Friday, April 4, 2014

Iraq Update 2014 #15: Warning Intelligence Update - Threats against the Iraqi Army in East Anbar

By Jessica Lewis, Alex Bilger, and Iraq Team

The security situation in Fallujah and Abu Ghraib has rapidly deteriorated, and ISW is issuing a Warning Intelligence Update based upon the following indicators.

On March 20, 2014, images and videos emerged through social media of an ISIS mounted parade through Fallujah. Secondary sources described the parade as an attempt to intimidate other armed groups, but the video shows no resistance from the population. At the same time, IA and SWAT reportedly closed the northern and southern entrances of Fallujah, positioning tanks and armored vehicles outside the city in preparation to conduct a ground assault. The status of the ground assault is presently unknown, but gunmen outside of Fallujah are on the offensive.

Screen captures from a video showing ISIS parade in Fallujah 

Significant clashes were also reported on March 20, 2014 between gunmen and the IA in Inaz and Zoba, southeast of Fallujah. The gunmen reportedly captured a number of soldiers and military vehicles. Military vehicles and heavy weapons were present in the ISIS parade through the streets of Fallujah, demonstrating that ISIS is in possession of captured military equipment.

Between March 28 and March 31, 2014, a string of five bridge attacks occurred in Ramadi, Barwana, and Zoba southeast of Fallujah. Since September 2013, there have been at least 30 bridge attacks across Iraq, mostly involving VBIEDs, implicating the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Two of the recent bridge attacks in Ramadi and Barwana disrupted the flow of traffic across the Euphrates. The bridge attacks in Zoba may specifically point to a strengthening enemy position south of Fallujah.

On March 29, 2014, 40 gunmen in 4x4 vehicles executed another assault upon IA positions in Zoba and Inaz. The same day, a joint Sahwa-IA checkpoint on a bridge near Zoba was attacked with a VBIED. The VBIED attack upon a Sahwa position points to ISIS. Additionally, on March 31, 2014, a strategic bridge was destroyed, one that connects southern and central Fallujah. This attack was reportedly executed with a remotely detonated IED. This attack may have been designed to isolate central Fallujah from the southern area near Zoba.

The threat of ISIS is also increasing north of Fallujah. Between northern Baghdad and Fallujah lies Garma, a town assessed to be an emerging control zone for ISIS for some time. On April 2, 2014, ISIS published photos of an alleged mass repentance of ISF personnel in Garma, northeast of Fallujah. This video is a potential indicator of ISIS control. The threat north of Fallujah appears to be expanding into northern Baghdad. On March 25, 2014, on a VBIED detonated on the strategic Muthanna Bridge north of Baghdad. This bridge is likely critical for the Baghdad Operations Command (BOC) to reinforce in Anbar. On April 4, 2014, gunmen attacked another bridge in Mashada, north of Baghdad. ISIS claimed the attack was intended to block the IA.

Photo of alleged mass repentance of ISF personnel in Garma

ISIS may also be pushing east of Fallujah. A new video was published on March 30, 2014 of ISIS conducting a military parade in Abu Ghraib. Another report on April 3, 2014 indicated that the government of Iraq evacuated all inmates from Abu Ghraib prison based upon recent clashes in Inaz and Zaidan. It therefore appears that the security situation in Abu Ghraib is deteriorating rapidly.

 Screen capture from video showing ISIS parade in Abu Ghraib

A new ground assault upon the IA south of Fallujah also occurred on April 2, 2014, when gunmen attacked a main security checkpoint in Yusufiyah, south of Baghdad. The BOC reported that the gunmen retreated to Nuamiyah, south of Fallujah the following day. The swath of terrain between Jurf al-Sakhar in northern Babel and southern Fallujah is an emerging control zone from which ISIS may be launching attacks closer to Baghdad. Control of this area, historically known as the “Triangle of Death,” will also allow ISIS to isolate Baghdad from southern reinforcements.

On the evening of April 2, 2014, the Military Council of Anbar Revolutionaries (MCAR) published a new videowas published detailing their own battle plan to attack the IA. This group is part of the Tribal Military Councils affiliated with Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqah al-Naqshabanida (JRTN) and other Iraqi insurgent groups. The video describes an assault launched from Nuamiyah, south of Fallujah;passing near the Fallujah Dam, which was attacked by gunmen in February 2013; moving to strike an IA target in Yusifiya. The geography of this battle plan corresponds with multiple observed attacks, suggesting that ISIS may not be the only ground force attacking fixed IA positions east of Fallujah.

Screen capture from Military Council of Arab Revolutionaries "battle plan briefing"

It is not clear whether the Military Council of Anbar Revolutionaries is actually executing attacks, but the video clearly demonstrates this intent. Operational coordination between ISIS and the Military Council of Anbar Revolutionaries has not been observed. IA positions between Fallujah and Baghdad, including northern Babel and northern Baghdad, are facing an imminent threat from one and possibly two violent groups.

ISW will continue to monitor the situation.