The Baghdad Security Operation: June 12, 2007
Nearly four months since the Baghdad Security Plan was announced, the Sunni population in the provinces continues to turn on al Qaeda in Iraq, and attempts to weaken support for the group inside Baghdad are showing early signs of success. Al Qaeda in Iraq, for its part, has focused its attacks largely in the provinces, and zeroed in on the Iraqi Security Forces, the anti-al Qaeda Sunni community, and Iraq's bridges.
The most significant development inside Baghdad over the past week occurred in the Sunni-dominated western neighborhood of Amiriyah, where a group of local residents and Sunni insurgent groups (largely fighters from the 1920s Revolution Brigade and the Islamic Army in Iraq) banded together to eject al Qaeda from the neighborhood.
Al Qaeda in Iraq overreached in attempting to set up a Taliban-like state in the Baghdad neighborhood, and the locals rebelled. "The group sprung up last week when several local leaders called on neighborhood residents to take up arms against al Qaeda after unprovoked killings in the neighborhood," Jane Arraf reported from Baghdad last week. "At least two local imams normally opposed to the presence of American soldiers agreed to cooperate with the U.S. forces."
The group requested that the U.S. unit stationed in the area stay out of the fighting, but U.S. and Iraqi forces did provide weapons, ammunition, food, and guidance. In some cases, they did fight alongside the self-described "freedom fighters." The Anbar Salvation Council, the grouping of Sunni tribes and former insurgents, also sent advisers to
assist and fight with the Amiriyah fighters.
The Amiriyah fighters are now patrolling the neighborhood and conducting raids jointly with U.S. and Iraqi forces. Lieutenant Colonel Dale Kuehl, the commander of the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment noted that more al Qaeda were killed or captured in the area during the past week than had been in the six months prior.
While many news outlets have characterized the support of such Sunnis fighting against al Qaeda simply as the creation of new Sunni militias; but this view reflects a misunderstanding of counterinsurgency strategy. Part of a successful counterinsurgency strategy includes turning moderates against the radical, irreconcilable elements of the insurgency--in this case al Qaeda in Iraq.
The strategy is certainly not without risk, particularly in the charged sectarian environment of Iraq (and in Baghdad in particular). The Shia Iraqi government looks with suspicion upon armed Sunni groups of any stripe. But the goal is to secure the local areas first, develop trust with the Iraqi government later, and ultimately incorporate these groups into the Iraqi Security Forces. We can reasonably hope that this might be the beginning of a reconciliation process, however long and painful.
In Amiriyah, the aim is to transform the "freedom fighters" into a local police force. In Anbar, the tribal levies of the Anbar Salvation Council have been incorporated as Provincial Security Forces, and are training in police academies. American forces have also insisted on gathering biometric data--to include both fingerprints and retinal scans--from members of the security forces, as well as the serial numbers of the weapons they carry.
One way to gage the effectiveness of the effort to turn Iraq's Sunni community against al Qaeda in Amiriyah, Anbar, Salahadin, Babil, and Diyala provinces is to watch al Qaeda's response. And thus far, Al Qaeda appears to feel threatened. They have issued verbal attacks against the Sunnis--calling them traitors--and launched physical attacks against their leaders.
In Baghdad and the surrounding provinces, al Qaeda has viciously attacked the local Awakening movements, which are modeled after the successful Anbar Salvation Council. Anti-al Qaeda clerics and tribal leaders have been targeted for assassination. In Anbar, al Qaeda has conducted a campaign against the local sheikhs and leaders of the Anbar Salvation Council.
These recent developments can be viewed as a positive indicator of the still developing Baghdad Security Plan. While sectarian killings were reported to have increased during May, after falling significantly the first four months of the year, the number reported is still half of what it was in December of 2006. The final U.S. combat brigade has just hit the ground and is still learning its area of operations. Despite this, some areas of Baghdad have seen a marked improvement in the security situation since the inception of the Baghdad Security Plan.
The security in the Karkh district, which is in the heart of Baghdad and home to Haifa Street, has greatly improved. "During the month of May, there were 35 attacks in Karkh, a drop of 60 percent from January," said Colonel Bryan Roberts, commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Cavalry Division, which is in charge of security in that area. "Even more impressive is the decrease in sectarian murders--four in the month of May, down 94 percent from January's 53."
The completion of the Adhamiyah "wall"--the concrete barrier and fence designed to secure the neighborhood--has resulted in a significant reduction in violence. "Murders are down 61 percent in Adhamiyah between the beginning of April, when construction began, and May 28, when it ended," Multinational Forces Iraq reported.
The increased security in Baghdad has forced al Qaeda in Iraq to take its fight to the surrounding provinces. The last five major attacks have all occurred in the provinces, as bigger, more complex attacks are now difficult to conduct inside the capital. As noted earlier, the attacks are taking place against Sunni sheikhs, clerics, and other leaders willing to oppose al Qaeda and its Islamic State. Attacks have also focused on other targets, particularly the Iraqi Security Forces.
Iraqi police and Army outposts, as well as patrols and the officers who lead them, remain a primary target of al Qaeda's campaign of intimidation. Al Qaeda is attempting to break the morale in those units. Suicide bombers recently struck at an Iraqi Army base near Iskandariyah and a police station near Tikrit. Seventeen Iraqi Security Force personnel were killed and over 80 wounded in the two attacks. In the latest assault on the police, al Qaeda attacked the home of a police colonel in Diyala. Twelve policemen were killed, along with the colonel's wife and son; three others were kidnapped.
The summer is almost certain to see more violence as U.S. and Iraqi forces take the fight to the "belts"--the portions of Diyala, Babil, Anbar, and Salahadin that border Baghdad. Al Qaeda will fight hard to keep the nascent Awakening movements from gaining popularity while simultaneously battling U.S. and Iraqi forces as they move into al Qaeda's safe havens. American and Iraqi casualties are expected to rise. And al Qaeda is well aware of the September timeframe set forth by General Petraeus for his report on the status of the Baghdad Security Plan. The terror group will pull out all the stops to raise the level of violence, but in the short-term, a rise in violence simply will not serve as an effective indicator of success or failure. The real indicator will be the long-term security of Baghdad and the surrounding regions. From the perspective of al Qaeda, though, defeating the Baghdad Security Plan is likely a secondary objective. For their purposes, merely creating the appearance of defeat would suffice.