By DJ Elliott, CJ Radin and Bill Roggio
Over the past week, U.S. and Iraqi troops have continued to move into Baghdad, taking up positions for the new Iraq security plan. For its part, al Qaeda in Iraq continues to press its suicide campaign with the aim of discrediting the operation and prompting the collapse of the Iraqi government and the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
We have identified two additional U.S. combat battalions and one additional Kurdish battalion in the western sector of the capital. Two battalions and the headquarters of 4th Brigade, 2nd Division (about 1,800 soldiers from a Kurdish based Brigade) are currently en route, and two battalions from the 10th Iraqi Army Division (IAD) are training for urban operations just south of Baghdad. A battalion from the 8th Iraqi Division may be augmenting the battalions from the 10th IAD. The Iraqi Air force has also taken delivery of five Huey II helicopters from neighboring Jordan (the U.S. ally has delivered 16 in total), which are being reworked by U.S. forces for use in the Baghdad operation.
Inside Baghdad, 15 of 32 Joint Security Stations (JSS) have been established. Iraqi Army, Police, and U.S. soldiers will jointly occupy these stations in an effort to improve local security in selected neighborhoods. We have identified the locations of six of these stations. Mohammed, blogging at Iraq The Model, notes that “the buildup of troops in the capital seems to be incremental and increasing by the day giving a steadily growing sense of the seriousness of the operation . . . checkpoints are becoming better organized than before . . . the search typically includes verifying the vehicle registration papers, looking for guns and munitions or suspicious objects, destination of the passenger/driver and often their identity cards.”
Four additional U.S. combat brigades are en route to Iraq as part of the surge: the 4th Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, and the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division. The Multinational Forces Iraq press briefings have focused on securing the outer belt of Baghdad. As the Baghdad portion of the security plan ramps up, insurgents, militias, and al Qaeda have been fleeing the city for the provinces. We expect three of the four brigades to augment the security in the provinces, with Diyala, Anbar, Babil, and Salahaddin receiving preference. Mosul and Tikrit may also receive more troops as Iraqi Army Battalions have been pulled from these regions to secure Baghdad.
The results of the new security plan have been mixed so far. Over 400 insurgents have been killed and another 400 captured since security operations began in mid-February. Security forces killed 12 insurgents and captured 98 during operations Sunday. The Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr, who is currently hiding in Iran, continues to be targeted by Iraqi and Coalition forces. The Iraqi government claims sectarian violence has dramatically decreased in Baghdad, however specific numbers were not provided. We suspect there is truth to this as the reporting on sectarian related murders has decreased significantly. For a short period of time, the number of deaths dropped 80 percent over the course of 5 days. Al Qaeda responded by ramping up its suicide campaign, both inside Baghdad and in the provinces. We remain cautious not to read too much into these events as the Baghdad Security Plan is still in its early stages.
As we mentioned last week, preventing suicide attacks is the greatest challenge for those implementing the new security plan. The most significant attacks over the past week in Baghdad included a suicide attack at at the Mustansiriyah University (35 dead, 40 wounded), suicide bombings in New Baghdad and Sadr City (60 dead, 131 wounded), and a suicide attack at a Sadr City police checkpoint (13 dead).
Outside of Baghdad, al Qaeda staged three significant conventional suicide attacks: a suicide car bombing outside the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf (13 killed, 23 wounded), a suicide truck bombing targeting an anti-al Qaeda imam in Habbaniyah, a suicide car bombing against pro-government Shiekh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha in Ramadi, and a suicide car bombing on a U.S. outpost in Tarmiya, just north of Baghdad (2 killed, 17 wounded).
In a disturbing trend, two chlorine trucks were detonated in major population centers over the past week in an attempt by insurgents to demonstrate a ‘chemical’ capability. A truck carrying chlorine gas was detonated at a gas station near Taji, killing five and sending 140 to hospital, while another was detonated in southwest Baghdad, killing five and wounding 75 in the resulting explosion. Coalition forces later discovered a chlorine bomb-making factory during a raid in Karma (near Fallujah).
The uptick in mass-casualty suicide bombings and chemical attacks was not unexpected. The immediate objectives of al Qaeda in Iraq are to discredit the security operation and to incite Iraq’s Shia militias–which had largely laid down their arms–to rejoin the fight.
The Baghdad security plan is still in its infancy, as troops have only begun to deploy over the past several weeks, and there are still several more brigades that have yet to join the fight. It is far too soon to judge the plan a success or failure, or to determine who might have the upper hand.
This week’s Bgahdad Order of Battle was originally published at The Weekly Standard.