Military Wiki
Operation al-Shabah
Part of the Syrian civil war and Iraqi insurgency
Location of Al Anbar and Nineveh Governorates within Iraq
Date20 May - 14 July 2013
(1 month, 3 weeks and 3 days)
LocationAnbar Governorate and Nineveh Governorates, Iraq
Result Several militant camps and weapons caches eliminated

Islamic State of Iraq

Al-Nusra Front

Iraq Free Iraqi Army

Iraq Iraqi Government

Commanders and leaders
Abu Dua
Abu Mohammad al-Golani[1]
Iraq Nouri al-Maliki
Iraq Babaker Shawkat B. Zebari
Iraq Lieutenant-General Basim al-Tai[2]
Unknown 8,000[3]
Casualties and losses
43 killed, 57 captured[4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12] 20 policemen killed[5][13][14][15]
16 policemen injured[12][16][17][18][18]
7 soldiers killed
10 soldiers injured[6][7][8][17][19]
3 Syrian civilians killed
6 Iraqi civilians killed
4 Iraqi civilians kidnapped[14]
6 Iraqi civilians injured[20]

Operation al-Shabah (English: Phantom)[5] was launched in May 2013 by the Iraqi Army, with the stated aim of severing contact between al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Syrian al-Nusra Front by clearing militants from the border area with Syria and Jordan.[4]


Co-operation between the Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq on a larger scale began in March 2013, as the groups staged an elaborate ambush near Akashat that left 51 Syrian and 9 Iraqi soldiers dead. The ISI officially claimed responsibility a week later.[21]

In April 2013, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, released a recorded audio message on the Internet, in which he announced that Jabhat Al-Nusra was an extension of al-Qaeda in Iraq in Syria. Al-Baghdadi said that Abu Mohammad al-Golani, the leader of Jabhat Al-Nusra, had been dispatched by the group along with a group of men to Syria to meet with pre-existing cells in the country. Al-Baghdadi also said that the ISI had provided Jabhat Al-Nusra with the plans and strategy needed for the Syrian civil war and had been providing them funding on a monthly basis.[22] Al-Baghdadi declared that the two groups were officially merging under the name "Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham."[22] The next day the leader of Al Nusra, Abu Golani, denied that any such merger exists, while reiterating that Al Qaeda and Al Nusra Front are still allies. Golani is quoted as saying "We inform you that neither the al-Nusra command nor its consultative council, nor its general manager were aware of this announcement. It reached them via the media and if the speech is authentic, we were not consulted."

In May 2013, a video was released on the Internet showing masked men publicly execute three captured Alawite officers in the eastern town of Ar-Raqqah, the men identified themselves as being members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham.[23] In the same month, Reuters reported that the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had traveled from Iraq to Syria's Aleppo Governorate province and began attempting to take over the leadership of al-Nusra. There were media reports that the group had suffered a split, with many of al-Nusra's foreign fighters operating under the banner of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and many Syrian Nusra fighters leaving the group to join other Islamist brigades.[23][24]

In early June, reports emerged from the rebel-held Syrian city of Raqqah of Islamist fighters setting up "complaint bureaus", where anyone accused of crimes could be held accountable in front of a Sharia court. The notice was signed by the "Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham", al-Sham being a popular term for Syria and Lebanon.[25] As the Iraqi Army operation was taking place, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri issued an official statement on June 9, ruling against the merger of the two groups and appointing a local Syrian commander named Abu Khaled al-Soury as an emissary "to oversee the implementation of the accord". It was not immediately clear if ISI leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi would accept the ruling and what effect it would have on the ground.[26] On June 15, an audio message purported to be by al-Baghdadi was released online, in which he insisted the merger will continue as planned, despite the order by al-Zawahiri. Intelligence analysts described the move as "a potentially very damaging split within al-Qaeda's senior leadership." [27]


The operation started on 20 May 2013, and 8,000 members of the Iraqi security forces were involved. During the first 24 hours, 43 militants, including 11 wanted al-Qaeda operatives, were captured in the no-mans land with Syria. Short range rockets, mortar rounds, rocket launch pads, explosive charges and communication devices were found.[3] By 24 May 2013, 32 militants were killed during the operation and 51 were captured, including seven women. At the time of the start of the campaign, Iraqi border troops were increasingly coming under sniper fire from Syrian militants across the border. According to the Iraqi military, a large number of Turkish-made military equipment was seized during the operation.[4] Two senior commanders of the Islamic State of Iraq were among those reported killed.[28]

