Connecting our clients with the information and analysis they need

TALOS Iraq Weekly Analysis Report 9 November


The grey areas depicted on the map indicate geographic areas Islamic State (IS) is assessed to maintain a significant operational and often administrative presence. Since the completed liberation of Iraq at the end of 2017, related zones are currently relegated to Syria. Not depicted are locations within Iraq subject to limitations in security control where IS often retains a significant insurgent presence, particularly in active areas of Nineveh, Salah ad Din, Kirkuk, Diyala, Baghdad, and Anbar Provinces. The integrated heat map depicts concentrations of activity during the reporting period.

Key developments:

  1. Latest round of controversial U.S. sanctions against Iran takes effect
  2. Multiple demonstrations in KR-I against pension bonus for MPs
  3. First effective vehicle borne IED attack in Mosul since liberation underscores shifts in patterns
  4. IS gunmen conduct coordinated attacks against various targets in suburbs of Kirkuk and Hawija
  5. ISF continue to bolster security along Syrian border as IS indirect fire increases along the border
  6. Coordinated IED detonations in Baghdad inflict several civilian casualties
  7. Tribal violence causes significant casualties in Dhi Qar, as thousands commemorate the Death Anniversary of Prophet Muhammad
  8. Friday reform demonstrations resume in Basra Province


  • Significant responses to vehicle borne IED threat in and around Mosul

IS launches post-Arba’een attack series:
Following on from the previous reporting period, IS continued to execute a long-anticipated series of high-profile attacks occurring on or after the mainstay of Arba’een commemorations on 30 October. As regularly discussed, IS regularly concentrates some of its most significant attacks in the aftermath of major religious events, exploiting incremental reductions in security measures as normal postures are resumed. With one notable exception, significant attacks largely involved various explosive assets as opposed to direct fire incidents.  Initial focuses on the employment of less-sophisticated IEDs on Arba’een transitioned to more sophisticated vehicle borne IED employment.

Significant attacks thus far included a complex IED attack against a Shi’a shrine in northern Diyala on 30 Octobercoordinated IED attacks in Babel Province on 30 October, an IED attack against the governor of Salah ad Din on 1 Novembercoordinated attacks conducted by gunmen in Kirkuk Province on 2 Novembera vehicle borne IED detonation in Shirqat on 4 November, coordinated IED attacks in Baghdad on 4 November, a vehicle borne IED find in Mosul on 6 November, and a vehicle borne IED detonation in Mosul on 8 November.

Ultimately, while each of the attacks were casualty producing, none of the attacks could be considered extremely effective in terms of numbers of fatalities inflicted.  This is particularly when compared to historic IS attack capabilities where dozens of fatalities per incident was not uncommon.  Nevertheless, some of the attacks deservedly gained significant media attention, supporting related IS objectives to promote the organization’s viability as a terrorist organization.

On 6 November, a joint report was issued by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) concerning UN investigations into IS atrocities.  The report claimed at least 200 mass graves containing between 6,000 and 12,000 bodies were discovered in different areas of northern and western Iraq that were occupied by IS between 2014 and 2017.  Large numbers of corpses were associated with the 2014 Camp Speicher Massacre, which resulted in the deaths of approximately 1,700 Air Force cadets and other security personnel.  Other significant mass graves were associated with the massacre of Yazidis in Sinjar.  Thousands of bodies could be present at the Khasfa sinkhole south of Mosul, forming what is believed to be the most significant mass grave.

Latest round of controversial U.S. sanctions against Iran takes effect:
On 5 November, the latest round of U.S. economic sanctions targeting Iran’s energy, financial, and shipping sectors were put in effect.  Iraq was not on a list of eight countries receiving temporary 180-day waivers. However, Iraq was granted a limited waiver for electricity imports and other Iranian products to alleviate shortfalls in domestic capabilities.  Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi later claimed Iraq was “not part of the sanctions.”  “The US gave us 45 days to give them a plan on how we will gradually stop using Iranian gas and oil,” said one unnamed official source in apparent clarification.  “We told them it may take us up to four years to either become self-sufficient or find another alternative.”

