Key Take-away: The U.S. is under pressure from coalition partners to widen the campaign against ISIS from Iraq and Syria to the broader region as ISIS’s presence expands. A bill in Congress would allocate at least 25% of the proposed $715 million in assistance to fight ISIS to the Kurdish Peshmerga, Sunni tribal militias, and the Iraqi Sunni National Guard by characterizing them as “countries.” This allocation risks undermining the cohesion of the Iraqi state, and some anti-American Iraqi politicians have seized on this narrative. In Syria, al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra made further gains against the Assad regime, rumored to be facilitated by Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The group’s expansion and its backing from regional powers risks the U.S.’s train-and-assist program’s ineffectiveness.

 IRAQ: Political pressure has increased on Prime Minister Abadi’s government following an attack by ISIS on a military outpost northwest of Baghdad that killed 13 Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) members, including a Division commander. PM Abadi and Defense Minister Obeidi attended a Council of Representatives (CoR) session that was closed to the media to review the events, where politicians sympathetic to the Iranian-backed Shi’a militias and other allies of former PM Maliki likely pressured them to eschew U.S. coalition support. Meanwhile, a bill in Congress would directly allocate at least 25% of the $715 million in assistance to fight ISIS to the Kurdish Peshmerga, Sunni tribal militias, and the Iraqi Sunni National Guard by labeling them as “countries.” The government of Iraq welcomed the aid, but said the provision risks undermining Iraqi sovereignty. Some anti-American Iraqi politicians, including those connected to Iranian-backed militias, used the bill to reinforce their narrative and claimed that the U.S. aims to divide Iraq. Moqtada al-Sadr, Leader of the Sadrist Trend, whose armed wing (the Peace Brigades, previously known as Jaysh al-Mahdi) previously attacked U.S. and Coalition forces, strongly denounced the coalition this week and called for a full Sadrist mobilization to attack Americans if the bill is passed. He also criticized the Iranian-backed militias, likely to position himself as an ally of the state while maintaining his strong anti-U.S. stance. In addition, ISIS proved that it remains a resilient terrorist organization despite recent losses. The group escalated attacks in Baghdad, employing its signature Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs) against civilian targets. The group also returned to contest ISF control over the strategic Baiji Oil Refinery, north of Tikrit, from which the ISF had repelled them last week. Faced with ISIS threats and trying to overcome the militias’ negative role, the PM ordered a 30-day amnesty for deserted ISF personnel, in hopes of refilling the ISF’s ranks.
See: “
Iraq Situation Report: April 30-May 1“; “Control of Terrain in Iraq: May 1, 2015“; “Iraq Situation Report: April 28-29, 2015“; “Iraq’s Prime Minister Comes under Attack by Political Rivals,” by Sinan Adnan; “Iraq Situation Report: April 25-27, 2015.” Direct press or briefing requests for Iraq analyst Sinan Adnan here.


Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) and hardline Islamist rebels achieved a second major victory against the Assad regime, seizing Jisr al-Shughour southwest of Idlib city as well as several nearby positions. These advances may have been facilitated by increased levels outside support from regional actors such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Rebel factions also report ongoing discussions regarding the potential for “Arab air cover” in southern Syria alongside a planned rebel offensive. These indicators may reflect attempts by regional actors to influence a shift in U.S. policy towards Syria to encourage a more active role against Assad. Unilateral Saudi and Turkish intervention, however, could exacerbate the sectarian direction of the conflict and likely bolster the Islamist opposition at the expense of the U.S. train-and-assist program. Meanwhile, JN and rebels clashed with two alleged ISIS affiliates in Dera’a and Quneitra Provinces, indicating possible further advances by ISIS into southern Syria. Finally, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) began the second phase of a crackdown against ISIS and JN networks in Lebanon by targeting southern Beirut. Several armed prison breaks in the Bekaa Valley suggest that the LAF may struggle to maintain security in eastern Lebanon as their security focus shifts westwards.
“An Army in All Corners”: Assad’s Campaign Strategy in Syria, by Christopher Kozak, April 30, 2015; “Control of Terrain in Syria: April 30, 2015;Syria Situation Report: April 20-28, 2015; “Second Idlib Stronghold Falls to Jabhat al-Nusra and Rebel Forces“by Jennifer Cafarella, April 26, 2015; Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria: An Islamic Emirate for al-Qaeda, by Jennifer Cafarella, December 18, 2014. Direct press or briefing requests for Syria analysts Jennifer Cafarella or Chris Kozak here.


Coalition partners are reportedly pressuring the United States to expand the scope of the anti-ISIS fight to address ISIS’s regional expansion. ISIS’s network has already enabled the operations of numerous indigenous groups in the Near and Far Abroad. For example, Saudi authorities announced that several large, capable ISIS-linked cells planned explosive attacks against U.S. interests in Saudi Arabia and the Saudi military over the course of 2015. Additionally, ISIS’s affiliates in Yemen are adopting ISIS’s sectarian methodology, as demonstrated by a new video in which ISIS’s fighters compare the al Houthis to the Iraqi Shia. Finally, Malaysian counterterrorism sources indicated that the head of an ISIS-networked attack cell began plotting after he failed to travel to Syria. The man’s handler in Syria subsequently directed him to plan domestic attacks, highlighting the power of ISIS’s network and the threat of circumvented foreign fighters. The coalition’s current, message-based regional strategy does not adequately counter any of these threats.
“ISIS Global INTSUM,” by Harleen Gambhir, February 19, 2015; “The Islamic State’s Global Ambitions,” by Harleen Gambhir and Jessica Lewis McFate, Wall Street Journal, February 23, 2015 (subscribers only). Direct press or briefing requests for Counter-terrorism analyst Harleen Gambhir here.