Saturday, August 31, 2013

31 AUG 2013 1445 EDT

Unconfirmed social media reports indicate that there has been an uptick in regime strikes particularly in Damascus following President Obama’s announcement that the U.S. will seek congressional authorization before conducting operations against the Syrian regime. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Military Movements in the Middle East Anticipating U.S. Strike on Syria, as of 30 AUG 2013 2200 EDT


Most regional players have taken a strong, defensive military posture, placing assets on alert and re-positioning them along vulnerable border areas.


The U.S. Navy has increased its deployment of ships in the Eastern Mediterranean to fiveArleigh Burke Class destroyers carrying guided missiles: USS Stout, USS Mahan, USS Ramage, USS Gravely, and USS Barry. For more on the capabilities of these ships, see ISW’s recent report, "U.S. Navy Positions Ships for Possible Strike against Syrian Targets."


The U.K. deployed six Typhoon jets armed with air-to-air missiles to Akrotiri Air Force Base in Cyprus. These planes are positioned in a defensive capacity against possible retaliatory action by the Syrian regime. 


Turkey is not mobilizing military troops, but is providing support to the U.S. in the form of hosting Incirlik Air Force base, near Adana. This US Air Force installation will likely play a support role in any action that is taken. Patriot missile batteries have been positionedalong Turkey’s southern border with Syria, in Adana, Gazientep, and Kahramanmaraş. The slightly less capable Stinger and I-Hawk interceptors have been placed in Kırıkhan.

Turkey has been placedon state of alert against possible chemical or missile attacks from Syria, and the Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD) has stockpiled food and gas masks in its provinces along the Syrian border. "Approximately 400" Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) specialists working with AFAD "started conducting extra exercises in Turkey's southern and southeastern provinces of Hatay, Kilis, and Sanliurfa"


Jordanian, western, and American military teams have been repositioned from southern Jordan to the Jordanian-Syrian border in the governorates of Irbid and Mafraq, according to reports that  emerged on August 30. U.S. advisors are manning a Patriot missile battery in northeastern Jordan, and a squadron of U.S. F-16s has been placed on alert. These planes have been marked for defensive use only and are unlikely to take part in any possible strike. Additionally, a state of emergency has been declared in the area, with thousands of Jordanian soldiers receiving gas masks accordingto unnamed Jordanian officials. Unnamed sources also statedthat Special Forces (of unspecified nationality) are currently positioned at the Jordanian-Syrian border in order to secure chemical weapons stocks. There are also reports of population movement away from that part of the border.


Israel has also been placed on alert, with 1,000 soldiers in the Intelligence Corps, Home Front Command, and Air Force air defense units being mobilized. Missile defense units are on alert as well, with Iron Dome batteries being positioned in Haifa, Ashkelon, Eilat, Tel Aviv, and likely also in Jerusalem. Two additional batteries are being repositioned to a currently undisclosed location. Israel also utilizesPatriot and Arrow (Hetz) batteries, which are both being deployed in the north. The limited number of units called up suggests that this is a defensive posture, not a preparation for any offensive maneuvers. Cyber warfare units attached to the IDF have been placed on alert as well.


Accordingto Secretary-General of the Council of Ministers, Ali al-Alaq, through the Border Operations Command, has deployed forces to strengthen Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) capabilities along the border. This re-positioning is intended to prevent an influx of rebel fighters from crossing the Iraqi-Syrian border.


The Assad Regime has continued air strikes against populated areas while reportedly evacuatingmilitary installations and redeploying personnel into civilian areas, especially universities.


Lebanese Hezbollah has mobilized forces in Southern Lebanon, but has repeatedly indicated that it will not take action as long as any potential strike is punitive and limited in scope.


The Russian Navy is sending two warships, a missile cruiser and anti-submarine ship to Mediterranean. Transit time from Sevastopol is  estimated at 2 days, which places them on station on or about 8/31. They may be there simply to deter, but they might also be positioned to interfere with U.S. ship movement, conduct jamming operations, or use other delaying tactics. 

Activists Warn that Detainees Being Moved to Evacuated Military Sites in Syria

Syrian activists on twitter are raising the alarm that the regime is moving detainees out of prisons and into evacuated military bases that they think might targeted by a foreign strike. A UN source confirmed that the chemical weapons inspection team has witnessed prisoner movements during their time in Damascus. Activists have also reported that the security forces and Shabiha are forcing the detainees to wear military uniforms.

Additionally, a source inside of Syria has reported that the al-Qaeda affiliated group the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is taking down their flags from checkpoints in Aleppo and replacing them with the flag of the Syrian opposition. Presumably this move is to avoid being targeted by a foreign attack.

Syrian Regime Continues Airstrikes Across the Country

The map below shows the locations of airstrikes by the Syrian military from August 25-August 30, 2013.
(Map as of 16:30, August 30, 2013)

Syrian Military Evacuations in and Around Damascus

Al Arabiya is reporting that armored vehicles and soldiers have left Damascus International Airport and were headed to the nearby town of Huran al-Awameen. They also report that according to a source from the Free Syrian Army the headquarters of the command forces and the country’s air force, near Kafr Sousa in Damascus were partially evacuated. 

(Map as of 15:18, August 30, 2013)

This information echoes chatter from activists on Twitter that indicates that the Syrian armed forces are moving out of known military areas that might be possible targets of an international strike. These activists indicate that in some cases, schools in heavily populated are being used as temporary military headquarters.

White House Releases US Intelligence Findings on Chemical Weapons

30 AUG: 13:30 (EST) The White House released a declassified report of intelligence findings on the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime on August 21,2013.
According to the report US intelligence:
  •          Confirmed with high confidence that the Syrian government carried out the chemical weapons attack against opposition elements in the Damascus suburbs on August 21 and that the scenario in which the opposition executed the attack is highly unlikely. 
  •          Indicated the attack came from a regime-controlled area and struck neighborhoods in Damascus, including Kafr Batna, Jawbar, ‘Ayn Tarma, Darayya, and Mu’addamiyah.
  •          Determined that approximately 1,429 Syrians were killed at least 426 of which were children

The report also released this map of the attack in Damascus:

Security Forces Evacuate Homs Military Academy

30 AUG: 14:23 (Syria) An unverified source reportsthat a number of buildings at Al-Baath University in Homs have been evacuated by the Assad regime to make room for regime security forces. According to the report, the decision to evacuate was made jointly by the university student union and the Homs branch of the Baath Party. Equipment was moved from the Homs Military Academy, Syria’s oldest and largest service academy from which both Bashar al-Assad and his father Hafez graduated. The regime considers the military academy a likely target in the case of air strikes. A source estimates that up to 2,500 troops are now being housed at the university. Five floors of a building at the University of Damascus were also evacuated for the use of security forces.


