Iraqi Security Forces, Shiite militias make gains in Baiji

Asaib-al-Haq-flag-in-Baiji-1

Militia fighters move through Baiji as Asaib al Haq’s flag flies in the background.

Iraqi troops and several Iranian-supported Shiite militias have entered Baiji and are vying for control of the central Iraqi city with the Islamic State. Baiji has changed hands twice since the Islamic State launched its invasion of central and northern Iraq in June 2014.

Iraqi security forces and Shiite militias launched a counteroffensive to regain control of Baiji and the nearby oil refinery several weeks ago. Iraqi forces must retake the area if the government plans on wresting Mosul from the Islamic State.

A US official speaking on condition of anonymity told CNN that “Iraqi forces control no more than half of the city.”

A member of the Salahaddin Provincial Council said that Iraqi forces are surrounding the city. The official went on to express concern over the role of the Shiite militias, as well as a possible direct Iranian role in the offensive. The official said that Iranian military missile batteries are located near the city. Additionally, the official confirmed, via US intelligence, that the Iraqi forces and the militias have progressed from the south of the city but are being slowed down by Islamic State snipers and improvised explosive devices.

Al Jazeera Arabic has reported that Iraqi forces are in control of the southern portion of the city and are advancing to the eastern and western portions. The Qatari news agency also reported that fighting is still continuing at the Baiji oil refinery outside of the city. US Central Command (CENTCOM) has announced that three airstrikes have taken place in Baiji within the last 24 hours. The airstrikes, according to CENTCOM, struck two tactical units and destroyed four structures.

The Shiite militias of Asaib al Haq (League of the Righteous) and Kata’ib Imam Ali (Imam Ali Brigade) have published several videos of their roles in the fighting at Baiji. In one video seen below, the white flag of Asaib al Haq can be seen flying in several locations within the city. Other videos from Kata’ib Imam Ali show fighting, as well as militiamen celebrating in Baiji. Other Iranian-backed militias, including Kata’ib Jund al Imam, Saraya al Khorasani, and Kata’ib Saeed al Shuhada, have publicized their involvement on Facebook or have been reported to be involved in the battle.

The Islamic State made significant gains at the Baiji refinery last month after a renewed offensive. The jihadist group was able to take control of several sub-refineries, as well as the northern and southern portion of the refinery. Al Jazeera has reported that the fighting at the refinery has “improved” but did not go into detail of what percentage the Iraqi forces have been able to take back. Last month, it was estimated that the Islamic State controlled more than 80 percent of the refinery. Much of the infrastructure is said to have been destroyed in the fighting. [See LWJ report, Fighting at Iraq’s Baiji oil refinery is ‘flowing in the wrong direction’.]

Iraqi forces have previously gained control of Baiji, only to lose it again to the Islamic State. Iraqi forces and Shiite militias took Baiji from the Islamic State in mid-December 2014, but troops pulled out within a week after the jihadist group surrounded the city and cut off supply lines. Iraqi troops withdrew to the refinery, leaving local police and tribal militias besieged by the jihadists. [See LWJ report, Islamic State retakes Baiji after Iraqi forces withdraw.]

The current offensive to take back Baiji began after Iraqi troops and Shiite militias were able to recapture the nearby city of Tikrit earlier this year. Several Shiite militias, including Asaib al Haq and Kata’ib Imam Ali, played a vital role in capturing the city. The US initially said that it would not support the operation with airstrikes due to the participation of the militias and Iranian forces, but later reversed course. [See LWJ reports, Shiite militias, Iraqi troops enter central TikritUS continues airstrikes in Tikrit despite involvement of Iranian-backed Shiite militias, and US begins airstrikes against Islamic State in Tikrit, supports Shiite militias.]

The fighting also comes after the Islamic State took over the city of Ramadi in Iraq’s Anbar province. Several Shiite militias, including the Hezbollah Brigades, a US-designated terrorist organization, are leading the fight to retake the provincial capital and surrounding areas.

The use of Shiite militias in Sunni Anbar is likely to stoke sectarian tensions in the province, and may aid the Islamic State’s recruiting efforts. The militias are seen by many Sunnis as agents of Iran, who seek to oppress them. [See LWJ report, Iranian-backed militias lead Iraqi counteroffensive to retake Ramadi.]

Videos from Baiji:

Videos from Asaib al Haq:

Videos from Kata’ib Imam Ali:

 

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal. Caleb Weiss is an intern at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to The Long War Journal.

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18 Comments

  • irebukeu says:

    Great news. The shortest caliphate in the history of islam is in trouble again. If the islamic state thought it could hold Baji, IMO they wouldn’t see it destroyed. That they are destroying it says to me that they know they can’t hold it and they know they won’t be able to get it back again.
    Over a billion and one half muslims have not heeded the call from the Caliph. Poor Caliph, things just aren’t going his way. Tikrit was taken back, Kobane wouldn’t fall, now this. What is next, the loss of Ramadi ?

