Thursday, April 24, 2014

Warning Intelligence Update: ISIS Besieged areas near Baghdad on eve of Elections

The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is achieving operational effects upon multiple quadrants of the Baghdad Belts. West Baghdad province, in the vicinity of Abu Ghraib has been effectively besieged by flooding produced by ISIS via the Fallujah dam. The recent ISIS oil pipeline breach near Bayji also contaminated the water supply to Baghdad. Whether or not these Baghdad effects were deliberate, ISIS has directly threatened Iraq’s capital on the eve of national elections. The increased threat to Baghdad and the accelerated displacement of civilians in Diyala warrant an additional pre-elections warning update.

The Fallujah Dam

ISIS has likely maintained control of the Fallujah dam since January 24, 2014. Since then, the dam’s 10 gates have been closed and re-opened at least twice. This iterative closure has caused extensive flooding in Anbar province. Flooding has accelerated population displacement initially precipitated by the violent activities of ISIS, tribal revolutionaries, and the Iraqi Security Forces. The civilian population in Fallujah has been displaced to minimum levels as of recent weeks. Now the flooding has caused the displacement of 715 families from Abu Ghraib, according to Iraq’s Ministry of Migration and Displacements on April 24, 2014.

The threat of violent attacks was already present in Abu Ghraib before this time. A video posted on March 30, 2014 depicted a military parade by ISIS in Abu Ghraib. On April 3, 2014, Iraq’s Minister of Justice announced that the Abu Ghraib prison had been completely evacuated. In light of these previous  indicators of ISIS presence, the displacement of the population from Abu Ghraib may allow ISIS to pre-position in unoccupied buildings, if the flooding subsides. ISW has been monitoring the convergence of ISIS upon historic positions in the Baghdad Belts over many months; improved fighting positions directly enhance their opportunity to launch deliberate attacks upon designated targets in Baghdad.

ISIS may also rely upon further flooding to disrupt the electoral participation of Iraqi Sunni citizens in areas that still have good prospects. The extension of the flooding into Abu Ghraib indicates that Baghdad itself may be directly affected by this environmental condition. Abu Ghraib is only 20 km west of Baghdad. As of April 24, 2014, the commander of the Anbar Operations Command celebrated 460 volunteers who aligned with the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) because of ISIS dam effects. This begs the question of why the ISF has not yet retaken the dam. The ISF has recently reported new operations north of Fallujah; far south of Fallujah in Jurf al-Sakhar; and continued control of the entrances to Fallujah. With such strong positions, why is the dam still controlled by ISIS?

ISIS Occupied positions in Anbar

It is possible that the ISF is not able to take the dam by ground force. Recent ISIS activities suggest that ISIS has been moving into areas east and south of Fallujah, such as Yusufiyah, Zaidan, and Zoba, which are southeast of Abu Ghraib and equally near to Baghdad. Near to these areas is Amiriyat al Fallujah, on the west bank of the Euphrates, a village which ISIS attacked again on April 23, 2014. ISIS has been targeting the IP in this area since February 24, 2014, when a report first surfaced that ISIS demanded that the IP in the area “repent.” After heavy clashes, it appears that the ISF, primarily the Iraqi Police (IP), are back in control of the main village as Iraqi Army (IA) helicopters reportedly attacked ISIS positions in Albu Hawa in Amiriyat al-Fallujah on the same day.

On April 24, 2014, ISIS posted images to its Anbar Wilayat Twitter account portraying a hosted discussion with tribal leaders in Fallujah. 

These images suggest that ISIS is still cultivating relations with the tribes, suggesting that cooperation with the Tribal Military Council may now be underway. Additionally, on April 22, 2014, the head of the Sons of Iraq Council, Sheikh Mohammed al-Hayes, still a proponent of the ISF, described the disposition of ISIS in Anbar as the following: Fallujah; Garma and Saqlaqiyah to the north of Fallujah; and Nuaimiya and Amiriyat al-Fallujah to its south. He also described Zoba and Halabsa to the east of Fallujah, as well as villages to the west and specific villages in and around Ramadi. This representation, consistent with ISW’s estimate, places ISIS in a position to advance upon Baghdad from the west. Control of the Fallujah dam, actively wielded by ISIS since January 2014, may be part of a broader operational plan to project operational effects upon the western quadrants of the Baghdad Belts.

