Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Iraq Update 2014 #16: Warning Intelligence Update: Escalation in Anbar

By Iraq Team

ISW is issuing a second Warning Intelligence update concerning ISIS in Iraq based upon the following indicators emanating primarily from east Anbar.

  • On April 6, gunmen closed the Fallujah Dam. This attack, assessed to be a response to recent ISF operations, caused flooding in Zoba, Hamid al-Shaban, and Inaz IVO Fallujah, forcing IA elements to relocate. The Ministry of Water Resources warned of possible flooding in Fallujah and Saqlawiya as well. The closure of the dam has caused a severe water shortage in Mussayib and other cities IVO Nasiriyah. The Director of Water Resources in Dhi Qar voiced concern over the potential closure of the Nasiriyah Thermal Power Plant as a result. The IA announced the intent to launch a military operation to recapture the dam. As on April 8, the dam has apparently reopened, and no new IA offensive was launched.

  • On April 9, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stated that the Iraqi government must act in Fallujah in light of the recent closure of Fallujah area dams by gunmen likely affiliated with ISIS and the Tribal Military Councils. In his statement, Maliki directed his remarks to the international community and added that the issue has become “more dangerous and bigger for us to bear and we will bear the responsibility for removing this injustice.” By addressing the international community, Maliki is attempting to preempt any criticism against a possible military operation in Fallujah. Furthermore, Maliki added that the recent actions by the anti-government armed groups in Fallujah is akin to Saddam Hussein’s behavior.

  • Maliki’s statement was followed by a statement from the Iraqi Foreign Ministry stating that the government “has a constitutional responsibility” to restore security to Fallujah. Politically, the statement comes after an April 8 meeting of the Pan-Iraqi Shi’a National Alliance, which condemned the closure of the dams and called on Iraqis to unify and support the ISF in its “war against terrorism.” If Maliki decides to launch a wide-scale military operation in Fallujah, the meeting and its statement provide him with the political support he needs. 

  • ISW is also monitoring Shi’a militia mobilization north and south of Baghdad. On March 25, a group carrying yellow banners and religious photos conducted a parade in Balad, likely a Shi’a militia responding to the incendiary ISIS offensives in Buhriz, Diyala and the Nebai area north of Baghdad earlier that week. On March 29, elements of the population in Hilla called for the return of popular committees. This follows recent indications of mobilization in Najaf and raises concern over the Shi’a militia presence ISW assesses that Mussayib is the site of strong Shi’a militia presence, poised to form a barrier against ISIS advances south of Baghdad, making them a likely target for ISIS to incite broader sectarian violence. ISIS named a wilayat of “the south” among its other governorates, and ISIS control of nearby Jurf al-Sakhar has been a growing concern for several months.

  • There may also be an emerging threat within Baghdad. A hashtag referring to the “Grand Battle of Baghdad” is circulating among ISIS-leaning Twitter accounts. A wave of eight VBIEDS detonated in Shi’a neighborhoods in Baghdad on April 9, 2014, consistent with previous patterns, and ISW is monitoring for further escalations in Baghdad to disrupt national elections scheduled for April 30, 2014.

  • Elsewhere in Iraq, ISIS recently posted a reference to “directed IEDs” on the Twitter pages of its wilayat in Salah ad Din. A photo posted to the ISIS Wilayat Kirkuk page at the beginning of April 2014 displayed large shell casings that appear consistent with rudimentary EFPs. ISW is monitoring for further indications of EFPs in the handles of ISIS on the battlefield.

ISW will continue to monitor the situation.