Stirring the Hornet's Nest
The push to secure the Sunni Triangle continues. As discussed in Into the Sunni Triangle, Fallujah was but one step in the ongoing offensive to restore order prior to elections and strike a blow to the insurgency. American, British and Iraq forces (estimated at around 5,000 troops) are now conducting operations to rout the Islamofascists in the "Triangle of Death" , a region within the Sunni Triangle directly south of Baghdad marked by the towns of Yusufiyah, Latifiyah and Mahmudiyah (see map below). This area has been an ambush zone for Coalition convoys as well as Shi'ite pilgrims traveling to and from the holy sites in southern Iraq.
Elements of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Iraqi Commando units are pressing the assault while the British Black Watch and Queen's Dragoon Guards are acting as a blocking force to prevent the enemy's escape.
Hundreds of Iraqi insurgents are trapped inside the "Triangle of Death" following the American assault on Fallujah and the blocking of key escape routes by the Black Watch, according to a British military intelligence officer. He said a "hornet's nest" of insurgents had been stirred by the arrival of the Black Watch and the Queen's Dragoon Guards three weeks ago. "British troops and US forces have sealed off the insurgents' escape routes and they have nowhere to go," he said. "They are fixed in that area and they are angry."
The ubiquitous Zarqawi is believed to be in this region, after tucking tail and running from Fallujah. The fall of Fallujah has forced the Islamofascists to uproot their operations and reestablish bases in outlying areas of Iraq. The protection afforded by a large city the size of Fallujah shrinks Zarqawi's comfort zone and will put him on the run, decreasing his command, control and communications capabilities and making him more susceptible to Coalition sweeps.
The shadow of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi hangs over this bitter conflict. The US military and Iraqi sources say the Jordanian militant leader has taken refuge in the area after leaving Fallujah. The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) is the American force involved in the operation, with the British Black Watch providing a more defensive, blocking role. Two or three times a week raids are carried out in isolated farms in the hunt for Zarqawi and his senior lieutenants, while firefights take place every day.
The two sides are acutely aware of the strategic significance of the towns of Mahmudiyah, Latifiyah and Yusufiyah and their hinterland. This is the home of the Sunni insurgency and also the routes through which its forces move to carry the war to Ramadi, Mosul, and Baghdad. The area was once, in effect, under insurgent control and was well known for kidnappings as well as frequent attacks on US and government forces.
The Sunni terrorists in the area can trace their roots back to the machinations of Saddam Hussein, who encouraged the slaughter of Shi'ites by transplanting Sunni allies into the Triangle of Death. To incite the locals to fight, they are paying for attacks on Coalition forces, with the highest prize paid for dead Americans.
According to Jaber, insurgent leaders in the area offer cash bounties for killing certain kinds of people: $1,000 for a Shiite, $2,000 for a member of the Iraqi National Guard and $3,000 for an American.
Some Iraqis attribute the trouble in the area to demographic changes in the 1980s, when Saddam Hussein relocated large numbers of Sunni Muslims into what historically has been a largely Shiite area. The plan was to settle members of his own religious community along main routes from Baghdad to the Shiite heartland of the south.
Saddam recruited members of Sunni clans and tribes in the area into the Republican Guard and the intelligence services. During the failed Shiite uprising of 1991, Sunnis, especially from the al-Janabat tribe, were used to curb the rebellion.
Many of the Sunnis that relocated to the "triangle of death," including the al-Janabats, came from Anbar, the volatile Sunni province at the heart of the insurgency where Fallujah is located.
Coalition forces believe the vanguard of the Islamofascists are now fighting in the Triangle of Death, as their methods of fighting are showing a level of sophistication not yet encountered. The calling cards of the jihadis - intimidation, murders and beheadings - are also present. The Islaomofascists recognize the threat of Iraqis that support the interim government and use every method possible to destroy their will.
Lieutenant Michael Loring Mayne, who was involved in the battle at Yusufiyah, said: "What is very noticeable is that we are coming across well-trained fighters. In Yusufiyah they carried out a fighting withdrawal. That is not easy; it needs skill and discipline. We faced some pretty fierce and sustained fire and some of it was at pretty close quarters, some of my guys were pretty badly hurt.
"Pretty vicious things are going on here. We have had beheadings of people they suspect of helping us or the Iraqi government, and there are also murders of families of policemen and soldiers. This is about as nasty as it gets."
Some Shi'ites are not taking the murder of their brothers lying down, and have organized vigilante groups to counterattack terrorist organizations that target Shi'ites. The Wahhabis and their brand of radical Islam are becoming increasingly unpopular in Iraq.
In Basra, a group called the "Brigades of Anger" has emerged, vowing to defend Shiites in Iraq from any group deemed a threat. A leader of the group, Dheya al-Mahdi, told The Associated Press that he will give the go-ahead for his followers to avenge the killing of Shiites. Al-Mahdi blames Wahhabis, an extreme sect of Sunni Islam dominant in Saudi Arabia, for encouraging and funding operations aimed at Shiites in Iraq.
The Kurd and Shi'ites' willingness to fight back against their longtime Sunni oppressors and stand for their government indicates the people of Iraq are growing tired of the insurgency and are willing to take responsibility to defeat it. The risk of inflamed violence between Shia and Sunni, and Kurd and Sunni (as evidenced by the assassination of Sunni clerics in Mosul) must be managed by the Coalition so as not to balloon into a full scale civil war. All the more reason that the conquest of the Sunni Triangle is vital to the future of Iraq.
(Note: the map used in this post has been copied from Global Security and edited for size. My apologies for the look, but this Tactical Pilotage map was the best one I could find with the towns oulined and the cities of Baghdad and Fallujah in view.)
Click on the map for a larger image.