Welcome to the Institute for the Study of War’s Syria Update blog. The ISW team will be posting new reports from and analytical insights on developments in Syria here as events develop.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Maliki Eyes Third Term: 2013 Iraq Update #34

The Iraqi Federal Supreme Court’s decision to overturn a proposed term limit law has reopened the path to a third term for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. This decision, made by a judiciary over which Maliki exerts considerable influence, threatens further to provoke Iraq’s Sunni Arabs. Maliki continues to use the cover of operations against a resurgent Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) to intimidate and detain Sunni Arabs. The prospect of further years of Maliki rule is likely to galvanize the reorganized leaders of anti-government protests in Sunni-majority areas further. Maliki’s expected September visit to Washington, D.C., offers an ideal opportunity for the U.S. to leverage counter-terrorism support against AQI in return for serious efforts at rapprochement with Iraqi Sunnis.
Judiciary allows Maliki to run for a third term
On August 25, the Federal Supreme Court (FSC) overturnedthe proposed law passedin January 2013 that imposed term limits upon the president, prime minister, and speaker of parliament. The ruling – which has yet to be published – countermanded a proposed law that limited the “three presidencies” (of Iraq, of the Council of Ministers, and of the Council of Representatives) to two terms, successive or not. Presidents of the Republic of Iraq are limited to two terms in office under the Iraqi constitution, but no such restrictions exist for the premiership or parliamentary speakership. The proposed law originated in parliament and was passed quickly in January with strong backing from 170 MPs from the predominantly Sunni Arab Iraqiyyabloc, the Kurdistan Alliance, and the Sadrist Ahrar bloc. Maliki’s allies, led by members of his State of Law Alliance, immediately opposed it, initially on the grounds that it exceededthe constitution.
State of Law also insisted that the law would “not stand up in front of the courts,” as State of Law MP Khaled al-Assadi warnedat the time. The Higher Judicial Council (HJC), which oversees Iraq’s judiciary, had ruledin July 2010 that new legislation could be initiated only by the president of Iraq or by the cabinet; parliament could only modify laws already introduced. This distinction has a limited basis in the constitution, Article 60 of which distinguishes between “draft laws,” proposed by the president and cabinet, and “proposed laws,” presented by ten MPs or a parliamentary committee – thus making clear that the constitution-writers envisioned that parliament could propose laws. According to commentsfrom State of Law MP Ali al-Shalah and Parliamentary Rapporteur Mohammed al-Khalidi, it was on the basis of this second objection that the FSC overturned the term limit legislation.
Maliki’s influenceover Iraq’s judicial institutions is well established. He solicited and received significant judicial assistance in his bid for a second prime ministerial term in 2010, and has since benefitted from judicial rulings enhancing cabinet power at the expense of Iraq’s constitutionally independent bodies and shielding Maliki and his ministers from questioning in parliament. The pliant judiciary has also readily provided arrest warrants for Maliki’s most outspoken critics, including Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, former Finance Minister Rafia al-Issawi, and independent MP Sabah al-Saidi. Maliki struck a dealwith the Sadrists in February 2013 that preserved the tenure of his key judicial ally, FSC head Medhat al-Mahmoud, in the face of a Sadrist challengeon de-Baathification grounds.
The timing of the judicial ruling, the outcome of which was widely anticipated, raises questions about Iraq’s political balance. Maliki has been under political pressure over his failure to stem rising violence in Iraq, as well as his government’s inability to provide basic services such as electricity. In the context of rising AQI violence and the group’s attackon the Abu Ghraib prison, Muqtada al-Sadr and Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) leader Ammar al-Hakim, as well as former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, made public callsfor Maliki’s resignation. The timing of the ruling, therefore, may have been intended to demonstrate that the prime minister still enjoys the backing of the judiciary and assure Maliki’s friends and foes alike that he intends to fight on.
The opening of a pathway to a third Maliki term has serious implications for Iraqi politics. Maliki allies have been quick to demonstrate their confidence following the verdict. Shalah struck a defiant note in announcing the judicial decision, warningMaliki’s opponents that they will have to wait until the 2014 elections and “convince the street” that they can replace him. Compounding the slight, HJC head Hassan Ibrahim al-Humairi, who took over from Medhat in February, took time on August 25 to meet with Izzat Shahbandar, another close Maliki ally, to stress the judiciary’s “independence” and “impartiality..” Maliki’s opponents, meanwhile, have immediately pointed to the politicization of the judiciary: Maysoon al-Damalouji, spokesperson for former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, insistedthat the judiciary was acting “in full compliance” with orders from Maliki. Salim al-Jubouri of the Sunni Islamist Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) warnedthat the decision would justify “further domination and imposition of [Maliki’s] will.” Mahmoud Othman of the Kurdistan Alliance raisedthe possibility that parliament might reexamine the issue and submit legislation to the cabinet.
