“Major Operations” underway in the regions surrounding Baghdad
By DJ Elliott and Bill Roggio
With the last U.S. combat brigade to hit the ground over the last two weeks as part of the surge, Multinational Forces Iraq has declared the beginning of “major combat operations” in the belts regions surrounding Baghdad. The Baghdad Belts, which included Eastern Anbar, northern Babil, and southern Salahadin and Diyala provinces, has long been a staging area for al Qaeda and insurgent operations into Baghdad, and a key part of the Baghdad Security Plan is denying these regions to the enemy.
In the June 16 briefing given by Defense Robert Gates, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, General Petraeus explained that the past four months have set the stage for the “large, coordinated offensive operations” which kicked off over the weekend. The combat, logistics and intelligence pieces have been “put in place over the past several months,” while a clear intelligence picture was developed of the regions surrounding Baghdad. “We have been doing what we might call shaping operations in a lot of these different areas [in the belts], feeling the edges, conducting intelligence gathering, putting in special operators.”
The picture on the Battle of the Belts is still developing. Based on the available open source information, current operations are ongoing to the north, west and south of Baghdad. Multiple U.S. and Iraqi units are operating at the brigade and division level.
South of Baghdad: Northern Babil/Southern Diyala.
Multinational Division Center was established specifically to deal with the regions south of Baghdad. U.S. and Iraqi forces kicked off Operation Marne in the region directly south of Baghdad. It appears operations across the entire 3rd Division’s area of operations are underway. Over 1,200 soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division are operating in Arab Jabour in the southeastern sector, and some reports indicated operations were underway in Salman Pak. U.S. soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment conducted a company-sized operation in the city of Dura’iya on June 17.
The “Fiyahs” region, made up of Mahmudiyah, Iskandariyah and Yusifiyah and also known as the Triangle of Death, has been the subject of numerous combat operations after the abduction of 3 U.S. soldiers near Mahmudiyah in May. Over 6,000 U.S. and Iraq Army and police forces poured into the region as part of the search, which is still ongoing.
West of Baghdad: Eastern Anbar province/Thar Thar.
Iraqi and Coalition forces are also said to be conducting a major operation in the Thar Thar region. This is an area where Baathists have settled, and numerous weapons caches were prepositioned in anticipation of the current insurgency. The Thar Thar region, which includes the sprawling Munthana complex, an ideal location for al Qaeda and insurgents to stage operations as it is strategically located near Baghdad, Samarra, Balad, Ramadi and Fallujah. The Jazeera desert region has been the focus of numerous Coalition and Iraqi Army operations over the two years, and the Iraqi Army has been conducting independent operations in this area.
Iraqi and Coalition forces are also conducting operations in the Abu Ghraib region directly west of Baghdad, while the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit just arrived in eastern Anbar province. The 13th MEU is based from Taqaddum Air Base near Habbaniyah, which is between Fallujah and Ramadi. The Marines have hit the ground running, and are said to be conducting combat operations. This comes at Regimental Combat Team – 6 is working on clearing Karma, an al Qaeda haven in Karma.
North of Baghdad: Southern Salahadin, Diyala province.
The reporting on combat operations in Southern Salahadin and Diyala province is vague. Iraqi Army and police units recently moved about 650 personnel into Samarra in the wake of the attack on the al-Askaria mosque last week. Small units of Army and Police formations were sent ad hoc, which indicates the larger formations are tasked for offensive operations.
The “Diyala Campaign” has been signaled for some time. The region – which expands beyond the belts – has been an al Qaeda command and control center for al Qaeda, and Baqubah as been declared the capitol of al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq. Al Qaeda has established training camps, weapons caches and bunkers and fighting positions throughout the eastern province. Much of al Qaeda’s suicide offensive into Baghdad has been thought to have been launched from Diyala.
Shaping operations have been ongoing in Diyala province for some time, as U.S. and Iraq forces have worked to clear sections of Baqubah nd Buhritz, as well as establish forward outposts up and down the Diyala River Valley. About 2,000 Kurdish “Pehmerga,” which may be Kurdish Regional Guard and not Iraqi Army units are being deployed to Diyala. The Iraqi government has stated it is deploying forces to Diyala to crush al Qaeda. Two Iraqi Army Brigades and one Iraqi National Police Brigade have been deployed to Taji, just east of Diyala, and will likely be used as part of the Diyala Campaign.
After months of preparation, the Baghdad Security Operation is now fully underway. The operations in the Baghdad belts and greater Diyala come as U.S. and Iraqi forces continue to establish the Joint Security Stations and Combat Outposts inside Baghdad, and clear and hold the neighborhoods. At last count, forty percent of Baghdad is now considered secure. Major, mass casualty suicide attacks inside the capital have been few and far between the past several weeks, while mortar attacks, IED strikes and small scale bombings and shootings are still a major threat.
Securing the belts will allow the Iraqi and Coalition forces to continue to secure Baghdad, and reduce al Qaeda and the insurgency’s access to weapons caches, bases of operations and support from outside the city. The next step is a political solution: resolution on key issues such as reconciliation, corruption, oil laws and adjusting the constitution must follow. These are contentious issues within the Iraqi government. But the security environment must be established to provide the political space needed to address these issues.