Iraqi security forces, backed by US forces, are pressing the offensive against al Qaeda in Iraq and allied insurgent groups in Mosul and Ninewa province. The operation, which initially was called Lion’s Roar but has morphed into Operation Mother of Two Springs, has netted more than 1,100 al Qaeda and insurgent operatives. Today, the Iraqi Army reported it captured the “Prince of Ninewa” during a raid. The Iraqi government is planning an amnesty and may be forming an Awakening in Mosul proper, a source told The Long War Journal.
The “Prince of Ninewa” captured?
The Iraqi Ministry of the Interior reported on Monday that it captured Abdul Khaleq al Sabaawi, who is described as the “prince,” or emir, of Ninewa province. A US military source in Mosul confirmed that Sabaawi was in custody but was unable to provide additional details on his role in al Qaeda’s network. Sabaawi was captured along with his son in western Mosul.
The Iraqi military and police have misidentified senior al Qaeda leaders in the past. The Army reported Abu Ayyub al Masri was captured in Mosul in early May, but it was later discovered to be a case of mistaken identity.
Iraqi and US security forces continue to roll up al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq’s network in Mosul and great Ninewa province. The military said it captured an additional 56 “wanted men” during operations over the past two days. On May 16, the Iraqi military said it captured 1,068 suspects.
The US military reported 11 additional al Qaeda fighters and leaders were captured over the weekend. On May 17, Iraqi and Coalition forces captured a weapons facilitator for senior al Qaeda leaders in Mosul. On May 18, Coalition special operations teams captured eight al Qaeda operatives. Today, Coalition special operations teams captured two al Qaeda operatives.
As of May 16, “just under 200” of those captured were Tier 1 and Tier 2 al Qaeda and Islamic State of Iraq operatives, according to Major General Mark Hertling, the commander of Multinational Division North. “There have been some very big fishes caught,” Hertling said. Tier 1 operatives are operational leaders. Tier 2 operatives are foreign fighters or weapons facilitators, bomb makers, and cell leaders.
US and Iraqi forces have killed or captured several key al Qaeda leaders in Mosul over the past several months. Fourteen of the top 30 al Qaeda operatives who have been killed or captured in the past three months were al Qaeda leaders in Mosul, including three al Qaeda leaders from Saudi Arabia.
Few of those captured have been released at this time, according to the Iraqi military. Of the 1135 insurgents captured in Ninewa, only 151 have been released, a police source told Voices of Iraq.
As Iraqi and US security forces round up suspected al Qaeda and allied operatives, the Ninewa Operational Command is coordinating with neighboring provinces to close down roads leading into the northern province. The Ninewa Operational Command “assigned Interior Ministry and Army forces stationed in the nearby provinces (Anbar, Salahadin, Kirkuk, Erbil and Dohuk) to control borders and roads leading to Mosul and to launch raids to arrest gunmen and prevent them from sneaking from Mosul to these provinces,” General Abdul Karim Khalaf told Voices of Iraq. “Scores of gunmen were arrested” in Anbar and Ninewa provinces, Khalaf said.
The Ninewa Operational Command is working closely with the Kurdish forces in Dohuk. “Twenty checkpoints were set up along the line bordering Mosul,” to prevent al Qaeda forces from infiltrating the province, Major General Waadullah Silke told Voices of Iraq. “Day and night patrols were launched. We have had, and are still having, direct coordination with the Mosul police department and the Ninewa provincial council ahead of the military operation in Mosul.”
The Iraqi military and police have been establishing a series of combat outposts and traffic control points inside Mosul, and have been working to build a berm and ditch around the city to limit insurgent movement.
A Mosul Awakening and amnesty
As the security forces seek to lock down Ninewa province, the Iraqi government may have broken the deadlock over the issue with establishing a Sons of Iraq movement in Mosul. A US military source in Mosul said there may be “an announcement about establishing some sort of Awakening here in the coming days,” which would coincide with the amnesty program announced last week.
Just last week, the Iraqi government declined the offer of the Ninewa Awakening forces to deploy more than 11,000 forces inside Mosul and in the province, but welcomed their participation in the rural areas where security forces are thin. The Iraqi and US military have resisted the formation of the Awakening inside Mosul because of the ethnic makeup of the city, which is split between majority Sunni and Kurdish populations as well as Assyrians, Christians, and other sects.
See Operation Lion’s Roar nets more than 1,000 suspects and Walling Mosul for more background information on the Mosul security operation. Bill Roggio embedded with the US Army Military Transition Teams in Mosul in March 2008.