A renewed parliamentary initiative would cast a spotlight in particular on the intentions of Muqtada al-Sadr, who appearedbriefly to “quit” politics in early August, only for members of his Sadrist Trend quickly to dismissthe rumors. Sadr, alongside Allawi and other members of the Iraqiyya coalition and the Kurdistan Alliance, was one of the leaders of a campaignto withdraw confidence in Maliki in 2012. As recently as the end of July, Sadr and Hakim were rumored(admittedly in a Saudi publication) to be spearheading a campaign within the Shi‘a Iraqi National Alliance to force Maliki’s resignation. After years of political decline, Hakim’s ISCI made a significant comebackat the 2013 provincial elections, forming a post-election “strategic alliance” with the Sadrists that appeared to represent a Shi‘a political counterweight to Maliki. Although rumors of Sadr’s political demise appear greatly to have been exaggerated, it is as yet unclear what political role he will play in this alliance as Iraq begins to look ahead to 2014. Sadr has been facing a renewed challenge for control of his political constituency in the form of Asa‘ib Ahl al-Haq, the Shi’a group that broke away from the Sadrists and has been competingviolently with the Sadrists in Baghdad, likely with Maliki’s acquiescence or even support.
Maliki’s removal before the elections can be effected through a vote of no confidence, which can be initiated through one of two procedures. The Iraqi president can request a vote, without presenting a reason or collecting signatures from MPs. President Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) has been absent from Iraq since December 2012, when he suffered a stroke. He is unlikely to return to full strength, despite signs of recovery, and competitionto replace him has been underway for some months. Judicial efforts to force parliament to replace Talabani in May drew accusationsof political jockeying, but gained no traction in terms of filling the presidential role. The second mechanism for introducing a vote of no-confidence is no more promising. 25 MPs can request that the parliamentary speaker call a minister, including the prime minister, for questioning in parliament. After a minimum of seven days, a fifth of the deputies in parliament (65 MPs) can call for a vote of no confidence. In May 2012, however, the FSC ruled that MPs must demonstrate constitutional and legal wrongdoing in order to interrogate, and subsequently withdraw confidence from, a minister in parliament. This decision, which appears to have no constitutional basis, placed a greater burden of proof on MPs wishing to bring a vote against the prime minister. Ali al-Shalah’s defiant statement suggests that Maliki and his allies feel confident that neither process poses a threat between now and the next elections. Notably, absent among the usual suspects calling recently for Maliki’s removal were Iraq’s two most senior Sunni Arab politicians, Parliamentary Speaker Nujaifi, who instead met with Maliki to discuss reducing sectarian tensions, and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutleg, who has been working with Maliki for some months. With Maliki certain to leverage every aspect of his considerable apparatus of control in order to ensure a third term as prime minister, all of Iraq’s key political actors – as well as its neighbors, particularly Iran, and the United States – will have significant decisions to make in the coming months.
Protesters galvanized by post-Abu Ghraib security operations
Collusion with Maliki has made the judiciary a favorite target of the anti-government protests that have been ongoing in Sunni Arab-majority areas since December 2012. Prayers were held at Ramadi’s ‘Pride and Dignity Square’ on August 7 under the banner“NO for the tyrannical ruler and his federal court,” likely in protest at the judicial system’s cooperation in the harassmentof Sunni Arabs. Neither the passage of a term limit law nor Maliki’s forbearance of a third term was among the central demandsof protesters espoused in January: the reform of the FSC to constitute an “independent, non-politicized judiciary,” however, was one of the demands.   
The prospect of another four years or more of Maliki’s rule is likely further to animate the protesters, who have already been spurred on to reorganize and refocus by Maliki’s security operations. AQI’s July 21 attackon the Abu Ghraib prison, where some of the group’s most experienced operatives were being held, constituted a serious inflection in Iraq’s ongoing political and security crises. Maliki’s response, the Revenge of the Martyrs campaign, has focused on Sunni-majority areas of the Baghdad belts, with concomitant operations in the predominantly Sunni provinces of Ninewa, Salah ad-Din, and Diyala. The huge numbers of arrests made in these operations strongly imply indiscriminate detention of Sunni Arab men in these areas. Religious leaders of ongoing protests in these areas, as well as in Anbar province, were quick to pointto arbitrary arrests and accusethe ISF of conducting sectarian cleansing operations around Baghdad. They have since continued these criticisms. On August 23, Khalid Hatem al-Samarrai, the preacher at Friday prayers at the main Al-Haq Square protest site in Samarra, indictedthe government for carrying out killing and displacement in the Baghdad belts. In Ramadi, preacher Hussein al-Dulaimi echoed Hatem, claimingthat the government continued to “kill, arrest, and displace innocent Sunnis” in and around Baghdad and to confiscatetheir property and livestock. Dulaimi accused Maliki of pursuing a two-pronged approach, first emptying Baghdad and the belts of Sunnis through “expulsion and detention,” before proceeding to “refill the prisons” with Sunni Arabs. At a protest in Fallujah, protesters allegedthat Iraqi army troops in Abu Ghraib and Diyala had sought deliberately to offend and provokeSunnis by insulting Abu Bakr and Umar, revered by Sunni Muslims as the first two rightly guided caliphs.

