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Northern Regional Report 12 September

September 12, 2017  

The below is a summary and discussion of recent developments throughout the region. Information is garnered from a variety of sources and has been vetted whenever possible. Please note: Friday and Saturday reporting is reduced at regional levels.

Note: For above mapping, please scroll over individual spots to see further details. Due to developments outside of Talos control, some map features are temporarily unavailable.

  1. Additional details of heavy fighting in suburb of Tal Afar
  2. Multiple members of a family murdered in Mosul due to alleged IS affiliations
  3. Additional intimidation-style shootings in Chamchamal and Altun Kupri
  4. Pro-independence rallies in Kurdish Region
  5. Multiple attacks repelled near Baiji and Balad

Additional details surfaced pertaining to initial discussion of heavy fighting in a suburb of Tal Afar. On 11 September, 73rd Brigade 16th Iraqi Army Division and possibly other units, supported by Iraqi airstrikes, breached an isolated IS stronghold in Qasabat al-Ra’i Village, located northwest of Ayadhiya. Joint Operations Command Spokesman Brigadier General Yehia Rasul later stated that security forces killed 65 insurgents and 15 suicide bombers, and destroyed two IS vehicles, and four staging areas that contained an unspecified number of explosive vests during the initial heavy fighting. He also noted that dozens of insurgents fled towards Peshmerga lines, forming a reference to associated Peshmerga claims that 17 IS militants were killed by their forces attempting to escape the area.

A number of casualties were also reported amongst security personnel during initial fighting, with a soldier from 92nd Brigade 15th Iraqi Army Division killed by sniper fire in a nearby area amongst other losses. Late on the night of 11 September, according to Cap. Mohamed Shilah al-Ameri of the 9th Iraqi Army Division, around 40 insurgents travelling in vehicles launched an attack against elements of the 73rd Iraqi Army Brigade in Qasabat al-Ra’i Village in a possible breakout attempt. Nine Iraqi Army soldiers were reportedly killed including two officers during heavy clashes. Four military vehicles were destroyed, while three militants’ bodies were recovered.

As of the morning of 12 September, sporadic clashes were ongoing in and around Qasabat al-Rai Village, with full control not assessed at this time. As initially noted, these events highlight a very significant presence of insurgents holding out in an isolated stronghold of the Ayadhiya sub-district well after the 31 August victory announcement.

On 12 September, a security source reported unidentified individuals breached a house in the Hayy al-Sakar of East Mosul, killing three individuals of the same family including a woman, while another woman was wounded. The source noted that the family had some members with IS affiliation who were killed during previous fighting, while the mother was allegedly affiliated with the IS Husba (IS Police). These events form a particularly lethal example of routinely seen reprisals against alleged IS families in Mosul and surrounding areas, and underline enduring challenges facing reintegration efforts.

Some incidents were reported in areas influential to humanitarian operations south of Mosul. On the morning of 12 September, security forces enacted a lockdown at the Hajj Ali IDP Camp due to unspecified reasons likely related to a routine arrest operation. At around noon on 11 September, an IED explosive remnant of war detonation killed two civilians and wounded two others in Imam Gharbi Village.

Kurdish Region:
On the afternoon of 11 September, unidentified armed men in a vehicle conducted a drive-by shooting against the Altun Kubri Mayor’s Office. No casualties were reported in this intimidation-style attack. This incident occurred roughly 30 minutes after another intimidation-style shooting against a KDP building in Chamchamal. Additional reporting concerning the former event cited the involvement of armed men travelling in three vehicles, who wounded three guards over the course of the shooting. The identity of the armed groups for either event could not be verified. Some reports indicate that the perpetrators in Altun Kubri may have been local civilians involved in a land dispute with the mayor.

At approximately 0300 hours on 12 September, an unknown armed group opened fire against a KDP office in the Shorsh area of Chamchamal, which falls under the 19th KDP Branch that was targeted in Chamchamal the day prior. No casualties were reported in this incident. The specific motivations for both attacks in Chamchamal have not been released, with no claims of responsibility issued. The highly divisive political environment during this period promotes the likelihood of political motivations. As of this writing, anti-KDP violence in the region has remained relatively isolated, and has not seen significant escalations as of this writing.

