TALOS Weekly Control of Terrain 6 September

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September 06, 2017  

The grey areas depicted on the map indicate geographic areas Islamic State (IS) is assessed to maintain a significant operational and often administrative presence, or at a minimum sufficient freedom of movement to stage cohesive offensive operations on a routine basis. The boundaries of these areas are estimated based upon available information and subsequent assessment, and represent frontlines which remain largely fluid and undefined. These lines do not represent the full extent of IS freedom of movement, particularly in Nineveh, Salah ad Din, Baghdad and Anbar Provinces. As such, areas which witness a high number of asymmetric attacks may not necessarily be represented as active frontlines. Some areas marked as under government control may also be contested, either with IS or other security forces, representing dynamic fronts. The integrated heat map depicts concentrations of activity during the reporting period.

Key developments this week:

  1. Rapid conclusion of Tal Afar Operation
  2. Routine security concerns in much of the Kurdish Region as referendum vote approaches
  3. Preparations for future operations in Hawija begin to take shape
  4. Complex suicide attack against power plant outside Samarra
  5. Trebil border crossing reopens, while security forces focus on disrupting threats in Anbar during Eid
  6. IS seeks to maintain momentum in Baghdad through Eid using low-sophistication attacks
  7. Tribal violence reported in central Dhi Qar and additional developments in the south
  8. Oil smuggling operations thwarted in Basra

Forecast:

  • Ongoing consolidation efforts in Tal Afar as forces refit for future operations in Hawija

 

Iraq-wide:
On 29 August, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi denounced a ceasefire deal that saw the evacuation of over 300 hundred IS fighters and their families from the Lebanese-Syrian border to the IS-held Deir ez-Zour Province in eastern Syria. Abadi denounced the escape of this large number of fighters and the threat they now pose to Iraq, stating “We are fighting the terrorists in Iraq. We don’t expel them to Syria; we kill them in Iraq.” Kurdish and Coalition officials similarly denounced these actions. On 29 August, the Coalition carried out airstrikes intended to disrupt the convoy’s progress, destroying a small bridge and cratering a road. Direct targeting of the convoy was not practical due to the presence of family members of the IS fighters, with humanitarian concerns in effect.

As the week came to a close, six of the 17 buses chose to turn back towards Syrian government controlled areas in Palmyra, with the remaining buses being monitored as coordination continues. Although representing a significant number of fighters, it is important to place this number into context, with roughly 5,000-10,000 IS fighters already assessed to be active along the Middle Euphrates River Valley between western Anbar and Deir ez-Zour. While very possible some of these fighters could be committed to IS operations in Iraq if the remainder of the convoy is somehow permitted to proceed, a few hundred fighters does not present a game-changer in terms of combat power.

The UN released civilian casualty figures for Iraq for the month of August, which indicated “125 Iraqi civilians were killed and another 188 injured in acts of terrorism, violence and armed conflict.” This formed a significant drop from the 241 killed the previous month. Baghdad was the most affected province, with 45 killed and 135 injured. This forms an increase from the 38 killed and 85 injured during July, reflecting a spike in vehicle borne IED incidents and other activity towards the end of August. Nineveh followed with 36 killed and 17 injured, forming a very significant drop in the month following the liberation of Mosul, with 121 killed in July.

Alternative figures issued by Antiwar.com cited at least 2,154 killed and 456 wounded during the month of August. This included the deaths of 333 civilians, 127 security personnel, 1,667 IS militants, and 25 PKK members. On 1 September, the Coalition acknowledged responsibility for another likely 61 civilian deaths caused by its strikes in Iraq and Syria, with total counts now rising to 685. A substantial 455 additional reports were still being investigated. These counts remain far lower than estimates issued by independent monitoring groups such as Airwars.com, which claims a minimum of 5,117 civilians were likely killed by Coalition strikes.

On 31 August, British Defense Minister Michael Fallon stated “We are stepping up our contribution to the fight against Daesh (IS) and fulfilling Britain’s role as a key player in the global coalition.” This includes the planned deployment of 44 Royal Engineers to Al Asad Airbase for a six months. 300 British troops will be stationed at the airbase once the engineers are deployed, with Iraq-wide totals expected to rise to roughly 600.