Reported arrests in Sunni Arab-majority areas of Iraq since August 1, 2013

These statements from senior clerics have since been echoed by Sunni Arab politicians. Parliamentary Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi’s Mutahidun bloc on August 15 accused the government of pursuing a “retaliatory sectarian approach” and sowing hatred through “human rights violations and arrests, killings and brutal torture in its prisons and detention camps.” Mutahidun warnedthat Maliki’s government would struggle to “gain the trust of the people” for assistance in counter-terrorism measures, given its history of “sectarian behavior.” Sunni Arab MPs Etab al-Douri and Haqi al-Firas subsequently accusedthe ISF of carrying out “random arrests” and establishing a “siege” of Sunni Arab areas. Newly elected Anbari Governor Ahmed Khalaf Dheyabi of Mutahidun, a protest organizer from the IIP, held a meeting with protest and tribal leaders on August 24 at which he sought to establish himself as a focal figure for the Anbari protesters and guarantor of their protection. Dheyabi insistedthat he would be “the first to stand in defense of the protesters in the event of being targeted by any party.”   
The ‘Revenge of the Martyrs’ operation appears to have had the effect of unifying Sunni Arab forces that had hitherto appeared increasingly fragmented over time. On August 16, Ahmed al-Said, a cleric from Diyala, addressed protesters in Samarra to announce that the organizing committees of protests in the ‘Six Provinces’ (Anbar, Baghdad, Diyala, Kirkuk, Ninewa, and Salah ad-Din) were reorganizing as a new “political, economic, and military front.” Said’s speech echoed a similar announcement on August 3 by Mohammed Taha al-Hamdun, the main spokesman in Samarra, in which Hamdun announced that the “Six Provinces” group of protest organizers, originally directed from Ramadi and incorporating clerics, tribal leaders, and Mutahidun and IIP leaders, would now organize themselves to become the “legal representatives” of Sunni Arabs in Iraq. Although the various committees involved in organizing the protests – both the “coordination committees,” initially more prominent in Anbar, and the “popular committees” more prominent in Salah ad-Din – have always demonstrated a notable level of organization, these announcements suggest two developments. Firstly, in the wake of the provincial elections, the Mutahidun succeeded in taking the governorships of Anbar, Diyala, and Ninewa, and the chairmanship of Baghdad Provincial Council. Sunni Arab political leaders on the provincial level, therefore, likely are now occupied with provincial government, and clerics appear to be taking a more visible lead in representing the protesters. Secondly, the ‘reorganization’ highlights the extent to which Samarra has become a focal point for the protest movement, and Hamdun its highest-profile representative, particularly since Anbari spokesman Said al-Lafi fled Iraq for Doha in May after repeated arrest attempts. Hamdun’s chairmanship of the August 3 “Six Provinces” conference in Ramadi suggests that his profile as a spokesman for the protesters has grown significantly, although it is unclear at this point whether he directs or merely represents the group.
Maliki ally Ali al-Shalah’s reference to political opponents’ need to “convince the [Iraqi] street” that Maliki is replaceable is worth reconsidering, however, in the light of calls for a new wave of protests in Baghdad and southern Iraq. In addition to the anti-government protestsin Sunni-majority areas, demonstrations broke out in southern Iraq in June over the Maliki government’s failure to provide electricity. Since then, groups of civil society and youth activists across southern Iraq have announcedtheir intention to hold demonstrations on August 31 demanding the cancellation of pensions for retired MPs. Protests are planned for Babel, Baghdad, Basra, Dhi Qar, Karbala, and Najaf under the aegis of the National Campaign to Cancel MP Pensions, the Facebook group for which had over 18,000 members at the time of writing. The group in particular has made clear its intentto gather in Tahrir Square in central Baghdad. Although it is unclear whether the protest organizers have links to any established political party, the newly installed Sadrist governor of Baghdad, Ali al-Tamimi, criticizedthe Interior Ministry’s apparent intention to preventthe demonstrations, insisting that no party or actor has a right to prevent protests. The national prosecution service, however, has echoed the Interior Ministry’s disapproval, calling on activists to refrain from holding these protests in the face of mounting violence, particularly on the part of AQI. Undoubtedly such gatherings in predominantly Shi‘a areas would make extremely tempting targets for AQI.
The Interior Ministry’s insistencethat it welcomes “freedom of expression and of assembly and demonstration” rings false, however, in light of continued raids of protest sites in predominantly Sunni Arab areas. On August 16, security forces arrested Munir al-Obeidi, vice chairman of the Iraqi Scholars Council, long seen as one of the key organizers of the anti-government protests. Obeidi was detained near the university district of western Baghdad after delivering a Friday sermon, but was released later the same day. Security forces subsequently arrested Omar Ali al-Halbusi, the head of the Scholars Council in Garmah, east of Fallujah on August 26. A police source in Anbar then reportedthat Iraqi Army forces attempted to storm a Ramadi protest site on August 27, resulting in an armed clash with “gunmen” but no casualties.
With the path clear for a third prime ministerial campaign in 2014, Maliki may feel a renewed sense of confidence. Although one of the pillars of Maliki’s power, the ISF, has been struggling to contain rising violence, perpetrated particularly by AQI, Maliki still appears to be able to project power through another pillar, the judiciary. The prospect of a third Maliki term, however, is likely to galvanize the prime minister’s followers further. Given the growing weight of sectarianismin the region and the extent to which Iraq is being pulled into the conflict over the Syrian border, a cross-sectarian anti-Maliki political alliance appears unlikely at the present time. The threat of further mobilization in Sunni Arab areas of Iraq, however, spurred by ISF operations whether indiscriminate or deliberately targeting Sunnis, appears greater, particularly as AQI and the Baathist Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqah al-Naqshabandia (JRTN) stretch ISF capacity towards breaking point in some areas. The prospectof Shi‘a militias being incorporated into new Sahwa (Awakening) units in Baghdad and the already fractious Diyala portends even greater danger. An anticipated Maliki visit to Washington, D.C. in September would offer an ideal opportunity for the United States to emphasize the need for an independent Iraqi judiciary, and to leverage Iraq’s need for assistance in countering AQI in order to dissuade Maliki from provoking Iraq’s Sunni Arabs further.         
Stephen Wicken is a research analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.          

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Struggles of the Iraqi Security Forces: 2013 Iraq Update #33

The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) recent performance is worrisome. The ISF are failing to contain sustained waves of car bombs and are dealing with morale and manpower issues. On the other hand, the ISF’s most active opponents are strengthening. These developments have caused the Iraqi government to enact measures to reenergize and support the ISF. The success of these measures is critical for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as the 2014 national elections approach.

Iraq’s current security environment poses a significant challenge to the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). This has increasingly been the case since April 23 when ISF units raided a protest site in Hawija, Kirkuk. Evidence of a struggling ISF includes the fall of towns to al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and Jayesh Rijal al-Tariqah al-Naqshabandia (JRTN), sustained waves of car bombs, defections of military units, the resignation of senior commanders and the phenomenon of commanders disobeying orders, the (re)formation of local security units known as Sahwas, renewed cooperation with erstwhile rivals (the Iraqi Kurdish security forces, or Peshmerga), and the recent successful AQI attack on the Abu Ghraib prison.

In his recent visit to Washington, Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, announced that the deteriorating security atmosphere has led Iraq to requesting further security assistance from the United States. According to Zebari, “we [Iraqi government] cannot fight these increasing terrorist” challenges without assistance. Accordingly, the Iraqi government is considering U.S. drone strikes and surveillance capability in addition to possibly requesting U.S. military advisers.

The current operational status of the ISF represents a major challenge to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as he seeks to reassert his standing and stature as a “law and order” commander-in-chief prior to the 2014 elections. Further deterioration in ISF’s capability will allow AQI and JRTN to reestablish control of terrain in the country. The control of terrain by these two groups will represent a further threat to Iraq’s stability and will create conditions for increasing violence.

ISF Units Disobedience and Command Discipline

Effective ISF performance has proven to be a challenge in the aftermath of the April 23 events in Hawija. Shortly after Hawija, gunmen reportedly affiliated with AQI and JRTN controlled the strategic town of Salman Beg in Salah ad-Din province. During the battle for Salman Beg, the predominantly Iraqi Kurdish 16th brigade of the 4th Iraqi Army division, which is stationed nearby, rejected orders to engage in the fight. Subsequently, its leader and over 600 of its members were referred to martial courts for “disobeying orders.” The ISF regained control of Salman Beg after a truce was brokered between the gunmen and local notables. The force deployed to provide security in the town was from the Maysan-based 10th division Iraqi Army. The 10th division force appears to have been replaced by a regiment from the 4th division. Nonetheless, the deployment of the 10th division in Salman Beg was a clear example of one of the ISF’s coping strategies: repositioning forces from other parts of the country to deal with a security threat. While the redeployment of forces from southern Iraq can provide a stopgap measure for ISF’s struggles elsewhere in the country, it will also likely allow AQI greater freedom to stage and carry out attacks in the south given the units absence from their original posts.

