Al Qaeda in Iraq’s Diyala Campaign

From The Jawa Report: U.S. soldiers capture flag of al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq in village in Diyala. Click image to view.

Terror group is striking hard at military targets prior to the onset of the Diyala Campaign

As Iraqi and Coalition forces build their forces to strike al Qaeda in their base in Diyala, the terror group is hitting hard at existing combat outposts in the violence-racked province. Over the past several days, al Qaeda in Iraq has conducted several suicide strikes at U.S. and Iraqi combat outposts, police stations and Army checkpoints throughout the province.

The latest attack occurred today in the city of Khalis. A suicide bomber rammed his car into an Iraqi Army checkpoint. Ten Iraqi Soldiers were killed in the strike. This attack was preceded by a suicide strike on an Iraqi police station in Balad Ruz on Wednesday, April 25. Four police were killed and 16 wounded in the bombing. On Monday, April 23, al Qaeda in Iraq conducted a complex suicide attack on a patrol base in patrol base in As Sadah, which was followed by an small ground assault. Nine U.S. soldiers were killed and 20 wounded after the suicide bomb collapsed a building. Fifteen of the wounded soldiers later returned to duty.

As we noted yesterday, the As Sadah attack fits the mold of past al Qaeda assaults in Iraq. Al aeda started the attack with a small arms assault, then used two suicide vehicles to attempt to penetrate the outer security wall. Had the wall been breached, al Qaeda would have tried to push through with infantry. The U.S. soldiers destroyed the suicide vehicles before they could reach the perimeter of the patrol base. However “the explosive blast from the second truck ruptured the wall of the patrol base building, collapsing the second floor and, causing the majority of the Soldier casualties.

Al Qaeda in Iraq have carried out similar attacks over the past several years against Coalition and Iraqi outposts in Tarmyia, Husaybah, Abu Ghraib, Baghdad and the Palestine Hotel.

Map of southern Diyala. Click map to view.

Al Qaeda has two goals in conducting such strikes. First, the terrorists wish to overrun a U.S./Iraqi outpost to create a propaganda victory. Al Qaeda no doubt had video crews available to film the strike, and the destruction of a combat outpost would play to two markets. Al Qaeda hopes to destroy the will of the U.S. public with such graphic images, as well as boost the morale of its own fighters and provide material for its recruiting campaign.

Second, al Qaeda in Iraq hopes to demoralize the Iraqi soldiers and police fighting in Diyala. Al Qaeda has established its base of operations in the province, and is seeking to keep the Iraqi police and Army from establishing a further foothold prior to the onset of the Diyala Campaign.

The fighting in Diyala will only intensify as the U.S. and Iraqi forces build up the capacity to conduct the Diyala Campaign later this spring. Al Qaeda has prepared fighting positions, supply bases, IED traps, bomb rigged buildings, and training camps in the province. Over 2,000 hardened al Qaeda fighters are operating in Diyala, and an American intelligence official and a U.S. military officer informs us al Qaeda is operating along the lines of Hezbollah’s military structure in Lebanon. Al Qaeda is organized in small military units with infantry, anti-tank teams, suicide and IED cells, and logistical nodes. The assault on the As Sadah outpost demonstrated the capacity has been built in Diyala.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have not been sitting on their hands in Diyala as al Qaeda reinforces for the upcoming strike. U.S. and Iraqi forces have been conducting shaping operations in the province – a series of clearing operations, targeted raids and air strikes to prepare the battlefield and keep al Qaeda from massing its strength. U.S. and Iraqi forces are also establishing a series of patrol bases in Balad Ruz, Baqubah and the Diyala River Valley north of Baqubah Prior to the onset of the Diyala Campaign, Iraqi and Coalition forces will attempt to cordon the province to prevent al Qaeda from escaping the assault.

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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  • Matt R says:

    Is it my imagination or is the Diyala Campaign looking tougher than previous battles such as in Anbar? Is so, is this because AQ is being squeezed? And where is AQ expected to move to next?

  • Bill Roggio says:

    I don’t think so. I think Diyala will get far more media attention than what occurred in Anbar in 2005. There was some tough fighting out there as well.

  • @thepointyend says:

    I think AQ’s continued escalation in the severity of attacks (moving to stay and fight vs hit and run) are largely an attempt to influence what is going on in our own political system right now. Unfortunately, it seems to be working.

