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Deadly coordinated attack in southern Salah ad Din Province

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On the evening of 4 July, IS militants armed with various weapons including RPGs targeted a Hashd al-Ashairi PMF checkpoint in Sabaa Village of the Nabaai area, located in a rural desert area of southern Salah ad Din Province near the Baghdad provincial border. Two PMF members were killed, with limited reports suggesting a third PMF member was captured and quickly executed. An IED emplaced by the militants detonated against responders travelling in a vehicle, initiating an ambush which targeted additional responding civilians and Hashd al-Ashairi personnel. Most reporting cited 4-5 individuals killed, and 10 others were wounded. However, reports from typically credible sources claimed five civilians and three PMF members were killed during the follow-on IED detonation and ambush.

No IS casualties were reported. Overall, at least seven and as many as 11 individuals were killed during these highly effective coordinated attacks. Conflicting reports concerning identification of the casualties as either civilians or Hashd al-Ashairi personnel were difficult to reconcile. Such discrepancies are not uncommon for attacks affecting local armed citizens and instances where civilians are inadvertently targeted during attacks against local security personnel. Official security sources were reluctant to discuss this setback, further increasing related reporting challenges.

Complex and coordinated attacks involving strikes against isolated security positions coupled with attacks against responders are commonly noted in active environments of the Northern Region. This includes regularly noted coordinated attacks along a corridor between Balad District of southern Salah ad Din Province and Tarmiyah District of northern Baghdad Province. IS activity in these historically active environments is supported by resilient IS support zones in the Jazeera Desert in southern Salah ad Din Province and other staging grounds. IS largely prefers the targeting of lightly armed local PMF units, but attacks against better equipped ISF are far from unprecedented.

The very lethal 4 July attacks were closely preceded by another deadly coordinated attack in an area southeast of Balad on 25 June. During that incident, IS gunmen targeted local security personnel, with a subsequent IED detonation killing at least three civilians. More sophisticated complex and coordinated attacks involving an IED-initiated ambush against responders are also not uncommon along the Balad-Baghdad corridor. Four security personnel were killed and several others were wounded during the 24 April coordinated attack east of Balad. At least five Iraqi Army personnel were killed and nine others were wounded during the 3 June coordinated attack in Tarmiyah District. Elusive IS gunmen rarely sustain casualties during well-planned attacks along these lines.

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