An additional indicator of the breakdown in the command structure includes senior officers offering their resignations or disobeying orders. Since 2007, Prime Minister Maliki’s security architecture has relied on the appointment of loyal and hand-picked officers at the helm of operation commands and division commands. One prominent officer who has seen his fortune rise is General Nasser Ahmed al-Ghanam. He is an Iraqi Sunni and is originally from Hit, Anbar. He has previously led the infamous 24th brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, also known as the Muthana Brigade. The Muthana brigade operates in the Abu Ghraib area and is portrayed by the predominantly Iraqi Sunni residents of the area as heavy-handed especially when it was under Ghanam’s commandership. Ghanam was then transferred to command the 2nd Iraqi Army division in Mosul where his performance was also criticized by local authorities. After his time in Mosul, he was transferred to Baghdad and commandeered the 17th division which operates in insurgency-active areas of southern Baghdad to northern Babil. Ghanam’s rise and appointment to sensitive positions is primarily due to his close relations with Maliki. To illustrate his close relations to Maliki, Ghanam had a billboard size poster of him with Maliki displayed on base.

Thus, it was surprising when Ghanam announced his resignation on July 22 attributing his decision to “mistaken policies” by the military leadership and the “haphazard taking of unprofessional decisions.” A security source stated that Ghanam resigned due to the formation of a committee to investigate him for the defection of soldiers and officers from his division because of Ghanam’s heavy-handed leadership style. In the wake of Ghanam’s resignation, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced the suspension of legal procedures against absentees and deserters from the 17th division. Unlike the 16th brigade, Ghanam’s division did not disband. However, reports indicate that Ghanam urged 500 members of the 17th division to defect and disobey orders from the new leadership of the 17th division. If future defections from the 17th division occur, they will indicate a wider problem within the ISF personnel allegiances.

The resignation is indicative of serious problem for Maliki and the ISF. Ghanam’s resignation is an indicator of commanders’ dissatisfaction with the senior military leadership. It is plausible that Ghanam’s resignation was triggered by the investigation against him, but he has been one of Maliki’s most loyal officers and his resignation deals Maliki’s security doctrine a blow. The resignation also brings to the fore the endemic issue within ISF of deserting soldiers or absent soldiers. Some of those are known as “ghost soldiers” or “space soldiers” who, while members of the ISF, show up only to receive salaries and then bribe their commanders who in turn will allow them to return home. The “ghost soldiers” phenomenon is reportedly widespread within the ISF and according to some estimates they may be 10 % of the ISF or about 100,000 personnel.

Leadership discipline issues within ISF were on display again when reports emerged on July 31 that the MoD had fired the leader of the Anbar Operations Command (AOC), General Marthi al-Dulaimi, and replaced him with General Ibrahim al-Saadi. The reason for Dulaimi’s firing was reportedly due to his refusal to carry out arrest orders of protest leaders in Anbar. Al-Dulaimi was appointed as AOC commander precisely due to holding a prior position in Anbar and in order to appease protesters after the death of Fallujah protesters in clashes with the ISF.

General Dulaimi’s refusal to carry out orders is manifestation of commanders’ willingness to disobey orders despite knowing that doing so will result in firings and possible punishment. This has not happened in the ISF since 2007-2008 when units in Basra defected and rebelled during the Charge of the Knights campaign.

Awakening Councils 2.0

The formation of tribal and local groups to provide security known as Awakening Councils or Sahwas in Arabic was a one of the main pillars of the 2006-2007 U.S. “Surge” strategy. The Sahwas were formed and deployed in predominately Iraqi Sunni provinces like Anbar, Ninewa, and Salah ad-Din. These provinces represented hotbeds of violence during the insurgency’s peak and at the height of Iraq’s civil war. Additional Sahwas were formed in ethnically mixed provinces like Diyala, Kirkuk, and Salah ad-Din. AQI was very active in those areas. In southern Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki formed Tribal Support Councils (TSCs) after the conclusion of the Charge of the Knights Operation that targeted Iraqi Shi‘a militias, and Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in particular. The TSCs were intended to provide intelligence support to the Iraqi military. Regardless, the formation of the Sahwas was an indicator of the need for local manpower to counter an existing security threat.

As the ISF gained operational confidence, capability, and manpower; they became less reliant on the Sahwas. Other reasons that allowed the Iraqi government to be less reliant on the Sahwas include the centralization of the security architecture in the Maliki-directed Office of the Commander in Chief (OCINC), the establishment of 11 Operation Commands that proliferated throughout the country, and the containment of AQI’s capability. Recently, however, the Sahwas have begun reconstituting themselves due to ISF’s apparent incapability to contain the deteriorating security situation.

On July 1, the head of the new Sahwa Council and Anbar tribal leader, Wisam al-Hardan, announced the formation of the Desert Hawks Sahwa that will have the responsibility for protecting the desert between the areas of al-Nukhaib in Anbar and Ain al-Tamor in Karbala. The Desert Hawks will additionally be tasked with protecting the Anbar highway that leads to Syria. According to Hardan, the Desert Hawks will cooperate with Anbar police, have 600 members, and be well-equipped and “will deploy in the whole western desert between Karbala and Anbar to pursue and raid terrorists’ hideouts that exist in the heart of that desert.” Hardan is currently Maliki’s tribal ally in Anbar and receives support from the Iraqi government. On August 6, Hardan announced that Desert Hawks are now operational and deployed in al-Karma, the areas of Albu Namir, and Al-Qaem. All of these areas are in Anbar, indicating that for the moment Desert Hawks are primarily Anbar-focused. Another Anbar tribal leader, Hamid al-Hayes, stated in March of this year that after meetings with Prime Minister Maliki he had gathered 3,500 individuals who will assist the Iraqi government with intelligence-gathering. These two entities are likely linked given the close relations between Hardan and Hayes.

Given the continued violence in Anbar, it is unlikely that these forces have had an impact on the ground yet. Furthermore, it is unclear how much traction these new Sahwas will receive due to Hardan and Hayes relations with Prime Minister Maliki.

In addition to these tribal Sahwas, steps have been taken to form Sahwas along ethno-sectarian lines. After multiple attacks likely carried out by AQI and targeting the Iraqi Turkmens in Tuz Khurmatu, Salah ad-Din; the residents of the district demanded the formation of an Iraqi Turkmen force that will provide security in the area. On June 27, a government committee headed by Deputy Prime Minister Hussein al-Shahristani visited Tuz and announced that a Sahwa force consisted of 500-700 Iraqi Turkmens will be formed. Iraqi Kurds in the area objected to this arrangement, including the administrator of Tuz, Shalal Abdul, who described it as “evidence of the failure of governmental forces from army and police in providing security for the citizen.” The Iraqi Kurds consider Tuz a critical area since it falls in the Disputed Internal Boundaries (DIBs) area, and it is therefore logical for them to oppose the formation of a non-Iraqi Kurdish security force in the area. In the end, it appears that local objections prevented the formation of this unit, but once more the reliance on local residents for security is a troubling indicator.

