On Thursday (Dec 18th), a 19-year-old suicide bomber walked up to police officers at a checkpoint in Yarmouk (central Baghdad) in a panicked frenzy, informing them that he was wearing a suicide belt, and begged for their help in removing it. A special EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) unit arrived on the scene and successfully dismantled the relatively substantial explosive belt. Investigations are currently ongoing. The previous day, a security patrol at a market in 20 Street, Baya’a district (southwestern Baghdad), identified and killed a suicide bomber, evacuated the market and then allowed EOD engineers to dismantle the suicide vest which contained 6kg of explosives.
Also on Thursday, ISF (Iraqi security forces) raided an abandoned warehouse in the Jami’ah district, western Baghdad. A large weapons cache was uncovered that contained a variety of small arms, IEDs, sticky bombs and other materials which are used in terrorist acts, like electronic maps. ISF suspect that the warehouse belongs to ISIS cells in the city.
On Saturday (Dec 20th), 3 mortars struck the Green Zone in central Baghdad, which houses multiple governmental/diplomatic buildings and residencies. The mortars caused no casualties or material damage, likely falling in a deserted area. Ministry of Interior investigators concluded that the mortars were launched from the Sunni-majority district of Dora, southern Baghdad.
On Thursday, it was reported that ISOF(Iraqi Special Operations Forces) & peshmerga forces heavily shelled several parts of the district of Tal Afar (west of Mosul), while the international coalition launched airstrikes across the district. There was a media blackout regarding these advances, due to the sensitivity of the operation. It was also reported that the commander of the Golden Division, Maj. Gen. Fadhil Barwari, was personally leading this operation.
On Saturday, it was announced that ISOF troops clashed with ISIS militants at the Tal Afar Teaching Hospital, with at least 11 gunmen reportedly killed. It also emerged that ISOF troops were airdropped into the Tal Afar airbase (5km south of Tal Afar), formerly known as FOB Sykes. This sudden attack took ISIS militants by surprise and the airbase was fully captured. Some Iraqi news outlets even announced the capture of 20 villages in the district by ISOF and peshmerga forces but these claims are still being verified.
Tal Afar could prove to be a very strategic foothold for Iraqi security forces who have been relatively nonexistent in Nineveh province for the last 6 months. The airbase could also be used to launch airstrikes on ISIS supply lines and further limit ISIS freedom in northern Iraq.
According to Sheikh Nayif al-Abboud (member of the Anbar tribal council), 16 different Anbari tribes have handed over the names and details of 286 tribesmen who are currently fighting amidst the ISIS ranks. This decision was made after failed efforts to get the tribesmen to hand themselves in to authorities.
Anbar police have announced that after recently recapturing the areas of Dolab and Ta’mim (near Hit), police officers in the two towns discovered huge caches of weapons, explosives and chemicals. Around 200kg of explosives were seized by the police units, alongside hundreds of light and medium weapons and a quite large quantity of chemicals and fertilizers which are used in the process of creating highly explosive IEDs and car bombs.
The Ministry of Interior announced on Friday (Dec 19th) that a joint force of army and police units raided an ISIS hideout in Amiriyat al-Fallujah (south of Fallujah), and seized 24 barrels that were filled with a highly dangerous mix of explosives and chemicals.
ISIS have launched multiple attacks on Haditha over the last fortnight, aiming to capture the town and use the Haditha Dam as a weapon against the Iraqi Army and anti-ISIS tribal forces in Anbar. Coalition airstrikes have proved effective, with reports that a 36-vehicle ISIS convoy was devastated by airstrikes as it crossed into Iraq from Syria with the aim of destroying Haditha Dam. Sporadic clashes have also taken place at Haqlaniya (southern Haditha) as ISIS militants tried to penetrate into the district but the attacks have been repeatedly thwarted by ISF and tribal forces.
Fighting in Ramadi appears to have relatively calmed down, with the bulk of the fighting shifting from the central and southern districts to the northeastern sectors of Anbar’s capital. On Saturday, ISIS assaulted the village of Malahma in al-Khalidiya (NE of Ramadi). ISIS penetrated ISF and tribal defense lines, entering a few kilometres into the area before being halted by artillery.
