June 19, 2014                                

The Situation

Fighting between ISIS and Iraqi forces continues


Updated Information
Sunni militants led by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) continue to clash with Iraqi security forces and allied Shia' militias throughout much of central Iraq on June 19. ISIS renewed their attack on the Baiji oil refinery early June 19 (map). There are conflicting reports about the current status of the refinery, with Iraqi military commanders claiming that they control the entire complex and other sources stating that ISIS has seized most of the facility, which provides fuel for large portions of Iraq. Regardless of who actually controls the Baiji refinery, operations there have been suspended, and long lines remain at gas stations across the country.

Meanwhile, insurgent groups continue to contest Iraqi armed forces and Shia' militias for control of Samarra and Shia' shrines there. Reports of a June 18 mortar attack on the shrines increase the chances of sectarian revenge killings elsewhere in Iraq.

As fighting continues in Samarra and Baiji, ISIS' line of control seems to have stabilized. Anti-government militants appear to be focusing less on pressing southward, decreasing the likelihood of an imminent assault on Baghdad, and instead are focusing on solidifying control over areas they previously seized. ISIS and allied militias continue to control Mosul, the capital of Ninawa Province, and Tikrit, the capital of Salah ad Din Province. Sporadic clashes and government airstrikes are likely in areas controlled by ISIS.

In Baghdad, security forces have increased security around the International (Green) Zone, which houses government facilities. Bombings targeting civilians are likely to continue, and violent crime and sectarian murders are likely to increase. Flights continue to operate out of Baghdad (BGW), Basra (BSR), and Erbil (EBL) international airports.

While there are ongoing clashes between ISIS and Kurdish Peshmerga forces in parts of Ninawa Province outside of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)'s control, the probability of ISIS attacks inside the Kurdistan Region (KR) is low, as ISIS is unlikely to risk directly engaging the Peshmerga on their home territory. Expect increased security in KRG-controlled areas, including the cities of Arbil and Sulaymaniyah.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his government continue to make efforts to combat the insurgency militarily, with little sign of reconciliation with Sunni political factions. In a further sign of his reliance on militias rather than Iraqi forces, Maliki has ordered some Shia' prisoners freed to join the fight against the primarily Sunni insurgents. The prime minister has also formally requested US airstrikes against ISIS positions. However, US President Barack Obama has stated that while the US military is ready to deploy some 300 commandos to advise and train Iraqi military and security forces and increase intelligence coordination between the two countries, the conflict is ultimately the responsibility of the Iraqi government, therefore indicating that a direct US military intervention is currently unlikely.

Background and Analysis
While the main actors in the conflict continue to be ISIS and government forces, other groups - including Kurdish Peshmerga, Sunni Ba'athist insurgent groups, and Shia' militias - have become involved, decreasing the government's ability to control the violence. After parliament failed to grant him emergency powers, Maliki claimed his cabinet had granted him "unlimited powers," and rallied volunteer troops in the city of Samarra, home of a major Shia' shrine, on June 15. Additionally, the Shia' religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for volunteers to fight against ISIS on June 13, attracting thousands of participants, many of whom were already members of Shia' militias. His call follows Muqtada al-Sadr's June 11 request for Shia' defense forces. Additionally, General Qassem Suleimani, the head of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF), which is in charge of foreign operations, is assisting Iraqi security forces with planning and has set up an operations room focused on protecting Shia' shrines. This is likely to further inflame Sunni perceptions that the Iraqi government is an Iranian client state, and consequently increase the risk of additional sectarian violence.

The UN, US, Australia, and France drew down some of their diplomatic personnel in Baghdad on June 16 in response to the worsening security situation. Additionally, on June 17, the Turkish government evacuated diplomatic staff from its consulate in Basra; the evacuation follows the kidnapping of several dozen Turkish citizens as ISIS overran the Turkish consulate in Mosul on June 11.

Mosul and other areas under ISIS control are actually being managed by a coalition of armed elements, including Baathists, Islamists, and local tribal groups. Their grip on power will likely depend on their ability to remain unified.

Avoid travel to Mosul, Tikrit, Samarra, Kirkuk, and Baiji and surrounding areas. Consider avoiding Highway 1 from Baghdad to Mosul and Highway 2/3 from Kirkuk to Baghdad. If operating in the southern part of the KR, expect traffic disruptions as refugees arrive. Maintain a low profile; limit exposure to government buildings, security installations, and crowded public areas that could be potential bombing targets. Maintain contact with your diplomatic mission.

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The content of this edition of AssistAlert is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace further investigation or personal observations. If you are planning travel, or are traveling in or proximate to the locations identified in this newsletter, you are encouraged to contact SecurAssist for additional information.

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