Iraq Report: Al Qaeda in the northern villages
As Operations Phantom Thunder pushes forward in Baghdad and the Belts, U.S. and Iraqi forces attacked and killed an al Qaeda team attempting to take control of a rural Kurdish village in Diyala. Meanwhile, as critics claim the U.S. is al Qaeda focused in operations, Iraqi and U.S. forces put a significant dent in the Mahdi Army over the past several days.
As Operations Arrowhead Ripper proceeds in the provincial capital of Baqubah and the surrounding areas, al Qaeda in Iraq has intensified in the farmlands north of the city. Last weekend, al Qaeda struck with suicide attacks at Kurdish cities along the Iranian border, and in a Kurdish village in neighboring Salahadin province, with devastating effects. Almost 200 civilians were killed and hundreds more wounded.
Al Qaeda is pushing into villages where it did not have a presence in the recent past. Yesterday, reports of an al Qaeda assaulton the small Shiite village of Sherween slashed across the wires. The AP reported al Qaeda in Iraq moved on Sherween and no security forces were present to stop them. Residents of the town fought back; "25 militants and 18 residents were killed and 40 people wounded in the fighting," a resident of a neighboring town reported, and stated al Qaeda was winning.
While the AP report lamented the failure of the Iraqi and U.S. security forces to respond, a joint U.S. and Iraqi task force was quickly assembled, and moved in on Sherween early today. "The operation began early Tuesday morning with close air support engaging three river crossings and one bridge with eight 2,000 pound bombs and 14-500 pound bombs. The locations are used by al-Qaida to conduct their attacks and were engaged to prevent their escape," Multinational Forces Iraq reported. "The people of Sherween played a vital role in this operation as they fought side-by-side the ISF to help them capture and kill known terrorists." The attack resulted in "20 al-Qaida terrorists killed, 20 detained, and two weapons caches and 12 improvised explosive devices discovered."
Also north of Baqubah, U.S. and Iraqi security forces found an al Qaeda safe house, which contained a possible torture room. "Inside, the patrol found medical supplies, medical equipment and al-Qaida related propaganda," Multinational Forces Iraq reported. "Also inside the building was a room with indicators that it had been used as a place of torture, such as blood on the walls and blacked out windows."
As U.S. and Iraq forces move forward with securing Baqubah and the outlying regions, the attacks such at those in Sherween are expected to increase. Al Qaeda is working the seams in Diyala, and the rural farmlands and the Hamrin mountain chain are ideal locations for al Qaeda and allied insurgent groups to fall back upon.
Operations Marne Torch in the Arab Jabour region and Commando Eagle in the Mahmudiyah region continue largely under the radar of reporting. A tip for an Iraqi led to the capture of south Baghdad™s most wanted terrorist, along with seven associates. The most waned suspected led an al Qaeda terror and intimidation network, and was responsible for "responsible for shooting down an AH-64 helicopter in April 2006, the abductions of two Soldiers in June 2006, and complex attacks on patrol bases and terrorist acts against both Coalition Forces and Iraqi civilians."
In Arab Jabour, 13 insurgents were detained and several caches were found. In Jisr Diyala, three insurgents were killed after attempting to attack U.S. forces attempting to provide medical assistance to Iraqi citizens.
The Green Zone, or International Zone, came under a relatively heavy mortar attack on Tuesday. Upwards of 20 mortars hit inside the Green zone, killing three and wounding 18. Mortars have been launched from inside Sadr City by "rogue" elements of the Mahdi Army. While attacks on the Green Zone have been relatively inefective militarily, they provide for breathless news reporting.
U.S. forces continue to establish a presence inside Baghdad's worst neighborhood. The Army built a combat outpost in the Ameriya neighborhood in western Baghdad. Ameriya has been the scene of a local uprising against al Qaeda in Iraq by residents and Sunni insurgent groups. Clearing operations in the Rashid district resulted in the discovery of two small caches which contained mortars and rockets.
Al Qaeda and allied insurgent groups are pressing hard in Salahadin and Ninewa province as operations are underway in Baghdad, the Belts and Diyala. The mayor of Samarra was reported to have been assassinated in his home on Tuesday, according to Voices of Iraq. He took office in May and was tasked with working to rebuild the al Askaria mosque, which was destroyed by al Qaeda in 2006 and against attacked this June. Iraqi police captured a cell leader of a mortar and sniper network in the city on July 9. In Mosul, the Iraqi Army found a roadside bomb factory which produced IEDs that looked like sections of curb.
Coalition and Iraqi commandos continue to strike at al Qaeda's command network and senior operatives nationwide. In Tuesday's raids, 17 operatives were captured in Mosul, Baghdad, Taji and northern Babil province. Wednesday's raids resulted in two al Qaeda operatives killed and 20 captured in Mosul, Baghdad, Samarra and Taji.
Mahdi Army and the Iranian Special Groups
While some commentators are claiming military leaders are only focused on the al Qaeda threat at the exclusion of all other insurgent groups, U.S. and Iraqi security forces continue to devote resources towards dismantling the Mahdi Army and the Iranian-backed "Special Groups."
On July 9, U.S. forces killed 8 members of a "criminal militia" inside Sadr City. Iraqi Special Operations Forces captured "twelve insurgents linked to a rogue Jaysh al-Mahdi militia [Mahdi Army]" during two operations in Baghdad on July 8. One of the Mahdi cells was responsible for conducting explosively formed penetrator attacks on U.S. forces. Today, Coalition forces captured a "Secret Cell terrorist ... affiliated with the Jaysh al-Mahdi affiliated Special Groups." Multinational Forces Iraq has been increasingly linking the Mahdi Army and the Iranian Special Groups in its press releases.