Rapid conclusion of Tal Afar Operation, near-term considerations:
As discussed further in this report, on 31 August, Iraqi security forces liberated the town of Ayadiyah, which formed the last remaining IS stronghold in the Tal Afar District. These events occurred less than two weeks after the initiation of the Tal Afar Operation on 20 August, and the rapid liberation of the city just one week later on 27 August. While additional clashes involving pockets of insurgents continued to be noted over the course of initial consolidation efforts, Lieutenant General Yarallah, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, and Coalition officials each issued statements officially marking the completion of the liberation of Tal Afar and Nineveh Province over 10 months after related operations began on 16 October 2016.

On 31 August, Operation Inherent Resolve Commander US Army Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend stated initial battle damage assessments indicated over 1,000 insurgents were killed or captured during the operation, including 500-700 in the vicinity of Tal Afar City, and 300-500 near Ayadhiyah. On 2 September, Tal Afar Operations Commander Lt. Gen. Abdul Amir Yarallah claimed security forces killed 2,000 insurgents including 50 suicide bombers, and destroyed or cleared 77 vehicle borne IEDs, 71 booby-trapped buildings, and 990 IEDs. Total losses sustained by various security forces including Hashd al-Shaabi fighters were reportedly 115 killed and 679 wounded.

The claim of 2,000 insurgents killed was likely partially inflated. The claimed casualty figures for security forces is very plausible, representing a fraction of the losses sustained during the liberation of Mosul as expected. However, nearly 800 casualties is not insignificant, representing roughly half a brigade’s worth of combat power in accordance with established Iraqi military manning levels during the current conflict of roughly between 1,000 – 2,000 soldiers per brigade. Meanwhile, Tal Afar Mayor Abd al-Aal Abas claimed initial estimates indicated just 10% of the city was damaged during the operation, forming a very positive sign for related reconstruction efforts.

The removal of the last major IS hub in Nineveh will undoubtedly have a very positive impact on the security of Kurdish and Iraqi government controlled areas of the province, with the coming months important to monitor as a baseline for future activity patterns. The rapid conduct of the Tal Afar Operation induces additional optimism with regards to the expected characteristics of future operations in Hawija and western Anbar. The upcoming month will form an important period as security forces refit and reposition, and as initial shaping operations are identified.

Over the course of the remainder of the reporting period, small pockets of insurgents continued to be encountered in Ayadiyah and other suburbs of Tal Afar, with dozens of insurgents killed, and small numbers of casualties also sustained by security forces. Other suspected insurgents were interdicted while attempting to escape a wide ranging set of areas far west of Tal Afar, and as far east as the Badush sub-district outside Mosul. As regularly noted, related threats are expected to remain a factor for the near-term, but will undoubtedly begin to lower consid erably following the first few weeks of consolidation efforts. Attacks were also noted against Hashd al-Shaabi controlled frontlines hotspots in western and southern Nineveh as expected, though no change in control of terrain was assessed.

Routine security concerns in much of the Kurdish Region as referendum vote approaches:
On 30 August and again on 3 September, Turkish troops launched artillery shells targeting alleged PKK positions along the border of northern Duhok Province, with no casualties reported. Turkish strike activity in the Iraqi Kurdish Region was very conservative following the PKK’s detainment of two Turkish MIT intelligence operatives and ongoing mediation efforts, with no airstrikes in northern Iraq since 24 August. However, On 4 September, Turkish Air Force aircraft conducted airstrikes against suspected PKK positions near multiple villages in the Nihel sub-district in northern Duhok. A return to routine airstrike patterns is anticipated following the 4 September events.

At around 1330 hours on 30 August, members of the Ahmed Saed and Tahir Agha families exchanged small arms fire near the Erbil – Duhok Road at the Mahate Junction in the Shekhan District. Two individuals were killed and three others were wounded before the clash ended. Additional reporting indicated this incident was motivated by a dispute over water. This incident forms the first confirmed shooting in the district since a 17 July altercation. No additional violence was initially seen amongst security responses in the area, but remains possible in the future.

On the afternoon of 2 September, an unidentified armed man wearing security clothing engaged an individual’s residence with dozens of rounds of small arms fire in the Zanyari Apartments in Erbil. The homeowner was wounded, and the criminal reportedly escaped before security forces arrived on the scene. These events were said to have been motivated by a personal dispute. This event forms the first confirmed close-quarters shooting in Erbil City since the month of June, though a number of unreported incidents are also likely to have occurred since that point. The 2 September shooting illustrates the enduring potential for personally motivated shootings in the city as with any major population center.