Bayji Contaminates Baghdad’s Water Supply

These are not the only threats projected by ISIS upon Baghdad this week. On April 17, 2014, gunmen detonated IEDs on an oil pipeline near Bayji, causing a massive oil spill that, according to the office of the Ministry of Water Resources, is now flowing toward Thar Thar, and has reportedly entered Baghdad, causing minor damage. But this spill has also contaminated the water supply to Baghdad, such that Karkh will have to be supplied through reservoirs for the foreseeable future. The Ministry projected a water shortage in Karkh that may also extend to eastern Baghdad. This has the potential to generate a water crisis in Baghdad.    

ISIS Threats in Diyala

Several days earlier, the governor of Diyala also stated that Qara Tapa, in northern Diyala, risks becoming “Diyala’s Tuz Khurmatu,” a reference to the extensive displacement of the population in this mountainous corridor. On April 23, 2014, reports emerged that the majority of election workers in Saydiya, nearby, have been threatened from participating in elections. In some places, local teachers have been pressed into service as election workers. With extensive population displacement in two regions of Diyala province, in addition to that in Anbar, it is important to explore where else ISIS is acting upon its announced intent to disrupt Iraq’s national elections, scheduled to take place in six days. Over the last few days, ISIS renewed its threats to teachers on its Wilayat Diyala, Ninewa, and South Twitter pages, discouraging them from facilitating elections.

Threats in the North

Security in Mosul has been difficult to monitor due to the previous targeting of local journalists by armed groups. Mosul has also seen a recent rise in reported activity. On April 17, 2014, ISIS attacked an IA headquarters with an SVBIED, followed by an armed attack. Then, on April 18, 2014, the traffic police in Mosul went on strike because they have been targeted corporately. On April 20, 2014, ISIS issued the aforementioned warning directed at teachers, threatening them from participating in elections. The same day, the commander of the Ninewa Operations Command stated that a joint IA/Federal Police operation was launched in the western Jazeera desert area of Ninewa, which continues to raise concern over the provision of security by the ISF in Mosul. Ninewa governor Atheel al-Nujaifiheavily criticized the ISF in Ninewa for their performance on April 18, 2014, confirming that the security situation in the province has worsened.

Meanwhile, in eastern Kirkuk, an armed attack took place against the polling station in Daquq. The gunmen claimed to be Asayesh (Kurdish intelligence security forces), an atypical technique for the ISIS, and may have belonged to another armed entity. The commander of the 12th IA division claimed that the attackers were in fact Ansar al-Sunna. The attack resulted in the execution of six of the villagers who had been guarding the polling station, which resulted in a clash with local civilians. This event suggests that the milieu of attacking groups targeting voting stations and prospective voters in northern Iraq may include more groups than those operating in Diyala and Anbar, namely ISIS, the Tribal Military Council, and the Ba’athist Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshabandia (JRTN).  


In projecting the threat to Iraq’s national elections, it is not possible solely to focus upon Anbar. The threat from Anbar approaches Baghdad. The threat in northern Iraq is now directly affecting Baghdad through its water supply. Security in Mosul appears very poor. Sectarian tension in Diyala may influence the mobilization of Shi’a militias in Baghdad and elsewhere. The sheer number of displaced persons in Anbar and Diyala make it difficult to foresee how the electoral process may be preserved on their behalf. On April 22, 2014, Mutahidun released a statement specifically calling for the attention of the electoral commission, IHEC, to preserve the opportunity of citizens in the Baghdad Belts to vote in the upcoming elections. This underscores their impression that the physical threat is now proximate to Baghdad.