Al Qaeda in Iraq’s area of operations as of December 2007. Dark red indicates operating areas, light red is transit routes. Mosul remains a hot spot, with the only ratline to Syria in operation. Click to view.
Just over one year after the surge officially began Coalition and Iraqi forces continue to pursue al Qaeda in Iraq. After al Qaeda has been driven from its havens in Baghdad and the surrounding belts regions, and most recently in Diyala, the city of Mosul has emerged as the latest battleground.
Al Qaeda is still is able to operate in Mosul, and maintains its only established supply line to Syria in the Mosul region, according to a December 2007 assessment of the terror group’s capabilities by Multinational Forces Iraq. “In … Mosul and the rest of Ninewa province we still have a very tough fight to go,” said Major General Mark Hertling, the commander of Multinational Division North said in a press briefing on Jan. 22, just one day prior to a major attack in the city.
After a rash of suicide bombings and the destruction of an al Qaeda weapons factory that led to the death of more than 40 civilians, the Iraqi government announced on Jan. 25 an offensive would be launched to drive al Qaeda from its northern haven.
“We have formed an operations centre in Ninewa (province) for a final war against Al-Qaeda and the remnants of the former (Saddam Hussein) regime,” Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki said on Jan. 25. “Today our forces are moving towards Mosul. What we have planned in Ninewa will be final. It will be a decisive battle.”
The Iraqi forces committed to the Mosul operation have begun to arrive. “The first batches of Iraqi forces the government has promised to send to Ninewa have arrived and I am receiving them now as I speak,” Major General Riad Jalal Tawfiq told Voices of Iraq.
Tawfiq stated “infantry and armor corps [are being deployed to Mosul] and they are enough to vanquish al Qaeda” in the region. Elements of the 9th Iraqi Army Division, which has an armored component, are being deployed to Mosul, Tawfiq said. Helicopters and armor are being sent north, a Defense Ministry spokesman said. Infantry elements are also being redeployed from Baghdad and Anbar provinces. The Iraqi Interior Ministry also called for a new 3,000-man police brigade to be formed in the province.
While Tawfiq declined to provide the number of forces, past deployments of Iraqi forces indicate what may be committed to the Mosul offensive. Based on past operations where a rapid reaction force was needed, the Iraqi military is likely to deploy an armored brigade from the 9th Iraqi Army Division, augmented infantry of about brigade strength, an Iraqi National Police brigade, and an element Iraqi Special Operations Force. An additional battalion or two of US forces may be deployed to operate in conjunction with Iraqi forces.
The Iraqi military has demonstrated the capability to deploy such a reaction force over the past six months. The deployment in Mosul is preceded by deployments in Basrah, Diwaniyah, and Diyala, where the security situations dictated a need for additional forces.
The Mosul deployment highlights the growing capacity of the Iraqi command to plan, deploy, and support its forces on short notice. This is a capacity that was nearly nonexistent just one year ago when the surge began, and represents the future of operations in Iraq as US forces begin to draw down.
For more information on the development of the Iraqi Security Forces, see the Iraqi Security Forces Order of Battle.