Operation Sayaid is designed to establish a Coalition presence along the Syrian border and choke off the insurgency from Qaim to Haditha. While operations along the northern ratline around Tal Afar, the central (and main) ratline around Qaim, and the southern entry point around Rutbah continue, the Coalition has not forgotten about the heart of the Sunni Triangle. During the battle of Tal Afar, Iraqi Defense Minister Dulaimi issued a warning to several Sunni-dominated towns and cities; "We tell our people in Ramadi, Samarra, Rawah and Qaim that we are coming."
Last week, Iraqi Defense Minister Dulaimi issued an ultimatum to delegates from the city of Samarra - clean up the insurgent mess and prepare for the Iraqi government to enter the city peacefully, or become the focus of another operation on the scale of Tal Afar. UPI's Pamela Hess reports on the tenuous situation in Samarra, and describes it as a " traditionally difficult town -- even Saddam Hussein built a highway bypass around it so he didn't have to go through the city on his way north -- Samarra remains a haven for organized crime, smuggling and fighters who attack American and Iraqi government forces."
This is an important point often not discussed about western Iraq; Saddam did not exert control over these areas, he negotiated a settlement with the tribes and bandits of the region and took kickbacks in exchange for support. The Coalition would have been inclined to leave the region alone had it not sheltered Baathist insurgents and al Qaeda, who are intent on disrupting the establishment of a free Iraqi government.
Samarra is the example of what happens when proper security forces are not maintained once a city is secured. Last spring, after a police force was established, the Iraqi government redeployed the 1,000 strong special police commandos to other troubled areas (remember this was during the post election time period, the height of al Qaeda's attacks on Baghdad). The security situation deteriorated. The Army battalion stationed in the city was complimented by 200 Iraq police, but were unable to fully secure the city.
To help contain the insurgents, the soldiers conducted patrols and, like in Tal Afar, cordoned the city, built a berm around it and set up checkpoint on the roads leading to and from Samarra. This has been a somewhat effective tactic until the proper police can return. According to Ms. Hess, "since August, the security measures have reduced attacks by one-third."
Major General Joseph Taluto, the commander of Task Force Liberty in central Iraq, believes an assault of the scope of Fallujah or Tal Afar is not needed. More Iraqi police are the solution. "We don't think we have to conduct a military operation there again, but the Ministry of Interior needs to come back and get the special police back The people of Samarra want to cooperate, but they are intimidated, there is crime and corruption. If we bring the special police back in long enough to get our police operating, then have a gradual drawdown, we can get the government going."
The Coalition establishment of control of Samarra and the restoration of the police force isn't a matter of if, but when. The creation of berms and checkpoints around the city are identical tactics used to cordon Tal Afar. And like Tal Afar, the outlying towns are the subjects of Coalition operations. Earlier this month, a Predator armed with Hellfire missiles targeted terrorists firing mortars at Balad Air Base. In the town of Dhuluiyah, Coalition forces have been conducting operations for the past several days, cordoning the town and conducting airstrikes after several Americans were killed in an ambush. These singular events are often ignored or described as unrelated, but must be looked at in the overall context of operations in and around Samarra; an increase in attacks usually means the Coalition is operating in the area and the insurgents are responding to their presence.
Maj. Quint Arnold, the former executive officer of the American battalion in Samarra, states that Samarra's importance regional, not national, but that allowing the city to slip out of control would require a greater effort to retake it. While Dulaimi stated Samarra had a month, this would mean the operation would need to be completed by October 15, which is the date of the referendum on Iraq's draft constitution. If the insurgency can be kept off balance in the city, expect Samarra to be revisited by the Coalition sometime prior to the December elections.