Islamic State continues to advance in Iraq’s Anbar province

Zaw11

The Islamic State continues to maintain the initiative against Iraqi forces in Anbar as it presses an offensive in the eastern part of the province.

Evidence of the Islamic State’s offensive is seen in both Iraqi media reports and a recently published a video report by the jihadist group showcasing clashes near Zawbaa, which is east of the town of Amiriyat al Fallujah and is close to Abu Ghraib.

The video as well as images published on Twitter bear the title of the Islamic State’s Wilayat Junub, or its Southern Province. This administrative division is comprised of areas south of Baghdad and parts of northern Babil province. The fact that the propaganda were published by Wilayat Junub and not Wilayat al Fallujah more than likely represents operational overlap between the two divisions. The video and images were disseminated on Twitter by its supporters after being posted elsewhere online.

The photos show Islamic State fighters targeting Iraqi Security Forces personnel, Sunni tribal allies, and Shiite militis in the vicinity of Zawbaa. The Islamic State uses mortars, heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers (RPGs) and sniper fire in its assault in the town. Several photos show Islamic State snipers with the US-made Mk. 14 EBR designated marksman rifle, which is currently in use by the Iraqi special forces. At least four Humvees are shown to have been destroyed or damaged in the attack, as well as several buildings used by security forces and militias.

Other photos appear to show the capture and beheading of security personnel or tribal fighters. The Islamic State was also able to capture a large cache of weapons, including M-16’s, AK-47’s, RPG’s, and PK machine guns. One photo also shows the identification badges and personal cell phones of the captured or killed Iraqi personnel. [The photos can be seen in the LWJ report, Islamic State launched attack near Amiriyat al Fallujah.]

In the video, the Islamic State is seen scouting the Iraqi Army and militia positions before launching the attack from a nearby dam. At least one fighter is shown firing rocket propelled grenades (RPG’s), other fighters are seen firing at the Iraqi Army with rifles. The video then cuts to several dead bodies, which the video identifies as being members of the Iraqi Army.

As the Islamic State fighters are conducting their attack, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV or more commonly referred to as drones), which is likely operated by the United States, is spotted flying above the battle. Despite the presence of Coalition air support, the jihadists are successful in their attack.

The video then cuts to the jihadist group showing its “spoils,” or weapons captured from the Iraqi Army and a Shiite militia. At least one Humvee and one BMP armored vehicle are shown to have been captured, while several AK-47 and M16 assault rifles, RPG’s, mortars, several light machine guns and copious amounts of ammunition were also taken. The armored vehicles appear to have bright green painting on them that are commonly associated with Shiite militias.

Iranian-backed Shiite militias, including several that have been listed by the US government as Foreign Terrorist Organizations, have increasingly been taking the lead in the fight against the Islamic State after the Iraqi military crumbled in the face of the jihadist group’s coordinated assault in northern, central, and western Iraq in June 2014. These militias have helped retake some areas in Iraq, including Jurf al Sakhar and Amerli, and they will lead the Iraqi assault against Tikrit, according to The Washington Post.

Several Arabic-language news site have been reporting that the Islamic State has launched a new campaign to take control Amiriyat al Fallujah. On Jan. 31, it was reported that Iraqi police and tribal militias killed four Islamic State fighters during the renewed offensive. Additional reporting also indicated that Ameriyat has been encircled and the group is firing mortar rounds into the town; the Islamic State has also released pictures showing its fighters firing 120mm mortars on Amiriyat al Fallujah in recent days. Other photos released by the group show a Russian suicide bomber detonating an M113 armored personnel carrier near the town.

The Iraqi military is said to be sending reinforcements to the area. Clashes are still ongoing in the Zawbaa area and north of the town. Al Jazeera has also reported that Islamic State fighters in the Owesat area of northern Babil province, which is just south of Amiriyat al Fallujah, are also engaging ISF personnel. However, the current Iraqi offensive to rout Islamic State forces in the area has been slowed. The National Iraqi News Agency has noted that the areas surrounding the town are full of improvised explosive devices (IED’s) and other land mines.

