MESOP REPORT : Security In Iraq’s Anbar Shows Battle Against Insurgents Will Be Long & Often Futile

Musings on Iraq – 21 Jun 2014 – The Iraqi insurgency’s sudden charge across the country has focused most of the world’s attention upon Ninewa, Salahaddin, and to a lesser extent Diyala province. In western Anbar however, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) have been in a pitched battle against militants since the very end of December 2013. The fighting there provides important examples for how the government’s forces will confront the insurgency in the rest of the country. The major lessoned learned is that the army and police even with help of local tribes can take any area, but they simply cannot hold it leading to constant battles for the same territory month after month. That points towards a very long war of attrition being fought in Iraq that will have many reversals.

The current uprising in Iraq started in Anbar in December 2013. Insurgents seized the major city of Fallujah, parts of the provincial capital Ramadi, and much of the smaller towns along the Euphrates and in the surrounding areas. Baghdad immediately launched an offensive to retake the province that has gained very little traction since it started. First the army, police and friendly tribes claimed to have taken town after town only to return to them in weeks and sometimes even days later. On May 5, 2014 for instance, the Anbar Operations Command said that it had cleared most of Saqlawiya, which is just to the northwest of Fallujah. Six days later SWAT forces were still fighting there, but then on May 17 it was reported that many insurgents fled from nearby Sijar, Niamiya and other surrounding towns into Saqlawiya. On May 20 the army claimed it had control of the town, but by the end of the month the ISF was back stating that only half of it was free of militants. Then on June 12 insurgents appeared to have retaken Saqlawiya and was removing concrete barriers at the entrances to the town. Two days after that a lawmaker from Anbar told the press that the ISF had completely abandoned their positions outside of the town. June 17 the deputy head of the Anbar council Faleh Issawi said that insurgents were pushed out, and then finally on June 19 the Anbar Operations Command was back to fighting there and was planning yet another mission to clear it. The inability to take and hold Saqlawiya was repeated in towns and cities throughout Anbar since December. The failure in that town was also the reason why the operation to take back Fallujah, which started at the beginning of May has gone nowhere because the insurgent bases and supply routes in and out of the city were never successfully broken up. The ISF and friendly tribes have gone into places like Saqlawiya again and again, but then move onto the next area and militants move right back in. This is because the security forces’ strategy is simply based upon killing enemy fighters and not upon any population centric counterinsurgency tactics like the Americans employed during the Surge that emphasized winning over the people, returning government administration and basic services, and getting economic activity restarted in areas. Instead the ISF has been chasing the insurgency around Anbar for six months now with little to show for it. Similar problems have already been reported in areas of Salahaddin, and will likely be repeated again and again.

Baghdad now has a greater task ahead of it as the insurgency has been able to spread the fight from Anbar to Babil, Ninewa, Salahaddin, Kirkuk, and Diyala provinces. Even with U.S. advisers, drones, and aircraft along with militias, and Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah arriving to assist the Iraqi government the task of uprooting the militants will still be a long one. The ISF simply does not have a winning strategy. Insurgents will be able to re-infiltrate areas cleared by the army and police because they have no tactics for holding them. As long as they focus upon killing their way out of the war it will drag on for months and years as the current fighting in Anbar apply foreshadows.


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Alsumaria, “The withdrawal of all officers and employees of the leadership of the border guards and customs, west of Ramadi,” 6/13/14

BBC, “Iraq violence: Dozens killed by Baghdad bombings,” 6/7/14

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– “The bombing of a bridge in Samarra,” 6/5/14

– “Combat and logistical reinforcements to Anbar for security forces after achieving great victories with clans in 7 areas,” 6/17/14

– “Commander of Joint Operations: armed forces are chasing Daash outside Samarra,” 6/5/14

– “Golden Division commander: we will continue our operations until we kill terrorists in Samarra,” 6/5/14

– “Official count: Destroyed 19 of 25 Daash vehicles that entered city and blew up 6 of them in Samarra,” 6/5/14

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– “Ground Forces Commander accompanied by 300 military wheel arrived in Samarra,” 6/5/14

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– “Anbar police declared an emergency to send three regiments to fight Daash in the western regions of the province,” 6/18/14

– “Announces the remove of “Daash” ground forces from the vicinity of Baghdad and is seeking to take control of the helm of Fallujah,” 5/12/14

– “Armed groups re-open ports Fallujah after the withdrawal of the army surrounding the city,” 6/12/14

– “Army forces preparing to storm the center of Saqlawiyah to purify it from Daash,” 6/19/14

– “Army stands distance of 4 kilometers from Fallujah .. and the Council of Anbar launches initiative to resolve the crisis,” 5/17/14

– “Expectations of the armed seizure of Anbar due to the withdrawal of the army and the provincial council says state control of over 80% of the cities,” 6/14/14

– “Joint forces cleared Saqlawiya of armed men..and stumbled on the mass graves of the dead left by Daash,” 5/5/14

– “Samarra clash toll rises to 53 dead and wounded, and vehicles carrying banners of Daash and mosques calling for jihad,” 6/5/14

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– “56 terrorists killed, 21 others wounded in last 24 hours in Baghdad,” 6/16/14

– “(75) Elements of the ISIS, including Syrians and Yemenis killed in Mosul,” 6/6/14

– “Army makes significant progress in north of Babylon area,” 6/2/14

– “Breaking News….A Senior leader in ISIS killed west of Fallujah,” 6/18/14

– “Breaking News..The army is launching a violent attack on militants west of Falluja,” 6/17/14

– “Clashes between the Awakening and the ISIS in al-Qaim east-west Anbar,” 6/19/14

– “Fierce armed clashes, ongoing in Samarra,” 6/5/14

– “Helicopters bombed the military oil depot in Habbaniyah after being controlled by ISIS,” 6/16/14

– “A military operation starts to storm Saqlawiyah north of Fallujah,” 5/31/14

– “So- called Wali of Saqlawiyah killed in Fallujah,” 6/3/14

– “Urgent..A security source: A large number of /ISIS/ killed in Samarra,” 6/5/14

– “The withdrawal of the army from Kubaisa district western Anbar,” 6/12/14

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– “The fight against terrorism: Ninety percent of the city of Ramadi became freed,” 5/9/14

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– “The start of a military operation to regain control of the area in Karabilah based Western Anbar,” 6/17/14

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Al-Sinjary, Ziad, “Insurgents in Iraq overrun Mosul provincial government headquarters,” Reuters, 6/9/14

Xinhua, “Iraqi security forces withdraw fro border with Syria,” 6/12/14