Revisting Samarra

Operation Sayaid is designed to establish a Coalition presence along the Syrian border and choke off the insurgency from Qaim to Haditha. While operations along the northern ratline around Tal Afar, the central (and main) ratline around Qaim, and the southern entry point around Rutbah continue, the Coalition has not forgotten about the heart of the Sunni Triangle. During the battle of Tal Afar, Iraqi Defense Minister Dulaimi issued a warning to several Sunni-dominated towns and cities; “We tell our people in Ramadi, Samarra, Rawah and Qaim that we are coming.”

Last week, Iraqi Defense Minister Dulaimi issued an ultimatum to delegates from the city of Samarra – clean up the insurgent mess and prepare for the Iraqi government to enter the city peacefully, or become the focus of another operation on the scale of Tal Afar. UPI‘s Pamela Hess reports on the tenuous situation in Samarra, and describes it as a ” traditionally difficult town — even Saddam Hussein built a highway bypass around it so he didn’t have to go through the city on his way north — Samarra remains a haven for organized crime, smuggling and fighters who attack American and Iraqi government forces.”

This is an important point often not discussed about western Iraq; Saddam did not exert control over these areas, he negotiated a settlement with the tribes and bandits of the region and took kickbacks in exchange for support. The Coalition would have been inclined to leave the region alone had it not sheltered Baathist insurgents and al Qaeda, who are intent on disrupting the establishment of a free Iraqi government.

Samarra is the example of what happens when proper security forces are not maintained once a city is secured. Last spring, after a police force was established, the Iraqi government redeployed the 1,000 strong special police commandos to other troubled areas (remember this was during the post election time period, the height of al Qaeda’s attacks on Baghdad). The security situation deteriorated. The Army battalion stationed in the city was complimented by 200 Iraq police, but were unable to fully secure the city.

To help contain the insurgents, the soldiers conducted patrols and, like in Tal Afar, cordoned the city, built a berm around it and set up checkpoint on the roads leading to and from Samarra. This has been a somewhat effective tactic until the proper police can return. According to Ms. Hess, “since August, the security measures have reduced attacks by one-third.”

Major General Joseph Taluto, the commander of Task Force Liberty in central Iraq, believes an assault of the scope of Fallujah or Tal Afar is not needed. More Iraqi police are the solution. “We don’t think we have to conduct a military operation there again, but the Ministry of Interior needs to come back and get the special police back  The people of Samarra want to cooperate, but they are intimidated, there is crime and corruption. If we bring the special police back in long enough to get our police operating, then have a gradual drawdown, we can get the government going.”

The Coalition establishment of control of Samarra and the restoration of the police force isn’t a matter of if, but when. The creation of berms and checkpoints around the city are identical tactics used to cordon Tal Afar. And like Tal Afar, the outlying towns are the subjects of Coalition operations. Earlier this month, a Predator armed with Hellfire missiles targeted terrorists firing mortars at Balad Air Base. In the town of Dhuluiyah, Coalition forces have been conducting operations for the past several days, cordoning the town and conducting airstrikes after several Americans were killed in an ambush. These singular events are often ignored or described as unrelated, but must be looked at in the overall context of operations in and around Samarra; an increase in attacks usually means the Coalition is operating in the area and the insurgents are responding to their presence.

Maj. Quint Arnold, the former executive officer of the American battalion in Samarra, states that Samarra’s importance regional, not national, but that allowing the city to slip out of control would require a greater effort to retake it. While Dulaimi stated Samarra had a month, this would mean the operation would need to be completed by October 15, which is the date of the referendum on Iraq’s draft constitution. If the insurgency can be kept off balance in the city, expect Samarra to be revisited by the Coalition sometime prior to the December elections.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

Are you a dedicated reader of FDD's Long War Journal? Has our research benefitted you or your team over the years? Support our independent reporting and analysis today by considering a one-time or monthly donation. Thanks for reading! You can make a tax-deductible donation here.


  • leaddog2 says:

    I suspected Samarra would be cleaned up before Oct. 15th not Dec. 15th.
    Bill, is it your opinion that it will NOT be targeted until afterwards? Your comment of “Dec 15th” above is the first indication that this city is “kinda, sorta… get in line and wait”, you know?