The situation in Baghdadi seems to be worsening as ISIS tightens the siege on the township and the nearby Ain al-Asad Air Base. Reports emerged of US soldiers participating in clashes with ISIS militants in the area but these claims were rubbished by the head of the Awakening Council (Sahwa) Wisam al-Hardan. The town of Baghdadi is still under siege and the humanitarian situation is seriously deteriorating with reports of babies dying due to the lack of baby food. Iraqi Army soldiers have blasted the international coalition for the lack of airstrikes against the advancing militants. On Sunday (Dec 21st), ISF in the area announced the killing and wounding of at least 30 ISIS militants who had tried to attack the Ain al-Asad Air Base.
News emerged on Saturday that ISF have completely captured all entrances and exits to Fallujah, further tightening the siege on the city which has been out of the government’s hands for almost a year now.
On Sunday, ISF in the Wafa’a area (45km west of Ramadi) were able to kill Abdullah Obeid al-Sudani, the leader of ISIS forces in the area. After intense clashes, the Wafa’a area was declared free of ISIS militants.
On Wednesday (Dec 17th), the news that Iraqi security forces and Shia paramilitaries withdrew from central Baiji emerged. The nearby oil refinery was seen as more valuable than the district itself by ISF commanders and therefore made the priority. Throughout at least five days of heavy clashes across multiple neighbourhoods in central Baiji, police & tribal forces made pleas for coalition air support and supplies to be sent but these requests fell on deaf ears. Once their munitions and morale had been depleted, the soldiers decided to retreat, with some units withdrawing towards the much safer towns in the district’s south (e.g. al-Malha and Mazra’a) and others heading towards the more secure refinery complex.
Reports emerged on Saturday of intense clashes taking place across multiple areas of Baiji, with at least 34 dead ISIS militants. ISIS launched a surprise assault on Baiji at dawn on Sunday, attacking from several different directions. 3 ISF brigades arrived in Baiji to help claw back areas from the ISIS militants in central and eastern Baiji. Shia paramilitaries and tribal forces (mainly from the al-Jaisat tribe) managed to kill around 23 ISIS militants in sporadic yet intense clashes across the district as militants tried to enter Baiji to prop up their fellow jihadists. ISF units were also reportedly able to kill around 30 militants who tried to assault the al-Hajjaj village, on the Tikrit-Baiji road.
Over the last few days, the Iraqi Army (backed by Shia paramilitary groups) have launched an assault on the town of Yathrib and it’s peripheries in southern Salah ad-Din province. This assault was delayed several times due to the presence of ISIS in residential areas, but was launched after it was deemed safe. Reports emerged that the ISIS ‘Emir’ of Yathrib fled the town during the initial stage of the attack towards Mosul. Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (Shia paramilitary group) released footage of it’s fighters alongside the Iraqi Army as they slowly advanced into the town, their progress impeded by IEDs. Reports suggested that at least 17 booby-trapped houses were detonated by the security forces.
This offensive (which was apparently lead by the Iraqi Army’s 17th Brigade), has yielded a lot of progress in a short amount of time with multiple villages being liberated already (Albu Heshma, Albu Nasr, al-Shihabi, al-‘Ajeeliah and Albu Fad’ous). An ISIS car bomb factory was discovered in the village of al-‘Ajeelah on Sunday, and ISF sources announced that 7 militants were arrested in the factory. Estimates on the number of dead ISIS militants in this operation so far range between 50-128 dead and dozens more injured.
Iraqi police announced on Thursday that an Army Aviation helicopter struck a low-cost housing complex in the Khazraj area (southern Salah ad-Din) where ISIS militants were holed up, killing 12 militants and severely wounding 8 others. The airstrike also destroyed 3 four-wheel drive vehicles. The Ministry of Defense also announced on the same day that combat units from the 1st Division managed to kill 15 ISIS militants in the Hayakil area, on the outskirts of Tikrit.
On Saturday, ISIS militants captured the village of Albu Ayfan which belongs to the subdistrict of Dhulu’iya. The assault killed 2 members of security forces and wounded 3 others. Hours after the assault took place, reports emerged of the militants rampaging across the village, killing 17 civilians and detonating at least 2 residencies.
Also on Saturday, images emerged of Hadi al-Amiri (leader of Badr Organization) touring the frontline in Dhulu’iya (southern Salahudin). After his recent victories in Diyala province, al-Amiri promised to liberate Dhulu’iya, Balad and their neighbouring towns, which have been major flashpoints since the fall of Mosul.
The chief of Diyala Police Command, Lt. Gen. Jamil al-Shammari, announced on Friday that Iraqi airstrikes hit multiple locations in the Sensl area, north of Muqdadiya (northeast of Baquba). These airstrikes eportedly killed 27 ISIS militants, including a local ISIS leader named Abu Khadija.