The Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham continues to press its offensive to seize the “belts” regions around Baghdad. Even though the ISIS southward advance has halted in Samarra, just north of Baghdad, it is continuing to press into the northeastern belts region in Diyala province.
According to the BBC, ISIS forces have entered Baqubah, the provincial capital of Diyala, and taken over several districts before being beaten back by Iraqi military forces and allied Shia militias:
Parts of the city of Baquba – just 60km (37 miles) from Baghdad – were briefly taken over by the rebels.
Reports say 44 prisoners were killed during fighting at a police station in the city.
Accounts of who was responsible differ, with Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s security spokesman saying the prisoners were killed by the attacking insurgents, and other officials reporting that they were killed by security forces while attempting to escape.
Sources in Baquba have told the BBC that people there are frightened and some have started leaving after the Islamist militants took control of several districts.
Baquba is filled with soldiers and a large number of Shia militiamen who are reported to have pushed the gunmen out.
Additionally, the ISIS is reported to have clashed with Iraqi forces in Miqdadiyah over the past several days. The status of the city is unknown.
Baqubah and Miqdadiyah were hotly contested cities during the height of al Qaeda in Iraq’s insurgency from 2005-2007. US and Iraqi forces, along with Awakening militias, fought pitched battles to wrest the cities from al Qaeda’s control.
Looking at the map, it is clear that the next phase of ISIS’ battle plan is to take control of cities and towns in Diyala in order to squeeze the Iraqi government’s supply lines north from Baghdad to Samarra. ISIS already controls the Thar Thar area of Anbar and Salahaddin provinces to the west and has been attacking the road north from there. Control of Baqubah and Miqdadiyah would allow the ISIS to more easily strike from the east. The towns on the road north to Samarra have already been hit by ISIS raids over the past several days.