On the afternoon of 31 August, a number of armed men broke into the NRT office in Duhok. The individuals attempted to close the office and remove the NRT logo from the building, and chanted “yes for referendum” in a reference to the Kurdish independence referendum. The head of the NRT office, Sipan Amedi, stated “The assailants were driving vehicles belonging to the Kurdistan Region’s Ministry of Peshmerga, and threatened to set the office on fire if it is not evacuated.” No violence was initially reported in these events. This incident forms the latest in a series of politically-motivated acts of violence and intimidation directed against opponents of the independence referendum.

The Independent High Electoral and Referendum Commission (IHERC) announced that a campaign for the Kurdish independence referendum would be initiated on 5 September, and is planned to continue until 22 September. This initiative is intended to rally support for the referendum, and counter significant opposition associated with the “No for Now” campaign, and other opposition from the Gorran and other groups in the Kurdish Region calling for the referendum to be postponed. There is a heightened potential for pro-referendum demonstrations in the region during the final leadup to the currently planned 25 September vote.

Preparations for future operations in Hawija begin to take shape:
Following the completion of the liberation of Tal Afar, the focus has already begun to shift to preparations for future operations in Hawija. On 31 August, Iraqi Air Force aircraft dropped millions of leaflets over Hawija, directing citizens to stay away of IS positions, and calling for IS fighters to lay down their arms and surrender or die. Coalition strikes levels similarly rose as expected towards the end of the week, with a wide variety of financial assets, logistical facilities, and other targets engaged. Related patterns will continue to be monitored, with more significant upticks in Coalition strike levels anticipated much closer to the eventual initiation of ground operations.

Multiple reports discussed military units assembling outside the Hawija pocket, though most reports were indicative of propaganda efforts or limited preparations as opposed to more concerted staging of units. In accordance with established operational patterns, it is generally likely that a roughly month-long refit period will be necessary following the liberation of Tal Afar before the next set of major operations is initiated, with additional timing influences tied to the currently ambitioned 25 September Kurdish independence referendum vote. As such, while expected discussion of “imminent” operations should not be fully discounted, it is important to place such claims in context with previous patterns.

On 3 September, a government official named Hisham al-Hashimi stated a meeting was held at the headquarters of the Dijla Operations Command, with Iraqi Army Chief of Staff General Osman al-Ghanmi and Joint Operations Command (JOC) Deputy Commander Lieutenant General Abdul Amir Yarallah in attendance. The meeting focused on future operational planning for efforts to liberate the Hamrin Mountains, East Shirqat, and Hawija. Hashimi stated over 42,000 fighters from various security services are expected to take part in the operation, with a large contribution from the Federal Police and armored assets in a likely reference to the 9th Iraqi Army Armored Division.

US and French artillery battalions are expected to support the operation. Such assets have previously operated from the Qayyarah Airbase, though the construction of additional firebases in support of maneuver elements is likely. Overall, reporting along these lines will continue to be monitored in the leadup to the Hawija Operation in order to further refine expected characteristics.

Meanwhile, unconfirmed atmospherics reporting concerning IS activities within Hawija was prevalent this week, and will similarly continue to be noted daily until related operations begin. While many of these accounts are individually plausible, the bulk are assessed to be inflated or falsely reported as part of anti-IS information operations. As seen during the leadup to the Tal Afar Operation, such reporting is expected to focus on inflating IS losses from strike activity, promoting the extent of infighting amongst insurgents, and emphasizing the willingness of insurgents to escape or surrender.

Complex suicide attack against power plant outside Samarra:
The most notable attack events in the Northern Region this week were in Salah ad Din, as IS strived to achieve headlining attacks during Eid al-Adha. At around 0300 hours on 2 September, at least three IS suicide bombers armed with explosive vests and light weapons, including grenades, attacked the Samarra Diesel Power Plant, located southeast of the city. The operatives, overran the facility and attacked plant employees until security forces responded. Each of the attackers were shot and killed or detonated their explosive vests after being engaged in different areas of the station, causing multiple fires in addition to other damage.

At least seven were killed including four policemen and three workers, or alternatively six workers and one policeman according to other accounts, while 13 individuals were wounded including eight security personnel. Operations have been suspended at the site until repairs are made, with power outages affecting multiple areas between Tikrit and Samarra. While multiple high-impact attacks were noted in the leadup to Eid al-Adha, the 2 September events formed the first and only attack during Eid al-Adha itself able to achieve significant international media attention.

