Iraqi Army, Shiite militias report success in Baiji

Qais al Khazali, the leader of Asaib al Haq, a militia supported by Iran, at the Baiji oil refinery. The US detained Khazali, who is thought to have been involved in the murder of five US soldiers in Karbala in 2007, for two years before releasing him in 2009.

The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and their Shiite militia allies have reported major successes after launching an operation to recapture the central Iraqi city of Baiji last week,. The Islamic State is said to be holed up in just a pocket of the city after the Iraqi forces retook the Baiji oil refinery, the city center, and several districts.

According to Reuters last week, “The Hashid Shaabi militiamen and Iraqi army soldiers began their assault from the south.” Hashid Shaabi is the Arabic name for the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), an umbrella under which a number of Shiite militias, including many that are backed by Iran, operate since banding together to fight the Islamic State last year. Just two days after launching the assault, the Iraqi forces reported recapturing 60 percent of the city. A day later, the nearby oil refinery, which has been contested for well over a year, was also reported to have been cleared of Islamic State fighters.

Iraqi forces have reported making more advances today, and claimed to have captured the city center and cleared the Tamim neighborhood. Fighters from the Liwa Ali al Akbar militia has also been photographed near the Al Fatah Mosque in the city center, with the group’s flag flying over what remains of the mosque. In another photo, Shiite flags can be seen on the road into Baiji. Other Shiite militias have also released photos and videos from the ongoing battle in the city.

Asaib Al Haq (League of the Righteous), Kataib Hezbollah (Hezbollah Brigades), and the Badr Corps, three of the larger Iranian-backed militias, have all released footage showing their troops taking part in the fighting. In one video from the Hezbollah Brigades, a huge convoy of the group’s fighters and Iraqi Army personnel can be seen moving into the nearby town of Siniyah. Hezbollah Brigades, which is backed by Iran, is a US-designated foreign terrorist organization that has been involved in killing American soldiers in Iraq.

Asaib al Haq has shown its fighters clearing out the oil refinery. Several of the top leaders of the Iranian-supported militia, which has also killed numerous American soldiers in Iraq, are listed as Specially Designated Global Terrorists.

The Badr Corps, which is also supported by Iran, has shown its forces and its leader, Hadi al Ameri, at Saddam Hussein’s old palace at Makhoul north of Baiji.

Other militias involved in the offensive include Harakat al Nujaba, which recently called for the expulsion of US troops from Iraq, and Kata’ib Imam Ali. Harakat al Nujaba is led by Akram al Kaabi, who is a Specially Designated Global Terrorist. Kata’ib Imam Ali is led by Shebl al Zaydi, a former commander in the Mahdi Army who is close to Iranian Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani.

The US has provided air support to Iraqi forces in Baiji despite the direct involvement of Iranian-backed Shiite militias in the offensive. Today, the US military announced that “two strikes struck two separate ISIL [Islamic State] tactical units and destroyed an ISIL mortar system” near Baiji. In the past, US officials have downplayed the involvement of Iranian-backed militias whose leaders are listed as global terrorists in Iraqi military offensives, and has directly or indirectly provided air support for these groups.

The Iraqi government must regain control of Baiji if it plans on liberating Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, from the Islamic State. Baiji sits alongside Highway 1, the main the road from Baghdad to Mosul.

Baiji has switched hands several times since the Islamic State launched its assault in northern and central Iraq in June 2014. The jihadist group took control of the city in its initial assault. Iraqi forces regained control of Baiji in December 2014, but lost it after several weeks of fighting. Iraqi troops and Shiite militias launched their last offensive in June 2015, and took control of the city briefly before losing it again.

The Islamic State has deployed scores of suicide bombs during the fighting in Baiji. Many of them were foreigners. An American is also said to have launched a suicide attack in the central Iraqi city.

Baiji hosts Iraq’s largest oil refinery. Much of the infrastructure at the facility is said to have been destroyed during the fighting over the past several months. [See LWJ report, Fighting at Iraq’s Baiji oil refinery is ‘flowing in the wrong direction’.]

