Just one day after the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham launched an assault on Samarra and briefly took control of five neighborhoods, the jihadist insurgent group attempted to seize Mosul. Additionally, the ISIS took over Anbar University in Ramadi and held hundreds of students and staff hostage for several hours before retreating.
Yesterday evening, hundreds of ISIS fighters “advanced on Mosul from the northwest and deployed in large numbers in the west of the city,” Reuters reported. Three Iraqi soldiers and four policemen were killed in the resulting clashes.
In southern Mosul, a suicide assault team made up of five heavily armed ISIS fighters attacked a weapons depot and killed 11 soldiers. Some of the members of the suicide assault team detonated their suicide jackets during the raid. And in the nearby village of Muwaffakiya, a minority Shabak community, a pair of suicide car bombs killed six people.
It is unclear how much of Mosul was briefly under ISIS control before Iraqi forces launched their counterattack. Iraqi officials told the news agency that an estimated 10 percent of Mosul still remains under ISIS influence. The military claims to have killed 105 ISIS fighters and destroyed more than 20 vehicles as most of the ISIS assault team withdrew to desert areas on the outskirts of Mosul.
Mosul was the last major city to serve as a bastion for the ISIS after the US and Iraqi forces launched counterinsurgency operations as part of the surge that began in 2007. By the time US forces left Iraq at the end of 2011, the ISIS was operating as terrorist cells in the city. Close proximity to Syria allowed the ISIS to continue operating in Mosul and the northwestern province of Ninewa. The ISIS began reasserting itself as the Syrian civil war picked up steam in the summer of 2011 and US forces withdrew from Iraq a few months later in December.
Attack on Anbar University
Today in Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar, an ISIS assault team killed three policemen who were guarding the entrance to Anbar University. The ISIS team then entered the university and held dozens of student hostage.
Iraqi forces battled with ISIS fighters as students fled the university grounds. The ISIS abandoned the school during the clash. No students were killed.
Ramadi was one of two major cities in Anbar that were taken over by the ISIS at the very beginning of this year. Although Iraqi forces claimed to have retaken control of Ramadi, clashes are routinely reported both inside and outside the city. Earlier this week, a suicide bomber killed one of the top leaders of the Anbar Awakening, an anti-ISIS tribal militia that is supported by the government. Fallujah remains under the control of the ISIS and allied tribal groups.
The ISIS, which was al Qaeda’s official branch in Iraq, established the Al Nusrah Front in Syria. Al Nusrah formally announced its existence in January 2012. This year, al Qaeda’s General Command disowned the ISIS in April after a yearlong dispute over leadership of the jihad in Syria broke out into fighting between the ISIS on one side and Al Nusrah, allied with jihadist and Free Syrian Army groups, on the other.
The jihadist infighting in Syria does not appear to be negatively impacting the ISIS’ military operations in Iraq, however. The ISIS has gained control of large parts of Anbar as well as areas in Salahaddin, Diyala, and Ninewa provinces, and has stepped up attacks in other provinces. The ISIS maintains training camps in both Iraq and Syria, and is able to launch massed assaults in multiple provinces simultaneously, while continuing to deploy suicide bombers, IEDs, and assassination teams in both countries.