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Dulaimi gave Samarra a month deadline on September 15th. That would mean they have about until October 15th. It is wise for him to keep his word on the date, and I seriously doubt they want to conduct combat operations on the day of the election…. Hence the conclusion.

  • Milblog says:

    Looking for Iraq news?

    Aside from a daily body count, you’ll not get much from the MSM – and with Hurricane Rita, now they’ve got a good excuse to ignore it 24/7. (Hey, I understand, they’ve got to pay the bills and by heaven…

  • Soldier's Dad says:

    Just a tiny correction. Sammara is being held by Soldier’s, not Marines.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Thanks, SD, noted and corrected.

  • Soldier's Dad says:

    OT – Today’s Baghdad Briefing
    A graphic depicting attack “density” across Iraq.
    A graphic depicting green/yellow areas in TallAfar.
    Multiple graphics depicting the hiearchy of killed/detained regional AlQueda leaders.
    A mention of operation Hunter going on in AlAnbar…with a lot of not very specific verbiage.
    A graphic depicting national hotline calls
    Double talk about the situation in Basra
    These graphics are available to the Media via
    [email protected]
    As the Fourth Rail is a Large Mammal in the TTLB ecosystem I think you should qualify!!!

  • hamidreza says:

    Are the Shiites splitting?
    The animosity between the Sadrists and the mainstream Shiite clerics as represented by SCIRI and Dawa is well known. Sadr is against the drafted Constitution and now say they will vote No.
    But today Ayatolla al-Yaqubi of Basra has spoken against the Constitution. Sistani has now had to come out of quiet mode and endorse the Constituiton.
    There is a similar split among the Shiites of Iran. There is the conservative and pragmatic factions represented by S.L. Ay Khamenei and Rafsanjani. Then there is the ideological hardline faction representated by Ay Tabasi and Ay Mesbah Yazdi.
    It is common knowledge that Iranian conservatives and pragmatics are backing SCIRI-Badr and Dawa.
    But I wonder if the Iranian hardliners, with their now dominance over the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (Pasdarans) are thinking otherwise, and will come out in support of Sadr and the constituitonal rejectionist faction? IMO, this is a real possibility, and this would rewrite the Shiite and even Sunni dynamics in Iraq. Could this new development be the reason the Iraqi Army is coming to age and its development and deployment receiving more attention from the Shiites in government?
    It is entirely possible that the splitting of Sadr from the mainstream clerical UIA, will result in a boost to constutional politics and the development of the central Iraqi security forces at the expense of the militias. I would consider this split to be a positive development, even though it has resulted in attacks on the British in the south, and weakening of the Shiite united front against the Sunnis.

  • Soldier's Dad says:

    IMHO – The clerical parties will do worse in the December elections. the UIA only got a majority thru rounding. (roughly 2% of the vote was for parties that didn’t get enough votes for a single seat).
    Allawi was “America’s puppet”…which didn’t help him much. Having now spent a year being a “respectful” critic of the government, his group will do better. Not to mention that the Sunni’s will either vote for a Sunni party, or a non-religous party.

  • hamidreza says:

    Soldier’s Dad, some optimists are saying that Allawi’s standing will improve in the December’s vote. Note that the mathematical rounding will benefit all parties proportionally, and thus is neutral to all parties. UIA received some boost from secular Chalabi. I hope Chalabi’s idiotic project of moderating the Shiites by joining them is now in the rubbish bin, with the splitting of Sadr from the UIA. The seculars got weakened due to this idea of Chalabi in the last Parliament, and prevented Chalabi from joining forces with the Kurds and Allawi.
    It is better to have real differences in the government, as opposed to synthetic alliances that would guarantee harmony and paralysis. People need jobs and electricity and water. Any inaction on economic improvments will just tend to radicalize the population.
    If Jaafari had embarked on massive make-work infrastructure projects, with all the money they got in the ground, even if confined to the secure areas, then Iraq would be much further ahead today, and less radicalized.
    There has been some speculation that Allawi’s good showing in the previous vote (45 seats), may have to do with some “electoral manipulations”. The next election will, I guess, bring out the truth. I am less inclined to think that the next election will produce a better parliament, except for the addition of Sunni reps, which incidentally a large number will be the Sheikhs and their Sunni Wahhabi minions.
    The split among the Shiites is significant and boosts the fortunes of those who wish to keep religion out of politics.
    I think Sistani is reading the handwriting on the wall. He is looking at Iran, and sees how Ay. Rafsanjani, the preeminant cleric for the past 25 years of Iran, has been sidelined by the security-oriented hardliners. He is seeing how Ay. Khamenei is being under pressure from the right to designate a successor. Sistani knows that religion in politics is a recipe for hardline security oriented religionists, such as Sadr, coming to power somewhere down the road – and is of danger to him and his ummat. I just hope SCIRI and Dawa also realize this danger – as they sometimes tend to play with the fire of Islamic populism.
    There is a chance that the Constituion would be rejected. I think that would be a good idea, if the next parliament has a more secular representation, and the Kurds would stop looking up to the clerics.

  • Soldier's Dad says:

    Not to belabor the point, but the round benefitted the largest parties most.(All the votes cast for parties with less than 30,000 votes were proportional recast according to the actual vote). If my memory serves me, the UIA actually got 48% of the actual votes, but ended up with 50% of the seats. The effect should be that this time around, we should see more “groups of parties” on the ballot, and less parties overall.
    I would expect the UIA to end up with something in the 30-35% range this time around. 50% of 8 million votes is 4 million. Reasonably, there should be a turnout of 12+ Million voters this time. At this point in Iraq’s democratic government, not having a majority party that can ignore the other parties completely is probably a good thing.

  • Justin Capone says:

    That is where we differ, the current governmet has done a piss poor job and the Shia including Sistani know it. There are hundreds of thousands unhappy in Basra and elsewhere with the the way things are going and there is going to be a significant swing of Shia voters to Allawi.
    The reason he got screwed in the last election was Sistani let the UIA use his image in their campaign posters and he blessed their list so the average Shia thought he or she was voting for Sistani.
    That isn’t going to happen this time according to Iraq the Model. Sistani isn’t going to bless the list or allow his face to be used in the campaign posters for the next election. Coupled with the unhappiness of voters and the current government and the influx of Sunni voters (if they vote) creates a ripe sitution for a (Kurdish, Sunni, Allawi allience).

  • leaddog2 says:

    As long as Sadr dies (hopefully) and the Iranian Islamist puppets lose seats, Iraq will improve.
    Islamists Losing seats will happen anyway. Can somone put a contract out on Sadr? It will solve a lot of problems.

  • Marlin says:

    Hamidreza –
    I hope Chalabi’s idiotic project of moderating the Shiites by joining them is now in the rubbish bin, with the splitting of Sadr from the UIA.
    I’m not sure that’s true. ITM provides the following Chalabi quote.
    Chalabi being the founding father of the alliance sensed the critical situation which made him make an announcement saying “I made the alliance and I can form a stronger one…” this announcement reflects the depth of the problems this alliance is going through, in the first time Chalabi remained silent while he built the alliance and he tried to stay away from the media but now I think he’s facing a tough situation that pushed him to adopt this daring attitude and stop being silent.

  • Thursday Winds of War: 22 September 05

    Welcome! Our goal at Winds of Change.NET is to give you one power-packed briefing of insights, news and trends from the global War on Terror that leaves you stimulated, informed, and occasionally amused every Monday…

  • next_93 says:

    Maybe Pat Robertson can free up some time on his calendar…

  • next_93 says:

    A little off-topic –
    I caught O’Reilly on Fox last night in a shouting match with Phil Donahue. At one point, Donahue smugly (as is the Liberal habbit) stated that Iraq had nothing to do with the war on terror.
    This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this; it’s become one of the underlying tennets of the crowd that claims that the war is illegal. I guess the fact that the same 9/11 comission that didn’t think Able Danger was significant also didn’t find any direct evidence of a Sadam/Al Queda link pretty much puts the idea beyond debate.
    But even if you grant them the point that Iraq wasn’t a terrorist state when the war started, what brought me up short this time was the juxtaposition of this claim with Donahue’s “concern” about the service people who are coming home missing limbs.
    If Iraq isn’t part of the war on terror, who exactly is out there killing and maiming American servicemen and Iraqui civilians, the Iraqui Boy Scouts?
    Seems to me that in the last couple of years, our kids have gotten very, VERY good at killing terrorists, and the last time I checked, killing the enemy is usually considered an important part of winning a war (unless you’re Canadian).
    I realize that I’m not as “nuanced” as Donahue, but if terrorists are trying to kill our people, and our boys are killing terrorists, then how does this STILL not qualify as part of the War on Terror?
    Anyway, thanks for the great site, please keep up the good work.
    Next_93 “Before 9/11 we honored heroes because we thought they were rare. Since then, we’ve learned to honor heroes because they’re all around us”.

  • hamidreza says:

    Soldier’s Dad, as you say larger number of smaller parties will help for the conflicts and tensions to be realized in a parliamentary setting – as opposed to on the streets. Pluralism can do wonders.
    Justin C., I am not sure if I share your optimism about large number of Shiites voting for Allawi. I think Sistani’s popularity still holds, and he will be telling his people for whom to vote, which will not be Allawi, but more probably Dawa and SCIRI.
    My hope is that by Sistani telling the Marja not to put their names on political parties, Sistani is actually encouraging the separation of religion and state. And this may tend to isolate Sadr and Sunni Islamists. My only hope is that the moderate Shiite Islamist political parties have realized that they should leave statecraft to the politicians and not the clerics. This is the position of Muaffaq al Rabii. Maybe I am too naive about the way power works, as they say in that part of the world, the only good molla is a dead molla.
    leaddog2 – assassinating Sadr will not help the chances of a moderate and democratic state emerging. Ideological memes, and in particular Islamism, thrive on martyrdom and romantic perception of injustice to be avenged. The best way to discredit Sadr I think is to draw him into parliamentary politics, and then expose his deeds on television (such as torture killing 200 shiites when he had taken over Najaf).

  • Ike says:

    next, saying Iraq wasn’t involved with terrorism is pure ignorance.
    It is ignoring Abu Nidal, Abu Abbas, Ramzi Yousef, Salman Pak training camp, Jordan requesting Saddam to turn over Zarqawi and getting a no, multiple meetings and contacts with al Qaeda (look up Stephen Hayes or Andrew McCarthy).
    All of this in addition to the intelligence that he had the weapons plus the weapons we did find, (a centrifuge, tons of enriched and unenriched uranium, sarin gas missiles). Any of this can be confirmed on CNN, USATODAY, BBC, etc. if these libs had the desire to find this stuff.

  • GJ says:

    Also, you could tell by their remarks that we’re sending men over there to “die”. We don’t send soldiers to ‘die’. We send them over there to WIN. But winning isn’t in their vocabulary. These liberals aren’t Really in support of the military. They Are Still Anti-Military. They just can’t come out and say it as they did in Vietnam. They would become marginalized if they did and don’t want that. So they come up with Code-Words to accomplish it. That’s why they ALL say we support the troops but not the action. This is the epitome of a nonsequiter.

  • Rookie says:

    “Coalition Forces working in northwest Baghdad foiled a car bomb attack at 4 p.m. Sept. 21. As the unit was traveling on a major highway, a car tried to enter the convoy and ram one of the U.S. vehicles. The vehicle swerved to avoid being struck and the Soldiers fired at the car, setting off the bombs inside.
    The driver of the car managed to jump out and tried to run away, but the Soldiers captured him and brought him into custody for questioning.”
    Somebody knows what’s happening with this terrorists after capture and interrogation? I mean, there is a plan to put these clear cases of terrorism into trial? This beasts are willing to die, why not fulfill their wish with some rope?
    Their numbers should be in the thousands…
    Minus one. Good.

  • hamidreza says:

    A few days before the horrific Shiite day-laborer bombing by Zarqawee, the western MSM press was gloating over that Zarqawi has managed to bring all the disparate resistance group under his own auspices and the movement has unified and this spelled trouble for American troops.
    MSM’s delight did not last for more than a couple of weeks. Now we learn that Zarqawi is being driven out of town! Thanks for the article Ike.
    Sadr is blaiming the Shiite split on Zarqawi (for exempting Sadr from his terror). Of course the real reason is the mainstream Shiites deciding to boot him out of the UIA.
    IMO, the US policy to hold back on the up-arming of the INA is incorrect. A mechanized and highly trained army should be friendly to the US and will cajole the mainstream Shiites to play within the rules of the parliamentary game.
    The first thing Ay Khomeini did in 1979 was to disband the Iranian army and execute the officers. Today, the Iranian army is purposefully a shadow of its former self, as the mollas have never come to trust it. The threat of an army coup has kept many a molla awake at night. That is why in Iran the IRGC state militia is in charge of security and not the professional army.
    With military victories such as Talafar, the new IA will gain a lot of prestige. By developing this institution and staffing the upper echelons with Kurds and Sunnis, the US can forestall a takeover of the state by Islamist Shiites, both moderate and radical. Its time to up-armor the IA.

  • Soldier's Dad says:

    “Holding back on uparming”
    Standard formation for artillery puts the infantry in front of the artillery, with the artillery firing over the heads of the infantry.
    As an Iraqi or American infantryman, would you want an Artillery Unit firing over your head that only had a few weeks/months of training?
    Alqueda has improperly trained “mortar teams”, if they manage to hit something, it is almost always something other than what they were aiming at.
    Being really careful about declaring an artillery unit “Fully trained” is a good thing!!

  • hamidreza says:

    I should correct my choice of words. By up-arm I did not mean fielding artillary or tanks, which are not effective against an insurgency.
    The IA needs APCs and machine guns. It needs better communication, command and control, and logistics. It needs rockets. I have not seen in any pictures of the IA, any soldier carrying an RPG or a guided rocket launcher.
    These armament are dual-purpose. They could be used against US troops. I believe others have also commented that the US does not fully trust the IA.
    The US should be training a division of 20,000 commandos with proper hardware and state of the art weaponry, to be used as the vanguard on the attacks on the insurgents – and incidentally also as a US-friendly bogeyman to those Islamists Shiites, both radical and moderate, and their Iranian backers, that may have other designs besides parliamentary politics in mind.
    There has been some commentary that such a commando force can be a threat to the US presence if infiltrated by the Shiite Islamists.
    I think we may be beyond that point now. Sistani’s proclamation in favor of the Constitution, and separating the Marja from the politicians, effectively says that the state should not be Islamicized. This will reduce the chances of an Iranian infiltration of the IA.
    An elite IA commando unit, properly equipped and staffed by professionals in particular Sunnis and Kurds, and endorsed by Sistani, can act as the “last guarantor of the Constituiton”.

  • hamidreza says:

    That WaPo article by moonbat Jonathan Finer is such a lousy article.
    He has used all the tricks in the book to portray a victory as a defeat. This guy is a 5th column mole. Why do they let him embed?
    Its one thing to be sceptical but keep an open mind and try to enlighten the reader on the realities, good or bad.
    It is another thing to take quotes and events out of context to weave a negative and critical story which borders on propaganda.
    For example, when the soldiers go back into the building and kill 2 terrorists, Finer makes it appear as if the force was a US army force. However, it later on becomes clear that it was an Iraqi force, led by a US Special Force commander.
    Finer should be shipped out of Iraq, and arrested when he lands in Washington for aiding and abetting the enemy.

  • Buck smith says:

    What is the purpose of the berms? I think of a berm as small gently sloping mound of earth. Are they built in way such that vehicles cannot cross them?

  • Dawn Patrol

    Welcome to the Dawn Patrol, our daily roundup of information on the War on Terror and other topics – from the MilBlogs, other blogs, and the mainstream media. If you’re a blogger, you can join the conversation. If you link…


Islamic state



Al shabaab

Boko Haram