ISIS Battle Plan for Baghdad

There are indications that ISIS is about to launch into a new offensive in Iraq. ISIS published photos of a military parade through the streets of Mosul on June 24, 2014 showcasing US military equipment, including armored vehicles and towed artillery systems. ISIS reportedly executed another parade in Hawijah on June 26, 2014. These parades may be a demonstration force to reinforce their control of these urban centers. They may also be a prelude to ISIS troop movements, and it is important to anticipate where ISIS may deploy these forces forward. Meanwhile, ISIS also renewed the use of suicide bombers in the vicinity of Baghdad. An ISIS bomber with a suicide vest (SVEST) attacked the Kadhimiya shrine in northern Baghdad on June 26, 2014, one of the four holy sites in Iraq that Iran and Shi’a militias are most concerned to protect. ISIS also incorporated an SVEST into a complex attack in Mahmudiyah, south of Baghdad, on June 25, 2014 in a zone primarily controlled by the ISF and Shi’a militias on the road from Baghdad to Karbala. These attacks are demonstrations that ISIS has uncommitted forces in the Baghdad Belts that may be brought to bear in new offensives. ISIS’s offensive has not culminated, and the ISIS campaign for Iraq is not over. Rather, as Ramadan approaches, their main offensive is likely imminent.
ISIS is formidable, but it is also predictable. ISIS has exposed many of the core elements of its strategy, and it is possible to anticipate their next steps. ISW assesses with confidence that ISIS’s urban offensive begun in Mosul has not culminated, and its campaign for Iraq is not over. ISIS’s next urban objective will likely be to clear the Haditha-Ramadi corridor along the Euphrates River in Anbar. ISIS’s ultimate military objective in Iraq is likely to destroy the government in Baghdad. This backgrounder will assess ISIS’s next steps in Iraq in light of its broader strategic goals. To do so, the backgrounder will examine where ISIS had military strength prior to the fall of Mosul and inventory its uncommitted forces. Based upon observable elements of the ISIS style of warfare, this backgrounder will observe where ISIS may have headquarters and how ISIS has likely divided the fight in Iraq and Syria into sectors. It will evaluate ISIS’s interim military objectives in each sector based on observed actions, because ISIS’s strategy continues to be careful and deliberate. 


ISIS seeks to create an Islamic Emirate extending across Iraq and Syria. This vision is expansionist, and it is prosecuted through military conquest. ISIS’s grand strategy depends upon military superiority to wrest control of terrain from modern states by overcoming state security. The ISIS style of warfare hybridizes terrorism, guerilla warfare, and conventional warfare. The presence of the last indicates that the ISIS likely possesses a cadre of former Saddam-era military officers who know the military terrain in Iraq as their own. The military campaign design exhibited by ISIS over the last two years bears the signature of multiple commanders, though successive campaigns in Iraq have consistently demonstrated scope, distribution, deception, and timing as overarching strategic characteristics. The logic of ISIS’s recent urban campaign in Iraq exposes their likely next steps.