Al Qaeda on the Offensive

Eleven major suicide bombings inside Baghdad over the past five days threaten to erode remaining political support for the Baghdad Security Plan. Now is the time for flexibility.

Banner of the Islamic State of Iraq. Click to view.

After a relative lull in major, mass casualty suicide attacks inside Baghdad, al Qaeda in Iraq has gone on a major offensive inside the capital city. Al Qaeda’s latest suicide offensive began on April 13; the last major bombing inside Baghdad was in a Shia market on March 29. Since April 13, al Qaeda has struck at 11 high profile targets inside the city limits. The targets have included the Iraqi Parliament, two of Baghdad’s 11 bridges and Shia markets. Under the readership of Abu Ayyub al-Masri Al Qaeda in Iraq is proving agile in its ability to switch targets in Baghdad while continuing to strike at sectarian fault lines outside the capital. The latest campaign threats to erode the remaining support in America for the Baghdad Security Plan, which is still ramping up.

The campaign began with two major attacks in Baghdad on April 13, with the destruction of the Jisr al-Hadeed bridge, which crosses the Tigris river, and a high visibility attack on the Parliament building. The bridge was completely destroyed, and over 25 people were killed in the bombing or after their cars plunged into the Tigris. One Member of Parliament was killed and 7 were among the 22 wounded after a suicide bomber detonated his vest in the center of a cafe adjacent to the Parliament. Mohammed Awadh, a Sunni politician, was killed in the attack.

The following day, on April 14, a suicide bomber hit the Jadriyah bridge, which also crosses the Tigris river. Ten were killed and 15 wounded in the Jadriyah bridge bombing, but the bridge was not destroyed. Al Qaeda also conducted a major suicide bombing outside the capital in Karbala. A suicide car bomber murdered 47 Iraqis and wounded scores more just several hundred yards from the holy Shia shrine of the Imam Ali mosque in Karbala.

On April 15, al Qaeda struck with five bombs inside Baghdad – two in the Karrada neighborhood in central Baghdad, one Al Shurta Al Rabeia neighborhood in southwest Baghdad, and another in the Kadhimiya district. The Karrada bombings included 2 roadside bombs which killed 15 Iraqis and wounded another 50, and a car bomb aimed at a police station killed 5 and wounded 10 Iraqis. The Kadhimiya district bombing was carried out by a suicide bomber, who attacked a bus filled with Iraqis. Six Iraqis were killed and 11 wounded.

Today, on April 17, al Qaeda conducted three major attacks inside the capital. The largest attack occurred in the mixed Shia and Kurdish district of Al-Sadriyah near central Baghdad. At least 112 Iraqis were killed in the car bombing, and another 115 wounded. The second attack was carried out by an al Qaeda suicide car bomber. The bomber targeted a checkpoint just outside the Shia stronghold of Sadr City, and killed at least 30 and wounded another 45. The third attack occurred near a private hospital in the Karrada neighborhood. Eleven Iraqis were killed and another 13 wounded.

Al Qaeda in Iraq has clearly discovered a seam in the increased security inside Baghdad, and is directing its bombing campaign for political and sectarian effects. This bombing blitz is projecting an image of failure of the nascent Baghdad Security Plan. Al Qaeda clearly hopes to destroy any remaining political support inside the U.S. government and the American people for the security operation, which is still in mid deployment. Al Qaeda also hopes to reignite the Sunni-Shia sectarian war and the activity of the Shia death squads inside Baghdad, which has decreased significantly since the start of the security operation in mid-February.

While al Qaeda’s haven in Anbar province has been diminishing over the past six months, the terror group has ramped up operations inside Diyala province, where thousands of al Qaeda fighters have relocated from Baghdad. From Diyala, al Qaeda is launching this devastating car and suicide bombing campaign. Al Qaeda’s safe haven and command and control nodes inside the province must be diminished to alleviate the pressure on Baghdad.

Multinational Forces Iraq is still in mid-deployment of the soldiers alloted to the Baghdad Security Plan. The third of the five combat brigades, which are being deployed into Baghdad and the outer belts, has just arrived in Baghdad. The last brigade will not complete deployment until late may or early June. The Diyala Campaign will not kick into full gear until the entire compliment of forces are available to cordon al Qaeda’s havens in the province in preparation for the assualt.

The question that remains is does Multinational Forces Iraq and General David Petraeus, the Commanding General, have the luxury to wait until as late as June to launch the Diyala offensive? Al Qaeda in Iraq is scoring major propaganda victories in the international media, and there is a question as to how long the Shia desire for revenge against the wholesale Sunni population can be held off.

The failure of lasts year’s security operations inside Baghdad occurred after Multinational Forces Iraq, then under the command of General George Casey, did not react to al Qaeda in Iraq’s initiation of the sectarian war. General Casey also failed to reacted to the inability of the Iraqi Army units to deploy in to Baghdad and the corruption of the Baghdad police. General Casey had no desire to ramp up U.S. forces to deal with the shortfall – he wanted to use “the minimum amount of force possible” to defeat the insurgency.

General Petraeus does not suffer from these deficiencies. Last year’s inability to redeploy Iraqi Army units have been resolved, and all Iraqi Army units have arrived into Baghdad as planned. The corrupt Iraqi National Police brigades were pulled off the line, taken apart, vetted and retrained. The U.S committed an additional five combat infantry brigades, a combat aviation brigade and supporting units to Baghdad and the outer belts. The rules of engagement were changed to give U.S. forces greater flexibility to fight the insurgency. U.S. forces are no longer operating from large bases and fighting a commuter insurgency, but instead are deploying into forward bases inside Baghdad’s neighborhoods.

But Coalition and Iraqi forces must react to al Qaeda’s bombing offensive, as time may not be on its side. As we’ve said from the very beginning, “U.S. and Iraqi forces must be flexible, and quickly react to as yet unseen surprises.” Now is the time to be flexible.

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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