On 30 May 2013, Iraqi security forces captured Adnan Waies, said to be one of al-Qaeda's leaders in Anbar Province. At the same time, unidentified gunmen attacked an outpost near the Al-Waleed border crossing with Syria, killing three Iraqi border policemen, before fleeing back across the border.[5]

On June 2, gunmen in four vehicles set up a fake checkpoint on a highway in the western parts of Al Anbar Province, ambushing a convoy of three Syrian and four Iraqi trucks. The three Syrian drivers were killed and their trucks looted, while four Iraqis were kidnapped.[14][29] Clashes were reported near Ar Rutba after the ambush, with government artillery units shelling suspected insurgent hideouts south of the city.[30] In a separate incident, a police officer from the town was found dead a day after he was kidnapped by unidentified gunmen.[14] Insurgents staged another ambush on June 5, killing 10 border police officers and 5 civilians after their bus stopped at a fake checkpoint outside Nukhayb, near the border between Al Anbar and Karbala Governorate.[15] On June 9, suspected Syrian rebels opened fire on two Iraqi border posts less than 2 km from the Al-Waleed border crossing, killing a police officer and injuring two others.[16]

Ahead of the postponed governorate elections in both provinces on June 20, government forces closed all roads in Al Anbar with the exception of the international highway. In addition to this security measure, a curfew was imposed on all of Nineveh Province.[31] While the election day itself passed relatively peacefully in the border areas, on June 21 a group of gunmen attacked Iraqi Army positions northwest of Al-Qa'im, blowing up a bridge across the Euphrates and sparking a battle that forced the government troops to call in helicopter gunships as reinforcements. Three Iraqi soldiers were killed and three others injured, while at least six of the attackers died during the clashes as well. Government forces destroyed several insurgent vehicles and captured various weapons and ammunition.[6][7] Clashes around the border continued overnight, with reports of 2 Syrian militants killed and 3 Iraqi soldiers injured.[8][32] On June 22, a parked car bomb was detonated near Khor, east of Al-Qa'im, as an Iraqi Army convoy was passing by the scene of the previous day's fighting. Two soldiers were killed in the blast, while three others were wounded.[19] On June 23, insurgents attacked two checkpoints in the town of Kebaysah in western Anbar, sparking clashes that lasted for more than one hour.[33] A police officer was killed in the fighting, while three of his colleagues and an Army soldier were wounded. Two soldiers were abducted by gunmen from one of the checkpoints, and their bodies were discovered nearby later in the day.[17] On 25 June the governor of Nineveh, Ethel al-Nujaifi, escaped an assassination attempt when a roadside bomb exploded in the center of Mosul just as his convoy was passing by. Nujaifi escaped the attack unharmed, though for of his bodyguards were injured in the blast.[34] On 26 June, a convoy of six cars was stopped near Al-Waleed, close to the Iraqi-Syrian border, sparking a shootout that left one gunman dead.[35] Later on the same day, the headquarters of the first battalion of the 7th Division in Anbar Province was attacked by a group of gunmen.[36] Army forces repulsed the assault, while Iraqi Police later arrested two suspected militants.[37]

On 1 July, the Iraqi Army announced the start of an operation aimed at clearing out insurgent bases in Anbar and Nineveh provinces. A security source confirmed that this resulted in the destruction of 3 buildings used by militants, as well as at least two fuel tanks and a vehicle repair shop near Elshabani, on the border between the two provinces.[38] On July 4, Army forces discovered and destroyed a weapons cache in western Anbar province.[39] On July 6, a border guard was killed and two others wounded in fighting against smugglers who tried to enter Syria. Three trucks belonging to smugglers were also destroyed during the clashes.[13] On 8 July, the spokesman for the Nineweh provincial council, Qahtan Sami, was assassinated north of Mosul by gunmen with silenced pistols.[40] On July 10, the chief of military operations for Nineweh, Lieutenant-General Basim al-Tai, escaped two separate assassination attempts, the first by an IED on the Mosul-Baghdad road, and the second a suicide car bombing against his convoy.[41][42] On July 11, a pair of roadside blasts killed a police officer and injured two others near al-Qaim, while a suicide car bomber attacked a police convoy on the highway near Rutbah, killing an officer and wounding two others.[12] On July 13, a border guard was killed and five others were wounded during clashes with gunmen who tried to enter Iraq from Syria.[43] On July 14 the police chief for Nineweh survived an apparent assassination attempt, as a roadside blast targeted his motorcade.[44]

