The Islamic State seized control of a dam and overran a military barracks in the Thar Thar area in western Iraq over the past several days. Over 120 Iraqi soldiers and a senior general were killed during the Islamic State offensive.
In a video released by ‘Amaq News, the Islamic State’s unofficial news agency, the jihadist group claimed to have taken control of the Thar Thar dam, which is located northeast of Fallujah in Anbar province. Islamic State fighters attacked the complex with “explosive-laden vehicles,” or suicide car bombs, before engaging with Iraqi troops in a firefight, Reuters noted. Also, the jihadist group was able to take over a nearby military barracks.
The Islamic State video supports the news report. In the video, several fighters can be seen inside the dam complex showcasing different areas. The video shows fighters in control of a security checkpoint before the video switches to the military barracks. Several Humvees are seen to have been abandoned, while the Islamic State’s flag flies on a radio tower above.
Iraqi media has claimed that 140 Iraqi soldiers were killed in the battles for the dam and the barracks. Bloomberg reported that 127 Iraqi soldiers, including Brigadier General Hassan Abbas Toufan, the commander of the Iraqi Army’s 1st Division, were killed. The general and 50 soldiers were said to have been executed by Islamic State fighters after being captured, according to Al Jazeera
The Iraqi military announced that an operation to clear the Thar Thar area would begin immediately. The operation is to be backed by by US and coalition air support. But Iraqi politicians in Anbar are skeptical that Iraqi forces can quickly retake the Thar Thar dam.
“It’s unlikely now the Iraqi defense ministry could be able to retake the dam from the group soon,” Faleh al Issawi, the deputy head of Anbar’s provincial council, told Bloomberg.
While the Iraqi military and Iranian-backed Shiite militias have had some success in dislodging the Islamic State from some areas in Salahaddin province, the jihadist group has remained on the offensive in Anbar province. Most of Anbar is under Islamic State control and Ramadi, the provincial capital, is contested.
Thar Thar area contested by Islamic State
Earlier this month, the Islamic State overran the Iraqi Army’s 4th Regiment headquarters in the area. The jihadist group utilized three suicide bombers, including two foreigners, before launching a ground assault on the base. After overrunning the base, several vehicles and weapons were captured by the jihadists. Pictures released by the Islamic State showed a high-level of destruction in the base. [See LWJ report, Islamic State overruns Iraqi Army headquarters near Thar Thar.]
In March, another Iraqi Army headquarters in the area was overran by the Islamic State. The Iraqi Army’s Brigade 26 headquarters was taken over in a nighttime attack. Several Iraqi soldiers were captured during the assault; their fate is not known. The Islamic State released several photos from this operation showing the destruction of vehicles as well as the looting of weapons and ammunition. [See LWJ report, Islamic State overruns Iraqi Army brigade headquarters north of Fallujah.]
It is unclear if the Islamic State held the two military headquarters after the assaults, or merely raided them.
Thar Thar is a strategic area for both the Iraqi military and the Islamic State. Control of the region allows the jihadist group to move forces and supplies between eastern Anbar province and southern Salahaddin province. Additionally, the Islamic State has used the Thar Thar area to launch attacks against Iraqi Security Forces and Shiite militias as they travel between Baghdad and Samarra, as well as the towns of Taji, Shabab, Dujail, Ishaqi, and Balad. The road between Baghdad and Samarra has been a battleground in the past, and the Iraqi military and Iranian-back militias currently claim to control it.
While the Islamic State recently lost Tikrit after Shiite militias and Iraqi troops backed by US air support attacked the city, the jihadist group has remained on the offensive in Anbar province.
The Islamic State recently released a video from the Albu Ayada area of Ramadi, showing fierce firefights between its forces and Iraqi personnel. This comes just two weeks after the jihadist group launched a large offensives in Ramadi and was able to capture large parts of the Albu Faraj area and other areas of Anbar’s provincial capital.
Iraqi forces has been able to recapture a bridge and other areas in the center of the city, according to RFE/RL. The Islamic State’s gains in Ramadi has also prompted the Hezbollah Brigades, a US-designated terrorist organization, to deploy fighters to the city. [See LWJ reports, Islamic State launches assault on Ramadi and Hezbollah Brigades deploys fighters to Ramadi.]