Strykers engage in heavy urban combat in Baqubah s the Diyala front becomes very hot
Baquba, the capital of the violence wracked province of Diyala, has emerged as the latest battlefield in Iraq. Earlier this week, Multinational Forces Iraq began to redeploy a battalion of Strykers – about 700 soldiers and 100 of their Stryker combat vehicles from the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division – from Baghdad to Baqubah to chase down the 2,000 plus estimated al Qaeda fighters who have fled the capital in anticipation of the Baghdad Security Plan. Upon the first day of their arrival in Baquba, the Strykers of the 5-20 have engaged in heavy combat in the streets of the city.
Al Qaeda in Iraq was prepared for the arrival of the Strykers, and set up defensive and ambush positions throughout the city. The Strykers arriving in Baqubah ncountered mortars, snipers, RPGs, a host of Improvised Explosive Devices and possibly anti-tank weapons. “They threw everything at us – RPGs, mortars – and a guy even tossed a grenade just in front of my vehicle,” Captain Huber Parsons, the 28-year-old commander of the 5-20’s Attack company told the Associated Press. “But the most devastating was the IEDs.”
Soldiers from the 5-20 Strykers engaging anti-Iraqi forces in Baqubah Iraq, March 14. (Photo by USAF Staff Sgt. Stacy L. Pearsall). Click photo to view.
“Dozens” of insurgents have been reported as killed, but no exact number was given. Two Stryker vehicles were lost – one in a sophisticated IED attack and follow on ambush. One soldier was killed and another 11 were wounded in the fight. Six of the wounded subsequently returned to duty. A Multinational Forces Iraq press release indicated that two soldiers were killed in Diyala today, but in separate engagements. Last weekend, Iraqi Army and U.S. soldiers killed 16 insurgents and captured 11 during operations in As Sadiyah in Diyala.
We noted in mid February that Diyala will be one of the major areas of engagement as the Baghdad Security Plan takes shape. Both General David Petraeus, the MNF-I commander, and Major General William Caldwell, the MNF-I spokesman, have been making repeated references to problems in Diyala.
The Iraqi government indicated last week it must reconsider the security situation in the violence plagued province, however it is difficult to see where the Army or police will be drawn from to resolve the problem. Over half of the Iraqi Army units are now stations inside Baghdad or in the “belts” immediately surrounding the city. Only 2 of the 5 additional U.S. combat brigades assigned to the ‘surge’ are currently in Iraq. Expect one or more of the brigades to move to Diyala.
Al Qaeda in Iraq is currently using Diyala to train, arm and sortie suicide and car bombers into Baghdad and the surrounding areas. One American military intelligence officer described this to me as “launching human artillery” from the province. The spirited defense against the Strykers in Baqubah ndicates al Qaeda in Iraq has been preparing for battle in the city for some time.
The up tick in violence in Diyala is also reflected by al Qaeda in Iraq’s attempt to establish its rump Islamic State of Iraq, and the resistance from some local Sunni and Shia tribes. Recently, al Qaeda in Iraq torched the homes of Sunni and Shia tribesmen in Muqdadiya who oppose them. Al Qaeda also kidnapped and subsequently murdered 14 Iraqi police who were traveling on leave from Baquba. The murders were videotaped. “Their throats had been cut and their hands were bound,” said the mayor of the nearby town of Khalis.
Al Qaeda’s activities in Diyala are causing the local tribes to organize resistance against the terrorists. Last week, <em>Al Sabaah reported the local sheikhs in Diyala are organizing against al Qaeda and its Islamic State of Iraq, “which [is] spreading corruption in the province districts.” Tribal leaders in Diyala are beginning to form up along the lines of the Anbar Salvation Council in Anbar province.
The recent recognition of the Anbar Salvation Council, a grouping of Sunni tribes and former insurgents opposed to al Qaeda’s imposition of an Islamic State and all of its trappings, may encourage the Diyala tribal leaders. The Anbar Salvation Council received official backing from the central government, and Prime Minister Maliki visited Ramadi. With the official backing comes the subsequent money, weapons, political power and other incentives needed to fight al Qaeda and its Islamic State.
The recent tape released by Abu Omar al Baghdadi, the leader of al Qaeda’s political front the Islamic State of Iraq, reflects concern within the terror group. Baghdadi implored tribal leaders and insurgent groups to fight under the banner of the Islamic State of Iraq, and threatened those who will not with death and damnation. Al Qaeda has seen its power decline in Anbar province the past few months and Baghdadi will want to stem this trend in Diyala, Salahadin and elsewhere.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.