The 2 September attack also illustrates occasional deviations in target profiles asides from more regularly seen attacks against civilians in commercial areas and security forces. In this respect, this incident bears similarity to the 15 May 2016 Taji Gas Plant attack. Both the Taji Gas Plant attack and Samarra Diesel Power Plant attack resulted in fairly significant infrastructure damage. In addition to repair costs, additional costs could be incurred by increases in security measures at affected sites and similar infrastructure targets along the Tigris River Valley.

Two days later on the night of 4 September, Saraya al-Salam Hashd al-Shaabi forces in cooperation with local citizens reportedly killed three IS suicide bombers who intended to attack coffee shops in unspecified areas of Balad. The militants were reportedly cordoned in an an unspecified area before being killed. No casualties were reported amongst civilians or security personnel during these events. IS later claimed responsibility for the attack, citing the intended target as a Shi’a gathering near the Sayyid Muhammad bin Ali Shrine, and disingenuously claiming heavy casualties were inflicted.

Though it is still possible some casualties were unreported, the 4 September attack was reportedly thwarted, and failed to achieve any significant international media attention as a result. The disparity in originally intended target areas between coffee shops in Balad and the Sayyid Muhammad bin Ali Shrine is difficult to reconcile given overall limited reporting during this failed attack. Nevertheless, even if not able to directly impact the shrine during the 4 September events, IS was nonetheless able to pressure security concerns relevant to this shrine and other symbolic Shi’a religious sites in Balad and Samarra.

Trebil border crossing reopens, while security forces focus on disrupting threats in Anbar during Eid:
On 29 August, security forces imposed heightened security postures around Anbar Provincial Council building prior to a session to vote for the new governor of Anbar. The Anbar Provincial Council appointed Muhammed al-Halboosi as the new governor, with 22 out of 30 total votes in favor. Meanwhile, the former governor of Anbar, Suhaib al-Rawi, was finally dismissed due to financial and administrative corruption. These events form a positive development for the political stability of the province, with significant altercations noted between al-Rawi and much of the Provincial Council over the course of the past year, and previous efforts to replace al-Rawi unsuccessful.

On 30 August, Iraq and Jordan reopened the Trebil Border Crossing Point (BCP) and International Highway (Highway 1) after being closed since 2014. Senior Iraqi and Jordanian officials attended an opening ceremony for this key event. As regularly discussed, the restoration of direct trade with Jordan has formed a significant priority for Iraqi and Coalition officials. US Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk previously stated this route could facilitate roughly $1 billion USD per month in commerce, with related trade revenues important for supporting the Iraqi security apparatus. Anbar Governor Mohammed al-Halboosi stated truck traffic could possibly start as early as 31 August.

Recent attacks influential to Highway 1 and other areas of the Rutbah District were unable to delay the reopening of the Trebil BCP, but remain an important threat consideration. In addition to Border Guard Police units at the border, the route is primarily secured by a combination of units from the 1st Iraqi Army Division, Anbar Tribal Fighters, and a limited Hashd al-Shaabi presence. Expected efforts by PSC Olive Group to support the rehabilitation and security of the highway have not yet begun according to Mohammed al-Halboosi, with an agreement reportedly still being finalized.

As expected, Coalition and Iraqi security forces were highly focused on counter-terrorism efforts across the province in support of Eid-related security operations. On the afternoon on 2 September, security forces seized a vehicle borne IED at the 7-Kilo Checkpoint, west of Ramadi. The driver was arrested, and EOD personnel cleared the vehicle borne IED via a controlled detonation, with no casualties reported. This incident is the first vehicle borne interdiction along main commercial routes in eastern Anbar since a series of interdictions between mid-to-late July. The 2 September interdiction is assessed to have prevented a vehicle borne IED attack intended to take place in an area of the capital.

Additional related efforts to degrade vehicle borne IED-related threats originating from IS support zones in western Anbar were noted during this period. Coalition strikes destroyed four vehicle borne IED facilities near Rawa and Al Qaim this week. On 3 September, Anbar Operations Commander Major General Mahmud al-Falahi announced the initiation of construction efforts for a berm system in areas between Ramadi and Rutbah, in order to disrupt the infiltration of vehicle borne IEDs towards Rahhaliyah and other areas of eastern Anbar. Once completed, the berm system will stretch between the 160-Kilo area and the Nukhaib sub-district, adding depth to other security measures further east.

