At approximately 13:00 on 13 April, a patrol from 1st Battalion, 45th Iraqi Army Brigade, conducted a search operation near Smaqa al-Sufla village, located in a rural area of southern Daquq district. IS militants using small arms fire conducted what was described as a complex ambush, cutting off the patrol. This apparently contributed to initial unconfirmed reports claiming four Iraqi Army intelligence personnel were kidnapped in the Wadi Rukhana area.
At approximately 14:15, ISF and 16th PMF Brigade reinforcements, supported by Iraqi and CF aircraft, deployed to the Smaqa al-Sufla area. The ambush was broken during associated airstrikes and clashes, with the group of soldiers successfully recovered. Between 1-2 soldiers were killed, and four others were wounded including the affected unit’s battalion commander. The most plausible reports indicate between 5-8 insurgents were killed during these events, with the operation concluding at around 21:00.
The Security Media Cell denied reports citing abductions and claimed the clashes occurred after ISF discovered a cave occupied by a number of insurgents in the Wadi al-Shay area. The cave was destroyed by Iraqi and CF aircraft, with 23 IS fighters allegedly killed in likely highly inflated reporting. Relevant airstrikes and follow-on operations reportedly continued overnight between 13-14 April.
IS promotes active defensive measures against security forces conducting operations:
The 13 April events form the latest example of IS militants conducting major ambushes or other lethal defensive measures affecting security forces during search operations in north-central Iraq. On 8 March, two US Marine Raiders were killed, amongst other CF and ISF casualties, due to small arms fire and IED activity during an operation near Makhmour, southwestern Erbil province. On 7 April, three Federal Police members were killed following what were described as heavy clashes and an IED detonation during an operation along the mountains near Dibis town, west of Kirkuk city. In each of these events, insurgents appeared confident engaging security forces during daylight hours for extensive periods, breaking contact or otherwise being neutralized only after close-air-support became available.
Initial reports during the 13 April operation citing four soldiers missing were reminiscent of the preceding incidents. Both the 8 March and 7 April incidents involved security personnel being cut-off due to IED detonations at tunnel entrances, with their corpses later recovered following lengthy excavation efforts. While the 13 April events ultimately did not involve a booby-trapped tunnel, the complex ambush underscored IS intent to inflict heavy ISF casualties in a decisive engagement. The claimed IS losses will likely only pose a tenuous impact on IS activity levels given the resiliency of the organization.
The 13 April events coincide with a broader uptick in IS activity in Kirkuk province and adjacent historically active environments of north-central Iraq. This includes a complex attack against a nearby PMF position outside Tuz Khurmatu on 9 April, which killed at least four PMF fighters. On 13 April, Minister of Defense Najah al-Shimmari acknowledged recent increases in terrorist attacks and infiltration. He stressed the importance of preventing IS from exploiting the conditions associated with the coronavirus outbreak. IS is expected to remain active in relevant rural environments until security forces can reduce their focus on health-centric security measures surrounding the pandemic.
For further discussion and analysis see our full report