In Diyala, an additional Sahwa formation is being considered. On July 30, an unnamed Sahwa official announced that a 500-person force will be formed in areas with a high concentration of Iraqi Shi‘a. Its task will include protecting neighborhoods and mosques and providing the military with intelligence. The source added that the force is to be formed in order to counter “armed militias that intend to impose their control in some areas.” The formation of this Sahwa is likely in response to the escalating violence in Diyala that carry sectarian undertones.

The Amnesty

On August 6, Prime Minister Maliki issued an amnesty for members of the ISF who had been absent or deserted from their units. The announcement came in the wake of the Abu Ghraib prison attack and is therefore likely intended to allow ISF members who defected the opportunity to return without enduring any punishment. At the same time, it shows an ISF suffering from manpower shortage and points to Maliki’s desire to augment the ISF. Illustrating the depth of this manpower shortage, the amnesty will cover ISF member who defected before 2007. It is also very likely that the amnesty is designed to re-enlist Iraqi Sunni soldiers who may have deserted the military after the Hawija operation. Furthermore, the amnesty is intended to help deal with the issue of ghost soldiers, allowing them to actually show up for the posts they man on paper.


Challenges to the functioning of the ISF will continue given the increased capabilities of AQI and JRTN’s appeal to the Iraqi Sunnis in light of the discontent with Baghdad’s and Maliki’s policies. Although the level of cooperation between AQI and JRTN may have been limited to the Salman Beg area, future cooperation between the two groups will present an even greater challenge to the ISF. Such cooperation may take place in the Salah ad-Din province near the Hamrin Basin area given reports that these groups control terrain there.

The ISF is overstretched and cannot adequately provide security throughout the country. For that reason, there has been increased reliance by the ISF on deploying forces from southern Iraq. On July 23, Member of the parliament’s security and defense committee, Iskandar Witwit, announced that there is a plan to redeploy forces from the 8th and 10th divisions to Diyala and western parts of the country. Both divisions are based in central and southern Iraq. Additional obstacles for the ISF include ineffective intelligence capabilities. The risk from Sahwa forces augmenting the ISF will be that the Sahwas will be even more of a target for AQI. This may serve to render the Sahwas ineffective and constrained.

For Prime Minister Maliki, the resignation and firing of senior commanders is very likely a source of concern. He has based his security plan on the loyalty of those officers. The political challenges against him will increase and this may lead him to enact security measures that will appeal to the Iraqi Shi‘a. Concurrently, those measures will further alienate the Iraqi Sunnis – especially if they are similar to the ongoing Revenge of the Martyrs campaign, which has thus far included indiscriminate arrests of Iraqi Sunnis. Currently, the ISF is attempting to project an image of strength. To that end, the Ministry of Interior announced on August 17 that it rejects arming the population as a security measure and that the state will be the sole provider of security.

As the U.S. Administration considers the possibility of offering security assistance to the Iraqi government, its strategy has to be guided by ensuring that U.S. assistance is exclusively used to target AQI and JRTN and not political opponents of Prime Minister Maliki. Looking ahead, further signs of stress on the ISF will include the additional repositioning of forces from southern Iraq to the northern and western parts of the country. Another indicator will be additional defections and resignation of senior military leaders. Finally, it will be important to watch if the remobilization of Iraqi Shi’a militias is utilized to address the ISF’s challenges. It will be especially risky if the militias are integrated into the ISF or if they operate by the ISF’s side. It is likely that the militias will be rolled into the new Sahwa force in Diyala, or a potential Sahwa force for Baghdad. If that happens, Iraq’s security will be further threatened and the credibility of the ISF will suffer greater damage.

Ahmed Ali is the Iraq Team Lead at the Institute for the Study of War.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Prison break and violence levels demand Maliki security response: 2013 Iraq Update #32

By Kelly Edwards

Iraq’s deteriorating security situation and the recent attacks on the Abu Ghraib and Taji prisons have demanded a visible response by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Maliki’s response has centered on the “Revenge of the Martyrs” security campaign, led by the Baghdad Operations Command, that targeted the areas north and west of Baghdad. Reportedly, hundreds of individuals have been arrested and several weapon caches were seized. However, the Iraqi Sunni community has been further antagonized by the indiscriminate arrests of Sunni males. Despite this campaign, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has continued to demonstrate its ability to operate and carry out attacks in Baghdad and surrounding provinces. As the security challenges continue to mount, Prime Minister Maliki is struggling to provide stability in the security and political arenas. As Iraq heads towards the national elections in 2014, Maliki’s opponents will continue to exploit his weakening security performance.

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) announced that July was the deadliest month since 2008 with 3,383 casualties. In the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib and Taji prison attackson July 21 that freed an estimated 500 prisoners from Abu Ghraib, Interpol announceda security regional alert on July 24. Many of the escaped prisoners were reportedto be senior leaders of al-Qaeda. On July 29, a week following the Abu Ghraib and Taji prison attacks claimed by AQI, Baghdad and surrounding areas experienced a wave of attacks using vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs). The next day, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) claimed the VBIED wave and announcedthe beginning of a new campaign, “The Harvest of the Soldiers.” With the security situation spiraling downward, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is under great pressure to respond.

The Revenge of the Martyrs campaign

As Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, Prime Minister Maliki controls the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). Soon after taking office, Maliki placedtrusted commanders, most of them Shi‘a Arab, in important positions throughout the security forces. On May 21, 2013 Maliki announceda number of changes in leadership within the ISF. The deteriorating security situation in Iraq likely put pressure on Maliki to make these changes to demonstrate that security was a top priority.

Facing pressure from political opponents, Prime Minister Maliki initiated a large-scale security campaign in an attempt to regain control of the security situation in Baghdad and surrounding areas. On August 1, 2013, Maliki announced a crackdown on terrorism, specifically targeting AQI. Maliki blamed the Abu Ghraib and Taji prison attacks on third parties “who wish to defeat Iraq through terrorism.” He also called for security forces to rise to their responsibilities, for the intelligence services provide actionable intelligence on terrorists, and for the Iraqi people to support the campaign and provide information on terrorists’ movements. This security campaign has thus far had mixed results.

On August 2, two protests took place in Baghdad. One commemorating Quds Day in Firdous Square, led by the Sadrist Trend and the Maliki-allied Badr Organization, was allowed to proceed. In contrast, an anti-government protest in Liberation Square was forcibly shut down by the ISF and a number of demonstrators were arrested. This disparity in response illustrates Maliki’s ISF-focused strategy towards anti-government protests and in particular the view that Sunni-majority protests are havens for terrorists, especially after the escape of prisoners from Abu Ghraib. Continued crackdowns on protests, however, have not been effective from a security standpoint and have generally served to increase dissent.