On 11 September, routine rallies conducted in support of a ‘Yes’ vote for the independence referendum were held in different areas of Erbil, Soran, Akre, and likely other areas. At approximately 1700 hours on 13 September, the “Independence Festival” will be conducted in Shanidar Park of Erbil City to show support for the referendum, with international organizations advised to be aware of the potential for disruptions in the area.

On 12 September, a major trilateral meeting was conducted between representatives of the Gorran, KDP, and PUK in Erbil. The upcoming independence referendum and ambitions to reactivate the KRG parliament by 14 September were discussed in accordance with a seven-point plan promoted by the PUK. It was stated that the Gorran “agreed in principle” to supporting the reactivation according to PUK official Mala Bakhtiyar. It will be important to confirm an agreement has been made with Gorran sources following this announcement, with reports of agreements being made regularly embellished in the past. The seven-point project calls for:

  1. The reactivation of the parliament
  2. For the parliament to cancel the salary-cut system that was introduced by the government in the face of the financial crisis and to give guarantees to pay back the reduced salaries ever since
  3. To vote on the members of the Oil and Gas Fund
  4. To amend the election law so that the people in the disputed or the Kurdistani areas are also eligible to vote for their own members in the Kurdistan parliament
  5. To approve a law for the independence referendum
  6. For the parliament to approve constitutional committee to draft a constitution for “the state of Kurdistan”
  7. To amend the presidency law.

In an even more significant opposing development on 12 September, the Iraqi parliament voted to reject the Kurdish independence referendum vote as unconstitutional, and authorizes the prime minister to take “all measures” against this act in the Kurdish Region and disputed territories. Kurdish MPs predictably boycotted the vote, which is primarily intended to degrade the perceived legitimacy of the referendum if it goes forward. Although strongly worded, it is not anticipated the 12 September parliamentary vote will be utilized as justification to use military force to prevent the vote. At most, it is assessed to officially endorse Iraqi government efforts to counter the vote in disputed territories that are already under its administration and security control.

Preparations for the upcoming Hawija Operation continue to be most readably defined by Coalition strike activity. Near Hawija on 11 September, one strike engaged an IS tactical unit and destroyed a command and control node and four tunnels. Two additional belatedly reported strikes on 10 September engaged an IS tactical unit and destroyed two vehicles and an IS headquarters. Near Baiji on 11 September, one Coalition strike destroyed four IS tunnel entrances.

On 11 September, the commander of the 5th Peshmerga Brigade, Sa’id Ali, stated a number of Hashd al Shaabi and Iraqi Army units have been deployed in the Amerli area of Tuz in preparation for the Hawija operation. Kurdish forces were said to be on alert for any actions against Kurdish entities in nearby villages, with shifts in the presence of Hashd al-Shaabi forces in this disputed area associated with enduring sectarian-related concerns.

Multiple attacks were repelled in different areas of Salah ad Din during this period. On 12 September, elements of the 29th Hashd al-Shaabi Brigade repelled an IS attack of as many as 20 insurgents at the Zuwiyah Intersection and Ain al-Baydha, north of Baiji, with seven insurgents reportedly killed and two IS technicals destroyed.

On 12 September, according to an unnamed security source, an unspecified number of IS militants armed with light and medium weapons attacked Hashd al-Shaabi forces in an agricultural area south of the Sayid Mohammed bin Ali al-Hadi Shrine, located east of Balad. Elements of the 16th al-Abbas Hashd al-Shaabi Brigade and other reinforcements repelled the attack following roughly half an hour of heavy fighting, with an unspecified number of casualties reported on both sides. A largescale follow-on operation was conducted using vehicles and UAVs to pursue the insurgents in nearby villages.

This incident follows multiple recent attacks in outskirts of Balad, including a largely thwarted 4 September complex suicide attack affecting an area north of the Sayid Mohammed bin Ali al-Hadi Shrine. The scale of the 12 September attack is difficult to judge given initially limited reporting, and may have formed a hit-and-run style attack as opposed to a concerted effort to assault the shrine. Such attacks continue to highlight concerns for the security of symbolic Shi’a religious sites in and around Balad and Samarra, forming an assessed IS effort to tie down large numbers of Hashd al-Shaabi fighters to defensive purposes ahead of the Hawija Operation.

