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Friday, July 31, 2015

Iraq update: militias, ISF continue to pressure ISIS in Anbar; ISIS causes more trouble in Diyala.

The central line of Iraq continues to be the heart and soul of the ongoing conflict between ISIS and the Iraqi government and it's allies.  In a predictable effort to distract attention away from the Iraqi Security Forces' (ISF) offensive in Anbar to retake Ramadi and relieve Haditha, ISIS has stepped up SVBIED (Suicide Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device) and random free-fire attacks in Diyala Province. Not to be outdone, the ISF and militias/Popular Mobilization Units (UPMs) have stepped up the pressure on both Ramadi and Fallujah.  The ISF pushed back a frontal attack just outside Ramadi, in which ISIS utilized its usual weapon of choice, the SVBIED (when are they going to use up their supply of suicidal morons?); simultaneously the ISF conducted moderately successful attacks to the north and south of Ramadi.  With ISIS under siege by the ISF in Ramadi and the PMUs in Fallujah, it has become even more imperative that ISIS raise some hell close to Baghdad, which might cause enough of an outcry from the civilian population that the government is forced to transfer some of its troops from the Anbar offensive.  Possibly because of its proximity to Iran, ISIS seems determined to make a statement in Diyala Province.

as we've pointed out, Diyala Province shares an eastern border with the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Recently the Iranians have expressed a growing concern regarding what appears to be ISIS' growing strength in the Province.  By conducting SVBIED attacks on military and police facilities, along with a variety of civilian targets, ISIS has Diyala Province suffering from its own kind of siege.  The governorship, which is controlled by the Shi'a, loudly and repeatedly requested that troops pulled from Diyala for the Anbar offensive be returned to the Province.  To add to the drama, a serious schism is developing between the Shi'a and Sunni, who have in the past lived as one community in most parts of Diyala. The Sunni leaders in Diyala claim that the governorship and the provincial administration is being run by the Shi'a Badr Corps/Organization, which was born in Iran and is seeded with all sorts of fun Iranian advisors and representatives.  One positive move was the reinstatement of the Sunni Deputy Governor, the hope being that now the two groups can start working together again in opposition to ISIS.  While the proximity of active ISIS units to the Iranian border is disturbing, the real threat (and probably part of ISIS' long-term strategy), is the encirclement of Baghdad.  ISIS knows that it will lose some ground during this current offensive in Anbar. What they hope to achieve is to mitigate the amount of territory that they will undoubtedly be obliged to reconquer, in order to eventually complete the isolation of Baghdad itself.  ISIS is also determined to successfully occupy Haditha, which has been under siege for months.

In Anbar and Salah ad-Din, intra-tribal conflict continues to be a problem in the Sunni community.  Tribes and communities who forcefully opposed ISIS are calling out those that didn't,or even went so far as to provide the Islamic State fighters with support.  The government in Baghdad is nervously calling on all its Sunni allies in Anbar to put some water on this dangerous spark.

Another interesting development to keep an eye on is the decision by Turkey to end a two-year informal ceasefire with the Kurdish PKK.  Not surprisingly, the PKK has elected to retaliate, and three Turkish soldiers can be added to the fatalities list.  What is of interest is the attitude of Iran to these developments.  Iran continues to support beleaguered Syrian strongman Bashir al-Assad, which is something that really gives Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a case of the red-ass.  I'm not sure what really went down between these two, but Erdogan seems bound and determined to see Assad totally removed from power.  Im sure the Iranians are thrilled with this possible miscalculation on Erdogan's part, and have already reached out to the PKK to express their "support".  Just how far will Iran go to expand this new round of incidents between Turkey and the PKK?

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