As Baghdad has experienced a dramatic drop in violence, the northern provinces have suffered a spike in attacks over the past few months. To counter al Qaeda in Iraq’s repositioning into the northern cities and rural areas, Multinational Forces Iraq and Iraqi Security Forces have launched Operation Iron Hammer in the northern provinces of Ninewa, Tamin, Salahadin, and Diyala.
The northern operation was launched on November 5 and consists of four Iraqi Army Divisions and three US brigades. Over 200 insurgent suspects have been captured, including three high-value al Qaeda leaders. A large amount of explosives and weapons caches have also been found.
As operations against al Qaeda in Iraq have degraded the terror network inside Baghdad and the outer Belts regions of southern Salahadin and Diyala, eastern Anbar, northern Babil, and the greater Baghdad province, al Qaeda has attempted to regroup in the regions of the north as well as in eastern Diyala province.
Al Qaeda in Iraq has attempted to preserve its forces by moving out into the rural regions while attacking security forces in the major northern cities. Al Qaeda is attempting to regroup in the Hamrin Mountain chain and regions along the Iranian border in the east in Diyala and the Sinjar region to the west in Ninewa.
The Hamrin Mountains, which span Diyala, Salahadin, and Tamin provinces, are believed to be a major fallback position for al Qaeda in Iraq and allied insurgent groups. On October 30, Iraqi Security Forces captured 39 suspected insurgents along the foothills of the Hamrin Mountains of Tikrit during a single operation.
The cities of Mosul in Ninewa province, Tikrit in Tamin, Samarra in Salahadin, and Miqdadiyah in Diyala have been the scenes of daily attacks on Iraqi Security Forces and the US military. Suicide and car bombs have been prevalent in these cities while they have declined in the central regions of Iraq.
Over the last several days, there have been assassination attempts against the governor of Ninewa and chief of police in Kirkuk. A tribal leader in Tal Afar was assassinated,and four of his attackers were killed. Insurgents also decapitated a person and placed a bomb on the body.
Over the weekend, two insurgent groups clashed with al Qaeda in Iraq. The 1920s Revolution Brigades captured 60 al Qaeda fighters in Diyala province and handed them over to Iraqi Police. “Al Qaeda cheated people under the name of ‘jihad’ and their actions were against all principles,” Husein al Zubaidi, a Diyala official told al Jazeera. “They hurt all Iraqi sects, this is what pushed the national armed groups to face them strongly and bravely.” Iraqi Security Forces also killed five al Qaeda operatives, including three emirs, during a clash in Khalis.
East of Samarra, the Islamic Army in Iraq attacked al Qaeda in Iraq, killing 18 and capturing 16. The insurgent group claimed to have requested the US stay out of the fight to prevent air assets from killing Islamic Army fighters, but Multinational Forces Iraq denied this occurred. US and Iraq forces later conducted an operation in the region, killing seven al Qaeda and capturing four.