Washington Post (Oct 17) — About 14 miles from Baghdad International Airport, a mortar shell landed with a thud. A second followed, closer, and then a third struck across the Iraqi army’s lines, as the Islamic State militants zeroed in on their target.
The volley of mortar fire outside the Baghdad suburb of Abu Ghraib this week was not unusual in itself; Islamic State fighters and the Iraqi army have regularly exchanged fire in this area for months. But now, officials worry that gains by the extremist group in neighboring Anbar province will provide momentum for an assault on the outskirts of the capital.
Mortar shells fired by the Islamic State have already fallen in central Baghdad in recent weeks, and suicide bombings have picked up pace — a wave of blasts killed at least 50 people in and around Baghdad on Thursday, local media reported. While the army is holding its ground around the capital’s perimeter, Abu Ghraib is seen as a weak point, and sympathy for the radical fighters is growing here, residents say, because of the heavy-handed actions of Shiite militias.
Despite U.S. and allied airstrikes intended to crush them, the Sunni extremists have been steadily consolidating power in the majority-Sunni province to the west. Islamic State fighters continued to advance Thursday, closing in on the Anbar town of Amriyat al-Fallujah, one of the last in the province still controlled by the government. Local officials begged the government to send reinforcements, warning that the town could be overrun in a matter of hours.
“If Anbar falls, it’s going to have a huge impact, for us and all Baghdad,” Gen. Ali al-Majidi, a commander with the Iraqi army’s 6th Division, said Tuesday as he visited troops on the front line near Abu Ghraib. “This is the gate of Baghdad; if they took this area, they could mortar the airport.”
Iraqi officials complain that media reports claiming that the Islamic State has advanced on Baghdad through Abu Ghraib are inflammatory. But there is no doubt the security situation around the capital is precarious.
On Oct. 1, four mortar shells struck inside the Green Zone, a fortified area in central Baghdad filled with foreign embassies and government buildings, according to a U.S. Embassy security official, who declined to be identified. The rounds fell a few hundred yards from the U.S. Embassy and followed another mortar attack a week earlier, he said.
Brig. Gen. Saad Maan, spokesman for Baghdad Operations Command, confirmed that mortar fire had hit inside the Green Zone but said the shells landed on “empty space without any buildings.” He declined to give further details but said an investigation was underway to determine its source. He stressed that there have been no further incidents.
But Islamic State mortaring is becoming increasingly frequent, with five rounds targeting the Shiite neighborhood of Shula on Thursday, according to security officials. The Shiite neighborhood of Kadhimiyah has also come under mortar fire in recent weeks…