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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Update on military developments in Anbar and Diyala Provinces, Iraq; Ayatollah Sistani continues providing vital support for PM Abadi's reforms.

Links: A. ISIS claims responsibility for deadly attacks in Diyala.
           B. Iraq Parliament votes in support of Abadi's reforms, abolishing Maliki's post.
           C. Allied air attacks hit ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq.

In the last week, ISIS has demonstrated both its ability and determination to continue terrorizing the people of Diyala Province with SVBIED attacks.  On Monday at a market in Huwaider, at least 58 persons were killed by an ISIS terror attack, which comes on the heels of last months attacks which killed over 115 people.  ISIS has chosen the SVBIED as the most effective method of delivering terror because of its relatively cheap cost and the ease with which an attack can be planned.  All that is needed is a vehicle, explosives, and a lunatic suicide driver/bomber to deliver the carnage.  Given the plethora of vehicles of all varieties that choke the roads of Iraq's cities and towns, it is very difficult for security officials to intercept these attacks before its too late.  People are very enterprising.  In Kosovo, I once a saw a washing machine that had been turned into a vehicle with the edition of a drive train, four wheels, gas tank, and a small tractor engine.  Some of the interesting patched-together vehicles I saw in Iraq were just as unique, as people make do with what equipment is at hand.  If the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) were to stop and inspect every vehicle that looked unusual, traffic would come to a standstill.  ISIS has found its method of choice for delivering terror, and it appears that the only way to eradicate the problem is to remove ISIS.

No doubt ISIS continues its reign of terror in Diyala in an effort to force the government to remove troops from the Anbar front for duty in other Provinces.  Although the ISF expected ISIS to contest Ramadi to the last, the government and the General Staff expected the city to have fallen by now.  In fact, it appears as if the ISF has been able to make no progress in Ramadi over the past few weeks, which will only increase calls from the Provinces to return soldiers for local use.  As the ISF struggles outside Ramadi, the Badr Organization, one of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) attempting to encircle Fallujah, has also been unable to close the deal.  ISIS would like nothing more than to see units from the ISF Ramadi front withdrawn to Diyala, alongside the Badr Organization outside Fallujah.  From the beginning of the Anbar offensive, ISIS made clear that it was developing Diyala as a secondary front, to distract the ISF and PMUs from their operational goals.  They may just succeed with their intention, as the attempts to retake Ramadi and Fallujah meet stiff resistance.  On July 26, the ISF recaptured Anbar University.  However, four weeks into the operation, the government forces have failed to make inroads into Ramadi itself.  By contrast, during the operation to retake Tikrit, the goal was accomplished within four weeks.

On a positive note, Grand Ayatollah Sistani continues to lend his support to the Abadi government, as it moves to institute political reforms approved by the Iraqi Parliament.  Included in these reforms is the abolition of the posts of Deputy Prime Minister and Vice President.  Given that Nouri al-Maliki was Iraq's Vice President, and he had been using his position as a bully puppet to denounce the government, Abadi's success at pushing these reforms through the sticky Iraqi political system is quite an achievement.  All things being equal, which they never are in this part of the world, Abadi should be able to consolidate his victory by unifying the Shi'a political movement and using the Parliamentary vote of confidence and Sistani's approval, to continue conducting the war as he believes is best.  Abadi has been very careful with regards to conducting military operations.  Unlike Maliki, who wouldn't hesitate to involve himself in military matters, Abadi seems content to let the General Staff and their U.S. advisors formulate the plans to defeat ISIS.  As a bit of a balancing act, Abadi has allowed the Iranian advisors currently embedded with the PMUs, to provide aggressive strategic counseling.  We have been waiting patiently for word of the allied air campaign and its efforts regarding the Anbar offensive, but updates have been sporadic at best.  Link C mentions a number of attacks approved by the Iraqi government and conducted in early August, but given that ISIS has no Air Force, why hasn't the allied air campaign flattened ISIS positions in Ramadi?  Has ISIS blended in with the local community, in order to discourage air attacks?  What of the new Iraqi F-16s delivered last month?  Have any Iraqi pilots been operational with these new fighters?

We can hope that the quick response by the Iraqi Parliament and the continued support by a variety of Shi'a leaders will allow Abadi to move forward from this political victory, and lead the military to re-energize itself in the battles to retake Ramadi and Fallujah.  No news from Haditha, where the local population is faced with daily random free-fire and artillery attacks from ISIS; as the offensive in Anbar continues to target Fallujah and Ramadi, ISIS focuses on secondary fronts in Haditha, and in Diyala and other Provinces, in an attempt to force the Iraqi government to return troops to their Provincial bases.  Abadi must stay strong and not dilute his forces, which will almost certainly allow for the Ramadi front to evolve into a stalemate.  The ISF must find the resolve (and, ideally, reinforcements) to push through and take both targets, which will logically lead to the relief of Haditha, and make it more difficult for ISIS to provide resources for continued attacks in the eastern Provinces.

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