Sunday, February 28, 2016

New ISIS offensive near Baghdad? Twin suicide bombings kill at least 70 people. Reuters

Iraqi civilians inspect the damage caused by the bombings. Reuters. 

ISIS has launched a new offensive near Baghdad, and have conducted the worst terrorist bombing there this year. Reuters. The twin suicide bombings in the Baghdad suburb of Sadr City killed 70 people and wounded at least 100 more. Sadr City is a major Shiite stronghold and was probably targeted by ISIS for that reason. ISIS fighters also managed to capture some territory near Abu Ghraib. They captured a grain silo and a cemetery, killing 17 Iraqi troops before being pushed back by Iraqi special forces. Abu Ghraib is only 15 miles from Baghdad. At least 20 ISIS fighters are claimed to have been killed in the battle. 

My Comment:
I was kind of expecting a new offensive from ISIS. In the past, whenever ISIS has been pushed out of a major city, ISIS has launched an attack in a new area. When Tikrit was recaptured by Iraqi security forces, ISIS managed to take the city of Ramadi. Now, since Ramadi has fallen, could this attack be the start of a major campaign? 

I think ISIS will try. After losing Ramadi and having some serious setbacks in Syria, ISIS has lost a lot of the momentum they had last year. They desperately need to make headlines again and capture new territory. They are doing that fairly well in Libya, but they need a success in Iraq or Syria to reverse the losses they have suffered. Threatening the capital, or even taking more territory, would do a lot to reverse the perception that ISIS is losing the war. 

The problem is that the area around Baghdad is a fairly well fortified area. The Iraqi forces in the area are willing to fight and it's important to note that many of the people living in the area are Shiite Muslims. The presence of Shiites means that the Iranian backed Shiite militia will probably be used in the defense of the capital. Given that those fighters are some of the most effective in the country, they will probably put up much more of a fight then the Iraqi soldiers have.

ISIS has some large logistical problems as well. Their troops in the area, mostly centered in Fallujah, are cut off from the rest of ISIS's army. Indeed, Fallujah is under siege and it is rather surprising that ISIS was able to launch an attack out of there. I said before that the Iraqi troops guarding the city were probably not up to the task and it seems I was right. Still, the Baghdad area is at the very limits of ISIS's supply lines. To make things worse for ISIS, the Iraqis are close to their supply bases and will have a much easier time reinforcing and rearming their troops compared to ISIS. 

So will ISIS accomplish their goals in this new offensive? I don't think so. Their troops in the region are just too far from their major forces to really accomplish much. And the forces they are up against are much less likely to melt away like they did in Mosul and Ramadi. They will fight and fight hard, to the point where I don't see ISIS making major gains. It will be a tough battle but I am thinking that ISIS will not gain major territory in this offensive. 

Still, ISIS has managed to make something out of nothing before. It wouldn't be unprecedented if they managed to succeed and perhaps take Abu Ghraib. If that happens, it would be a major victory for ISIS, and they could use Abu Ghraib as a staging area to attack Baghdad itself. Threatening Baghdad. would massively change the course of the war and would probably derail Iraq's proposed offensive to take back the ISIS Iraqi capital of Mosul. 

Of course, even if ISIS doesn't take any additional territory, the fact that they are so active in the Baghdad area is bad news for Iraq. The twin suicide bombings in Sadr City are proof of that. The fact of the matter is that even as ISIS has been largely pushed out of central Iraq, they are still able to hit areas as far away as Baghdad. That will probably be true even if ISIS is pushed out of Mosul. You don't have to hold territory to launch a suicide attack. All you need is some explosives and someone willing to blow themselves up... 

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