In a change to the last few weeks there has been a marked decrease in Turkish military activity in the northern provinces as Ankara looks to try and further cement the PKK peace offer scheduled for 21 Mar. In a positive development the PKK freed a group of Turkish soldiers that had been held in the mountains of northern Iraq for more than a year on 13 March in what has been viewed as a first concrete step toward accepting a formal peace process and ending the 28-year insurgency.
Further south the week once again saw violence concentrated in Nineveh, Salah al-Din and Diyala with a focus upon attacking the increased ISF presence that coincided with the cross border clashes of last week and ISF forces conducting interdiction operations against insurgent elements down the length of the Tigris River Valley. Nineveh, Kirkuk and Mosul all saw a complex mix of VBIED explosions and sophisticated SAF attacks that point toward an fortified Sunni insurgent capability and intent. Of particular note was the 15 March ambush of a vehicle travelling between Mosul and Baghdad, south of Baiji, which contained as many as 20 IA recruits, all of whom were killed.
In Kirkuk violence increased this week however it remained sporadic and widely distributed as insurgents seek to maintain their freedom of movement against an increased security presence and to dominate the ingress and egress routes to the city. Of note was a VBIED, which detonated on 15 March killing at least 8 and wounding approx. 20 in the center of the provincial capital. Whilst the overall number of suicide bombing has decreased from a February high of one / 48hrs it still remains a tactic of choice amongst local insurgent groups. Another headline incident was the 11 Mar Suicide VBIED in Dibbis, 37km northwest of Kirkuk, which targeted a local police chief, but which detonated prematurely killing 4 schoolchildren and wounding approx. 165.