The official security campaign calledthe “Revenge of the Martyrs” was implemented on August 1 in Baghdad and is ongoing. The campaign is being ledby Baghdad Operations Command (BOC) with anti-terrorism forces and Ministry of Defense security forces, with support from Iraqi Army (IA) aviation. The security operation includes inspections and searches in targeted areas including areas north and west of Baghdad, often referred to as the Baghdad belts.

A statement from the BOC on August 2 announced the alleged death of nine AQI militants and estimatedthat 100-300 individuals were arrested. Varying reportsstate that of those arrested, only 32-85 wanted individuals were arrested according to Article 4 of the Anti-Terrorism law, 141-192 individuals were arrested for being suspected of involvement in terrorism, and 10-26 other individuals were arrested on various other charges. Reports dated August 7 estimated that 400-500 individuals have been arrested during the Revenge of the Martyrs campaign. A statement from the Iraqi Ministry of Interior reported that the security efforts over the past few days have resulted in the arrests of 352 escaped prisoners from Abu Ghraib. This follows an earlier announcementfrom the BOC on July 28 that 349 escaped prisoners had been recaptured from the prison attacks on July 21.

In addition to arresting hundreds of individuals, Iraqi security forces (ISF) seizedsupplies and explosives. Sources reported the seizure of 35-76 vehicles, 22-37 motorcycles “with forged documents,” and 14 boats. Security forces also seized weapon and explosive caches that included an estimated 219 improvised explosive devices (IED) and adhesive explosive devices (AED). Additionally, ISF discoveredand destroyed 3-7 alleged terrorist hideouts and three car bomb factories.  A security source also reportedthat there was a heavy deployment of security forces to checkpoints in Baghdad on August 4th due to intelligence concerning future attacks in the area that would target civilians. Member of Parliament Hassan Jihad reportedthat tightened security measures around the Green Zone in central Baghdad included an increased number of checkpoints and the closure of some bridges.

The 24th Brigade of the 6th Division of the IA operates in the Abu Ghraib area, approximately 30km outside of Baghdad. A BOC statementclaimed that they had successfully killed an AQI leader and arrested the leader’s assistant. In Taji, north of Baghdad, the 9th Division of the IA has also led military operations throughout the area. On August 6 Prime Minister Maliki visitedthe 9th Division headquarters to meet with military commanders to be briefed on the situation and status of the security operations. Maliki also participated in a “field inspection tour of the military forces” which included the areas of Taji, Tarmiya, Hor Al Basha, Sheikh Ahmed, and other areas in the outskirts of Baghdad. In a statement, Maliki apologized to the Iraqi people in these communities who had been “harassed” by security forces and called for them to support the current security operation.

Concomitant security operations were implemented in the Salah ad-Din, Ninewa, and Diyala provinces.   Operations in Mosul involved the 3rd Division of the Iraqi Federal Police and the 2nd Division of the Iraqi Army. A Ministry of Interior statement reportedthat the 3rd Division of the Iraqi Federal Police was operating in Mosul and had successfully arrested two terrorists and seized a weapons and explosive cache. Other reports also statedon August 5 and 6 that the police force arrested 23 individuals in southern and eastern Mosul and discoveredseveral weapons and explosive caches. Similarly, the 2nd Division of the IA allegedlyseized weapon caches and an explosive factory in the “Googalchi” area located in northern Mosul.
The Diyala Police Commander Brigadier Jamel al-Shimari announcedthat Prime Minister Maliki had ordered the targeting of terrorists and their supplies in proactive security operations in Diyala. A joint security force led by Shimari has reportedly raided areas in Salah ad-Din and northern Diyala. These operations led to the foiling of a large suicide truck carrying 17 barrels of C4 explosive. The bomb was intended to target Muqdadiyah, however security forces were able to kill the suicide bomber who was later was identifiedas a Saudi individual. Additionally, Tigris Operation Command conducteda security operation in the Hamrin Mountains that led to the death of 11 “insurgents” and the arrest of 25 other individuals, and the seizure of weapon and ammunition caches.

A Diyala security source reportedon August 10 that security forces on foot and in vehicles have been deployed to reinforce the roads surrounding Baquba. These roads include the areas around Imam Wais and Hamrim, northeast of Baquba, and Khanaqin to the north of Baquba. The source stated that these tightened security measures were to ensure civilian safety during the final days of Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, and to collect intelligence concerning militant groups and their intentions. Another Diyala security source reportedthat Diyala security forces had decided to ban all motorcycles from Baquba during the holiday.

In the Salah ad-Din province, the Salah ad-Din Police Operations Command announced the implementation of a security plan with the cooperation of the 4th Division of the IA and Ministry of Interior security forces for Eid al-Fitr. The security plan included increased deployment of forces and a number of checkpoints around markets and parks, as well as greater force deployment on the roads. The Salah ad-Din Police Chief also announced the arrest of four individuals under Article 4 in Shurqat and the dismantling of a car bomb in Baji.A joint army and police force carried out a security operation on August 7 in Sulaiman Beg, east of Tikrit. A Salah ad-Din police source reported that the operation led to the death of soldier and nine militants and the arrest of 14 other militants, who were taken for interrogation. On August 2 the 17th Brigade of the 4thDivision conducted a security operation between Anbar and Salah ad-Din near an oil line located west of Tikrit. An anonymous source reported that two gunmen and an individual who trained suicide bombers for prison attacks were killed. The IA force also discovered and seized explosive belts, weapons, silencers, documents, and an explosive factory.

Security operations in northern Babil have been reported to be successful. Babil Police Director Major General Abbas Shimran announcedthat the “anticipatory security operations” in northern Babil resulted in the discovery of weapons caches and the arrests of 65 wanted individuals. Shimran stated that AQI had been weakened and that the success of security operations was a result of cooperation between the security forces, tribal leaders, and civilians.

Evaluating the Revenge of the Martyrs campaign

Under political pressure to be seen to stabilize the deteriorating security situation, the Ministry of Interior and Prime Minister Maliki are incentivized to present the Revenge of the Martyr campaign as a great success. Statements from BOC about arrests of supposed AQI members have served the purpose of promoting this success of the security forces. Interestingly, these statements imply a small number of casualties compared to the size of the arrests. The lack of firefights in the Baghdad belt area suggests that the ISF are arresting more unarmed civilians than AQI members, especially when compared to the number of casualties seen in operations in Salah ad-Din and the Hamrin mountains. Unlike in Baghdad, reports of these security operations indicatedthat several insurgents and soldiers were killed.

