al Qaeda Attacks the Iraqi Police

al Qaeda has pulled off yet another successful attack on Iraq’s security forces. Two suicide bombers disguised as senior police officers penetrated the security in an Interior Ministry compound in east Baghdad. Reuters reports the bombers would have entered the actual Interior Ministry building but not for the cautious eyes of Iraqi policemen; “Once inside the checkpoint, Interior Ministry guards became suspicious of one of the attackers because of his bulk, and shot at him, detonating his explosive belt. The second bomber then blew himself up, causing more carnage.”

Over 28 were murdered and 25 wounded in the dual suicide vest bombing. The search is on to identify the culprits who provided security badges and uniforms to the terrorists. A recent Strategy Page analysis looks at the difficulties in keeping Islamists from infiltrating the police forces in Iraq and the greater Arab world. The long term solution is better vetting of police candidates and the short term solution is often keeping the local police forces out of the loop in security sweeps.

The increased effective usage of suicide vest, such as those used in last week’s devastating attacks in Baghdad, Ramadi, Najaf, Kerbala and Muqdadiyah, over car bombs may point to several trends; the Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces are increasingly becoming more proficient in identifying and disabling car bombs; car bombs are becoming increasingly more difficult to produce and employ as the ratlines to Syria have been largely severed; and al Qaeda is adapting to the tactics of their enemy.

While al Qaeda shifts its tactics, the Iraqi Security Forces are increasingly taking a greater role in security operations. Over the past few days, over 111 insurgent suspects have been detained by the Iraqi Security Forces in Baghdad, Abu Ghraib and Babil Province.

The Iraqi Security Forces are increasingly becoming the targets of al Qaeda as they explicitly fear the co-opting of the Iraqi people, and specifically the Sunnis, into the Iraqi government. Zarqawi has openly stated his fear of the Iraqi people providing for their own security; “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 fight].”

U.S. News & World Report recently highlighted the increased effectiveness of the Iraqi Security Forces in the city of Mosul. While the main focus of the article was the difficulties U.S. forces encounter when treading upon issues of Iraqi police detentions, interrogations and possible abuse of detainees, the effectiveness of the Iraqis in Mosul also comes to the fore. The Iraqi police and Army in Mosul, while often at odds and distrustful of each other, are intimately involved in the dismantling of a terror cell, from the initial contact with the cell by an Iraq police sniper team, to the arrest, interrogation, hunt for more cell members and the eventual downfall of the cell. Excerpted from the article:

A hundred feet in the air, atop a mosque’s minaret, an Iraqi police sniper hears the shots. The sniper draws a bead on one of the gunmen. He pulls the trigger, his bullet dropping the man to the ground. The gunfire alerts the police officers inside Four West, one of Mosul’s heavily fortified police stations. They race to the scene. Abu Mahmoud hustles his men back into the car, and it takes off. But the streets are jammed, and Nashwan is forced to stop. Abu Mahmoud and a man called Adel jump out of the car and vanish into the crowd. For some reason, Nashwan does not run. The man shot by the sniper is taken to Mosul’s main hospital. The police apprehend Nashwan and bring him to Four West…

Nashwan, says [Colonel Eid] al-Jabouri, has started talking to the Iraqi police. The police interrogator’s questions focus on the afternoon attack. Nashwan confesses to having driven the getaway car….

[Maj. Sabah Majeed, the Iraqi Army intelligence officer] outlines his plan. Three of the Strykers–equipped with thermal imaging gear that allows soldiers to see at night–will form an outer cordon. Then one of the Iraqi platoons will form an inner cordon, while the other searches for the suspect vehicle in a parking lot. Fox nods: The plan sounds good. Gently, he suggests that Majeed take a squad of Americans into the parking lot with him. Majeed agrees.

The Iraqis bring along Nashwan, his eyes blindfolded with blacked-out goggles and his hands bound… With Nashwan’s help, the Iraqis quickly locate a van with weapons concealed in a roof compartment–three rocket-propelled grenade launchers, two sniper rifles, an antitank rocket launcher, and a stash of ammunition, grenades, and rockets…

[Following up on the day’s raid] the Iraqis plan to raid four different buildings. The target is cell leader Abu Mahmoud, a man wanted badly by the Iraqi police and Army…The Iraqi soldiers detain two men in the second building. In two more stops, they detain two more men, rounding up all cell members but one–the leader, Abu Mahmoud…The Americans and the Iraqis part company, but for Majeed, the night isn’t quite over. A few hours later, Nashwan comes up with another possible location for Abu Mahmoud. Majeed calls Alleathe [the U.S. Army interpreter]. But after a long day and night, he sleeps through the cellphone ring. Majeed goes out with a platoon of 20 Iraqi soldiers and arrests Abu Mahmoud without American help. Triumphantly, Majeed returns with the insurgent leader to his battalion headquarters; within hours, Abu Mahmoud reveals key details of his cell’s operations.

Almost 2 years ago, police departments throughout Iraq were disintegrating under the onslaught of a concerted offensive by al Qaeda and insurgents. Iraq police were fleeing their posts and going underground; the elements of the Iraqi Army could not be trusted and members were deserting. The infamous “Fallujah Brigade” fell apart and many of its members joined the insurgency.

Today, the Iraq Security Forces are setting up sniper positions over critical hot spots, establishing snap checkpoints, patrolling towns, responding to events on their own initiative, planning and executing their own operations, and holding their ground when attacked. Communities, such As Siniyah, are meeting to discuss ways to keep out the “foreign fighters” and are adapting tactics such as creating “security berms” to control the flow of people into the town. The checkpoints in as-Siniyah will be manned by Iraqi police and Army units.

The questions that are now presenting themselves concern the civil rights and treatment of prisoners, the role the U.S. should play in enforcing western standards on interrogation of suspected insurgents, the Iraq criminal justice process as a whole, tensions between the Iraqi police and army, and, as always, the ever present fear of civil war, which, despite heinous attacks on Iraqi Shiites, has yet to manifest. In Mosul, a very real question needs to be raised: are the U.S. efforts to strictly adhere to western methods of detention and interrogation in any way hindering the Iraqis’ fight against the insurgency?

al Qaeda will continue to target the Iraqi Security Forces as the “Iraqification” of the war is proceeding apace. Iraqi police and Army units have yet to meet their full potential, and yet are making a noticeable difference in the fight. al Qaeda fears this Iraqi involvement and is attempting to destroy the morale and capacity of the Iraqi Security Forces. The terror campaing has failed to derail political progress in Iraq or prevent the Iraqi people from voting, and the terror campaign is also unlkely to derail the security forces from developing and Iraqis from volunteering.

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


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