ISIS was delivered a “significant blow” when its commander, Jabbar Salman Ali Farhan al-Issawi, died during a combined American-Iraqi security operation. National security was tightened across Iraq following the airstrike.
This American-led operation took place in the vicinity of Kirkuk, in Northern Iraq. Although the operation achieved its aim, it highlighted the Iraqi government’s dependence on the U.S. military.
Despite not holding any ground in Iraq, ISIS continues to conduct deadly operations. These attacks continue to frustrate Iraqi negotiations with the United States on troop reductions and force structure.
The operation that resulted in fatalities of ten ISIS fighters, one of whom was al-Issawi, was carried out in response to an ISIS bomb exploding in a Baghdad market resulting in thirty-two Iraqi deaths the week previous to the U.S. led airstrike. ISIS took responsibility for conducting this attack, stating that their targets were Iraqi security forces and Shiite Muslims.
Although the American-led coalition does not comment on which countries undertake specific airstrikes, this information was leaked by unnamed Iraqi security officials. As well as airstrikes, the operation which was months in the planning, Iraqi counterterrorism forces raided ISIS safe-houses.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi stated that he’d promised to pursue ISIS and had done. After the attack, al-Kadhimi replaced several key security personnel, blaming their previous failures. The Prime Minister took office with a mandate to tighten security and fight corruption.
ISIS operational commanders, such as al-Issawi, may not receive as much attention as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and other top leaders. However, their role is pivotal. They conduct the “dirty work” and act as a conduit between ISIS’s top decision-makers and the organization’s lower echelons, according to counterterrorism analyst Colin P. Clarke.
He went on to say that Iraq remains ISIS’ most significant area of operations. The attack that killed al-Issawi effectively means that ISIS have lost their largest territory’s manager. At the height of their power, ISIS controlled entire provinces within Syria and around one-third of all Iraqi territory. In 2014, they declared Mosul as the capital of their caliphate.
The help the U.S. military lent to the airstrike was critical when the Iraqi establishment is facing increased pressure to expel American troops. Following troop reductions initiated by President Donald Trump, around 2,500 American military personnel remain in Iraq. The Iraqi government is under pressure from Pro-Iranian groups to remove them. While Iraq’s military capability has improved considerably in recent years, it still relies heavily on American intelligence, air support, and surveillance assets to fight against insurgency.
Although U.S. forces may gain a considerable amount of goodwill from the attack on ISIS and the death of al-Issawi, continued drone strikes serve to boost opposition to the American presence. One such attack that had negative results was the killing of Gen. Qassim Suleimani, and top-ranking Iranian officer, last year during a drone strike in Baghdad.
Following that drone strike, the Iraqi Parliament passed a resolution calling for all American forces to be expelled from the country. As yet, that resolution has yet to be implemented. Despite this call, there is a widespread acceptance, albeit reluctant, that Iraq needs an American presence in its fight against ISIS.