Photos from Baiji and the surrounding areas:

Shiite flags purportedly flying near the entrance into Baiji:


Saddam Hussein’s old palace at Makhoul captured by the PMU:


Hadi al Amiri at the palace:


Liwa Ali al Akbar fighters near the Al Fatah Mosque in central Baiji:


Videos from Baiji:

Asaib al Haq at the Baiji oil refinery:


Hezbollah Brigades and the ISF moving into Al Siniyah:


Hezbollah Brigades showing its forces stopping Islamic State suicide bombers:


Harakat al Nujaba at Al Siniyah:


Liwa Ali al Akbar firing artillery into Baiji:


Liwa Ali al Akbar in house-to-house fighting:


Kata’ib Imam Ali also showing house-to-house fighting:


Video released by the Iraqi Ministry of Defense from Baiji:


Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal. Caleb Weiss is a research analyst at FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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  • irebukeu says:

    Ramadi will go next. The sad story of IS prowess on the battlefield is a hyper-inflated one in my opinion that is in complete reliance upon shock and awe and a suspension of common sense.
    Just who is the Islamic state capable of beating? The Yazidi Special forces? Kurdish female militia? Anyone who decides to fight the Islamic state and has air support, will beat them. even the Kurdish female militia beats them. Soon the Yazidi special forces will hand them their own tail end. The eventual outcome is clear and certain. The islamic state does not have the logistical staying power and will not be able to fight along multiple broad fronts or even to fight maneuver warfare against mobile columns that have close air support. IS had one hell of a time trying to resupply its Kobani fighters and in the end could only deploy weapons as large as the 82mm mortar. due to American air support.
    When this is over the IS will have to become a shadow state resorting to hit and run tactics and night letters, perhaps even more suicide attacks on occupation duty forces. Let’s just keep American troops out of this mess when the most deadly phase occurs.

  • Fred says:

    Watching Arabs fight drives me crazy. I have to keep reminding myself: they’re not idiots, they’re skirmishers. They’re not idiots, they’re skirmishers. But it really hurts to watch people blindfiring around corners like it’s GTA.

  • Earl says:

    Excellent coverage.

  • Kurd says:

    “Yezidi special forces”?
    “Kurdish female militia”?

    These are nothing but agitprop invented to gather the sympathy of left-wing western journalists.

  • Andre says:

    Now these are some interesting videos. You can tell that the Iraqi Jundis and IPs have joined the militias and/or are advisors for them. In some videos they still have their M-4s and in others they are using AKs but still have Iraqi insignias even from the CT Services Division and SWAT. There is also an abundance of armored vehicles which were Iraqi.

    The SWAT vehicles in the Harakat al Nujaba at Al Siniyah video seem like they might still be with a unit that has kept its unit integrity and are just fight along side the group. Its hard to say if they were absorbed or not, but this is a particularly interesting video. Here especially I can really tell the difference between the militia and the Iraqi soldiers (or ex-soldiers). Aside from their uniform giveaways compared to militia green, red, and purple bandannas and flags, their tactics and behavior really stand out.

    While the militia are grouped close together, are sticking their muzzles in the dirt and shooting at walls like was mentioned, the Iraqi ex-military are more alert, directing the militia, and keeping their weapons propped off of the ground even when they are resting. The guy at the end with the 5.11 Tactical hat, probing for mines, is clearly more professional than the militia. Another big difference is that the militia, despite their horrid TTPs, are much better armed than the Iraqis. There was one guy that had two assault rifles and a sniper rifle.

    It is too bad that these Iraqis ended up joining Hezbollah affiliated groups, many just because they ran out of ammo and the government can’t afford to resupply them all, where Iran obviously can. They can also afford to fuel and maintain their vehicles and equip and supply them with ammo, where as the GOI cannot. When they didn’t receive supplies they just joined the militias, who are now benefiting from their training.

  • jack brown says:

    Watching vid. 5, with the armor, I couldn’t help thinking what crazy fools the Obama people are for giving sophisticated antitank equipment to the Saudi-allied jihadis over in Syria (they’ve been bragging about this for the last couple of weeks). Armor is the one real advantage the regime in Syria has, it’s what’s going to let them clean out the ISIS/Nusra/Jaysh al Feth jihadis now that they are getting some Russian air support. The mess in Iraq is never going to get cleaned up until the mess in Syria gets cleaned up, surely SOMEBODY in this ridiculous administration must understand that at this point?


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