As the debacle surrounding the sanctions took shape, Iraqi Oil Minister Thamer Ghadhban cited intent to patiently gauge the impact of the sanctions ahead of an OPEC meeting in December.  KRG officials stressed their willingness to abide by the Iraqi federal government’s decision to implement the sanctions.  Customs officials at the Parwezkhan border confirmed that the import and export of oil products between the Iran and the KR-I was halted hours afterwards.  Meanwhile, the KRG is hopeful that the sanctions will set conditions for a long-ambitioned agreement between the KRG and GoI to resume exports from Kirkuk to Turkey via the Ceyhan oil pipeline.  The GoI was initially hesitant as officials underscored the potential to use oil from Kirkuk for domestic consumption.

Other significant political developments included a new set of delays concerning the government formation process.  During the previous reporting period, Iraqi MPs approved 14 of 22 cabinet nominees proposed by Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.  Officials later determined conditions were not met for the appointment of the remaining cabinet members during the next parliamentary session on 6 November.  It remains to be seen when these key security posts will be filled amongst other disputes.  Meanwhile, Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi stressed his commitment towards the selection of independents, claiming five of the previously approved nominations were selected from the obscure online application process.

On 7 November, the White House announced that the current U.S. presidential administration will be appointing Matthew Tueller as the new ambassador to Iraq.  The official will replace Douglas Silliman, who has served as the U.S. ambassador since 2016.  Tueller is currently the U.S. ambassador in Yemen, where the U.S. has been criticized for its role supporting controversial Saudi military operations directed against Iranian-supported militias.  The U.S. government only gradually began attempting to reign in Saudi actions following countless atrocities involving airstrikes conducted with little regard for the safety of the civilian populace.  Tueller is understandably expected to maintain a staunchly anti-Iranian stance, perpetuating challenges facing GoI counterparts stuck in the middle.

This week, KDP-affiliated government and security officials propagated multiple reports citing increased IS threats in Iraqi-controlled territory in disputed areas of the Northern Region.  As with other notable reports, the underlying circumstances center on the enduring propaganda battle stemming from the aftermath of the 16 October 2017 events, now reinvigorated following the one-year anniversary. Assessed KRG intent involves demonstrating shortfalls in ISF capabilities, and the continued relevance of Kurdish security forces in the anti-IS campaign.  The assessed end state is to secure additional support from international Coalition partners, particularly with regards to the resolution of longstanding disputes between the KRG and the GoI. The ongoing government formation period and increasing deliberations over the 2019 budget forms a key period associated with such objectives.

Multiple demonstrations in KR-I against pension bonus for MPs:
On the afternoon of 1 November, Turkish Air Force fixed-wing aircraft conducted airstrikes against alleged PKK locations near De Rash and Birkit villages, located south of Amadiya in Chamanke Sub-District.  No casualties were initially reported.  Birkit Village is significant for its location along the northern fringes of the Atrush Block.  The 1 November airstrike follows a 27 October airstrike affecting nearby Birkiyat Village.  Further to previous discussion, these airstrikes formed the first confirmed impacts within the Atrush Block in recent months. Additional instances are understandably possible given the general nature of most strike reporting.  It is very possible this uptick in activity was driven by shifts in PKK movements from more commonly targeted mountainous safe havens further north.

On 3 November, dozens of civil rights activists conducted a demonstration outside Kurdistan Parliament Building in Erbil.  Protesters denounced the KRG’s decisions to increase pensions for former MPs.  On 31 October 2018, Kurdish MPs approved a 48 million IQD ($40,300) bonus for pensioners. “Any bonus must be in payment for hard work. But we are asking, what did the MPs do for the people in order to justify deserving 48 million dinars?” said a statement denouncing the bonus.  On 5 November, a similarly motivated demonstration was conducted by members of the Kurdistan Region’s Organization for the Disabled, with one individual burning his wheelchair in protest.  Four demonstrations pertaining to this issue have been reported since 1 November, with additional events possible over the near-term.

On 6 November, recently elected Kurdish MPs were sworn into office, forming the latest milestone in government formation process following the 30 September parliamentary election.  Significant issues between the KDP and PUK, as well as various opposition parties, remain unresolved. “The winning candidates will be sworn into office, but, as the political parties have not met to discuss government formation talks, parliament speaker and his deputies will not be elected, and the session will be left open until further notice,” said PUK official Begard Talabani.

