The Conquest of Baiji

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Baiji is one of Iraq’s main oil resorts and was under Daesh control for some time. This film shows the conquest of this strategic city by the Iraqi army and voluntary forces.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

VOICE of A MAN [Arabic]: “O Allah, send blessings upon Muhammad and the family of Muhammad.”

Narration: It seems that whenever we go to Iraq, we happen to report on a great glorious victory. This time, the fighters were preparing for a remarkable feat. You could find it out from their mourning ceremony the previous night. By the way, the holy month of Muharram was approaching.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Abu Mahdi Mohandes, Commander, Popular Mobilization Forces: “Daesh has many important areas under control. The most important one is Baiji. Baiji is important because it links on the one hand the city of Mosul to Salahuddin Province on the other hand Province to Al Anbar Province. With our presence in the region, if we succeed in achieving our goal, God willing, the link between Mosul and Saladin governorate will be severed. By the same token, the link between Mosul and Al Anbar Province will be cut off. Communication links are to a great extent between the two regions. We pray to God to help us succeed in doing our duties and God willing we will accomplish our goal without any loss.”

Narration: Baiji is currently under the control of Daesh and the resistance forces have to retake it. The city was going to be purged of Daesh in Operation Labbayk Ya Rasoul Allah but the terrorist militants showed stubborn resistance and the mission was not accomplished then. Now everything is ready for carrying out a great military operation. This is Mazra’a, a Sunni-Muslim populated village, four kilometers away from Baiji. The liberation of this village heralds a victory in Baiji.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Iraqi Citizens: “May God help you emerge victorious! God protect you!

-Is Baiji nearby?

-Yes, it is. You have to go this way.

-It’s four kilometers away.

-Are the Iraqi forces here making any trouble on you?

-Not at all, they ‘re not.”

Narration: Daesh is a stain on Iraq’s name. That’s why ridding the country of their presence has become a national priority for the Iraqi people. That’s why people of different ethnic, religious and political backgrounds show their solidarity with each other against a common terrorist enemy. The steady flow of humanitarian aid and voluntary forces confirm this national will against Daesh.

All the voluntary forces had been united with each other in order to confront Daesh militants in Baiji. Every group had a definite mission in that operation and everyone knew his job. We asked one of the commanders to show us the front lines on the map.

TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Commander: “This operation is will be in the Baiji area. This is the Hyundai area and this one is the al-Sinai area. The Ali Akbar battalion is advancing from this way towards Baiji. The Imam Ali battalion is advancing from this way towards Baiji. The Hezbollah battalion is moving from this way towards al-Sinai and it takes this part. The Sayyed al-Shohada battalion is located in Tal al-Bojvari. The Nojaba battalion is in this area, that is the north of Baiji and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq has surrounded the al-Bojvari area and they are moving towards al-Fatha. As for Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, they have also forces. We are in this area which leads to Mosul and Shorqat. The fifth Badr division is located here and the forth Badr division is located here and the tenth Badr division is located here.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Abu Ammar, Deputy Commander, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq:“Baiji Operation coincided with the beginning of the month of Muharram. The beginning of this battle coincided with the beginning of the month of Muharram. Let’s say three times: Labbayk Ya Husayn. (We are at your service, O Husyan!)”

Narration: Now, everyone is ready for the battle to begin.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Abu Zarqam, Commander of First Brigade, Badr Division:“Today, if we succeed in liberating the region, we will enter a new phase through which we will be able to enter Mosul governorate later. Needless to say, Daesh is living on the Baiji oil refinery. Today, the Baiji oil refinery has become their main financial source. All Daesh militiants depend on this refinery, whether those who are in Syria or other parts of the world. All of them as I said live on the Baiji oil refinery.”

Narration: The Bridge that connects Mosul, Tikrit, and Ramadi to each other. Contrary to popular opinion, Daesh didn’t resist much at first. The operation carried out by the resistance forces had taken them by surprise and they left many of their positions in order to form a defense line somewhere else. They didn’t want to lose the whole region altogether.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Abu Zarqam, Commander of First Brigade, Badr Division: “Come on. Move it! The bridge is not too far.”

Narration: Now asphalt road between Baiji and Mosul falls soon to the hands of the fighters; it’s an artery that help the fighter reach Baiji.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Abu Hesam, Deputy Commander, Badr Division:“This region is a strategic region. God willing, if we manage to purge the al-Sinai road and the triangle that has been formed between al-Sinai and other regions, then the communication between Mosul and Al Anbar governorates will be severed.”