  • Army Mom Joy says:

    Excellent report. Thank you. Donation coming soon.

  • anand says:

    On the political front, is there any indication about when new Provincial elections will be held?
    How are the Provincial and local Iraqi Police doing?
    Bill, DJ and CJ have provided us a breakdown of IA based in Diyala province:
    5th IAD, based in Diyala, has ten combat battalions, one division HQs, 1 MTR/BSU non-combat support battalion; probably all in the lead. In addition, two battalions from other divisions are being sent to reinforce Maj General Shakar, Commander 5th IAD.
    He also controls the 4th Strategic Infrastructure Brigade, with four combat battalions. Is 4th SIB doing okay, or is it having “tribal” difficulties?
    All of these ISF are going to have to step up to the plate to back up two of our brigades for the Diyala offensive.
    At this time, Col. David W. Sutherland, commander 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, has about 5 K GIs in Diyala, but I think one of the two remaining “surge” brigades will be used for the Diyala offensive.
    Col. Sutherland, Diyala Governor Ra’ad Hameed Al-Mula Jowad Al-Tamimi, and Maj Gen Shakar have a difficult road ahead of them in what is now the toughest province in Iraq. Here is hoping they succeed.

  • crosspatch says:

    I can’t know how accurate it is, but the sense I am getting of the operations in Diyala is that there are probably going to be some significant differences from what we saw in Anbar. one very important difference is the success shown so far by the tribes in Anbar and the extend to which that success can and probably will act as a model for Diyala tribes. There is not a lot of love between al Qaida and the local population and now that there is a clear example to follow, al Qaida might find a much more poisonous environment for them than they enjoyed for so long in Anbar.
    in short, I believe Diyala will be violent but I also believe it will be of shorter duration.

  • Thanos says:

    The only thing I worry about with these campaigns is that by doing so much prep in advance they give leaders the opportunity to flee, leaving the “Qaeda fodder” to cover their retreat. Completely understand that some is inevitable and necessary, but do they telegraph punches too much?

  • MIke says:

    I am not sure but I would think that AQI has nowhere left to turn in Iraq. They can not move north, east or west. They could move south but I think it would be easier to weed them out there. Bill, is this more or less true?

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Crosspatch, agreed, I’ve been discussing the formation of the ‘Diyala Salvation Front’ for some time now and it will certainly play a part.
    MIke, The IA and US have redeployed significant numbers of troops from Niwena and elsewhere into Baghdad. The keep part of the Baghdad Security Plan is to secure the ‘outer belts’ so places like Babil and eastern Anbar are less likely to be recipients of the overflow of the Diyala Campaign. No cordon will be slip proof. I suspect some AQi will move towards Salahadin and Niwena, the question is can they reproduce what they had earlier in Anbar and now in Diyala? If we plan it right, I don’t think so.

  • Solomon2 says:

    After the As Sadah attack, or even while it was in progress, did U.S. & Iraqi forces leave the base to hunt the attackers?

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  • Scott says:

    Bill,Have the locals of Diyla vacated the area or are they still there?I would love to be able to soften the area up with a nice heavy bombing campaign before we go in there.Any thoughts?

  • Neo-andertal says:

    “Is it my imagination or is the Diyala Campaign looking tougher than previous battles such as in Anbar? Is so, is this because AQ is being squeezed? And where is AQ expected to move to next?”

  • Neo-andertal says:

    Not that kind of campaign. First we are talking about 2,000 to 3,000 insurgents. Good luck on hitting any with your attempt to soften the place up. We are already seeing the first steps with an increase in probing and patrolling forces within the area. With insurgents much of the effort is finding them.

  • anand says:

    Diyala is populated country. It can’t be “softened up.” Even the Shia extremists such as Sadr would be forced to publicly condemn bombing on Sunni Arab areas on a significant scale.

  • ECH says:

    The Anbar Salvation Council said it was willing to send some its ERUs to help in other parts of Iraq like Diyala.
    Sattar is now mass conscripting Iraqis in Anbar into his forces and should have an Army ready to drive al-Qaeda out of Iraq in a matter of months.
    We could use help from his ERUs in Diyala.

  • Neo-andertal says:

    What’s going on in Anbar does seem to be the one pleasant surprise right now. Their effort is still fairly regional right now so we will just have to see how it translates to other areas. It has real prospects especially for tribal rural areas. Right now it already presents AQI with a big problem and things seem to be moving along much faster than anyone predicted.