First effective vehicle borne IED attack in Mosul since liberation underscores shifts in patterns:
Key developments in the Northern Region were highlighted by significant shifts in vehicle borne IED patterns along the Tigris River Valley.  To recall, a vehicle borne IED detonation at a market in Qayyarah on 23 October killed seven individuals and wounded several others.  On 4 November, a vehicle borne IED detonated near a school in Shirqat City, wounding five individuals.

Both incidents formed the first vehicle borne IED detonations in the respective population centers since their liberation in 2016.  Relatedly, those attacks were significant for occurring well north of established concentrations of vehicle borne IED incidents near Baiji and in Kirkuk City. This shift in geographical targeting patterns was assessed to have been partially influenced by significant security responses in those hotspots surrounding Arba’een.  Those events were associated with an assessed increased potential for additional vehicle borne IED activity in population centers accessible to Highway 1 in Nineveh and northern Salah ad Din.

Associated concerns were further concretized on 6 November, when a vehicle borne IED detonated while ISF were cordoning off the vehicle in the Mosul Wood area of East Mosul.  No casualties were reported.  That incident notably formed the first vehicle borne IED incident in Mosul City since a device was found and cleared on 16 April.  Just two days later on the evening of 8 November, a vehicle borne IED detonated outside a restaurant in West Mosul, killing 4-5 individuals and wounding several others.  The 8 November incident significantly formed the first effective vehicle borne IED attack in Mosul since the hard-fought liberation of the city in 2017.

There is a clear potential for additional vehicle borne IED activity in and around Mosul over the near-term, particularly in vibrant commercial areas.  The 8 November detonation demonstrated the enduring threat of highly effective vehicle borne IED attacks in this symbolic city despite the significant security resources dedicated to the Mosul security environment.  The 8 November detonation is amongst four deadliest vehicle borne IED attacks in Iraq thus far in 2018, following three previous attacks that generated 7-8 fatalities.  Although attack effectiveness will continue to fluctuate, overall increases in lethality are certainly very possible towards the end of 2018.

Security officials in Nineveh are expected to redouble security measures imposed in the aftermath of the attack, though the effectiveness remains to be seen.  The 23 October attack in Qayyarah was followed by a significant set of operations that resulted in the arrests of several individuals under questionable circumstances.  The assessed impact of those operations was decisively degraded by the occurrence of three subsequent vehicle borne IED incidents in population centers to the south and north.  A similar spike in arrest operations and other increases in security measures is likely in Mosul and surrounding areas.  Additional increases in Coalition intelligence and strike support is also possible.

For client operations, the primary consideration remains the extant potential for inadvertent exposure to attacks.  Target profiles for most of the recent vehicle borne IED incidents along the Tigris River Valley included civilians and security personnel in major population centers. The location of other attacks along Highway 1, including civilians at a restaurant and Baiji Oil Refinery employees, is also important to take into account.  A related enduring consideration involves the potential for detonations under duress at checkpoints.  Of attacks since 29 August, five detonations occurred between 07:00-12:00, four detonations occurred between 17:00-20:30, and three detonations occurred between 22:00-22:30.

IS gunmen conduct coordinated attacks against various targets in suburbs of Kirkuk and Hawija:
On the evening of 31 October, according to Federal Police Command Lieutenant General Raid Shakir Jawdat, Federal Police supported by CF conducted an intelligence-driven operation along the mountains south of Makhmour at the Erbil-Kirkuk provincial border.  CF aircraft conducted an airstrike against IS locations in the area, with the bodies of 19 insurgents reportedly recovered during an operation the following morning.  While likely that several insurgents were killed, the Federal Police commander regularly inflates IS losses in reporting. As regularly discussed, IS safe havens in mountainous areas near Makhmour play an important role supporting activity in adjacent environments in Kirkuk.  Largescale operations to deny IS access to these safe havens in July transitioned to routine operations and airstrikes as an enduring mitigating measure.

On the evening of 2 November, multiple groups of IS militants armed with various weapons launched a set of apparently coordinated attacks against various targets in rural areas west of Kirkuk City and north of Hawija.  In one attack, six IS members wearing Federal Police uniforms abducted two Kurdish individuals including one off-duty Peshmerga member from Taq Taq Village in Dibis District, west of Kirkuk City.  An IED subsequently detonated against responding Hashd al-Ashairi forces, with one member wounded.  The body of one of the abductees was recovered the following morning.  A similar fate was expected for the second abductee, but not confirmed.

