ISW Daily Update April 06, 2017

 These are the major events from April 05, 2017 in the theaters and from the trans-national groups that ISW monitors: Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Russia, Ukraine, and ISIS.

SYRIA: The White House threatened a tougher policy against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in response to a major chemical weapons attack in Northern Syria. U.S. President Donald Trump stated that the regime “crossed...beyond a red line” that “cannot be tolerated” and underlined his “responsibility” to respond to the incident without providing further details. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley warned that the U.S. will be “compelled to take action” against the regime if the UN Security Council fails to act on Syria. The potential responses likely include expanded sanctions against the regime and its foreign backers in Russia and Iran although direct military intervention remains unlikely

IRAQ: The government of Iraq conceded to hold a referendum in Kirkuk. Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi agreed to “remove the obstacles that have prevented the activation of Article 140,” which calls for a census and referendum to decide the status of Kirkuk and other disputed territories. PM Abadi and President Fuad Masoum have the executive authority to authorize the implementation of Article 140.  However, PM Abadi delayed the implementation of Article 140 until the “complete recapture of all terrain from ISIS and its defeat.” It is unclear if the Kurds will accept this delay. Baghdad’s concession may have headed off a hotter conflict over the status of Kirkuk for now but Baghdad will need to continue to assure Kurdistan that there is progress towards a referendum lest frustrated Kurdish parties seek unconstitutional means to resolve the status of Kirkuk and Kurdish independence.

AFG: Afghan security forces likely launched their 2017 offensive “Operation Khalid.” Afghan security forces began conducting clearing operations against Taliban militants in 13 provinces across Afghanistan, according to the Ministry of Interior (MoI). MoI did not officially state Operation Khalid is the successor to Afghan security forces’ 2016 offensive, Operation Shafaq. Afghan security forces’ offensive is designed to counter Taliban militants’ upcoming spring offensive, which historically begins in mid-APR. 

EGY: Egypt continues to adopt a pro-Assad stance in the Syrian Civil War. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry released a statement condemning “indiscriminate bombardment” of Khan Sheikhoun town in Northwestern Idlib in Syria. The statement stated that the unacceptable images of the massacre reaffirm the necessity of reaching a political solution to end the crisis in Syria. The statement failed to implicate the Assad regime, despite allegations that the Syrian regime conducted the chemical weapons attack. This indicates that the recent Egyptian-Saudi rapprochement is not likely to alter Egypt’s stance in the Syrian Civil War.

RUS/UKR: The Parliament of Moldova shifted economic ties away from the pro-Russian breakaway region of Transnistria, defying newly-elected President Igor Dodon’s attempts to strengthen relations with Russia. The pro-western Moldovan Parliament signed a deal to purchase electricity from a power plant in Ukraine owned by Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov and ceased purchasing electricity from a plant in the breakaway region of Transnistria that was operated by the Russian firm Inter Rao. President Dodon is using all available tools to reorient Moldova towards Russia, including holding a referendum to increase Presidential powers, which would allow him to dissolve the parliament. The Moldovan Parliament will continue to act to curb President Dodon’s efforts.

ISIS: ISIS may be reverting to 2013-style attacks in Iraq.ISIS targeted security forces in three separate attacks in Diyala and Salah ad-Din provinces, Iraq. ISIS is attempting to draw security forces away from Mosul and weaken security forces in these provinces in preparation for reconstituting itself following the loss of major urban centers. ISIS and its predecessor AQI have long maintained reserve capability in the notoriously difficult-to-clear river valleys of Diyala and Salah ad-Din provinces. ISIS’s resurgence in 2013 eventually overcame the Iraqi Security Forces in 2014, a reminder that ISIS remains operational.