The Battle for Baghdad


As the political situation evolves, the insurgency is focused on Baghdad


Baghdad has yet again become the center of gravity for the insurgency. For three years the insurgency attempted to establish its dominance in outlying cities such as Fallujah, Mosul, Tal Afar, Ramadi, Husaybah, Haditha, Samarra, Balad, Taji, Najaf and elsewhere, and failed. Baghdad is now the center of power, the seat and symbol of legitimacy of the new Iraqi government. The all important Iraqi ministries of Interior, Defense, and Oil reside in Baghdad, as does the Coalition command headquarters and the "International Zone". The media is concentrated in the city as they lack the resources to operate outside the capitol, and are required to maintain a Baghdad office.

Click to enlarge.

Major General Rick Lynch, the spokesman for Multinational Forces Iraq, aptly explains why the insurgency is focusing on the city, and reports on Coalition and Iraqi efforts to reduce the violence in the capitol under Operation Scales of Justice during his March 30 briefing.

Let's talk about Baghdad -- a very, very sensitive time as the Iraqis try to form this national unity government, and it's the time where the enemy is saying, "They have vulnerability. Maybe, just maybe, I can derail the democratic process. I couldn't do it in 2005. I couldn't stop the January elections. I couldn't stop them drafting or ratifying a constitution in October, and I couldn't stop the December elections. So maybe, just maybe, during this period of time, I can inflame sectarian violence and delay the formation of a national unity government."

We saw that coming with the Iraqi government and the Iraqi Security Forces, so we planned Operation Scales of Justice inside of Baghdad to create a stable environment in Baghdad so this national unity government can indeed form. We started about four weeks ago. There were about 26,000 members of the Iraqi security force there at the beginning and 10,000 coalition. We added an additional 3,700 members of the security forces. That allowed us to increase patrols by a hundred a day. That allowed us to increase the number of checkpoints and led to our effectiveness.

Remember, the enemy still wants to increase attack levels. He still wants to inflame sectarian violence, but see the effect we've had in the operation. In these particular areas inside of Iraq, inside of Baghdad specifically, you can see we've been able to reduce the daily attack average from almost 20 down to 16. And there is indeed in Baghdad an increased perception of security because the people of Baghdad are seeing increased security force presence: Iraqi army, Iraqi police and indeed coalition forces.

Scales of Justice.jpg

Scales of Justice and attacks in Baghdad, Click to enlarge.

Maj Gen Lynch is technically correct. Attacks in all areas of Iraq are down or even, and Baghdad has seen an increase in attacks by 8% over the past two weeks. Soldier's Dad provides a briefing slide of the distribution of attacks in Baghdad, and notes the high violence in the Mansur District.

However, the level of violence, or more accurately the perception of the level of violence in Baghdad, is rising. The constant discovery of bodies tortured, maimed, executed and dumped on the roadside is eroding the faith of the residents of Baghdad in the government's ability to provide for their security. Government security forces, particularly the police, are viewed with distrust in some neighborhoods. Militias are both revered and feared. This can be seen in the reporting of Iraqi bloggers Omar and Mohammed, Zayed, Ali, Hammorabi, and Riverbend (despite opinions of each blogger, they essentially paint the same picture of the situation in Baghdad). The media, being concentrated in Baghdad, reports this, and the perception is the security situation in Baghdad represents the security situation in the rest of Iraq.

This couldn't be farther from the truth. Last evening I spoke to Gunnery Sergeant Charles Strong, from Weapons Platoon, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines. His unit just returned from Iraq, and fought in some of the fiercest battles in western Anbar province over the past year. He explained the Al Qaim region is making remarkable progress, and the problems are more of the nature in getting the disparate Sunni tribes to work together. His story isn't uncommon. Much of Iraq is going through a similar transition, or is relatively peaceful. But none of this matters as long as the insurgency focuses on Baghdad.