    This is just the kind of attrition I like to see our enemies do to each other.

  • mike merlo says:

    very cool. The Shia/Iranian’s in the Syrian Iraqi Theater have now been dragged into a ‘Static Warfare’ scenario on 2 Fronts possibly 3 if one includes Yemen. So how long before the Iranians reach ‘Critical Mass,’ if they already haven’t, where dissatisfaction begins to ‘express’ itself on the ‘Home Front’ via Civil Unrest? within the ‘Halls of Government?’

    • James Robertson says:

      It might be worth doing some research before engaging in such mindless and infantile wishful thinking. The thing that really disgusts me is the complete and utter indifference to the human suffering involved in all three wars. You think that the premature violent death of hundreds and thousands of fellow humans and the displacement of millions is a good thing because it enables you to have a pathetic fantasy about regime change in Iran. This is the world view of a psychopath in my opinion.,and an ignorant and childish psychopath at that.

      • mike merlo says:

        @ J Robertson

        “Research” what? A bunch of savages indulging in one of their favorite past times?
        “…of fellow humans…!” Uh, no.. they’re not my “fellow humans.”

        The only children ‘here’ are those such as yourself trying to frame or artificially manufacture a nonexistent narrative that simply doesn’t exist. Castigating others for views/opinion’s that don’t conform or comport to your standard’s is a personal issue. Take it up with your therapist, psychic, bookie, etc., or with whomever or whatever you seek personal mental satisfaction with. Don’t waste my time with “my ground is higher than your ground because I deem it so.” Welcome to reality

        • Wow Mike I certainly applaud you for having the guts to say what you really believe! Unfortunately you have, with your own words, revealed yourself as being a very simpleminded, ignorant low and bigoted individual.
          “A bunch of savages indulging in one of their favorite past times?
          “…of fellow humans…!” Uh, no.. they’re not my “fellow humans.”
          Since you are the big one for evidence Mike, what is your evidence that they are “not humans”. These comments are evidence only of your bigotry,foolishness and apparent war mania. How would you like it if someone else described you and your family as sub-human trash who deserve to die?
          You would not like it so do not do it to others if you have any interest in either being or being perceived to be a rational or moral human being. I truly pity you
          and hope that you come to your senses at some stage before it is too late.

      • James says:

        Yo JR, get a grips on yourself ! I mean, seriously, it’s just like Mikey said, let ’em go ‘TOW-to-TOW’. If the choice has to be made between them blowing each other up or them blowing US up, well, that shouldn’t be a difficult choice to make, now should it?

        If anything, we ought to be seriously considering the deployment of IED disposal teams to those areas. The way I see it, to do so would be a ‘win-win’ situation for all parties involved in this (with the exception of ISIS).

  • Tom says:

    Tit for tat – as usual … :0
    “We’ve lost Ramadi in shameful way, but now we’re going to show our strength in the Baji!”
    It started to be somehow boring… 🙁

  • Wild Bill says:

    Bill and Caleb,
    Is the Iraqi air force providing any tac-air support for the Iraqi Army? I know that they have some Russian jets they got last year but I have not seen any news reports recently about the Iraqi air force.

  • mike merlo says:

    so the fiction of a retaken Tikrit lives on. So where is the video/photographic evidence supporting the Iraqi Central Governments’ claim? Video’s & photographic evidence are made available of many other ‘events’ why not of a ‘liberated’ Tikrit?

    • Bill Roggio says:

      1) The Islamic State has stopped releasing propaganda claiming it controls Tikrit. In fact, IS never mentions Tikrit in its daily radio updates via Al Bayan.

      2) The Iraqi militias (Asaib al Haq) and military did indeed release videos of their flags flying over buildings in central Tikrit:

      //www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/03/shiite-militias-iraqi-troops-enter-central-tikrit.php

      I agree there has been a media blackout on Tikrit. But it is from both sides. And that doesn’t bode well for the Islamic State. If it still controlled the city, you could be sure they would be advertising it.

      • Oberron says:

        @Bill Roggio

        I don’t think IS ever really controlled Tikrit and Douri ran the show mostly. It was a JRTN Stronghold more than an IS stronghold. Given the PMC has yet to break like ISF, they probably feel they need to lengthen out PMC supply lines in order to better attrit them and break their morale.

        Oh and IS released a new Baiji Video and that place becoming a pointless graveyard for ISF. It was clear the refinery was destroyed in the video and ISF is just fighting for scrap metal now with IS glad to oblige and SVBIED them.

        IS also released a video showing how they took Mosul. And well watch it yourself.

        Also can anyone tell me how the Peshmerga with 200,000 fighters can be having a manpower shortage when they only suffered 6,300 causalities and be freaking out over it???

