by Aaron Reese and ISW Iraq Team
The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham’s (ISIS) capabilities extend beyond Anbar. Although the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) have so far been able to respond to the ISIS incidents, current ISF operations to target the organization in Anbar will likely be insufficient to counter what is a broad and escalating threat that is capable of launching attempts to seize terrain in multiple provinces simultaneously.
The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has undertaken major attacks across multiple fronts between June 5 and June 7, including attempts to seize neighborhoods and buildings in Samarra, Mosul, Baquba, and Salman Beg; an assault against Anbar University in Ramadi; and large-scale VBIED wave targeting Shi’a neighborhoods of Baghdad. In Samarra, ISIS attempted to storm the al-Askari shrine, the Shi’a mosque the golden dome of which al Qaeda in Iraq destroyed in February 2006, provoking the sectarian civil war that followed. The ISF forced ISIS to withdraw in all of the locations after significant clashes except Anbar University, from which the militants withdrew of their own accord.
Salman Beg: According to the Director of Salman Beg, Talib Mohammed al-Bayati, ISIS militants deployed throughout Salman Beg, detonating explosives and destroying houses belonging to civilians and “members of security services.” Iraqi Police (IP) and Iraqi Army (IA) forces took control of government and security headquarters as well as the main road that connects Baghdad and Kirkuk.
Samarra: ISIS fighters stormed the town of Samarra, located in central Salah ad-Din, with bulldozers and vehicles mounted with machine guns. The attack occurred at dawn and the militants took control of the al-Jabiria, al-Shuhada, al-Armushia, al-Khadra, al-Maalamin, and al-Dubat neighborhoods on the east side of the city. In response, an Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) regiment from Tikrit and an ISF regiment under the command of Lt. Gen. Ali Ghaidan, the commander of Iraq’s ground forces, entered the city. ISIS attempted to storm the al-Askari Shrine, but the ISF prevented this from occurring, forcing ISIS to maintain its positions half a kilometer away from the shrine. IA Aviation aided ISF ground forces in the response and bombed the al-Razaq al-Waqa’a Mosque and several neighborhoods, causing significant damage. ISF forced ISIS to withdraw from the city. ISF also allegedly burned civilian cars, tents, and a podium at the “sit-in square” in Samarra, known as Midan al-Haq (Square of the Righteous), while clearing the area of militants. The attack resulted in the deaths of six ISF members and two civilians and also caused 45 other ISF personnel and civilians to be wounded. The attack also resulted in the deaths of at least 13 ISIS militants, allegedly including the head of the organization’s military council, Abu Abdur Rahman al-Balawi, and a top commander, Abu Bakr al-Iraqi.
Mosul: The ISF clashed with fighters from ISIS who were trying to take control of several neighborhoods in and around Mosul. Mortar shells fell on the al-Tink area, west of Mosul, killing 40, followed by clashes between gunmen and ISF. The neighborhood of al-Zahra, eastern Mosul, was also shelled on the evening of June 5th, and gunmen continued to engage with ISF on June 6th. Gunmen attacked two intelligence headquarters in the Qahira neighborhood, northern Mosul, and armed clashes took place between ISF and militants in the Tahrir neighborhood, eastern Mosul, and the al-Islah al-Zarai district, west of Mosul. The attacks resulted in the death of “dozens” of ISIS militants as well as three IA soldiers and the injury of seven policemen including a lieutenant colonel. Additionally, ISIS detonated two Suicide Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (SVBIED) in a seemingly coordinated attack that targeted worshippers as they were leaving the mosque in the village of Muqdadiyah Bartalah, east of Mosul. The attack killed five and wounded 43.
Baquba: ISIS fighters attacked a counter-terrorism headquarters on the eastern outskirts of Baquba. The attack lasted for approximately 30 minutes and began with ISIS firing mortars toward the building, followed by the explosion of a Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) on a nearby side street, followed by a shootout near the building. Although the attack was repulsed, security sources stated that the operation was conducted in an attempt to release prisoners being held in the building.
Baghdad: Multiple VBIEDs explodedin various neighborhoods of Baghdad, killing at least 52. Targeted areas includedKarrada, Saba’a Abkar (near Rabi), Ur, Baghdad Jadeeda, and Baiyaa.
Mosul: Elements of the ISF appear to be preparing for a clearing operation, cordoningoff neighborhoods in northwest Mosul. Fighting continuedfrom the previous day, killing at least 38 militants and 21 members of security forces.
Ramadi: Gunmen, likely from ISIS, stormedAnbar University, killing three guards and seizing a number of university buildings, briefly taking hostage some of the residents. The University contains nearly 10,000 students, although it is unknown how many were present at the time of the attack. Accounts indicate that militants encouraged people to leave the premises, suggesting that they wished to capture the compound for use. Details are still emerging, but the gunmen withdrew from the compound under unclear circumstances.
ISW assesses that these incidents constitute a concerted counter-offensive by ISIS. The attempt to seize the al-Askari mosque represents an important symbolic as well as practical effort. Additional attempts to seize neighborhoods, infrastructure, and facilities are likely, as are additional VBIED waves. ISW will continue to monitor ISIS activity and the ISF’s response.