Narration: Booby traps are Daesh favorite devices in confronting the enemy. When they lose a region, they plant bombs in there. The Baiji-Mosul road was full of booby traps that would impede the Iraqi fighters’ advance for hours. When the road was cleared from bombs, the forces resumed their advance quickly.

TIME CODE: 10:00 _15:00

Narration: Daesh gave up its resistance soon and ran for life. The resistance forces achieved another goal during the operation. Somewhere else, a fierce conflict was going on between the resistance forces and Daesh. The liberation of the Baiji oil refinery, the main source of income for Daesh, was one of the main goals that the fighters had to achieve in this operation. Surveillance drones showed that sooner or later the refinery would be liberated by the resistance fighters. As if Daesh militants had no hope to show resistance in the refinery. They had moved to the heights to prevent the fighters’ advance there.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Abu Mahdi Mohandes, Chief Commander, Voluntary Forces:“In this great operation, we advanced from three directions each of which has sub-directions. Here, that is the Baiji oil refinery is the main focus of the operation. So far, we have advanced from three directions towards the refinery, something as long as 12-13 kilometers. We have reached what we aimed to reach. At the last part of the operation, we liberated a fertilizer factory and took it under control and now we have come here to bring stability back to the region. We move on to bring Makhul Mountains under control and retake “Riasiah Castles”. The youths are preparing for that.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, Commander at Popular Mobilization Forces: “Today the primary operations have started and we are advancing from three directions each of which has sub-directions. Here, that is the Baiji oil refinery, is the main focus of the operation. So far, we have advanced from three directions towards the refinery, something as long as 12- 13 Kilometers. We have reached what we aimed to reach. At the last part of the operation, we liberate a fertilizer factory and took it under control and now we have come here to bring stability back to the region. We move on to bring Makhul Mountains under control and retake the presidential palaces. The youths are preparing for that.”

Narration: Purging the refinery and the fertilizer factory from Daesh forces was not an easy job. Daesh snipers had been lurking here and there, among all those tankers and machineries. They were determined to impede the advance of the resistance fighters. Add to all of them, the booby traps.

In the end, the fighter took the Baiji oil refinery under their complete control. Daesh resistance in the refinery showed the importance of this place; the refinery was a source of income that undoubtedly could finance high expenditure of the war for them. Therefore, the first place US-led coalition had to join if it wanted to help the Iraqi resistance fighters would have been Baiji. And if they had done so, the Baiji oil refinery would have been liberated much earlier. We went on to see the commanders and asked them for more explanation.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Interviewer: “Did the so-called US-led coalition help you?”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, Commander at Popular Mobilization Forces: “No, in none of the important operations do we allow the Americans enter the arena. They haven’t interfered so far and we don’t let them to do so.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Abu Zarqam, Commander of First Brigade, Badr Division: “As for us, we haven’t cooperated with the Great Satan. The Great Satan helps Daesh and not us. We are voluntary forces and we haven’t cooperated with neither the US nor the international coalition. They are with the Great Satan and we will never cooperate with them.”

Narration: You could guess how ineffective the US bombardment was but to claim that the US was helping Daesh was almost unbelievable to many but not for the Iraqi fighters. Soon after, the doubt we had in this regard faded away when the fighters showed us US food bags left in Daesh trenches.

TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Abu Mojahid, Field Commander, Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq:“We are moving on towards the north of the Baiji oil refinery. Baiji is now to the south of us. This is a gas facilities factory. The gas facilities are located over the Hamrin Heights and Makhul Mountain ranges. We are fully controlling the supply route that comes from Mosul and Sharghat and are heading towards Baiji.

Is that clear?

In a few hours, God willing, this region will be completely purged and Saladin will turn into a safe region with no terrorists inside. Thank you.

-Has the US supported you in this region or not?

God’s curse upon America! Where was the US?

-What do you mean?

The Americans were not here at all. There are only Iraqi army and Iraqi voluntary forces here; no one else. Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and the Badr battalion along with the Hezbollah battalion, the Sayyed al-Shohada battaion and al-Nojaba Battalion are here. Every battalion is in charge of one specific area and all of them have taken their own area under control. Thank God!”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Abu Saif, Commander, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq:“Look behind us. Now, the Baiji oil refinery is located behind us and it is in our complete control. There are no longer the enemy forces there. The enemy has been defeated completely and now we are advancing towards al-Fatha. They had planted about 200 booby traps along the road. Thank God, We managed to defuse them all.”