Near Abu Ghraib, the Iraqi Police arrested several Islamic State militants in recent days. On Feb. 20, police officers reported arresting six gunmen, including one of “Asian nationality,” in a house in the Zawbaa region. Additionally, 10 elements of the “popular crowd” were killed in an IED attack near Abu Ghraib yesterday. The term “popular crowd” collectively refers to the various Shiite militias that have sprung up since the Islamic State began its advances last year.

Amiriyat al Fallujah is a strategic locale in western Iraq as it links up with Jurf al Sakhar in Babil province. Control of both towns would allow the Islamic State to put significant pressure on Baghdad, as well as Karbala and Najaf. Jurf al Sakhar was previously held by the Islamic State, but was recaptured by Iraqi Security Forces and Shiite militias in October 2014. That same month, Amiriyat al Fallujah came under siege by the Islamic State before being beaten back by the Iraqi military and its Sunni tribal allies.

The Islamic State is attempting to take control of Amiriyat al Fallujah even as its forces seized most of the town of Al Baghdadi further west near Ramadi and have launched attacks on Al Assad Air Base, where more than 300 US Marines are training Iraqi forces. Iraqi Security Forces, backed by Sunni tribal elements and aircraft from the international coalition, are currently trying to retake Al Baghdadi. The Iraqi Army’s 7th Division, which has faced severe setbacks in the region, is estimated to have 800 troops taking part in the operation. While the Anbar Provincial Council said that Iraqi forces have managed to retake the police station and move into the city center, they have not yet liberated the entirety of the city and the fighting still rages for Al Baghdadi.

Screenshots from the recent video can be seen below:

Scouting Iraqi positions before the attack:

Zaw2

Islamic State fighters moving towards the nearby dam in order to use it as cover:

Zaw3

A Shia militia flag can be seen flying:

Zaw4

Coalition UAV (drone) flying above the battle:

Zaw5

Firing on Iraqi positions with a light machine gun and a Dragunov SVD sniper rifle:

Zaw6

Zaw7

Humvee and BMP taken from the militia:

Zaw8

Zaw9

Other spoils taken by the group:
Zaw10

Caleb Weiss is a contributor to FDD's Long War Journal.

Are you a dedicated reader of FDD's Long War Journal? Has our research benefitted you or your team over the years? Support our independent reporting and analysis today by considering a one-time or monthly donation. Thanks for reading! You can make a tax-deductible donation here.

26 Comments

  • … even as an (almost-certainly US) drone flies overhead.

    Either the Pentagon’s air-strike coalition has room for improvement, or it was a band-aid to begin with.

    Why do I suspect the latter?

    An American Present-cy which has no spine for a fight is micro-managing the operation.

  • mike merlo says:

    am pleased to read Shiite Militia’s are actively involved the ‘affrays.’ This means they are getting killed, maimed & wounded. This also means that the Iranians have committed manpower & ‘material’ to the skirmishes/battles & they too are suffering losses. Am also looking forward to more Sunni Tribal’s joining up with ISIS/ISIL/IS. Whatever it takes to bleed ‘both sides’ dry I’m all for.

    • m3fd2002 says:

      Mike,
      I agree with your thinking here. My perspective is that the west, at this point, may be getting involved in a “domestic” dispute (shia vs sunni) that has been simmering for centuries. I’m not going to lay blame on anyone for the current situation, but we should look carefully to what we do NOW. My feeling is that we don’t pick a side at all. There are few friends left in theater. None in positions of power, that is for sure. I feel sorry for the pawns on this chess board.

