by Patrick Martin and ISW Iraq Team
The U.S. intensified its activities in Iraq and Syria by deploying additional Special Forces to Iraq. The deployment of reportedly up to 200 Special Operations Forces (SOF) with authority to engage in raids in both Iraq and across the border in Syria follows an intensification in U.S. activity under advise and assist in support of the Peshmerga in Iraq, including U.S. SOF accompanying Kurdish Special Forces on a raid on an ISIS prison near Hawija in Kirkuk province on October 22 and U.S. advisers assisting Kurdish forces recapture Sinjar, west of Mosul, from ISIS on November 12 and 13. The modest increase in U.S. activity comes as the ISF lay the groundwork for an eventual assault on Ramadi city. ISF recaptured the Palestine Bridge northwest of Ramadi, cutting off ISIS’s supply routes over the Euphrates River amid an increase in Coalition airstrikes. ISF also secured areas near major bridges and called on civilians to flee the city. These moves indicate that the Iraqi government is still intent on recapturing Ramadi and is resisting pressure from Iranian proxy actors to delay such operations. PM Abadi is under significant pressure from Iranian proxy militias on several fronts, including amending the 2016 federal budget in order to increase the budget allocations to the “Popular Mobilization.” However, the ISF has thus far prevented proxy militias from participating in the Ramadi operation. Meanwhile, Iranian proxy militias have deployed significant assets to Aleppo in Syria, and Iranian proxy operations in Iraq have slowed following the recapture of Baiji on October 23, indicating a shift in Iranian priorities.