Understanding the numbers behind the Baghdad Security Operation
On June 4, The New York Times released partial data from a classified memorandum that stated only 29 percent of Baghdad was secured, and provided little context to the status of the remaining 71 percent of Baghdad. The article was widely interpreted as heralding the failure of the Baghdad Security Plan, as four months into the operation, less than one third of Baghdad was secured. The New York Times also claimed that senior U.S. generals leaders stated Baghdad was expected to be secured by July, while General David Petraeus said this was never a realistic goal. As we noted at the time, the status of contested neighborhoods was important to understanding the state of Baghdad and the progress of the Baghdad Security Operation.
On June 29, Major General Joseph Fil, Jr., the commanding general of Multinational Division Baghdad and the 1st Cavalry Division, briefed on the status of Baghdad and provided the much needed context to the security situation in the city. Maj. Gen Fil noted there are 474 “mahalas” – or neighborhoods – and that operations go through four stages: disruption, clearance, controlling, and retention. Each phase can be understood as follows:
Disruption: U.S. and Iraqi forces do not have forces established in the region or have not conducted clearing operations. Security forces are conducting raids and other shaping operations to “disrupt” enemy activity and gain intelligence on the terrorist and insurgent networks.
Clearance: Security forces are in the process of conducting large-scale operations, sweeps, and searches to find and secure weapons caches, detain insurgents, and establish a permanent presence in the area.
Controlling: Security forces have a presence in the area, and neighborhood watches and police forces have been established. The areas are now considered secured.
Retention: Neighborhoods are under control and have been fully transitioned to Iraq control.
Maj Gen Fil compared the numbers from April to today. In April about 19 percent of Baghdad was secured, 41 percent of Baghdad was yet to be cleared, and about 35 percent of Baghdad was in the process of being cleared. In May, as The New York Times reported, the number of neighborhoods under control jumped to 29 percent, but there was no discussion of neighborhoods in the clearance and disruption phases.
The numbers have changed dramatically in the two months since April. Today about 48 percent of Baghdad is secured, with 7 percent under the control of the Iraqi Security Forces in the retain phase, 16 percent of Baghdad has yet to be cleared, and about 36 percent of Baghdad is in the process of being cleared.
In a little over two months, the Baghdad Security Plan resulted in a jump of about 30 percent of the neighborhoods secured (19 percent in April to 48 percent in June), a drop of neighborhoods in the disruption phase of about 25 percent (41 percent in April to 16 percent in June), and a steady state of neighborhoods in the clearance phase (about 35 percent).
With Operation Phantom Thunder ongoing against al Qaeda in Iraq in the Baghdad Belts of Diyala, northern Babil, and eastern Anbar provinces, the pressure on the terror organization will increase. It would be unwise to look at operations to secure Baghdad – to get to the control and retain phases – as a linear function. As fewer neighborhoods are in the disruption phase and operations in the Belts progress, the offensive-oriented Iraqi and Coalition forces will become available to concentrate forces on the troubled areas of Baghdad, which is largely in the western Rashid district and Sadr City. But clearing Baghdad is only a start. The real work will come in holding these neighborhoods to keep al Qaeda from reestablishing bases in the capital.