As the Baghdad pieces of the puzzle are being put in place, operations are underway in the provinces
While the major focus of the Iraq security plan is the capital of Baghdad, Iraqi and Coalition forces have stepped up operations in the provinces. The intent is obvious: while Baghdad is in the process of being secured and troops continue to deploy into the city, the weapons, suicide bombers and foreign fighters must be interdicted before they reach the city limits. The Iraqi government and Coalition are pressing the insurgency both inside Baghdad, and on the peripheries. Three provinces have seen significant operations to press the insurgents and al Qaeda in the past few days: Anbar (west of Baghdad), Diyala (northeast) and Babil (south). Operations are also being conducted south of Baghdad as well. These regions serve as the ratlines and staging areas for the terrorists, and the Iraqi and Coalition must degrade the enemy’s capabilities in these regions to take the pressure off of Baghdad.
The operations over the past five days have netted significant numbers of al Qaeda fighters – both native Iraqis and foreigners, Sunni insurgents and weapons caches.
Anbar has long served as an al Qaeda base of operations. Portions of the provincial capital of Ramadi are al Qaeda havens. Iraqi and U.S. Army and Marine battalions, along with the tribal levies of the Thuwra Al-Anbar, led by Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, are battling al Qaeda inside the city and in the suburbs. The Euphrates River Valley has long served as an al Qaeda ratline from Syria into the heart of Iraq.
On February 20, the 7th Iraqi Army Division, along with Coalition forces, captured 4 members of an insurgent cell “believed responsible for facilitating the movement of foreign fighters and weapons into Iraq ” in Ramana, which is just miles from the Syrian border. Further east, in the city of Hit, Iraqi police, Army and U.S. Marines conducted a multi-battalion sweep. The operation resulted in the capture of “13 known terrorists” and uncovered a significant weapons cache. The Iraqi police also “began construction of two new police stations to meet the demands of the growing department.” Operations also netted 13 members of IED cells in Fallujah and Ramadi on February 21.
Diyala province has seen a spike in activity over the past few months. al Qaeda in Iraq has based out of Diyala, and is operating out of the town of Diyala, according to a U.S. military intelligence source. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in an airstrike in Baqubah the provincial capital, last year. al Qaeda in Iraq is receiving support, weapons and sanctuary from across the border in Iran, the same military intelligence source indicated. Just last fall, a major operation in Diyala netted hundreds of al Qaeda fighters.
Baqubah as become “one of the most lethal [cities] in Iraq for U.S. troops,” according to the Washington Post, as nine soldiers have been killed in the city just over the past month. On the 20th, The 2nd Brigade, 5th Iraqi Army, and the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division conducted operations in the Buhriz section of Baqubah /a>, and captured 8 insurgents “responsible for the emplacement of improvised explosive devices, murders and kidnappings,” and uncovered a weapons cache. Also, a senior police chief in Baqubah as arrested for “involvement in the murder, torture, kidnapping and sectarian violence of Iraqi citizens in Diyala Province.”
Also, just north of Baghdad, in the the village of Ibrahim Bin Ali, U.S. forces conduct a two day sweep of the largely Sunni region where al Qaeda is attempting to establish a foothold to attack Baghdad.
al Qaeda struck back with a multiple suicide carbomb attack on a U.S. Army outpost in Tarmyia, killing 2 and wounding 17.
Coalition forces are also maintaining pressure on an al Qaeda and insurgent hotbed near the city of Yusufiyah. Babil, which hosts the “Triangle of Death”, a region where Sunni terrorists have staged numerous attacks on Coalition forces, has been the seen of multiple Coalition operations. During the hunt for Zarqawi last year, he was almost captured in Yusufiyah. Several U.S. helicopters were downed in the area, and hundreds of al Qaeda were killed and captured in intense fightinng with Task Force 145 and U.S. and Iraqi Army forces in the region.
During a two day operation in Yusufiyah on February 16 and 17, Coalition forces captured over 49 insurgents during sweeps in Quarghuli Village. Three IEDs were also found during the operation.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.