Main events of the week
- In the Syrian arena, the ongoing fighting is now concentrated in the Idlib area. In the past week, high-intensity exchanges of fire continued between the Syrian army and the jihadi rebel organizations, mainly the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham. According to Russian and Iranian media reports, Russian warplanes carried out airstrikes against targets of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham in the rural area of Idlib.
- In the Iraqi arena, ISIS’s intensive activity continues in the various provinces in the north and west of the country. Most of the attacks took the form of ambushes and detonation of IEDs against the Iraqi security forces and Shiite militias moving on the roads. The Iraqi government continues its preventive and counterterrorism measures, but it is unable to significantly reduce the number of attacks carried out by ISIS.
- ISIS continued its media campaign designed to encourage and raise the morale of its operatives following the blow that it had suffered in Syria. The phenomenon of ISIS operatives renewing their pledge of allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is also noteworthy (this week in the Iraq Province, previously in the Sinai Province). In the ITIC’s assessment, the need to renew the pledge of allegiance may reflect the erosion in Al-Baghdadi’s status in the wake of the defeats suffered by ISIS.
The Idlib area
Exchanges of fire continue between the Syrian army and the jihadi rebel organizations
- This week as well, high-intensity exchanges of fire continued between the Syrian army and the jihadi rebel organizations. The jihadi organizations fired artillery mainly at the city of Aleppo. Following are the main incidents:
- On April 12, 2019, the Syrian army attacked rocket launchers and logistics routes of the rebel organizations in the rural area south of Idlib (SANA, April 14, 2019). On April 14, 2019, the Syrian army fired artillery at forces of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham in the northern Al-Ghab Plain (SANA, April 14, 2019). The same day, the Syrian army fired over forty rockets at forces of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham which were moving about 30 km north of Hama. Dozens of operatives were killed and wounded (Syrian Now News, April 15, 2019). The Syrian army fired artillery at forces of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham about 35 km south of Idlib, and about 40 km northwest of Hama (SANA, April 16, 2019).
- The “Awaken the Believers” operations room (affiliated with Al-Qaeda) announced that it had fired artillery at Syrian army positions about 40 km south of Aleppo (Telegram, April 14, 2019). The rebel organizations in the rural area north of Aleppo fired rockets at the Al-Khalidiya neighborhood in northwestern Aleppo. According to the Aleppo police, one of the rockets hit an open market, killing 11 people and wounding 11 others (SANA, April 14, 2019). The “Awaken the Believers” operations room announced that it had carried out a night attack against Syrian army positions about 45 km east of Idlib. About seven Syrian soldiers were either killed or wounded (Telegram, April 15, 2019). The rebel organizations fired a rocket which hit an area close to central Aleppo (SANA, April 15, 2019).
Damage to a building in central Aleppo which was hit by a rocket fired by the rebel organizations (SANA, April 15, 2019)
Russian airstrikes against the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham
- According to Syrian media reports, on the night of April 13-14, 2019, Russian fighter jets carried out airstrikes against positions and weapon depots of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham in the Idlib rural area. Several operatives were killed and wounded, and several command posts of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham were destroyed. The airstrikes were carried out after Russian UAVs uncovered preparations for carrying out offensive activity south of Idlib (Muraselon, April 14, 2019). On April 15, 2019, the Iranian Fars News Agency reported that over the past 24 hours, the Russian Air Force had carried out massive airstrikes against the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham in Idlib (Fars, April 15, 2019).
ISIS guerrilla attacks in the Euphrates Valley
- The headquarters of the Palestinian Al-Quds Brigade, a highly capable military force handled by the Syrian regime, announced that ten of its fighters were killed in the Bir Ali area south of Al-Mayadeen in the campaign to mop up the Syrian Desert from ISIS operatives (Al-Quds Brigade’s Facebook page, April 13, 2019). One of the fatalities was Imad Zakariya Jamu, a prominent commander of the Al-Quds Brigade (Deir ez-Zor 24, April 14, 2019).