Finally on 4 September, Ministry of Interior Spokesperson Brigadier General Saad Maan stated security forces, arrested a suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest who intended to target the Ramadi Play City Park. The explosive vest was cleared by EOD units, and the operative and a number of relatives were arrested with no casualties reported. These events reflect positively on the performance of security forces in Ramadi, preventing what could have been a very lethal attack during Eid al-Adha. Other security precautions this week included restrictions at the Suqur Checkpoint, coming as part of routinely seen heavy-handed approaches to mitigate the vehicle borne IED threat facing the capital.

IS seeks to maintain momentum in Baghdad through Eid using low-sophistication attacks:
Additional reporting was received pertaining to the vehicle borne IED detonation on the night of 29 August near the Kindi Intersection. It is now assessed that at least four individuals were killed including three civilians, and five individuals were wounded. This refinement elevates the assessed effectiveness of this attack. Security forces greatly heightened security postures in the capital following the series of vehicle borne IED attacks between 24-29 August. In accordance with the Eid al-Fitr security plan, several route restrictions went into effect, and checkpoint operations and intelligence efforts were greatly increased, with large numbers of Counter-Terrorism Service personnel amongst those deployed.

Under such conditions, IS was unable to conduct any high-impact attacks within the capital during Eid al-Adha as a welcomed reprieved. However, it is important to note that IS regularly attempts to resume major attacks after security postures reduce following holiday periods. In the interim, IS focused on less sophisticated approaches to maintain pressure in the Baghdad security environment. Just before midnight on the night of 30 August, gunmen armed with light weapons attacked a security forces checkpoint in the Hamid Shaban area of Abu Ghraib. IS militants apparently overran the position, killing at least four security personnel and wounding six others.

Also on 30 August, the IS Northern Baghdad Governorate claimed to have detained and executed two National Security Service members. On 31 August, unidentified gunmen conducted a grenade attack against a Hashd al-Ashairi checkpoint in Abu Ghraib, killing three personnel and wounding four others in a particularly effective attack. These incidents follows additional recent notable attacks against isolated checkpoints in areas of the Baghdad Belt, including a 28 August attack against a Sunni militia checkpoint in the Tarmiyah District that resulted in the deaths of three militia members. No IS casualties were claimed in any of these incidents, illustrating well-planned attacks by skilled gunmen.

Upticks in similar attacks are occasionally seen in northern and western outskirts of the capital, forming an established IS approach to maintain momentum during periods of heightened security postures in the city. Meanwhile, although IED activity levels dropped during the beginning of Eid, increases in attack levels were noted as the week came to a close, with 25-35 detonations reported per week over the past three reporting periods compared to previous averages of roughly 20 detonations per week. As initially noted, recent increases in IED levels are assessed to form an increased emphasis on low-sophistication attacks in response to the inconsistent effectiveness of more sophisticated forms of attack.

Increases in lethal close-quarters shootings were also noted, with at least 16 incidents in and around Baghdad since 27 August. Of these events, one targeted a government employee, five targeted security personnel, and the remaining 10 were civilians. Several additional discoveries of bodies with gunshot wounds were also reported. The motivations behind most of these shootings is unclear, with a combination of personal, criminal, IS, and sectarian motivations likely. In conjunction with three engagements at checkpoints outside the city since 27 August, IS perpetration is particularly likely for some of the close-quarters shootings affecting security personnel.

Oil smuggling operations thwarted in Basra:
By far the most active area of the south during this reporting period was Basra province, comprising approximately half of all incidents reported in the southern region. Although many of these were security events relating to the Eid al-Adha celebrations, the majority of security breaches in the province were again connected to criminality, and included two murders, two robberies and two IED-related incidents.

Also in Basra province, there was evidence of organised oil-smuggling, with investigations ongoing after the discovery of quite sophisticated operations in two separate areas within the province. On 30 August, Basra National Security Service elements conducted a search operation alongside the Basra-Maysan oil pipeline, finding and removing specialised equipment used to steal oil from the pipeline. The operation was conducted following a tip-off that there had been abnormal activity near the Basra-Maysan oil pipeline. On 2 September, National Security Service units seized 1500m of pipe, which had been buried to disguise its presence, being used to smuggle oil from the main Basra-Dhi Qar pipeline to a quarry in the Rumaila area in the west of the province.

On Monday 4 September, the Electricity Committee of Basra Provincial Council announced the completion of maintenance and refurbishment of the fourth generator unit at the thermal power station intended to raise the rate of production and voltage output in the areas north of Basra and the Shatt al-Arab. Maintenance work was financed by a Japanese company and the official opening of the unit is scheduled for Thursday 7 September.