The Iraqi government and Coalition are making an effort to secure Baghdad, as Operation Scales of Justice demonstrates, however the question that remains is this effort good enough to get a handle on the problems with the insurgency, militias, and gang violence. The Iraqi government and Coalition need to increase security in the capitol and deal with the problems in the police force immediately before confidence in the police is completely eroded. Corrupt police units must be disbanded. The creation of the equivalent of Military Transition Teams for the police is already in the works, but needs to be accelerated. Until then, pair police units with Iraqi Army and U.S. military units. The "call forward" brigade, consisting of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, is currently sitting in Kuwait. One battalion was recently moved forward to the Baghdad area to provide additional security for the Muslim holiday of Arba'een. Move the rest of the brigade to Baghdad. Consider the possibility of establishing curfews, closing off roads, placing 'battle positions' in the more problematic neighborhoods.

These actions may be viewed in some quarters as desperation, but they are prudent moves to get a handle on the security situation and change the perception among the residents of Baghdad that something is being done about the security situation. The real solution is the creation of a unity government, with serious and secular ministers in the portfolios of Defense and the Interior, who have the ability to purge the police of militias and take Sadr head on.

Insurgencies are cyclical by nature, and will move to where they perceive the weak point exists. Right now the point of weakness is Baghdad, and Sadr's Mahdi Army militia only exacerbates the problems. The Iraqi political parties need time and space to allow the torturous political process to play itself out. The Iraqi Army and Coalition need to give them that time and space.



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READER COMMENTS: "The Battle for Baghdad"

Posted by dj elliott at March 31, 2006 6:33 PM ET:

The Kurdish zone of MNF-N zone will (officially) turned over soon and AOR boundry will shift to the Euphraties and concentrate on clearing Saladdin. Many of our allies are about to do a major reduction of forces in Iraq, hence MNF-B's expanding zone. UK and AS are staying the course but, UK press is talking about UK Div reducing to Bde strength and assets going to Afghanistan (Pakistan worries?). AS will probably fill in for UK, that is prob why they announced the AS forces would remain at strength even if JA pulls out.
Expect jugling/consolidating AORs.

OT: Where are the JO donated M113s and Spartans? Only IA tracks I have seen are Russian design.

Posted by cjr at March 31, 2006 6:34 PM ET:

This kinda reminds me of the climactic battle at the end of the movie "The Seven Samurai" :

Samurai leader to his troops: "The bandits have tried again and again to get into our village and so far they have failed. Now the bandits are reaching the end of their strength and they are becoming desperate. Tomorrow, they will attack again, but this time they will put everything they have left into it.
This time, we will not defend the village gates as we did before. This time, we will let them come in......"

Posted by Merv Benson at March 31, 2006 6:58 PM ET:

The activity in Baghdad looks more and more like gang warfare instead of civil war. There is also a concern about people camoflaging themselves as Iraqi police, in order to engage in the kidnapping. At Maj.Gen. Lynch's press briefing one questioner asked about a report on Iraqi television that people should not respond to police unless the American's are with them. While this suggest a certain level of trust in US forces, it also suggest that the Iraqi goverment needs to get busy on earning the trust of the people by getting rid of the gangs.

Posted by ECH at March 31, 2006 7:45 PM ET:

It would be nice to add another US division to Baghdad for the next 100 days or so. This is the most dangerous time for Iraqis future since April 2004.

Posted by dj elliott at March 31, 2006 8:26 PM ET:

Note: Sadr's power base is in Sadr City Baghdad and Najaf and MNF-B now owns both areas...

Posted by dj elliott at March 31, 2006 9:37 PM ET:

If we are going to take down Sadr, then streamlining C4 by puting both of his power bases under one (US) command would make sense.

I do not see US making serious reductions without cleaning up the militias first.

Posted by Neo-andertal at April 1, 2006 12:23 AM ET:

Thanks for the overview on what is going on in Baghdad. The eruption of violence in after the shrine bombing gave the impression that further increases in sectarian violence may be very likely. Since then things seem to have stabilized a bit. I struggle to get a feel for what just what is going on in Baghdad. Where our worst fears about sectarian violence founded? To what degree should we expect large outbreaks in violence? How much has the political stalemate actually degraded the security situation? It's not easy to grasp answers to those questions.