Imad Zakariya Jamu, killed in an ISIS attack in the desert area south of Al-Mayadeen
(Deir ez-Zor 24, April 13, 2019)
SDF preventive activity
- The civilian council affiliated with the SDF released a pamphlet prohibiting entry of various kinds of ferries to the Euphrates River in the Deir ez-Zor Province. Manufacturing new ferries was also prohibited. In addition, it was noted that all ferries on the (east) bank of the Euphrates would be seized and that anyone breaking the law would be punished (Deir ez-Zor 24, April 14, 2019). In the ITIC’s assessment, these prohibitions were intended to prevent passage of ISIS operatives from the (SDF-controlled) east bank to the west bank (controlled by the Syrian army). This was done in order to make it difficult for ISIS operatives to move from one area to another along the Euphrates River and to try to flee from the east bank to the deserts west of the Euphrates River.
Pamphlet distributed by the SDF civilian council prohibiting the movement of ferries on the Euphrates River in the Deir ez-Zor Province (Deir ez-Zor 24, April 14, 2019)
Main developments in Iraq
ISIS’s terrorist and guerrilla activity
- Following are highlights of ISIS’s terrorist attacks in the past week, based on ISIS’s claims of responsibility (from daily summaries of the ISIS’s Mu’ta news agency, published on Shabakat Shumukh, April 13, 2019):
- Al-Anbar Province: Four IEDs were detonated against two vehicles, one of the Iraqi police and another of the Tribal Mobilization. The explosion took place in the city of Al-Amiriyah, southeast of Fallujah, killing and wounding six policemen and Tribal Mobilization fighters.
- Al-Anbar Province: IEDs were detonated against three Iraqi army observation points 90 km west of Ramadi.
- Diyala Province: An ambush was set up against Tribal Mobilization fighters 19 km northeast of Baqubah. One fighter was killed, and another was wounded.
- Diyala Province: Sniper shooting at Popular Mobilization operatives in the Khanaqin area, about 95 km northeast of Baqubah. Four fighters were wounded.
- Al-Anbar Province: An IED was detonated against a Tribal Mobilization vehicle around the city of Ramadi. Three fighters were killed and wounded.
- Al-Anbar Province: An IED was detonated against an Iraqi army vehicle about 160 km west of Ramadi, killing the vehicle passengers.
- Diyala Province: An IED was detonated against an Iraqi army patrol (20 km northeast of Baqubah), killing one soldier and wounding an officer.
Workshop for making IEDs in the Salah al-Din Province
- ISIS’s Salah al-Din Region in the Iraq Province recently released a photo showing two ISIS operatives inside a structure used as an improvised workshop for making IEDs (Iraq Province – Salah al-Din Region, via Telegram, April 16, 2019).
Counterterrorist and preventive activities by the Iraqi security forces
- Following are the main counterterrorist and preventive activities carried out by the Iraqi security forces:
- Salah al-Din Province: Combat Engineering sappers from the Popular Mobilization’s 14th Brigade located and neutralized dozens of IEDs planted along a route east of Tikrit, about 70 km south of Kirkuk (al-hashed.net, April 14, 2019).
- Nineveh Province: The Iraqi army Intelligence Directorate detained a senior ISIS operative in the Zahra neighborhood in eastern Mosul. During the times of the Caliphate State, this operative was in charge of ISIS’s spoils of war in the sub-district of Qayrawan, about 90 km west of Mosul (Baghdad Post, April 15, 2019).
- Nineveh Province: Popular Mobilization fighters deployed at the entrances to the city of Sinjar, about 100 km west of Mosul, searching for ISIS operatives. Photos released show the Popular Mobilization fighters manning mobile checkpoints and stopping vehicles for inspection (al-hashed.net, April 15, 2019).
Popular Mobilization fighters manning a mobile checkpoint at one of the entrances to the city of Sinjar, west of Mosul (al-hashed.net, April 15, 2019)
Additional actions of the Iraqi security forces and judicial system
- The Iraqi security forces reinstated the night checkpoints throughout Iraq to put an end to the movement of ISIS operatives and the terrorist attacks carried out recently. A senior Iraqi army officer said that checkpoints would be set up every day and be mobile, in accordance with intelligence received (Iraq Press as quoted in Akhbar al-Iraq, April 13, 2019).
- The Iraqi judicial system initiated legal proceedings against 900 Iraqi ISIS operatives who were extradited from Syria to Iraq by the SDF forces, after their investigation materials were received. A court authorized to look into terrorist cases has started to schedule dates for their trials (Al-Sumaria, April 14, 2019).