      • mike merlo says:

        Time to openly & aggressively support a ‘Kurdistan’ & just for kicks support the Pathan Tribals in Trashistan in their quest for their own Nation. The swath of ‘Earth’ from the Eastern Atlantic North African Coast to the Indus & its watershed is unraveling before our ‘eyes.’ Instead of trying to help ‘hold it together’ or somehow assist in managing some kind of a measured ‘deconstruction’ followed by some form of Civilized Governance a part of me feels the US should be doing everything it can, overtly & covertly, to help this conflagration along. Its quite clear that no one can guarantee or predict, even within a reasonable degree of certainty, what the ‘final result’ will look like. What does appear near certain is that unlike Eastern & Central Europe & parts of Asia Proper that transitioned into acceptable modes/systems of Governance many, if not all, of the emerging winners will be a collection Dictators, quasi juntas, Totalitarian & Authoritarian Governments, Warlords, etc.,.

  • Thomas F Baron says:

    It may be that a significant part of the appeal of the Islamic state formation to those who come from far and near to fight under their banner is their declared intention to shatter the borders flowing from the 1916 Skyes-Picot Agreement, which agreement created artificial nation states out of the remains of the Ottoman Empire, by and for the benefit of Imperial England, France, with the assent of feeble but hopeful Imperial Russia.

    The Islamic State thus proceeds beyond the politics of the 20th century “Colonial Revolution,” limited to expelling the direct rule of whichever foreign power dominated, but which did not touch a hair of the old colonial physical state boundaries, in Africa or the Middle East.

    Destroying that antique, externally imposed organization of territory is what they do.

    Part of their popular appeal is a vision of a new, unitary power, opposed to the old powers and the United States, and treating the old national borders imposed from outside as enemy arrangements to be destroyed.

    As usual, the religious mask hides a scramble for political and economic power

    • mike merlo says:

      so the Ottoman Empire was ‘Natural Expression’ of the will of the people as opposed to Sykes-Picot “artificial” creation? So would the same also be true of the Arabian Peninsula, other ‘appendages’ of the Ottoman Empire, etc.,?

      • Thomas F Baron says:

        A view that “the Ottoman Empire was ‘Natural Expression’ of the will of the people” has no foundation in reality. Therefore, the second question, premised on “would the same also be true” is meaningless, since the introductory sentence is not true, but false and without foundation in fact.

    • Steve Flick says:

      Read Dabiq 1-7 if you want to know what they really want.

  • James says:

    I give them another 5 years and if they are left to their own ambitions, they will be nuking each other over there.

    They have turned that region into a virtual ‘Devil’s Island’ with every nut case, criminal and social reject they can muster from all over this planet.

    It is clear to me that we are now facing a bunch of nut cases more diabolical than Hitler’s Gestapo and Hirohito’s fanatical followers combined.

    The only way to end it now may be what Truman had to do to end WWII and that is to nuke them.

  • rtloder says:

    Baghdadi don’t know what Religion is for , yet he calls himself a fundamentalist , cause and purpose he thinks is a solid concrete block where nothing moves, satan thought that too when he was on top, tried to stay there by abrogating everything , Allah consumed the bastard , and so satan is a part of God, but satan and Baghdadi are distanced by existence, which satan began, Allah needed him then and so was forgiving, hell needs Baghdadi not God.

    • sundoesntrise says:

      Not sure if you are joking or not, but considering how you are an over-opinionated comment jockey on the Internet, it wouldn’t be surprising if you actually believed in all that stuff at the same time. You fit the bill of an over-opinionated religiously deluded comment jockey on the Internet perfectly.

  • Sean says:

    Lot of doom and gloom talk in that piece. From other sources I’ve read the tribal forces and ISF are holding their own pretty well, and have gained grown in many areas. They’re no longer RUNNING.

    Instead of pieces like this, read “DAILY UPDATES FROM ANBAR,” It’s a blog

    //anbardaily.blogspot.com/

    Gives you another side of the coin and a more indepth look at what’s happening around the area. If you ask me Isis is slowly fading away, wasting resources and man power on small tactical victories against numerically superior forces with an unlimited supply base, air support, and friendly help. I recommend we look at the bigger picture, instead of small successes that will be quickly countered(if fact ISF have cleared the road to the base that where the American forces were “Threatened”(not really). It will be slow going for the ISF and Tribal forces, but it’s only a matter of time beforce a major offensive will wipe ISIS out of the area. Pretty quickly too.