Narration: The al-Fatah Bridge was yet another point to take; one of the main goals of the resistance forces was to sever link between Mosul and Baiji. The Daesh lifeline in Baiji was the al-Fatah bridges. Two bridges beside each other; one of them was for trains; the other for cars and armored vehicles.

There was no traffic on the train bridge. Daesh used to support its militants via armored vehicles but the Americans had destroyed the train bridge only. Now things had been difficult for the fighters. Daesh was showing a determined resistance to keep its connection with Mosul. But that was not the whole story. Since the beginning of the operation, the terrorist militants has left their positions for the Makhul heights over the al-Fatah Bridge to confront the resistance forces from a higher ground.

This was the last barrier for the fighters who were advancing towards Baiji. With recapturing the al-Fatah bridges, the Baiji surrondings would be completed. A fierce conflict was looming.

TIME CODE: 20:00_25:00

Narration: As always, Daesh had pinned its hope to its snipers and anti-tank missiles; the terrorist group had so many of them that it used those expensive weapons against individual fighters and not only the Iraqi tanks. We realized it when a huge explosion happened near us.

They aimed for one of the fighters with a guided anti-tank missile. The blast wave was so huge that it affected us and a large number of fighters for hours. In these trying circumstances, the commanders were worrying about the camera crew. They told us to leave them and go back to a safer place. The next day, we found out that the fighters had taken the complete control of the al-Fatah Bridge. The liberation of Baiji was so important for the resistance fighters that they had gathered together in one place.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Abu Ala Walaei, Commander, Sayyed al-Shohada Battalion:“The mission of the Sayyed al-Shohada battalion is to provide security for the roads in Baiji, al-Sinai and al-Boujari. Today, we have come here to surround al-Sinai from the east, God willing. Today, we are going to purge the fields that stretch for nine square kilometers. It’s three kilometers in length and three kilometers in width. And the youths are advancing; we see no resistance, just some barriers on the roads like booby traps and cars that explode via remote control by Daesh. Last night, we were in a group conflict with Daesh and last night I heard from the pilot in the operation room that hundreds of cars were fleeing from Baiji to Sharqavi.”

Narration: Now, hours before a big victory, all of the resistance commanders had gathered together in the region; familiar faces that would remind us of the men of God described in the Holy Quran. It was a great moment to have a record of these heroes in the memory of our cameras. In the beginning of the operation, we had met Abu Mahdi Mohandes; he had told us about the significance of Baiji. Abu Mahdi was now the commander of the Iraqi voluntary forces; those who rushed to help the Iraqi army fight Daesh after they heard Aytollah Sistanis’ call for jihad in June 2014. We had the chance to have an interview with Hadi al-Ameri. He also told us about the importance of Baiji.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Hadi al-Ameri, Commander, Iraqi Badr Division:“The Importance of Baiji lies in the fact that Baiji is connected to Mosul via this road and by the same token Baiji is connected to al-Sinai and then Hadithah and Tikrit. This area is also connected to the west of Samarra. Even the enemy acknowledges the importance of this operation. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi insisted that Hashd al-Shaabi and security apparatus would not be able to retake Baiji and because the forces were not united, the war was lingering on and it had become a source of priced for Daesh militants because we hadn’t retaken Baiji. I believe that the liberation of Baiji can be a new beginning for the purge of the whole Iraq of the terrorist groups. I wish that the operation goes on and it never stops until we take other places like Hadithah and Havijah as well.”

Narration: Saddam Hussein had condemned al-Ameri to death because of his political struggles. That’s why he lived years away from his country Iraq. Later on, al-Ameri was appointed as the Minister of Transportation but when Daesh attacked some parts of Iraq, he abandoned the ministry to take the helm of the Badr Division. al-Ameri, along with his sons who always accompany him, has played a vital role in the liberation of Amerli and many parts of Saladin governorate and bringing security back to Samarra.

Narration: Now the war had reached Baiji. The determined faces of the resistance forces heralded an imminent victory. Even the English photographer Ronal McClain who was present in the area knew it. He had been in many wars and conflicts as a photographer. He was sort of a military expert.

TIME CODE: 25:00_30:00

INTERVIEW [English] Ronal McClain, Photographer: “-Which newspapers have you worked for?

-I am a freelance Photographer, but I am working or American magazine, I send 50 years in all kind of newspapers

-What did you see here?

-Today extraordinary scenes, a kind of victory, I suppose, you would say, very good for the Iraqi morale.

-In which wars have you been as a photographer?