In Diyala, on 11 September, Asayish personnel stated IS executed two civilians from Eslah village who were abducted by IS on the Adhaim-Baghdad Road. The execution was reportedly conducting in revenge for an IS leader identified as Daham, who was killed during recent clashes in the village. IS affiliated media-Amaq Agency later claimed responsibility for detaining and executing two Hashd al-Shaabi members in the Adhaim sub-district.

On 12 September, the Diyala Provincial Council held a session in order to discuss the upcoming independence referendum. Kurdish representatives boycotted a vote that decided it would not be permitted for the referendum to be held in any areas within the administrative boundaries of the province. This action stems from the recent unrest in Mandali, and forms a reference to Kurdish administered areas of northern Diyala in the Khanaqin and Kifri Districts. However, given the significant Peshmerga presence in these areas, it is initially assessed to be unlikely that the Diyala government will seek to enforce such a ban, with this vote essentially degrading legitimacy.

KDP, Gorran, PUK agree in principle to reactivate Kurdistan parliament – Rudaw
The Change Movement (Gorran) has agreed in principle on reactivating the parliament with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) after a “historical” trilateral meeting on Tuesday, but the three will have one final meeting Wednesday or Thursday at the latest to finalize a deal, a senior PUK official announced in a press conference on behalf of the three parties following their meeting in Erbil.

Iraqi parliament votes to reject Kurdistan referendum – Rudaw
The Iraqi parliament has rejected the Kurdistan Region’s independence referendum in a vote on Tuesday that also authorizes the prime minister to take measures against the Kurdish move. The parliament has authorized Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to take any measures against the September 25 referendum process taking place in the Region and Kurdistani areas outside of the Region’s administration but under its control.

President Barzani promises ‘special status’ in meeting with Kirkuk components – Rudaw
Kurdish President Masoud Barzani has met with some representatives of the Turkmen, Arab and Kurdish components in Kirkuk on Tuesday. He said Kirkuk should have “a special status” as part of a future independent Kurdistan. The meeting comes as some Arab and Turkmen parties of Kirkuk have decided to boycott the Kurdish independence referendum that will also include the disputed or Kurdistani areas such as the oil-rich and multi ethnic Kirkuk.

Turkey urges Iraqi Kurds to call off vote on independence – AP
Turkey is calling on the head of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region to cancel a planned referendum on Kurdish independence. Speaking to reporters Monday following a Cabinet meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said the referendum slated for Sept. 25 will add to problems in the conflict-ridden region. Bozdag said: “This referendum is of no benefit to (Kurdish regional President Masoud) Barzani, it is of no benefit to Kurds, it is of no benefit to the people of the region.”

Turkish spy chief headed for Erbil, whisper KRG officials – Al Monitor
Turkey’s spy chief, Hakan Fidan, is planning to travel to the Iraqi Kurdish capital Erbil this week, part of a mission to push for the release of Turkish operatives who are being held by Kurdish militants and presumably also to seek to delay a referendum on Iraqi Kurdish independence, local officials speaking on strict condition of anonymity told Al-Monitor. They declined to elaborate, and a spokesman for Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) did not return Al-Monitor’s calls for comment.

President Barzani meets with UN’s Jan Kubis two weeks before independence vote – Rudaw
President Masoud Barzani reiterated to Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General (SRSG) Jan Kubis that the Kurdistan Region’s independence referendum will not be delayed and that the decision to hold the vote was taken “by the people of Kurdistan.” Barzani expressed the action “is an exercise of a very natural right of the people of the Kurdistan Region and that the referendum will be held on time, as scheduled,” according to a readout from the presidency.

Iraqi Kurds’ referendum fever spills over to Turkish cousins – Al Monitor
Iraqi Kurdistan is gripped by excitement ahead of the Sept. 25 independence referendum. The sense of hopeful anticipation, however, is not limited to Iraqi Kurds. Their cousins in neighboring Turkey — reeling from Ankara’s heaviest crackdown in years — are watching the process with an equal excitement, hoping that a vote for independence will boost the standing of Kurds across the region. And some are not only watching. Kurdish groups on good terms with Massoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Regional Government have joined forces to promote the referendum, striving to allay deep-rooted Turkish apprehension and hostility toward Kurdish independence.

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