      • James Robertson says:

        Tikrit is in the hands of the Iraqi Government and has been for several months. The Iraqi victory in Tikrit was followed by a series of war crimes, mass executions and the destruction of property at the hands of the Shia militia forces. as detailed by this BBC report
        Iraq Tikrit: looting and lawlessness follow recapture
        //www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-32181503
        This is a human rights watch report on alleged crimes committed by these groups in late 2014 near a place called Amerli in Salahuddin province.
        “After Liberation, Destruction.”
        //features.hrw.org/features/HRW_2015_reports/Iraq_Amerli/index.html
        The fact that the Iraqi Government is having to use these Shia militia forces means that the US did a really lousy job training the new Iraq army and that all territorial gains made by the Iraqis will be futile because the people in Sunni Iraq do not trust the Government forces and fear and loathe the Shia militia forces due to the sectarian crimes they have conducted in the past including ethno- religious pogroms against the Sunni Arab populace of Baghdad. Whether by accident or design iraq has been destroyed, another less than proud achievement of the “good guy’ American Empire.

        • mike merlo says:

          @ J Robertson

          the 2 articles you ‘linked’ are useless. One of them doesn’t even mention Tikrit.

          “Tikrit is in the hands of the Iraqi Government and has been for several months.” Where’s your proof?

          Save your anti-American tripe & angst for your fellow Latte Leftists & Basement Bolsheviks. Not only is it boring its pathetically laughable

          • One of the articles related to the crimes of Shia militia groups in a place called Amerli, in order to show a pattern of behaviour by these groups. Your comment was certainly worth a chuckle Mike, but have no idea what you were referring to that was anti American. Perhaps you could find an example to illustrate what you are saying rather than relying on the the cliched ad hominem trash you used here.

          • This video shows Iraq families returning to Tikrit under the control of the Iraqi government. Video was published on June 17th presume filmed on or around June 16th, 2015.
            Iraq: Displaced families return to liberated Tikrit after IS defeat
            //youtu.be/U7Jrnis5-wk

        • mike merlo says:

          @ J Robertson

          Nice try with the video. A bunch of vehicles at a check point, driving on a highway & cruisin by some homes on the outskirts of some town or city & some open air ‘Gateway.’ You at least could have figured out a way to ‘freeze frame’ the highway ‘sign’ & enlarged & translated it to maybe help buttress your position concerning Tikrit. Till then Tikrit is what I say it is, “a city still in play.”

          “…another less than proud achievement of the “good guy’ American Empire.” Typical anti-American gibberish.

      • mike merlo says:

        @ B Roggio

        Thank you for the response. I agree with everything you said with a few disclaimers.

        In respect to item 2 Flags are just easily taken down as they are hoisted & readily ‘flown’ by all the players just for the sake of cloth flapping in the wind. These guys will even ‘fly a flag’ where ever their parked camels or goats relive themselves. Yet after this grand entry into the City’s Center nothing more is revealed that would suggest that all of Tikrit has been liberated. Just report/article after report/article saying the Tikrit is liberated but resistance still exists in this part of the city only to be followed by the same rubbish. The only difference being is that now the resistance is in this part city & on & on ‘it’ went with no supporting evidence of consequence. “Central Tikrit” is not all of Tikrit

        “I agree there has been a media blackout on Tikrit. But it is from both sides. And that doesn’t bode well for the Islamic State. If it still controlled the city, you could be sure they would be advertising it.” If there is one thing I’m sure of & this apply’s to all of those including myself that there are no sure ‘things’ in this conflict. Right when everything that we’ve ‘seen’ to date exceeding any measurable standard of doubt points to an outcome with only one possible result the whole ‘equation’ gets turned on its head.

        There is something beyond Dantesque taking place in Tikrit that transcends anything we’ve seen or heard of to date. That both sides have opted for a Media Blackout should be extremely troubling to anybody with more than a casual interest in this conflict. What the world has come to expect as normal for this conflict is sickening but what is going on in Tikrit right now is very very abnormal even by the savage standards we’ve witnessed to date. That all the players, besides the usual Central Government Propaganda, are ‘saying’ absolutely nothing IMO is very frightening. Did these guys enter into some kind of a Faustian Pact in Tikrit, a mutual understanding if you will, where every evil imagined & then some is being acted upon?

        Tikrit is ‘The Cornerstone’ from which all of ISIS/ISIL recent successes have flowed. Iranian’s & their Iraqi surrogates touted Tikrit as turning point in their favor & yet it still remains a ‘Black Hole’ of results & information. I don’t think I’ve ‘seen’ anything like this throughout this whole GWOT ‘affair.’

  • fern says:

    So if I understand all this the US is sending weapons to Baghdad for the YPG (Kurds) in Syria fighting the IS and the Kurds don’t get nothing, after the Shiite militia supported by Iran take a city they send the Iraqi military with plenty of brand new US equipment then the IS shows up and the Iraqi military flee abandoning all the beautiful equipment which the IS uses against the Kurds. then let’s have a look at Turkey, looking on the other side from people going through to join the IS as in Turkey they have the PKK. In Baghdad they want to rule Iraq with the help of Iran, then finish off the IS and threatened a diminished Kurd bloodied by a war they fought alone against the IS.

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis