Islamic State (IS) carried out several bombings across Baghdad in this period. On 5 July bombers struck a café in Obeidi District, a bus stop in Shuala District, and near a restaurant in Jisr Diyala killing at least eleven people in total. This followed coordinated attacks in the capital the previous day targeting a bus station in Doura and a market in Mahmoudiya, located to the south of Baghdad. We previously warned that IS would seek to increase its activities in the capital during Ramadan. Heightened security measures at key Government sites and places frequented by Westerners mean that IS will continue to conduct attacks against softer targets, such as markets in predominantly Shia neighbourhoods and religiously mixed areas, in order to provoke sectarian tensions. MORE>>
In the meantime, Government forces led mainly by Shia militias (collectively known as the Popular Mobilisation Units, PMUs) have continued their counterinsurgency efforts but without making any major advances on the ground. The PMUs claim to have recaptured most of Baiji in Salah al-Din Province from IS but the country’s largest oil refinery, which is located in the town, remains contested. The Government has also dropped leaflets in Mosul warning that operations to liberate the city would begin soon and that civilians would not be harmed in the fighting. However, we have seen no indication that the PMUs are deploying to the area and it seems unlikely that an offensive to retake Mosul is imminent since Government forces are focused on the fighting in Anbar.
In this period, the PMUs and Army made gains north of Fallujah as part of efforts to cut IS’s supply lines to the city. The PMUs have stated their intention to retake Fallujah before launching an offensive against Anbar’s capital, Ramadi, which fell to IS in May. However, the continued involvement of the PMUs in the fighting is stoking sectarian tensions and boosting support for IS, since the Shia militias have been accused of conducting extra-judicial killings of Sunnis and widespread looting during operations earlier this year.
Washington is therefore seeking to train Sunni tribesman at al-Taqaddum Air Base in Habbaniyah, Anbar. The US says that 500 Sunni fighters have already completed the training programme and another 500 will begin soon, and that 6,000 Sunnis have been recruited. However, the PMUs have reportedly deployed 20,000 fighters to Anbar, and so Shia militias will continue to lead the fighting. This will deter Sunni engagement in counterinsurgency efforts and so hamper progress in operations against IS in Anbar.