In another attack, four IS members wearing Federal Police uniforms broke into the home of the Mahmudiya Village Mukhtar, located northeast of Hawija Town.  The mukhtar was subsequently shot and killed and another civilian was wounded before the gunmen fled. Additional activity was reported in other areas, including attacks against ISF positions in different areas outside Hawija.  An unspecified number of casualties were reported.   The 2 November coordinated attacks prominently illustrated elevated IS attack intent that was expected to remain in effect in the aftermath of Arba’een.

The capability to launch these coordinated attacks underscored the questionable nature of often inflated reporting pertaining to claimed major IS losses, such as the claimed deaths of 19 insurgents just days beforehand, and the overall resilient nature of the organization.  That said, it is also important to note that tangible positive measures of performance have been seen in other sectors.  The 2 November events contrasted with recent headlining attacks in the province that were characterized by a series of vehicle borne IED attacks in Kirkuk City, with no new activity seen following an attack on 13 October.

Security officials subsequently made significant efforts to further overshadow recent setbacks by discussing security successes against IS cells in the city and surrounding areas.   Many reports deceptively addressed previously reported operations and airstrikes leading to large numbers of arrests and IS casualties.  The mainstay of new reports lacked associated discussion of weapons being recovered and other details that concretize the perceived significance of these arrests.  IS activity levels were moderate as the week came to a close amongst a combination of largescale security operations and inclement weather.

ISF continue to bolster security along Syrian border as IS indirect fire increases along the border:
Additional military assets continue to be deployed in areas along the Iraq-Syria border, following the successful IS counterattack in eastern Syria and the subsequent temporary pause of Operation Roundup.  On 1 November, elements of the 35th and 36th Brigade, 9th Iraqi Army Division deployed to Al Qaim District in order to reinforce the border.  The deployment of these proficient units is indicative of the current priority of securing the border and preventing conflict spillover from eastern Syria.  In an effort to further reinforce this historically porous border, images from social media depicted Border Guards elements reinforcing several border posts.  Single-source reporting suggested several border positions located inside Syrian territory were also seized as part of ongoing efforts to bolster border security, though no further information from official military sources was able to verify this account.

Despite this proactive activity, the newly established frontlines have enabled IS indirect fire to resume and affect ISF locations along the border.  During this period three ineffective IS indirect fire attacks were reported, indicative of efforts to disrupt cross-border activity and harass static ISF locations.  Areas along the Iraq-Syria border will likely remain active in the interim, exacerbated by the enduring temporary pause of Operation Roundup.  Operations should remain aware that the majority of activity along border areas is likely to consist of IS indirect fire and small-scale direct fire engagements between IS militants and ISF.

In conjunction with these efforts, several airstrikes targeting IS militants in isolated desert areas of Anbar were reported.  On 6 November, an unverified account suggested that Iraqi Army Aviation assets targeted IS militants in Hit District, with another unnamed source later stating that an IS commander identified as Ra’ad Madlul and three other militants were killed west of the TharThar Lake.  Further confirmation from official sources was lacking.  At face value, these strikes are possibly a response to an intermittent series of IS authored direct fire attacks affecting isolated ISF locations in Hit District during October and November.

On 7 November, a security source stated that U.S. aircraft targeted an IS vehicle in the Natwania area of Rutbah District, killing two militants including Daha al-Dalimi.  The following day, a security source within the Anbar Operations Command stated that Iraqi Army Aviation assets destroyed a vehicle in an unspecified area of the Rutbah desert, killing six IS militants including two commanders.  Given the similarities surrounding the alleged targeting of two IS commanders, it is somewhat possible that these accounts represent a single strike in an area of the Rutbah Desert.  Confirmation of such activity and CF involvement is pending the release of the Coalition strike summary.

