Reinforcing Baghdad’s Outer Belts

Marines building several Combat Outposts in the Amiriya-Ferris region in Anbar

Iraq. Click map to view.

A crucial element of the Baghdad Security Plan is the establishment of security both inside the Baghdad neighborhoods and in Baghdad’s outer belts – the regions about 30 miles outside of the city, where over 80 percent of the violence in Iraq occurs. This belt region is where al Qaeda is staging attacks into Baghdad, particularly the portions of the provinces of Anbar, Diyala, Babil and Salahadin, all which border Baghdad province. Over the past month, the Iraqi and U.S. security forces are beginning to build new Combat Outposts in the outer belts to disrupt al Qaeda and insurgent activity in the belts. This week, U.S. Marines built a series of Combat Outposts in the Amiriya-Ferris region, which is about 30 miles southwest of Baghdad, and 12 miles south of Fallujah.

“The Amiriya-Ferris region… has become a fallback point for terrorist groups pushed out of urban areas in the wake of successful operations by Iraqi and Coalition Forces,” notes the Multinational Forces West press release. “The 8th Engineer Support Battalion began construction of a number of combat outposts in the Amiriya-Ferris region of Al Anbar Province April 14.” U.S. and Iraqi Security Forces, as well as the Anbar Salvation Council [ASC], have fought pitched battles against al Qaeda in Iraq in this region over the past several months.

On March 2, over 300 al Qaeda attacked Amiriya in an attempt to assassinate a prominent leader of the Anbar Salvation Council, who was to attend the funeral of an ASC leader who was killed in a February 24 suicide bombing in Habbaniyah. The Iraqi police in Amiriya held off the attack, radioed for backup from Iraqi Army, police and members of the Thurwa al-Anbar, the tribal militias assembled by the Anbar Salvation Council. U.S. air support also engaged al Qaeda. At least 50 al Qaeda were killed and 80 captured in the battle, along with 11 Iraqi Police killed.

In the second major battle in Amiriya in less than three weeks, a force of over 100 al Qaeda attacked the Anbar Salvation Council, on March 20. The ASC, backed by Iraqi Security Forces, killed 39 al Qaeda and captured 7 during the battle. Again, the target is believed to be a senior leader of the Anbar Salvation Council. Al Qaeda also targeted Amiriya with a chlorine suicide truck bomb on March 16. The target in Amiriya was a senior member of the Anbar Salvation Council. Fallujah and Ramadi were also targeted in near simultaneous attacks that same day.

The reinforcement in the Amiriya-Ferris region occurs as Iraqi police have dramatically reduced the violence in Ramadi, and the Anbar Salvation Council is making inroads in Fallujah. Iraqi Security Forces, with the help of the Anbar Salvation Council, recently killed Ahmad Hadid, the leader “Islamic State in Fallujah,” and Ibrahim Keitan, “al Qaeda’s military coordinator in Al-Anbar.”

This comes as a major dispute between the Islamic Army in Iraq and al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq was aired in public. The spokesman of the Islamic Army in Iraq claimed the insurgent group has severed ties with al Qaeda. Abu Omar al Baghdadi, the leader of al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq, just released a tape pleading with the Islamic Army to patch up the break. Insurgent groups are said to be seeking the support of the Iraqi government for assaistance in hunting al Qaeda, and the Iraqi government announced that it was in active negotiations with five Sunni insurgent groups who are attempting to dissociate themselves from al Qaeda.

Iraqi and U.S. forces are also establishing Combat Outposts in Diyala and Babil. On March 24, U.S. troops built a Combat Outpost in the town of Qubbah in the Diyala River Valley, which is just north of Baqubah Iraqi and Coalition forces are also on the offensive in Buhriz, a southern suburb of Baqubah Buhriz is slated to get a new Iraqi Police station, very likely to be manned in conjunction with U.S. forces. Soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division established Forward Operating Base Yusifiyah in Babil province at some point in March or early April.

Both Yusifiyah and Baqubah ave been al Qaeda havens. Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the former leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, was sheltering in Yusifiyah during the spring of 2006, and was eventually killed in Baqubah /a> in June of last year. Al Qaeda in Iraq is believed to have moved over 2,000 fighters and its command and control elements into Diyala before the start of the Baghdad Security Plan. U.S. and Iraq forces will go on the offensive once the final two U.S. combat brigades arrive in theater. The last brigade is slated to arrive in June.

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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