As I look at the pieces of evidence that you display, I can't help to note that the new centers of sectarian violence seem very much the same as the old centers of ba'ath and AQ centered insurgent violence. I hate to beat a dead horse but the new sectarian violence in Baghdad looks once again like our old enemies. They are now exclusively focusing their efforts on urban terrorism, rather than make any attempts at holding ground, or politically controlling any part of the population. I can't help to think that the failure to sustain an increased level of violence directly shows the limits of the insurgency. They do replenish their combatants, but they don't seem to capable of creating any reserve from which might sustain a higher level of attacks.

Right now, Sadr's men seem less keen on martyring themselves in another round of violence with the US and Iraqi Security Forces. We tend to forget that Sadr's people made their way back into the political process by practicing a fair degree of restraint. Unless AQ can goad Shiites into a large sectarian fight, I doubt that AQ has the resources to push Baghdad to the brink itself.

Posted by Neo-andertal at April 1, 2006 12:28 AM ET:

I could have cleaned up the grammar mistakes in that comment. Yuck!

Posted by pedestrian at April 1, 2006 3:34 AM ET:

I agree to Gunnery Sergeant Charles Strong for security improvements in the west of Anbar Province, but I still do not think Operation Scales of Justice will not be enough to do enough damage to eliminate terrorists from Baghdad. After Operation Thunder/Lightning, I have been observing number of attack incidents causing deaths within Baghdad. The number of attacks involving deaths have been stable around 50. One of the possibilities of the stable number of attacks may be terrorists which escaped Anbar province are joining others within Baghdad. The shift on attacks from coalition force to Iraqis is also another reason. Meanwhile, there is likely a hidden route for equipments flowing from outside into Baghdad from somewhere not under control. While west portions of Anbar is quiet thse days, attacks between Falluja and Baghdad continues (Fallujah-Habbaniyah-Abu Greihb-Ramadi-Baghdad), which indicates hide outs and concentration of terrorists between Fallujah-Baghdad area. There is a need of massive house cordon and search operations that will cover the entire city, including Baghdad. The multi-national force will have to engage in large scale operation to operate in large numbers to engage inch-by-inch searches within Baghdad. Meanwhile, between and after searches, there is a need of barrier and checkpoints to avoid the escape and re-entry of terrorist. This is not a silver bullet, but one of the options to deny free movement of terrorists.

Posted by pedestrian at April 1, 2006 6:33 AM ET:

I've counted the number of reported attacks in Baghdad that resulted deaths on Iraq civilians and ISF, and counted 146 incidents for March. This is 2 to 3 times than previous months, which are often around 50 to 60 incidents monthly. I would also like to add on that this is only reports resulting deaths, so it may not represent the total numbers of attack including attacks that did not cause any deaths. With an average of 17.8 attacks from the two weeks of data, that would mean about 551.8 attacks for March, and divided by 146 incidents reported with deaths, I get a calculation of 26.45% of attacks in March results in death of Iraqi civilian/ISF.

Posted by Lisa at April 1, 2006 12:20 PM ET:

Why is Baghdad the point of weakness?

It appears that since they have focused on the heart of Iraq that they feel they are accomplishing what they desire without having to attack as often in other places...not that they are not present in other places but they are coming into Iraq, doing their thing and retreating back into their safeplace. By attacking Baghdad, which is a symbol in itself, is densely populated, plus that is where most media are located, they have found a way to crush spirits of both the Iraqi people and the world of a favorable outcome, and place fear in the hearts of the Iraqi people without having to be fully engaged with security forces or armed forces. They are trying to pick apart any work accomplished one bite at a time.
I have to admit this is smart because how can you tell who these people are...they aren't wearing t-shirts that say "insurgent"...they attack,run and easily blend back into society. Doesn't cost much either.

Posted by Soldier's Dad at April 1, 2006 12:44 PM ET:

"Why is Baghdad the point of weakness?"

Because big cities offer Anonymity. A couple of dozen goons in a small town are immediately noticed by everyone. A couple of dozen goons, in a neighborhood with a million residents are nearly invisable.

Posted by Lisa at April 1, 2006 1:51 PM ET:

I agree but I feel there are more than a couple of dozen out there. There may be a couple of dozen doing the "operation" in the city but there are more on the outskirts and in other countries.

How can you fight such a thing?
Could it be possible to be doing surprise house, farms and building raids off and on throughout the days and nights? Not every place just one here and there? Would that be too offensive and frightening to the people? Could it make the enemy scramble only to resurface other places? Are there reliable informants placed among the villages and provinces?

