A process, not an event
News that an Iraqi Army brigade and 2,000 American troops have begun an operation in the Sunni dominated neighborhood of Azamiyah has kicked off speculation the Baghdad Security Operation is now underway in full force. Expect the forces to establish one or more Combat Outposts (or COPs) in Azamiyah. But the fact is the operation to stabilize the capital and the surrounding provinces is only in its infancy. Today’s positioning of forces Azamiyah is but one more opening move on the chessboard.
Technically, the operation actually began in Late December when President Bush ordered additional troops to Iraq. The deployment of additional forces and the building infrastructure for the Baghdad piece of the security operation has just begun. Only a few thousand of the 17,500 U.S. soldiers have moved into Baghdad. Iraqi brigades are still moving into position.
Only two of the many planned Combat Outposts have been set up in Baghdad – one in Doura and another in Ghazaliya. Iraqi Army, police and U.S. soldiers will be stationed in the outposts to secure individual neighborhoods. Iraqi Army and police units are just beginning to take up positions around Sadr City. Most of the opening moves have occurred in the North of Baghdad. The U.S. and Iraqis still have plenty of assets to put in place, assets that likely won’t be fully in place until March or later.
Iraqi soldiers man a checkpoint at the entrance of Baghdad’s impoverished Shiite Muslim neighbourhood of Sadr City. (AFP/Ahmad al-Rubaye). Click to view.
Military officers have repeatedly referred to the security operation as a ‘holistic’ approach that encompasses more than just Baghdad. Over 4,000 additional Marines are being deployed in Anbar province to fight al Qaeda and deal with any potential bleed-out of terrorists from Baghdad. Iraqi and U.S. are also being subtly redeployed from more stable areas into regions where al Qaeda, Ansar al-Sunnah and the Mahdi Army are likely to seek shelter. Recent operations in Najaf, Anbar and Diyala provide some clues.
The mere announcement of the security plan has already and an affect on the security situation. On a positive note, the death squad activity has dramatically decreased in Baghdad. The near daily reports of bodies being found bound, mutilated and murdered have significantly decreased. A major reason for this is Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered his fighters to go to ground and not confront U.S. and Iraqi forces. His senior militia leaders are thought to have fled Baghdad.
On a negative note, al Qaeda has stepped up its car and suicide bombing campaign, attacking soft targets in the city such as markets, pet shops, and mosques, with deadly results. While al Qaeda is said to have pulled out of Baghdad, an American intelligence official informs us al Qaeda has largely withdrawn to Diyala province, and is ferrying in suicide bombers into the city. al Qaeda is stepping up its bombing campaign in an effort to both discredit the security operations and incite sectarian attacks. It is vital the currier network of bombers and the bombmaking cells be dismantled to reduce the effectiveness of al Qaeda’s operations in the capital. Further concurrent operations must also be conducted in Diyala to disrupt al Qaeda’s ability to maintain an intensive bombing campaign.
General David Patreaus, the new Multinational Forces Iraq commander, recently stated the results of the new Iraq strategy won’t be known until the summer at the earliest. The Coalition must be prepared to alter the plan as needed, and remember the enemy always has a voice in war. Sadr, al Qaeda and other Anti-Iraq Forces will probe for weaknesses, both militarily and politically, and attempt to exploit them. The real failure in Operation Together Forward, the Baghdad security operation in 2006, was a failure in imagination. The U.S. military kept plugging away with the same plan, refusing to alter operations in the face of a concerted enemy campaign that exploited the operation’s weaknesses. America and the Iraqi people cannot afford the same mistakes in 2007.