See also

  • 2012–13 Iraqi protests
  • List of terrorist incidents, January–June 2013


  1. "TIME Exclusive: Meet the Islamist Militants Fighting Alongside Syria’s Rebels". Time Magazine. 26 July 2012. Retrieved 29 November 2012. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Iraq launches counter-terrorism campaign along Syria border (Al Shorfa)
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Iraq: Military launched mop-up operation along the Syria and Jordan border (
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 3 Iraqi policemen killed in gunmen attack near border with Syria (China Global Times)
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 West Iraq clashes kill 8 Al-Shorfa (June 22, 2013)
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 14 Killed Across Central and Western Iraq Antiwar (, June 21, 2013
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Clashes between Iraqi forces and gunmen of Syrian " front of victory" in the border Iraqi-Syrian area National Iraq News Agency, June 22, 2013
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 20 killed in attacks across Iraq Xinhua News Agency
  13. 13.0 13.1 Border Guardsman killed, 2 wounded in clashes with smuggler near Syrian borders NINA (National Iraqi News Agency)
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 3 Syrian truck drivers, 3 Iraqis killed in western Iraq (Xinhua News Agency)
  15. 15.0 15.1 15 Killed in Fake Checkpoint Attack on Iraqi Police Bus (
  16. 16.0 16.1 Syrian rebels fire on Iraqi border posts, one killed (Hindustan Times)
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Two soldiers' bodies found in western Anbar National Iraq News Agency, June 23, 2013
  18. 18.0 18.1
  19. 19.0 19.1 2 Soldiers killed, 3 wounded east of Qa'im National Iraq News Agency, June 22, 2013
  21. "Al-Qaeda claims killing Syrian troops in Iraq". 2013-03-11. Retrieved 2013-03-11. 
  22. 22.0 22.1 "ISI Confirms That Jabhat Al-Nusra Is Its Extension In Syria, Declares 'Islamic State Of Iraq And Al-Sham' As New Name Of Merged Group". Memri. 2013-04-08. Retrieved 2013-04-10. 
  23. 23.0 23.1 "Insight: Syria's Nusra Front eclipsed by Iraq-based al Qaeda". Reuters. 2013-05-17. Retrieved 2013-05-18. 
  24. "Syria: Jabhat al-Nusra split after leader's pledge of support for al-Qaeda". The Telegraph. 2013-05-19. Retrieved 2013-05-21. 
  25. Al-Qaeda sets up complaints department (The Telegraph)
  26. Qaeda chief arbitrates Syria’s 'jihad crisis' (Al Jazeera)
  27. Al-Qaida's Iraq head defies boss over Syria fight Yahoo! News via Reuters
  28. Iraq forces strike Sunni militants near Syria (Daily Star Lebanon)
  29. Syrian trucks drivers killed in western Anbar (
  30. Clashes between the military, gunmen in western Anbar desert (National Iraq News Agency)
  31. 21 Iraqis Killed Ahead of Provincial Elections Antiwar (, June 19, 2013
  32. 57 Killed across Iraq as Suicide Bombers Strike in the North Antiwar (, June 22, 2013
  33. Gunmen attack joint checkpoints in western Anbar province National Iraq News Agency, June 23, 2013
  34. Nineveh governor escapes an assassination attempt NINA (National Iraqi News Agency)
  35. Gunman killed and damaging six cars to armed groups near Alwaleed land port western Anbar NINA (National Iraqi News Agency)
  36. Army forces abort two armed operations in Anbar NINA (National Iraqi News Agency)
  37. Two suspected arrested western Anbar NINA (National Iraqi News Agency)
  38. Aljazeerah Operations waging a campaign to destroy the bases of Alqaeda between Nineveh and Anbar NINA (National Iraqi News Agency)
  39. Cache of weapons and explosives found at western Anbar NINA (National Iraqi News Agency)
  40. Spokesman for the governor of Nineveh province assasinated in Mosul NINA (National Iraqi News Agency)
  41. Nineveh operations chief escapes an assassination attempt south of Mosul NINA (National Iraqi News Agency)
  42. Nineveh Operations chief escapes a second assassination attempt NINA (National Iraqi News Agency)
  43. 6 Border soldiers killed, wounded in western Anbar NINA (National Iraqi News Agency)
  44. Nineveh Police director survives from an assassination attempt

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