    • mike merlo says:

      a fairly optimistic ‘view.’ While I’m sure there is factual evidence to back up many of the claims put forth by the “AnbarBlog” in respect to personnel movements & the like the ‘positive spin’ though is something to be viewed with reservation.

      I’d be curious to know your ‘definition’ of “a matter of time?”

  • Sean says:

    I’d say a matter of time is within the 6 months range. Bout the time the fight for Mosul is taking place.

    We keep gettting these doom and glood articles, but everything that has happened within the last 4 months has been the contrary. No more bases are being surrounded, no large scale ISF forces are being wiped out, and Isis has hardly gained any ground in those months. If fact not only have they been pushed back, but areas have been taken by Friendly forces.

    If it’s all bad and Isis in on the move, then why are they not having the same amount of success? Why aren’t they “conquering” more area? Why are they losing ground? 6 months ago Isis was about to storm Baghdad, now what? To be it sounds like a force that has played the last few cards in their deck, and are now doing whatever they can to keep what they have and try to have any kind of pychological victory they can. Which as these articles prove, it’s the pychological victories that end up being written about.

    • sundoesntrise says:

      You are both right in a sense. Your portrayal of the situation is indeed very optimistic, yet at the same time, you are correct about their momentum being drained from them. But, they still exist, and the part where Mike is right comes at this part; take a look at the Islamic State in Homs, Hama, Damascus and even Suwayda provinces. Areas where they have limited presence and capabilities, yet they still assert their authority, bulldoze landmarks, provide services, achieve limited yet substantial victories over their opponents, and cannot seem to be routed by their local opponents.

      I’d say that will be a model for them in the future as they are forced to adapt to their situation. I don’t think it matters that the places I mentioned are in Syria, they are replicating this strategy in Wilayat Junub right now (in Iraq). It’s all the same in a sense, for now at least.

      We made the mistake of thinking that Al Qaeda was beaten in the old days just because all they controlled were tents in the desert. That was a huge mistake.

      • mike merlo says:

        @sundoesntrise

        what you identified in Syria will apply to much of what they’ve(ISIS/ISIL) have accomplished in Iraq. What makes this situation particularly acute is that the longer it goes on & Iraq along with their Shia ‘brethren’ should happen to ‘move’ the situation in their favor I expect the Iranians to pressure the Iraqi Government to have the Coalition/US to cease & desist. I can also easily envision a scenario where the Sunni elements of the Coalition & the remaining GCC Members becoming very very uncomfortable with the Shia acquiring hegemonic status in the contested parts of Iraq & Syria leading them ‘sated’ with stalemate between the protagonists/antagonists

    • mike merlo says:

      so 6 months comes & goes then what? IMO if the Iraqi’s ever get around to laying siege to Mosul it’ll just result in a 2 to 3 year Stalemate.

      • Sean says:

        It’s hard to argue with your comments Mike, not because I believe you have a point, but because your on the far other side of where I’m at. Your also making use of a lot of what if’s that probably won’t come to pass.

        I can easly just reply with a, “What happens when in the next 6(to 9 months to be fair) Mosul and the major cities are retaken?

        You seem to think that Isis will have the men and material to hold Mosul for 2 to 3 years. How? Even with the lack of experience, the ISF have the men, the material, the allies, and the money to throw at Mosul until it falls.

        • mike merlo says:

          all that you’ve said about Mosul is wishful thinking

          Yes, I believe time is on their side. With so many ‘Moving Parts’ involved with the GWOT something of consequence will surface, giving ‘everyone’ pause resulting in changing strategy’s, relationship(s), etc.,.