One of the major issues facing the Iraqi Government is electricity, highlighted by regular demonstrations demanding improved basic services, often specifically condemning power cuts or the lack of electricity. Since the removal of Saddam Hussain, the demand for electricity has proved a constant, and although production has increased annually since then, so has demand, which persistently outstrips production.

The Governor of Basra, As’ad Abdul-Amir al-Eidani, has agreed with the Directorate of Electricity Distribution in the southern region to illuminate the Shaheed Muhammad Baqr al-Sadr suspension bridge with effect from 3 September. Lights on the bridge were extinguished due to non-payment for the generated electricity. Al-Eidani stated that the financial issues will be resolved after the Eid holiday.

On a positive note, illuminating the bridge may assist security forces in preventing suicide attempts from the bridge. A campaign was recently launched to warn of the dangers of jumping from the suspension bridge following a number of recent deaths and serious injuries. On the negative side, the general public, constantly demanding improved electricity supplies and protesting against regular power cuts, are likely to take umbrage that a bridge is being given priority over civilian needs, with the situation possibly leading to more demonstrations and a potential for damage to the newly opened bridge.

In Zubayr, a factory for the production of plastic granules and other products for use in road surfacing is to be set up alongside a waste sorting and recycling plant. Zubayr already has the capacity to produce waste bags and, with the import of new technology, is set to expand into other locations, creating more jobs in the area.

Tribal violence reported in central Dhi Qar and additional developments in the south:
Although activity levels in Babel this reporting period were lower than previous weeks, Hashd al-Shaabi forces continued to be targeted, with an IED attack on 31 August in the Jurf al-Sakhr district in the northwest of the province. This attack resulted in three fighters wounded. Elsewhere in the province, criminality continues to dominate reporting with a kidnapping, probably for ransom, in Musayyib, an IED cleared from outside a civilian’s home in Mahawil and numerous criminal arrests in a number of towns.

On 4 September, an armed clash broke out between members of al-Baghia and Khikan tribes due to an historic dispute in Hayy al-Zahraa, west of Shatra, central Dhi Qar. Three individuals were killed and three others were wounded in a lethal clash. Dhi Qar Police Directorate elements cordoned the area and launched a search operation for the protagonists, seizing three AK-47s and amounts of ammunition used in the clash and arrested two people, one a 63-year-old retired soldier. The level of violence suggests that this is likely to be an ongoing situation, and further fighting is to be expected in the future.

On Saturday 2 September, the Director of the Environment for the province of Dhi Qar, Mohsen Aziz, announced the formation of a joint committee to determine a location for the construction of a chemical and biological waste treatment plant. The aim is to rid the province of expired chemicals and dangerous waste, thus improving the local environment and health status. Dhi Qar is one of the most underdeveloped governorates of Iraq and the introduction of this project is expected to generate jobs.

Transport Minister, Kazem al-Hamami has announced plans for the construction of three new civilian airports in Salah al-Din, Anbar and Babel. No time-scale or order of work has been published. In January 2017 the cornerstone for the new Central Euphrates Airport was laid by the representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and the head of Iraq’s National Investment Commission. The airport is located midway between Karbala, Najaf and Hilla and is designed to serve all three cities while being placed in an ideal location for religious pilgrims visiting Karbala or Najaf. Najaf already has an international airport, although most international flights are from Iran, and there is a Karbala Airport, not an international hub, north of the city at an old military base. The new airport is expected to provide a full international air-hub for the three provinces of Karbala, Najaf and Babel, with the Babel construction somewhat questionable in extravagance given current extreme financial constraints.

On 3 September, the Executive Assistant of the Hashd al-Shaabi Committee, Abu Ali al-Kufi stated that Hashd al-Shaabi forces completed the security cordon of western Iraqi borders. He noted that Hashd al-Shaabi units had begun construction of a berm and trench from the International Highway in the north to Karbala City in the south, adding that this would complete the construction of a trench and berm system that extended the length of the International Highway between Ramadi and Trebil Border Crossing. He went on to say that the berm that they had begun work on a month ago from Samawa to the international highway and which extends for 150 km, will secure the central and southern Euphrates cities.

Great store is being put in the construction of defensive berms across the country, with claims that such construction will stop terrorist attacks. That said, the only attacks these berms are likely to effectively mitigate are vehicle borne IED attacks, as the berms would prove difficult to traverse in a vehicle weighed down with explosives. They are however, assessed as almost entirely ineffective against men on foot, unless there is a constant security presence simultaneously established along the berms established.

International:

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