By Patrick Martin and ISW Iraq Team
Key Take-Away: Rival Shi’a political factions are capitalizing on increased instability in Basra to compete for influence. The forward-deployment of Basra-based Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) to fight ISIS has led to a sharp increase in crime and violence between rival tribes in the province. Iraqi Shi’a militias, criminal gangs, and tribal fighters proliferated in Basra following the British withdrawal in 2007, but the ISF was able to secure the province in the past. The forward deployment of the ISF to fight ISIS, however, has allowed crime and violence to escalate unchecked. Competing Shi’a parties are using the deteriorating security situation in Basra to advance their political agendas. Hakim al-Zamili, Council of Representatives (CoR) Security and Defense Committee Chairman and a senior member of the Sadrist Trend, accused the police chief, a member of the rival Iranian-backed Badr Organization, of incompetence. Qais al-Khazali, the leader of Iranian proxy militia Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), presided over the opening of a new AAH headquarters in Basra while calling for the Popular Mobilization to secure the province. Deployment of the Popular Mobilization would allow Iranian proxy militias to vastly extend their control over the resource-rich province and competing armed groups to expand operations, which would almost certainly lead to violence between different militias. All Shi’a political groups view Basra as a priority area to secure access to both patronage and recruits for the various militias. Shi’a political groups could deploy an increased number of militias in response to deteriorating security in Basra, which would further destabilize the province.
ISIS continued to pressure the ISF across Iraq amid a rising sentiment of anti-interventionism. ISIS continued conducting heavy attacks against Haditha district in western Anbar, launching at least five VBIEDs against tribal fighters and the ISF. ISIS also launched a deadly attack in the predominantly Shi’a area of Baghdad al-Jadidah in southwestern Baghdad and in Muqdadiyah in central Diyala province. The attacks demonstrate that ISIS maintains the capability to conduct explosive attacks in areas that have a heavy presence of security forces. They also show ISIS’s intent on disrupting the progress of the ISF by forcing the ISF to commit troops to defend Baghdad, Diyala, and Anbar provinces instead of deploying forward. Turkish troops continue to operate at a training camp northeast of Mosul, ignoring orders from Baghdad to withdraw. Shi’a political forces and Iranian proxy militias also continued to condemn U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) raids in Kirkuk province as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty, though the U.S. has denied that any such raids have occurred. The constant anti-intervention rhetoric from pro-Iranian actors opposed to the U.S.-led Coalition’s role in Iraq limits Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi’s freedom to accept increased support from the U.S. in the fight against ISIS.