          ISIS/ISIL have repeatedly demonstrated their prowess on the Battle Field. These guys are pretty good at Urban Warfare. They’ve become quite adept at using modern tactic’s. IMO ISIS/ISIL will ‘hold the line.’ Mosul will end up being a meat grinder.

  • Sean says:

    I’m not saying Isis will be entirely wiped out, or that they can’t return. My main point is that we need to look at the bigger picture as opposed to small tactical victories that mean nothing. Isis in being pushed back in Iraq and Isis is in Stalemate in Syria. This great Caliphate isnt’ much of one. You claim they have provided services in some areas, but looks to me that on the larger scale they haven not. Especially in Iraq. The only true service that Isis is providing is fear, which is the only thing keeping the populace in check. Isis has yet to have lost a major conquered area, a city, but when they do what do you think those people they oppressed are going to do?

    I think there is a lot to be optimistic about and I think it should be taken into account.

    Nice little article worth reading

    //www.vox.com/2015/2/23/8085197/is-isis-losing

    • m3fd2002 says:

      Mr. Beauchamp’s editorial in my view is pollyannish. The US had 144,000 troops, plus massive amounts of airpower/armor/artillery, and significant intelligence capabilities on the ground a few years ago. They succeeded in defeating the Jihadi’s with brute force and money. When that omnipotent force was removed, there was a huge void. That has been filled with Sunni, Shia, and Kurd militias. Everyone is jockeying for the oil and water assets. The demographics favor the Sunni in Syria, the Shia in Iraq. The Kurds have significant populations in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, in that order. Non of those countries want a “Kurdistan”. So, since they are land locked, they are at a great disadvantage. The Sunni arabs will change hats in a heart beat. What ever is the flavor of the month, they will pledge allegiance. The IS problem has been influence by western air assets, period. The projections of a IS dominating the Euphrates/Tigris river valley were predicated on the West staying out of the fray. Know, with the West and Iran backing the shia militias, the metrics have changed, temporarily. This conflict will go on for decades. Red on Red.

    • mike merlo says:

      @Sean

      Assad, Gaddafi, Saddam, Irans Mad Mullahs, etc., all seemed to manage quite well using “fear” to keep the masses in line. Even a few of the present Governments in the region continue to use “fear” as the primary tool to manage their masses.

      I read the Vox Article a day or so ago & found it to be seriously ‘wanting.’

  • Sean says:

    They used fear and it worked until people started getting brave and starting civil wars or just killing some of them. All Isis has is fear, they don’t have a legitimate country they can actually run, nor can they provide for the people who live in it. Therefore Isis position is a lot weaker than those dictators were when they were at their height.

    Isis can not provide for the people under their rule. This hurts their creditability with the local populace. What also hurts it is the continious slaughter and so on and so forth.

    Therefore what do you think is going to happen when Isis begins to lose the major battles(those being in the modern sense the loss of the major cities)? It’ll be a repeat of what happened when the local populace turned on them in Anbar in 06 and 07. Yes, the Sunnies will switch sides at the drop of a hat, and in that same instant they’ll become a great weapon to use in hunting down Isis leaders and members. Which will bring and end to this Caliphate idea in Iraq. Isis doom was written on the wall when they decided to call for a Caliphate they couldn’t run and when they decided to just use murder for fear since they can’t do anything else to keep control.

    The writing is on the wall. Could it take years to happen? you bet. But I’d say months, IMO. Alteast when it comes to the Iraq theatre.

    • mike merlo says:

      a waste of time, practically every time someone new takes over they’re just as corrupt & cruel to the population as the person before him/her. Who cares how ISIS/ISIL treat the people under their control. Every ‘Player’ involved in this mess is a savage brute with ‘blood’ on their hands.

      By ISIS/ISIL Standards of Measurement’s they’ve already won even if every one them were to be killed ‘they’ would still consider what ISIS/ISIL accomplished as a victory

  • Sean says:

    Again this does not mean Isis will be wiped out in Iraq. Then again may be it does, we’ll see.

    Also what about the article by Vox did you find wanting @Mike?

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis