Iraq Report: Al Qaeda Counteroffensive
Al Qaeda in Iraq has ramped up its attacks against Iraqi civilians and Iraqi and U.S. security forces over the past 48 hours. The effort demonstrates al Qaeda in Iraq possesses the capacity to launch a counteroffensive to the ongoing US and Iraqi operations, and is seeking to influence the upcoming debate in the US over the future of the US posture in Iraq. Al Qaeda in Iraq has launched its version of the Tet Offensive.
Over the past several days, al Qaeda in Iraq conducted five high-profile attacks against Iraqi and US targets. Four out of five of the attacks occurred outside of Baghdad - two in Diyala province, two in Salahadin province. Three of the attacks were conducted with suicide bombers, the other two attacks were conducted as infantry-type assaults.
Just as Coalition and Iraq forces wrapped up Operation Lightning Hammer in the Diyala River Valley north of Baqubah, al Qaeda in Iraq conducted two major strikes in the province on August 23: one south and one east of the provincial capital. The first attack, and infantry-styled assault against two villages south of Baqubah, was the more sensational of the two.
Over 200 al Qaeda in Iraq fighters assaulted mosques and the homes of tribal sheikhs in the village of Kanan."They blew up the mosque, then they bombed houses crowded with family members." Brig. Gen. Ali Dalayan, the police chief of Baqubah told AFP. Al Qaeda targeted the tribal sheikhs recently pledged to fight the terror group. Twenty-three people were killed during the battle, including one of the sheikhs, several of his sons, and a policeman, AFP reported. "The attackers however managed to abduct 15 people, eight women and seven children." Twenty-two al Qaeda fighters were later detained south of Kanan.
Multinational Forces Iraq stated 10 civilians were killed and 11 wounded. "An unknown number of terrorists were killed, said Sheik Thar al-Karki, the paramount sheik for the Karki tribe, stating they could not determine the number because AQI members load the bodies in vehicles during attacks."
The 1920s Revolution Brigades -- a Sunni insurgent group who turned on al Qaeda -- backed Iraqi police in the battle against al Qaeda in Kanan. The 1920s Revolution Brigades has battled al Qaeda in Iraq several times in Diyala province over the past year.
In Muqdadiyah, east of Baqubah, an al Qaeda suicide bomber on a motorcycle struck a police convoy as it patrolled a market in the city. At least 38 police and civilians were wounded in the attack. US and Iraq forces have yet to move against al Qaeda in Iraq in force in the Muqdadiyah and in other areas such as Balad Ruz, and al Qaeda is exploiting these gaps in security.
Al Qaeda in Iraq also conducted two high profile attacks in Salahadin province. On August 22, a suicide truck bomber struck an education center in a residential area in the city of Bayji. Over 45 civilians were killed in the attack, and scores wounded.
"These guys were going after Iraqi security forces," but now are striking civilian targets, Lt. Col. Scott Harris, the commander of the 1st Battalion of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment told the Fay Observer. "Al Qaeda is doing everything they can to show spectacular attacks and to show progress is not as good," Harris said. "Former insurgents are starting to participate in a reconciliation program, and attacks and roadside bombs have dropped by 50 percent," the Fay Observer reported. "The refinery has increased its production."
The second major attack in Salahadin province occurred in Samarra, the provincial capital. An Al Qaeda force of about 60 fighters attacked Iraqi National Police targets. "The masked attackers drove into the city at dusk Thursday in about 20 vehicles, including pickups with machine-guns, then split into small groups and assaulted four police checkpoints and a headquarters building," AP reported.
Police beat off the attacks, and captured 14 al Qaeda fighters in the process. One policeman and two civilians were killed, and another nine were wounded in the gunbattles.
The last big al Qaeda attack in Baghdad targeted a US and Iraqi combat outpost. On August 22, two al Qaeda car bombers rammed into a combat outpost in northern Baghdad, killing four Iraqi soldiers, and wounding 11 US and four Iraqi Army soldiers. "Eight local Iraqis suspected of having information concerning the attack have been detained," Multinational Forces Iraq reported. In the past, similar multiple car bomb assaults on military outposts were followed up by infantry-styled assaults, with the car bombs used to breach the outer barrier. No such attack was reported, which may provide an indication of al Qaeda's full capabilities inside Baghdad.
US generals are beginning to warn the violence is very likely to rise as al Qaeda in Iraq and other extremist groups attempt to sabotage General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker™s presentation on the state of the security, political and economic progress in Iraq. Al Qaeda will attempt more spectacular attacks in an attempt to grab headlines and break the will of the American public and political elites.
The next several weeks will display both al Qaeda™s capacity for terror strikes as well as the short-term results of the counterinsurgency plan instituted just eight months ago. As the past few days show, al Qaeda can pull off spectacular attacks. But it should be noted only one of five of these strikes occurred in Baghdad, and two of the five strikes were retaliatory strikes for local Iraqis turning against al Qaeda. A failure by al Qaeda to maintain a sustained offensive would speak volumes about the terror group's current abilities.
Al Qaeda™s attempts to ramp up the violence in the short term to affect the debate in the US may very well be unsuccessful, if recent statements from US Democratic Congressmen are any indication. And these brutal assaults are only serving to turn the population against al Qaeda in the long term. Al Qaeda conducted similar suicide and infantry attacks in Anbar province in the spring of this year, only to see the province, which was once the most violent in Iraq, turn on the terror group.