al Qaeda continues its “Ramadan Offensive” of car bombings in an attempt to disrupt the upcoming election and sow defeatism in the heart of the American public. In an attack in Tal Afar, a suicide car bomber rams his vehicle into the center of an open market, killing thirty civilians and wounding forty-seven. Iraqi police and Army units are targets throughout the country as well.
The Iraqi Security Forces are fighting back, and are doing so with much more skill as had been demonstrated in the past. Reports of mass desertions or Iraqi troops refusing to fight are a rarity these days. In the month preceding Operation Saratoga, Iraqi Security Forces took heavy casualties while fighting the insurgency, choosing to stand rather than flee in the face of terror.
In Baghdad, the Iraqi Security Forces have taken control of four districts in the city, and, in conjunction with Coalition forces, are stepping up operations in and around the city in anticipation of the election. South of Baghdad, Special Police Commandos, working with the 3rd Squadron of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment kill two terrorists and capture fifty seven suspects. In a single day of operations in Baghdad, thirty four suspects are arrested. Iraqi forces shouldered load, conducting 80% of the operations individually and participating in over 90% of the total operations:
Iraqi Security Forces and Task Force Baghdad Soldiers also carried out more than 470 patrols and manned more than 350 traffic control points all over the city to provide security for Iraqi citizens. Iraqi Soldiers and police conducted nearly 370 of the missions themselves and teamed with Coalition Forces on 50 others.
Iraqi Security Forces are able to carry a greater burden of the security responsibilities because they are increasing their tactical proficiency. We saw an example of this during Operation Mountaineers, when an Iraqi Army unit was ambushed and instead of fleeing, they held their ground and killed seven insurgents, while only sustaining minor wounds. Multinational Forces Iraq provides two further examples of the Iraqi Security Forces’ skills in combat and policing.
Troops from the 3rd Iraqi Army Division captured three terrorists after being attacked Oct. 8 in the vicinity of Biaj. After striking an IED and coming under small-arms fire, the Iraqi troops counterattacked, performed a cordon-and-search operation and netted the insurgents. Three soldiers suffered minor injuries, and no damages were reported
Iraqi police killed two terrorists before they could detonate a car bomb in eastern Baghdad Oct. 6. Three plainclothes Iraqi police officers were on patrol when they noticed a car stopped on the side of the road. The driver was behind the wheel, but the passenger was standing outside the car and talking on a cell phone.
The terrorists, believed to be from the town of Ramadi, pulled their weapons and fired after the police officers identified themselves and asked a few simple questions about what they were doing and if they had their vehicle registration.
“When the terrorists fired at us, they hit one of us in the arm, but all three of us took cover and immediately fired back,” said Dafer, of the El Wea Police Department. Within seconds, the police officers killed both terrorists. The Iraqi police called for more support on the radio and provided first aid to their wounded comrade.
After calling for backup, the officers noticed missiles and containers of propane gas, so they called an explosive ordnance disposal team. The EOD team deactivated the car bomb and hauled it away, moving the explosives to a safe location.
There are other examples at the Iraqi Police’s abilities to detect attacks and react accordingly.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi understood the very real threat of a trained, professional security force manned by Iraqi citizens. In a letter written in early 2004 to Osama bin Laden, Zarqawi stated he was “determined to target them with force in the near future, before their power strengthens.” This al Qaeda has done, but with little effect, as Iraqis continue to flock to join the security services.
Zarqawi stated that al Qaeda had two options in Iraq, and he explained the difficulty inherent in the first choice of fighting the Iraqi security services:
If we fight them, that will be difficult because there will be a schism between us and the people of that region. How can we kill their cousins and sons and under what pretext, after the Americans start withdrawing? The Americans will continue to control from their bases, but the sons of this land will be the authority. This is the Democracy, we will have no pretext [to continue the fight].
Zarqawi’s second option wasn’t so rosy as well:
We can pack up and leave and look for another land, just like it has happened in so many lands of jihad. Our enemy is growing stronger day after day, and its intelligence information increases. By God, this is suffocation! We will be on the roads again.
That al Qaeda has not quit the fight in the face of the establishment of the government and the growth of the Iraqi Security Forces shows a certain degree of desperation, as well as the level of commitment the organization has made in Iraq. Ayman al-Zawahiri’s recently intercepted letter to Zarqawi underscores this point when he stated Iraq is “the place for the greatest battle of Islam in this era.”
al Qaeda’s pretext for continuing the fight has been eroding for some time, yet they repeatedly commit acts of violence that only serves to alienate the bulk of the Iraqi people. Insurgent groups sympathetic to al Qaeda’s efforts to eject the U.S. from Iraq recoil at Zarqawi’s declaration of war against the Shiites, and even Zawahiri chided Zarqawi for his wanton brutality. As the Iraqi government and security services continue to grow, albeit fitfully at times, the power of al Qaeda wanes in Iraq.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.