  • ECH says:

    The only thing holding the Anbar Salvation Council back is lack of weapons, equipment and certain leadership problems from what I hear. They have the numbers to clean out most of Western Iraq in months not years.

  • Civ says:

    I’d like to know how IED assults are being solved in Iraq. Are they solved like crimes at this point where each one is traced back through eye witness accounts etc., to close in on where it came from…or are there just too many at this point (relative to the number of investigative teams) to track each one back. Secondly, if they are tracing them back I assume the “insurgents” have adapted in some ways… can you comment on the tactics employed to elude capture and identification of IED cells?

  • DJ Elliott says:

    FYI: The IA just took delivery of first part of US equipment upgrade. They are already talking transfering the old equipment to new forming and MoI units from the IA as they upgrade. IA is going to M16/M4.
    More than enough to arm the MoI’s new ERU Bns from Anbar and other provinces.
    The ERU program in MoI is expanding to other provinces…

  • ECH says:

    DJ Elliott,
    That is good news. I also heard that the Iraqi Army will be getting a decient number of M60 Main Battle Tanks and other toys soon. Have you heard anything about this?

  • DJ Elliott says:

    MNSTC-I Deputy PAO confirmed the story in that Bill referred to with this e-mail response:
    “The article seems accurate.”
    Bill was aware of that when he quoted them on earlier story about training.
    At least two-three Divisions worth of Armor/Mech. That is a lot of tracks.
    I still have not found source of these vehicles. If it was from US, notification to Congress should have been filed already. That means they are getting them from one or more of the other 29 countries that have M60s…

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Of note: Two of the new/converted Mech/Arm Divs are to be Adjacent to Diyala. 9th Mech is already next door to Diyala. Expect to see them used as QRFs for northern/western Iraq when operational.
    That removes the need for US to provide Armor/Mech QRFs in those areas one they are operational.
    ERUs forming + IA expansion/Mechanization + Tribes joining against AQ + Iraqi sunni attitudes changing = ???

  • ECH says:

    “ERUs forming + IA expansion/Mechanization + Tribes joining against AQ + Iraqi Sunni attitudes changing = ???”
    Its always hard to predict where things will go. If we can hammer al-Qaeda in Diyala we will be able to minimize their chances of pulling off sectacular attacks in Baghdad on the Shia killing 200+ and thus keep the Medhi Army from largescale attacks on the Sunnis.
    If we can do that and get somewhat decient reconciliation through an oil law and a de-Baathification law we are in a good position to stabilize Iraq long term.

  • anand says:

    ERUs forming + IA expansion/Mechanization + Tribes joining against AQ + Iraqi sunni attitudes changing = ???
    True in Al Anbar, Salahadin, Ninevah and Iraq more generally. Tribes are not as important in Diyala, and attitudes in Diyala are more complex.
    Diyala is the most difficult place in Iraq for a reason. Many locals are viscerally anti-Persian, and very angry about the 1980-88 Iran Iraq War.
    Many see their elected national and provincial government [which to them are synonymous with Sheik Muqtada al Sadr], the IA and IP, as Persians. Many of this group see us as backing the Persians against them.
    However much Diyala Sunni Arabs may dislike Al Qaeda, too many still see themselves as waging a multi-flanked war; against Al Qaeda, the Persians (and their Iraqi government, ISF and Sadrist quislings), and us.
    This group represents a LARGE minority of sunni arabs in Diyala. I don’t want to sound defeatist, but the Iraqis and our GIs have a long and difficult road ahead of them in Diyala. Diyala will probably be the last province in Iraq to normalize.
    That is why quick Provincial elections are so important. It could cause a seismic change on the ground. However, so far Muqtada, Maliki and Hakim have blocked elections. To my knowledge no date has yet been sent.

  • ECH says:

    You are certainly right that Hakim and others have kept provental elections from happening. Short of a huge force of US troops, Iraqi Army, or Peshmerga going into Diyala the fastest mode of massive change in that province would be elections. Elections would be a massive boon to Anbar as well because they would put the Anbar Salvation Council in charge of government in the province.
    Maliki and the Shia religious parties say the right words when it comes to reconciliation, but talk is so very cheap. They need to back their words up with deeds.

  • David M says:

    Trackbacked by The Thunder Run – Web Reconnaissance for 04/27/2007
    A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.


Islamic state



Al shabaab

Boko Haram