Posted by Lisa at April 1, 2006 1:59 PM ET:

Also, remember there were only a few terrorist that managed to take over planes and bring down the twin towers and attack the Pentagon resulting in the main front being right here at home.
It took just a few to terrorize an entire nation...

Posted by Lisa at April 1, 2006 2:20 PM ET:

We need to find their greatest weakness...their greatest shame...their Achilles' heel...

Posted by pedestrian at April 1, 2006 3:23 PM ET:

>Could it be possible to be doing surprise house,
>farms and building raids off and on throughout the days and nights?

At least this was done in Fallujah, why not others.

>Could it make the enemy scramble only to resurface other places?

I won't discuss the methods, but there are various methods to spot terrorists hiding within the community.

>Are there reliable informants placed among the villages and provinces?

Those who support at least the Iraqi Security Force will tip by cell phones. You would probably be surpirsed to hear Iraqi residents near police department under attack were informing terrorist positions providing real time information using their cell phone. That really scares the terrorists to death, and the terrorists have sometime attempt to take away cell phones from local residents where they operate.

>Would that be too offensive and frightening to the people?

If you don't do it, you won't be able to hunt down terrorists. These operations are the few of the relaibale options to hunt down terrorists. It depends on how the military enages in house searches. If done correctly, damage of public image will be kept minimum.

>Also, remember there were only a few terrorist that managed to take over planes and bring down
>the twin towers and attack the Pentagon resulting in the main front being right here at home.

Only few were operating, but without the organization in the back financing and providing the people, such attack may have not been possible. It just cost money to train multiple people, do research, and engage in attack. These attacks may have a tactical success, but it should also be recognized that it will not be a strategic victory, since the attack would not mean the collapse of the government. We have seen this by our country invading Afghanistan and destroying the Taliban regime.

>We need to find their greatest weakness...their greatest shame...their Achilles' heel...

Their weakness is the decentralized network, which top-down control is difficult. Some analysis claim the advantage, but not many recognize the disadvantage of the decentralized, such as punishment for acts against the organizations' ideology, and resource management. Certain groups within Al Qaida of Iraq were using
given allowance for their private use that are not needed for their activities. It is just not effecient having a decentralized network. That is why we often see hierarchy system within organization, and not a decentralized system.

Posted by Lisa at April 1, 2006 6:59 PM ET:

Thank you for your reply.

Could you explain to me this part of your comment in laymans terms?

"Their weakness is the decentralized network, which top-down control is difficult. Some analysis claim the advantage, but not many recognize the disadvantage of the decentralized, such as punishment for acts against the organizations' ideology, and resource management. Certain groups within Al Qaida of Iraq were using
given allowance for their private use that are not needed for their activities. It is just not effecient having a decentralized network. That is why we often see hierarchy system within organization, and not a decentralized system"

Do you think that most of these "terrorist" are motivated by money or is it more a religious movement? Probably a little bit of both, huh?

Posted by Lisa at April 1, 2006 7:57 PM ET:

This may sound a little far out there but suppose that when you capture one this swarthy men, you knock him out, implant a GPS tracking chip in him, turn him loose and follow him to the rats nest?

Posted by pedestrian at April 2, 2006 4:09 PM ET:

>Do you think that most of these "terrorist" are motivated by money or is it more a religious
>movement? Probably a little bit of both, huh?

There is no clear cut to conclude who are motivated by money, who are motivated by religion, and there could be both. Some are forced to cooperate, sometimes by use of drugs. In Iraq, there are also some motivated by nationalism. Certain analysists guess Al Qaida members are only around 5% of the entire operating terrorist groups. However, there are also Ansar al Islam/Ansar al Sunna which includes foreigners as well, the Mahdi Army and Imam Hussein Brigade which some Iranians might be part of it. These are the well known Islamist terrorists. There are also Baathists and those motivated by nationalism. The most uncertain portion of the terrorist group are the part timers. These are part time terrorists motivated by the money provided by various terrorist groups. Terrorists in Iraq have different reasons to fight. The terrorists in Iraq are combinations of these factors.