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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Iraqi forces facing serious challenges from ISIS in Diyala and Babil provinces.

Link: ISIS attack on market leaves 115 dead.

As expected, ISIS has responded to the offensive with a variety of distracting SVBIED attacks, mostly in Diyala Province.  ISIS is determined to establish a permanent presence in Diyala, which would allow for the eventual encirclement of Baghdad.  Although the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and the militias/Popular Mobilization Forces (PMUs) have had some success retaking areas of Fallujah and hemming in the ISIS units in Ramadi, its apparent that ISIS believes this development will be temporary.  In the past, fighting in Anbar has gone back and forth, and there is no reason to believe that ISIS will not be able to mount another offensive to retake lost ground, especially if Haditha falls.

The issue in Diyala is the most pressing, as the Provincial Governor has requested that provincial troops serving in Anbar be returned.  According to Governor Musana Tamimi, fifty percent of Diyala's provincial troops have been drafted to fight with the ISF in Anbar.  The Governor of Babil Province has also made the same complaint, as ISIS begins to expand its presence there.  Tamimi noted that there are large tracts of land just east of Baghdad that have been infiltrated by ISIS, and that Baqubah and Khan Beni Saad are two communities in Diyala that have come under tremendous pressure.  Although the ISF has had recent success stopping intended SVBIEDs in eastern Anbar, it appears that ISIS has been expanding its resources and manpower in Diyala for some time.  The SVBIED at a market in Khan Beni Saad that killed 115 people and injured over 170 on July 17, was the exact type of attack that Iraqi authorities were concerned might coincide with the end of Ramadan.

And to add to the headache, violent demonstrations in Basra Province (unrelated to ISIS) also highlight the difficult security situation in the provinces when so many soldiers have been forwarded to the operations in Anbar.  What we find most disturbing is ISIS ability to project military operations (albeit SVBIEDS and limited free-fire attacks) to the provinces, when its resources are allegedly tied up in Haditha and Fallujah/Ramadi.  It implies that ISIS has a long-term plan to consolidate its presence in Anbar, Salah ad-Din and Diyala, in order to eventually encircle and strangle Baghdad.  The Iraqi authorities will need military and related specialized aid to counter these efforts by creating a permanent supply system for Baghdad, and bolster its defensive posture.  The Iranians seem content to limit their involvement to political machinations and domination of the PMUs.  How long will Iran continue to let ISIS terrorize Diyala Province, which actually borders Iran?

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