Recent advances by Iraqi security forces (ISF) and Shia paramilitaries in Salah ad-Din and Diyala provinces have stolen the limelight away from the situation in the beleaguered Anbar province. It was a ‘tribal revolt’ in this province that paved the way for ISIS militants to take control of the city of Fallujah and the provincial capital, Ramadi (roughly 70km and 125km west of Baghdad respectively).
Since then, ISF and a few tribes loyal to Baghdad have been bogged down in endless urban warfare. While Baghdad is no longer threatened, Anbar province falling in the hands of ISIS would be a huge loss for ISF and a great strategic victory for ISIS militants. The following updates show just how many battlefronts there are in this troubled province.
Rumours of an imminent assault by ISF on the ISIS-controlled city of Fallujah caused a state of panic among the city’s residents, who fear that intense clashes will result in collateral damage. Many residents packed up their things and started to evacuate to the city’s rural outskirts. Exchanges of mortars and rockets between ISF and ISIS militants are now a daily occurrence, with several civilian casualties every day. Iraqi security forces continue to tighten the siege on Fallujah, which has been under ISIS control for a whole year now.
On Sunday (January 4th), the commander of the Federal Police’s 18th Brigade, Brig. Gen. Shakir al-Khafaji, announced that 3 factories for the manufacturing of IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) in the area of Wafa (45km of Ramadi) had been discovered. The 18th Brigade has made some good progress in the surrounding area, recapturing a few villages, including al-‘Awasil. Several militants were reportedly killed including ISIS commander Abu Azzam al-Iraqi.
In the early hours of Monday (January 5th), ISIS launched a series of assaults on border posts with Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Border guards and Iraqi air support repelled an ISIS assault on the Annaz border post with Jordan. Anbar Operations Command announced that around 50 ISIS militants were killed during this series of attacks.
Iraqi security forces have made huge gains east of Fallujah over the last couple of days. Commando units from the 1st Quick Intervention Division (backed by Shia paramilitaries and the Iraqi Air Force) raided the industrial complexes in the Ma’amil area, southwest of Karma. A huge number of ISIS militants were reportedly killed with death tolls ranging from 30-100. 1,500kg of explosives were reportedly seized, along with hundreds of light and medium weapons.
Footage of the earlier operations were released by the Ministry of Defense, which showed several militants’ corpses, destroyed vehicles and dozens of seized IEDs and small arms. The industrial complexes and the surrounding area are now firmly in the hands of the Iraqi Army. Anbar police spokesman Capt.
Marwan Mohammed announced on Tuesday (January 6th) that ISIS militants took 23 men (including three brothers), to a public square in Karma (northeast of Fallujah), and executed them. These men were reportedly from the Jumaila tribe, and this heinous act was apparently because the tribesmen refused to co-operate with the militants.
According to Anbar police chief Maj. Gen. Kadhem Abu Kaf, Iraqi security forces and international coalition airstrikes were able to thwart two consecutive suicide attacks on army positions in Albu Hayat (20km east of Haditha), western Anbar on Monday. The first suicide bomber was driving an oil tanker rigged with explosives, which was blown up by security forces before it reached the sandbag barrier.
The second attack consisted of a mini-bus which was kitted out with armour. The soldiers called in an airstrike to destroy the fast-moving target, and international coalition aircraft complied. ISIS militants have launched daily attacks on Haditha for a week now, mostly along the town’s western, southwestern and southern sectors. Iraqi and coalition aircraft have launched multiple airstrikes on ISIS targets, killing around 11 militants.
Another attack was thwarted on Tuesday, with ISF (backed by Iraqi air support) destroying around 4 vehicles and killing 11 militants. According to Anbar Operations Command, several coalition airstrikes killed 27 ISIS militants on Wednesday, as yet another attack was foiled.
The stalemate in the town of the Baghdadi (western Anbar) between ISIS and security forces continues. A few weeks ago, ISIS captured 14 villages in the area and security forces still haven’t launched an operation to retake the villages. An operation is expected to be launched soon as the humanitarian situation in Baghdadi is worsening. The nearby Ain al-Asad Air Base is also a huge priority as it houses around 320 US personnel who are currently training thousands of Iraqi Army soldiers and Sunni tribesmen.
On Tuesday, a suicide bomber detonated himself near a mosque in the Jubba area, killing 3 policemen and wounding 7 others. Clashes are ongoing in many parts of the district, causing mass migration and a shortage of supplies. Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Mohammadi announced on Wednesday that ISF troops repelled a large-scale ISIS attack on Baghdadi, with around 80 militants being killed. The Major General credited the international coalition with helping troops on the ground to thwart the attack. The remnants of the ISIS force retreated to villages in eastern Baghdadi, which are under their control.
ISF have advanced east of Ramadi, recapturing the villages of Albu Nassir and Albu Hadeed. Iraqi air support was provided during the recapture of the Albu Nassir village, killing 23 ISIS militants. Heavy clashes are taking place in the city’s south, with most of the fighting concentrating around the Houz district.
ISF snipers are reportedly hunting down ISIS militants and leaders in the area, killing half a dozen on Tuesday alone. Reports emerged on Wednesday that ISF and tribes raided ISIS positions in the Mu’alimeen and Andalus areas of central Ramadi, killing several militants and reportedly a leader.
In Hit, Anbar Operations Command announced that heavy clashes had lead to the killing of 21 ISIS gunmen and the destruction or disabling of at least 17 vehicles. Another military operation to liberate Hit is reportedly on the way as ISF and tribesmen are accumulating on the frontlines with ISIS. The last push to liberate Hit resulted in many dead ISIS militants but no significant territory gains.
An intense mortar attack on Amiriyat al-Fallujah left 4 people dead and at least 11 others wounded, including women and children. Amiriyat al-Fallujah is one of the few towns in Anbar which completely rejected ISIS and sided with the government in Baghdad and the Iraqi security forces. It is a highly strategic area due to its proximity to Baghdad and Babil province.