In a positive sign of growing perceived stability, on 3 November, the Anbar Operations Command announced the opening of al-Tufaha Bridge, located in al-Nu’aimia area along the southern outskirts of Fallujah City.  In addition, on 4 November, the Anbar Governor Doctor Ali Farhan Dulaimi and the Anbar Operations Commander reopened the Japanese Bridge, located along Highway 1 and northwest of Fallujah City.  Similar to other bridges and critical infrastructure in Anbar, the Japanese Bridge was extensively damaged during IS occupation and extensive repair work was required to reconstruct the bridge.  Although positive to the stability and development of Anbar Province, many urban areas throughout the province remain in a ruinous state and substantial investment remains a necessity for the future of Anbar.

Coordinated IED detonations in Baghdad inflict several civilian casualties:
On the evening of 4 November, five confirmed IED detonations were reported within a four-hour period in various areas of Baghdad, killing eight civilians and wounding 16 others.  These events consisted of two under vehicle IEDs and three regular devices.  According to a credible source, seven IED events were reported throughout 4 November, though tactical reporting was unable to verify this tally.  IS-affiliated Amaq News Agency later published an official claim for each detonation, typically embellishing that 50 Shi’a individuals were collectively killed or wounded.

The most prolific form of explosive threat influential to movement operations in Baghdad comprises of routine IED activity.  Attacks against civilians, vibrant commercial areas and security force movements are a commonplace, and nearly all are casualty producing.  The above-mentioned set of IED detonations conformed with these established patterns.  A similar set of coordinated detonations was reported in Babel and Diyala on 30 October, indicative of IS efforts to disrupt the mainstay of Arba’een commemorations.  Equally, IS IED cells in Baghdad have previously demonstrated their capability to conduct such coordinated activity, as four near-simultaneous IED detonations were reported in the capital on the evening of 7 October.

It is interesting to note that the 4 November detonations occurred nearly one month after the 7 October events in Baghdad, highlighting the current capability of IS logistics and ability to facilitate lethal aid in order to support kinetic operations in the capital.  Despite this sudden uptick in IED activity, IS has failed to conduct a mass-casualty attack in Baghdad since 24 May, and it is likely that this sudden uptick in IED events represents an effort to overshadow this shortfall.  IED activity will undoubtedly remain a consistent theme within the Baghdad operating environment, indicative of IS efforts to maintain freedom of movement whilst degrading ISF resources and discrediting the security apparatus.  Although no direct targeting of client movements has been recorded, unintended exposure to such events remains an enduring consideration.

On 6 November, according to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, unspecified militia leaders have discussed plans for kidnapping U.S. citizens attending the 45th Baghdad International Fair, scheduled for 10-19 November.  No further details were discussed.  The rate of kidnappings across Iraq remains far higher than official reporting would suggest, with most cases involving residents abducted for criminal ransom purposes, as well as tribal or sectarian motivations. Abductions involving U.S. citizens have not been seen in Baghdad since a significant incident in 2016.  Though many prominent Iranian-backed PMF units possess the theoretical capability to conduct such operations, it is unlikely that this report translates as an increased threat of abduction, but indicative of a general warning following recent U.S. sanctions on Iran and the high-profile nature of the international fair in Baghdad.

Tribal violence causes significant casualties in Dhi Qar, as thousands commemorate the Death Anniversary of Prophet Muhammad:
On the morning of 7 November, amidst heightened security measures, thousands of pilgrims across the Southern Region commemorated the Death Anniversary of Prophet Muhammad, with the main event occurring at the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf City.  Meanwhile, thousands of pilgrims marched to the Imam Ali Mosque in Zubayr District, in order to mark this somber event.  Similar commemorations were noted at the Shrine of Imam Ahmad bin Issa in Imam Sadiq Sub-District, northern Basra Province.  In a notable security success, no significant security breaches were noted in relation to these events.

During this period, a significant tribal clash which resulted in multiple casualties was reported in Dhi Qar.  On 5 November, a security source stated that an armed tribal clash involving light weapons occurred in the Nasr Sub-District, killing one individual and wounding seven others including two women.  Security forces responded and arrested five individuals in connection with the incident.  The exact circumstances surrounding this clash are unclear, though events such as these are frequently motivated by personal disputes or by enduring tribal differences, as actors seek retribution to previous transgressions or are intent on settling enduring disputes between different tribes.

