Despite the recent success in reducing the violence in Iraq, the fight against al Qaeda in Iraq and the Shia extremist terror groups is not over. Coalition and Iraqi forces have launched Operation Phantom Phoenix, a new operation targeting the terror groups throughout Iraq.
The scope of Phantom Phoenix is nationwide. The operation is “a series of joint Iraqi and Coalition division- and brigade-level operations to pursue and neutralize remaining al-Qaeda in Iraq and other extremist elements,” Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, the commander of Multinational Corps Iraq stated. “Phantom Phoenix will synchronize lethal and non-lethal effects to exploit recent security gains and disrupt terrorist support zones and enemy command and control.”
The specific geographical locations targeted during Phantom Phoenix were not identified. Iraqi and Coalition forces will “pursue al-Qaeda and other extremists wherever they attempt to take sanctuary,” Odierno said.
The region northeast of Miqdadiyah will be a primary focus of the operation. Al Qaeda in Iraq has established a “haven” in the region, and has used this base to funnel attacks against Awakening and Concerned Local Citizens groups attempting to establish in the Baqubah region.
The bulk of the recent uptick in violence in Baghdad is also believed to be staged from Diyala province, a senior military officer who asked not to be named told The Long War Journal. Al Qaeda in Iraq killed the leader of the Adhamiyah Awakening in Baghdad on Jan. 7, while suicide and small-arms attacks against Awakening groups has risen since al Qaeda’s leadership called for a campaign against the anti-al Qaeda forces.
Al Qaeda’s attempt to establish a new base of operation in the Mosul region is believed to have been blunted. Yet a series of bombings against Christian churches in the region are believed to be an attempt to stir up sectarian violence in the area, a senior military intelligence officer told The Long War Journal. Al Qaeda has also attempted to increase sectarian violence in the flashpoint city of Kirkuk, where Arab and Kurdish groups are vying for political power in the oil-rich city.
The Samarra region may also be a focal point of Operation Phantom Phoenix. The Samarra-Tarmiyah region is believed to be a command and control node for al Qaeda in Iraq’s central leadership. Multiple media cells and senior al Qaeda in Iraq leaders have been killed or captured in the region, including Abu Abdullah, a regional emir.
Phantom Phoenix may also target the Iranian-backed Special Groups, the Shia terror cells targeting Coalition and Iraqi security forces, Iraqi political leaders, and civilians. The cities of Diwaniyah, Amarah, Al Kut, and Basra have seen an increase in terror attacks and Special Forces raids over the past several months. The Iraqi Army and police have been building up capacity in the southern city of Basrah to counter the power of rival Shia militias.
For additional information on al Qaeda’s attacks on the Awakening forces, see The Awakening, al Qaeda clash in Iraq [Dec. 17], Al Qaeda continues attacks on Awakening security forces [Dec. 25], and Al Qaeda assassinates Awakening leader in Adhamiyah [Jan. 7].