- Vietnam, Middle East war, the revolution in Iran, Cyprus , Congo, every war you would think of I have been involved in.

-What do you think of Daesh?

- ISIL is criminals. Look! I am 80 years age. That is my age 80 and I have seen many atrocities in my life but what I have seen was too far but the propaganda is having serious effect on the situation of Middle East.

- Oil, This oil… Who supports Daesh?

I think that Daesh supported probably by Saudi Arabia and possibly by Turkey system."

Narration: The fighters had to check on every single house, street and road in the city to fulfil the main goal of the operation. Many places had been retaken one by one by the fighters. Now the only place to retake was al-Sinai, a small town near Baiji which was regarded as a gate of Baiji. The fighters had surrounded al-Sinai form three sides but Daesh was showing dogged resistance there. Things had been complicated. Daesh had released videos showing the resistance fighters unable to retake al-Sinai to keep up the morale of its militants in Baiji.

TIME CODE: 30:00_35:00

Narration: Now the Iraqi voluntary forces had al-Sinai under control. Walking with the fighters in the streets of Baiji was fraught with fear and anxiety. There were many booby traps with invisible wires. There was an exchange of fire every now and then.

We came across fighters in the Ali Akbar Brigade, those who had come to the battlefield from the city of Karbala and the holy shrine of Imam Husayn. It was clear that they were waiting with bated breath for Baiji to be liberated.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Haj Ghasem, Commander, Ali Akbar Brigade: “Fattah Mosque was of great importance for Daesh. It was a symbol of safety and security for them, a safe place to launch their military operations from. Thank God, in the morning we carried out the operation to enter the area and to purge Fattah Mosque and retake it.

-Did you receive any help from the international coalition or the US?

Not at all, no support from the Americans. Well, the US supports are not to our benefit.

-What do you mean?

The other day, we were sitting in the headquarters and our forces were advancing. I was there all the time and I had passed by all our positions in the front line so as to take part in Saladin Operation as well as Hashd Operation. But we were taken by surprise as a US fighter jet appeared and dropped a missile exactly where we had decided to be the headquarters. God had mercy on us that the missile didn’t work.”

Narration: One of them told us about months of his fighting in the front line.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Abu Torab, Deputy Commander of Ali Akbar Brigade: “Today included, I’ve been taking part in military operations for 332 days.

-Why?

Because I love Iraq and God willing we are liberating Baiji and after that we’re heading for Mosul. God willing!”

TIME CODE: 35:00_42:01

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Abu Torab, Deputy Commander of Ali Akbar Brigade: “-Don’t you have a family?

I have ten children and four of my daughters are married and the rest of my children go to school. I’m not worried that I have left them. To me, Iraq the most important thing. God willing, we will continue the battle. God bless the Americans! Four days ago, they fired two missiles at us. God bless them indeed! Instead of firing at Daesh, they’re firing at our centers. Russian Putin is our friend. With the help of Iran and its Islamic Republic … Thank you! They give us Katyusha rockets, rocket launchers. God bless them! I need an artillery unit. This regions have to be purged from terrorist groups. God bless you! You must deliver my message to the Iranians. We need ten rockets and Katyusha multiple rocket launchers to fight Daesh. Look!”

INTERVIEW [Arabic] Commander: “-How old are you?

I won’t tell you; otherwise, they will send me back.

-Come on, tell us.

I’m 50 years old. Actually I’m 54 years old. Thank God, my grandson’s child has just been born.”

Narration: Fattah Mosque had become a significant sign for us. We tried to get to the nearest place around the mosque where an armed conflict was going on. With another groups of fighters, we headed for the mosque where Daesh militants had gathered together.

One of the fighters was in charge of defusing booby traps. Along the way, we didn’t know that what would happen if he missed seeing the wires hardly visible. Other fighters were also worrying.

We passed across the ruins slowly but carefully. We had to speak quietly. Daesh militants were lurking in houses around us.

Every now and then, we had to stop. It was clear that in the opposite building there were Daesh militants waiting for us. Here the fighters had to fight with them with hand bombs and grenades. Despite all the problems, houses were being purged with success.

Daesh was not going to give in and abandon Baiji. You could find that out even from their films; those films that had been recorded on the side of the war in Baiji to say that they had still the city under control.

Eventually, Baiji was liberated. Despite all the problems, Baiji Operation, according to military experts, was one of the most successful operations carried out against terrorist groups by the Iraqi resistance forces. Now the liberation of Baiji was a prelude to the liberation of Mosul. It coincided with the beginning of the month of Muharram. 

   

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