating ISIS’s ongoing capacity to infiltrate high-security Shia districts. As Shia militias become increasingly powerful, especially in Baghdad where volunteers control entire areas, these attacks have the potential to inflame sectarian tensions further, fuelling the cycle of violence and decreasing the prospect of a Sunni inclusion.
Despite the large number of pilgrims converging on the holy shrines on 03 November, the celebrations of Ashura remained relatively peaceful, with no attack reported in Karbala. This is likely an effect of the recapture of Jurf-al-Sakhar last week, which enabled the ISF to secure the main road used by pilgrims from Baghdad to Karbala. Babil’s restive district was also used as a base to manufacture car bombs which targeted Karbala and Hilla during the pilgrimages. As the main commemorations reach their peak on 04 November, high-impact attacks cannot be ruled out and security measures are expected to remain tight. No major attack was reported elsewhere in the South-East, with religious celebrations apparently appeasing tribal tensions in Basra, which witnessed a decrease in criminal acts.