By Emily Anagnostos and the ISW Iraq Team
Key Takeaway: The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) retook Qayyarah Airfield West on July 9, meeting little ISIS resistance to secure the airbase. U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter made a surprise visit to Baghdad on July 11, where he announced that the U.S. will deploy an additional 560 soldiers to Qayyarah airbase in order to provide logistical support for future ISF operations to retake Mosul. The increase of the U.S. troop level in Iraq is an acceleration of anti-ISIS operations in northern Iraq, where the ISF continues efforts to retake Shirqat and the city of Qayyarah. The ISF also secured the village of Ajhala on July 12, on the western bank of the Tigris, across from Hajj Ali, on the eastern bank, which ISF units under Ninewa Operations Command recaptured on July 5. The recapture of the two villages allowed ISF forces to link up across the Tigris River and effectively severed Shirqat from Qayyarah, two of ISIS’s remaining strongholds south of Mosul.
The Council of Representatives (CoR) started a new legislative term on July 12. The session met quorum, as the majority of the Kurdistan Alliance and Reform Front attended, and largely focused on the July 3 Karrada attack. The Reform Front submitted requests to question the Ministers of Defense, Transportation, and Finance, as a prerequisite for dismissal. The CoR approved the requests during the session on July 13. The Reform Front may by trying to undermine the control of the Abadi government by bottlenecking the legislative process with unnecessary and time-consuming demands. The Sadrist Trend-affiliated Ahrar Bloc continued to boycott the sessions, demanding technocratic reforms. Sadrist Trend leader Muqtada al-Sadr called on July 11 for mass demonstrations on July 15, having returned from Iran after a two-month absence, reportedly on June 29. Sadr reaffirmed demands for technocratic reforms, including a replacement of the three presidencies (Prime Minister, President, and CoR Speaker). Sadr’s mass protest on July 15 will come as Baghdad is still coping with the aftermath of the July 3 Karrada bombing and the security reshuffle in the capital. Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi accepted the resignation of Minister of Interior and Badr Organization member Muhammad al-Ghabban on July 8, and dismissed the leader of Baghdad Operations Command the same day as well. Sadr’s return comes at a vulnerable moment in the Iraqi political and security situation, and ongoing unrest in the capital due to Sadrist protests or ongoing ISIS attacks will further undermine PM Abadi’s tenuous control over the government.