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Islamic State continues to advance in Iraq's Anbar province

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.

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.

[Source: By Caleb Weiss and Bill Roggio, The Long War Journal, NJ, 24Feb15]

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small logoThis document has been published on 13Mar15 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.