The next most recent clash to occur in Dhi Qar was reported on 28 September, when an armed tribal clash over agricultural land broke out involving the use of light weapons in Sayyid Dakhil east of Nasiriyah City, killing an individual and wounding another.  In terms of total casualties, this latest clash forms the most significant incident in Dhi Qar in recent history.  According to the Maysan Provincial Council Security Committee Chairman Sarhan al-Ghalibi, a variety of factors drive ongoing tribal violence which includes tribal sheikhs perceiving their status as above the law and willing to openly carry unlicensed weapons, as well as youth unemployment and associated criminal activity.  Tribal affiliation and associated violence are engrained within the social fabric of the Southern Region, with 13 tribal engagements reported across the region since the beginning of October.

The most lethal occurred late on 4 October, when an intra-tribal clash occurred between members of the Sawa’id Tribe in the Sadiq Neighborhood of Amara City.  As a result, three individuals were killed, and nine others were wounded.  Although an enduring and often unspecified tribal dispute is a primary factor of such violence, local business transactions and competing criminal enterprises operated by tribal entities can also incite such activity, with the increasing narcotics trade playing an integral factor.  Efforts to mediate tribal disputes have resulted in only mixed success, with local security assets often relying on widescale arrest operations and seizing unlicensed firearms to disrupt this activity.  However, these operations are unlikely to resolve this issue with any long-term effect, as the underlying socio-economic factors that drive this intrinsic issue remain.

Friday reform demonstrations resumed in the Southern Region, though such activity was isolated to Hillah City in Babel Province.  On 2 November, demonstrators in Hillah denounced the election of new Babel Governor Karar Abadi.  Activists called on Ali al-Sistani to intervene and order the resignation of the newly elected governor due to corruption allegations related to his election.  Another demonstration pertaining to these motivations formed at Thawra Bridge in Hillah the following morning, though no escalation was reported. Security forces removed tents being set up at the site, preventing demonstrators from conducting a sit-in.  Although demonstrations failed to materialize in other provincial capitals besides Basra, protest activity may steadily increase following the conclusion of several significant religious events.

Friday reform demonstrations resume in Basra Province:
Following an official call, on the afternoon of Friday 2 November, a demonstration formed at Abdul Karm Qassim Square in Basra City.  As anticipated, individuals called for the recognition of Basra’s rights in a reference to budget allocations and the decentralization of federal power to the provincial level.  Demonstrators also demanded improvements in basic services including water provisions, and job opportunities.  Although routine in nature, a Friday reform demonstration was last reported in Basra Province on 12 October.  This temporary lull can be largely attributed to the climactic events of the Arba’een pilgrimage and the overarching holy month of Muharram.

Demonstrations continued throughout the week, as on the morning of 4 November, dozens of individuals conducted a protest and closed the road leading to the Basra Oil Company in central Basra City.  Participants demanded improvements in public services, job opportunities and promised to continue the demonstrations until their demands are met.  Security forces deployed to the area, but no violence was reported, with access disruptions forming the main impact.  Protesters later withdrew from the area and resumed a sit-in posture at Tarbiyah Overpass that was initially established on 1 November.  While protest activity has thus far failed to emulate the violent demonstrations reported during August and September, the underlying grievances endure and further demonstrations outside government buildings and along arterial routes remain a consideration.

During this period six direct fire attacks were reported in Basra Province, with one such incident involving a tribal dispute.  On the evening of 4 November, an armed tribal clash occurred in the Sikak al-Sha’bia area of Zubayr District, with no casualties reported.  Since the beginning of October, two violent tribal engagements have been reported in Zubayr District, with the most recent occurring on 25 October.  Tribal fighting in the province generally passes in peaks and troughs, with phases of frequent fighting followed by periods of relative calm.  As a result, tribal violence remains unpredictable and events can occur swiftly and with little warning.

Finally, two explosive events indicative of an intimation attack were reported.  On 4 November, a security source stated that ISF cleared a hand grenade emplaced under a dump truck parked in front of the owner’s house in Huwair area, north Basra.  On 6 November, unidentified individuals threw a hand grenade against a house in an unspecified area of Basra City due to an ongoing tribal dispute.  No casualties were reported, though the explosion damaged two vehicles.  Since the beginning of November, two likely intimidation attacks involving a hand grenade have been reported in Basra Province.  During a similar eight-day period, three hand grenade attacks were reported in early October, suggesting these recent events sit within reporting norms.








Comments are closed.