Large VBIED waves have routinely occurred on either Sunday or Monday of each week throughout the months of June and July. During the week of the Revenge of the Martyrs campaign, however, a VBIED wave did not occuruntil Tuesday, August 7, and was significantly smaller than usual, with only seven explosions focused in Baghdad. While circumstances for the delay are unknown, the security campaign could have potentially caused the VBIED wave to be delayed and minimized. However this disruption will likely only be short-term, and VBIED waves are likely to continue to occur. With the recent release of AQI members from Abu Ghraib, AQI has to absorb a new human network and reset to begin their new campaign, “Soldier’s Harvest.”  

A large VBIED wave on August 10 hit Baghdad and areas to both north and south, including Tuz Khurmato, Karbala, Kirkuk, and Nassiriyah. Media sources estimated150-293 casualties from the explosions. Despite the media reports of numerous casualties, BOC Lieutenant General Abdul Amir al-Shamiri reported that the Ministry of Health had stated that one military personnel and civilian each were killed and an estimated 28 civilians injured. Shamiri statedthat the inflation of casualties and car bombs constituted “huge media intimidation.” On August 11, a Ministry of Interior statementreported that there were 21 individuals killed and 112 were injured in the explosions. The statement stressed that the security operations had forced AQI to target less populated areas, causing the smaller casualty count. It further accused media sources of “fabricating” casualties and news.

The pattern of attacks in Baghdad suggests the existence of a multi-cell VBIED configuration operating in and around the city. These cells have been targeting southeast, southwest, and northwest Baghdad. During the past two VBIED waves, all targeted areas were in the east and south of Baghdad, and there was a notable decrease in attacks in the north and northwest areas of Baghdad. With the Revenge of the Martyr campaign having focused on the northwest area of Baghdad, the northwestern VBIED cell has potentially been engaged by or forced to hide from the ISF and thus has been unable to operate with accordance to the other cells. While this strategy appears to have met with success in reducing VBIEDs in that particular quadrant, it has also demonstrated a key limitation: separate cells have continued to hit the city’s other quadrants. It is inefficient for ISF to only focus on targeting north and west of Baghdad because there are visibly other VBIED cells successfully operating in east and south Baghdad. If ISF wishes to effectively prevent AQI VBIED waves, it cannot ignore the other cells operating throughout Baghdad and the surrounding belts.

Effects and implications

The Revenge of the Martyrs campaign has exacerbated complaints among Iraq’s Sunni Arabs of harassment under the guise of counter-terrorism operations. During Friday prayers on August 9, a number of preachers made statements expressing their disapproval of the indiscriminate arresting of Sunni males in the Baghdad belt and surrounding areas. In Baquba, Sheikh Adnan al-Janabi calledfor the central government to halt the “arbitrary arrests” and for a security system that functions without discrimination. Janabi insisted that security could not be achieved through the security forces’ current tactics, and that the innocent detainees were a sign of the government’s failure to maintain security. In Samarra, Mohammed al-Samarrai accusedthe government of attempting to empty the Sunni neighborhoods in the Baghdad belts. Indiscriminate operations against Sunni Arab communities will only serve to exacerbate tensions with the ISF, fuelling further anti-government protests, and may ultimately produce sympathy for attacks on the ISF, if not for AQI’s core aims and objectives.

BOC continues to enhance its security position in Baghdad. It announcedon August 9 a new project to build six watchtowers and deploy several airships to better monitor and control areas of Baghdad. Plain-clothed intelligence officers have been deployed across the city to act as an “invisible force” to assist in monitoring for any suspicious activity. BOC spokesperson Brigadier General Saad Maan stated that the Revenge of the Martyrs campaign was only the beginning of the fight against terrorism. The aim, he announced, is to bridge the communication gap between the military and civilians. The Ministry of Interior has set up “hotlines” as a way for civilians to report any information concerning terrorist activities. Maan statedthat the information from the hotlines has already led to the discovery of weapon caches and the arrest of several individuals.

Following the prison attacks, leaders and elements of the Sahwa fledthe Baghdad, Abu Ghraib, Samarra and Anbar areas fearing potential revenge from the escaped prisoners – a probability raised by Sahwa leaders who announceda “state of emergency” for current and former Sahwa members on  July 24. According to Sahwa leader Mohammed al-Hamdani, the ISF’s Ground Forces Command promised Sahwa leaders that the army would work to prevent retaliatory attacks. The ISF itself, however, also suffered from defections in the aftermath of the prison attacks. On August 8, in an effort to augment the ISF, Maliki issueda general amnesty for security personnel who had deserted after the Abu Ghraib attack, likely prompted by fear of punishment in response to the colossal security failure. In response to Maliki’s announcement, 2nd Infantry Division Commander Major General Ali Furaiji statedthat the division would be accepting individuals wishing to return to the service in Mosul. Maliki also promisedon August 7 that the government would allocate “financial rewards” for service members that had participated in the Revenge of the Martyrs campaign, as well as compensation to the families of those killed in the campaign. These payments, read in combination with the amnesty to deserters, suggest serious concern about ISF morale and retention.


The Revenge of the Martyrs security campaign is an important component of Prime Minister Maliki’s response to the highly visible security failures that led to the prison attacks in Abu Ghraib and Taji. While the operation has achieved some tangible successes, it has not halted attacks and has exacerbated existing tensions. The Interior Ministry has continually promoted the operations success and sought to downplay subsequent AQI attacks. However, increasing friction with the Sunni community in reaction to ISF’s indiscriminate arrests of Sunni males could add to the mounting instability. If the Sunni community becomes more concerned with ISF’s targeting than the threat of AQI, this could be an indicator of trouble ahead for Iraq. While the campaign has apparently reduced AQI capacity in the north and west areas of Baghdad, AQI has continued to demonstrate its ability to operate in other areas around Baghdad and surrounding provinces. With AQI’s recently announced campaign, the group seems not to have slowed its operational tempo and potentially stands to gain from the influx of escaped prisoners from Abu Ghraib. To be successful, the ISF must also target other AQI cells operating throughout Baghdad rather than just the northwest. Mounting political pressure has caused the ISF to overreact to the AQI threat generally and the prison attacks in particular. This approach will lead to further political discontent within the Iraqi Sunni community. The key for Prime Minister Maliki at this critical moment in Iraq lies in finding the balance between successfully promoting security and establishing an inclusive political order.

Kelly Edwards is a Research Intern at ISW.