The Leadership and Purpose of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces

March 19, 2024 - ISW Press

The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) is an Iraqi state security service that Iran has infiltrated and uses to wield significant influence in Iraq. Iran’s cooptation of the PMF enables Tehran to pursue its objectives in Iraq while obfuscating its actual involvement in Iraqi internal affairs. Understanding how Iranian leaders wield direct and indirect influence over this significant component of the Iraqi security sector is crucial as the United States considers how to deter Iranian-backed Iraqi militias from attacking US forces in Iraq and Syria.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, March 18, 2024

March 18, 2024 - ISW Press

Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally annexed occupied Crimea 10 years ago, setting conditions for the full conquest of Ukraine Putin still seeks. Putin celebrated the 10th anniversary of Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea on March 18, 2024, during which he attempted to justify his continued occupation of parts of Donbas and southern Ukraine and to set conditions for a protracted war in Ukraine. Russian occupation authorities have consistently oppressed Ukrainians on the peninsula — the same charge of which Putin accused the Ukrainian government to justify his invasion — and Russia has since militarized Crimea to support its broader territorial ambitions against Ukraine.

Iran Update, March 18, 2024

March 18, 2024 - ISW Press

Israeli forces conducted a "high-precision operation" at al Shifa Hospital on March 18 based on intelligence that Hamas was using it for militant activity. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reported that they had intelligence that senior Hamas officials were using the area to conduct and direct attacks in the Gaza Strip. Israeli ground forces advanced to the hospital with bulldozers and tanks and detained more than 200 Palestinians. Palestinian militias, including Hamas, engaged Israeli forces around al Shifa Hospital during the operation.

Iran Update, March 17, 2024

March 17, 2024 - ISW Press

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) 162nd Division and combat engineers demolished a 2.5-kilometer-long tunnel in the northern Gaza Strip during the week of March 10. The IDF called the tunnel the “longest underground route” in the northern Gaza Strip that it has discovered during the war. The tunnel network allowed Hamas units to move between the northern and southern Gaza Strip.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, March 17, 2024

March 17, 2024 - ISW Press

The Ukrainian State Security Service (SBU), Special Forces (SOF), and Unmanned Systems Forces reportedly conducted a successful drone strike against a Russian oil refinery in Krasnodar Krai on the night of March 16 to 17. Sources in the SBU told Ukrainian outlet Suspilne that the Ukrainian SBU, SOF, and Unmanned Systems Forces struck the crude oil atmospheric distillation columns of the Slavyansk oil refinery in Slavyansk-on-Kuban, Krasnodar Krai, resulting in a large fire.[8] Krasnodar Krai Operational Headquarters claimed that several drones attempted to strike the Slavyansk oil refinery and that Russian forces neutralized them, though falling drones caused a fire.[9] A Russian milblogger claimed that two of 17 drones that targeted the Slavyansk oil refinery struck the facility. Suspilne reported that SBU drones have recently successfully struck 12 oil refineries in Russia.[11] A Russian milblogger claimed that the Ukrainian strike on the Slavyansk oil refinery is the ninth Ukrainian strike on a Russian oil refinery in the past week. Another Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian strikes on oil refineries are more serious than strikes on fuel depots because international sanctions against Russia complicate Russia’s ability to repair technologically complex oil refinery facilities.

Iran Update, March 16, 2024

March 16, 2024 - ISW Press

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved plans on March 15 for a military operation into Rafah. The Prime Minister’s Office did not provide additional details. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters that the Biden administration has not seen the plan and the Biden administration does not know how Israel plans to protect civilians in Rafah. The IDF said on March 13 that it plans to move civilians from Rafah to “humanitarian enclaves” in the central Gaza Strip before any Israeli offensive into Rafah. There are approximately 1.4 million displaced Palestinian civilians currently in Rafah.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, March 16, 2024

March 16, 2024 - ISW Press

The Ukrainian State Security Service (SBU) reportedly conducted a series of successful drone strikes against three Russian oil refineries in Samara Oblast on March 16. Sources in Ukrainian special services told Ukrainian outlet RBK-Ukraine that the SBU struck the Novokuibyshevsky, Kuibyshevsky, and Syzran Rosneft oil refineries in Samara Oblast. RBK-Ukraine reported that the three refineries process an estimated 25 million tons of oil per year, or 10 percent of Russia’s annual oil refinement output. Geolocated footage published on March 16 shows a fire at the Syzran oil refinery following the drone strikes, and Samara Oblast Governor Dmytro Azarov stated that there was also a fire at the refinery in Novokuibyshevsky.

Iran Update, March 15, 2024

March 15, 2024 - ISW Press

Unspecified Iranian officials said that Iran could “intensify its proxy war” against Israel if Israel attacks Lebanese Hezbollah, which is consistent with Iran's decades-old use of its proxies.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, March 15, 2024

March 15, 2024 - ISW Press

Russian forces will likely continue ongoing offensive efforts to destabilize Ukrainian defensive lines in Spring 2024 while also preparing for a forecasted new offensive effort in Summer 2024. The provision of Western security assistance will likely play a critical role in Ukraine’s ability to hold territory now and to repel a new Russian offensive effort in the coming months.

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, March 15, 2024

March 15, 2024 - ISW Press

Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) announced that it redefined its criteria for a “first strike” against PRC military assets, which now include a “first move” by PLA aircraft and vessels across Taiwan’s territorial boundaries. ROC Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng told Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan that Taiwan reserves the right to take military countermeasures if enemy military planes or ships enter Taiwan’s territorial waters or airspace and Taiwan fails to expel them by interception, identification, and warning. He did not clarify if the “first strike” concept applies to Taiwan’s outlying islands. Chiu said the MND’s definition of an enemy “first strike” before the policy change specifically referred to enemy artillery or missile fire at Taiwan. The reason for changing the definition was to counter the PRC’s “gray zone” operations around Taiwan. The CCP has not publicly commented on the policy change as of March 13.