By DJ Elliott, CJ Radin and Bill Roggio
The Baghdad Security Plan is approaching the eighth week since its official announcement, and Baghdad has seen a relative level of calm compared to the security situation just last year. There have been no major mass casualty attacks inside Baghdad since the suicide bombing in the Shia market on March 29. The deaths in Baghdad the past week have been attributed to low level attacks such as roadside bombs, mortar attacks and street fighting. The sectarian related murders have remained much below the levels reported prior to the inception of the security plan.
The mass casualty suicide attacks, which have incited the Shia population to support sectarian violence in the past, have been absent from Baghdad since an attack at a Shia market on March 29th. Al Qaeda has conducted several attacks in the provinces, most notably a chlorine gas suicide strike in Ramadi and conventional suicide bombings in Kirkuk and Khalis. The Ramaid attack, the eight chlorine attack in Anbar province, is designed to break the Anbar Salvation Council, a grouping of Sunni tribes and former insurgent groups opposed to al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq. The Khalis strike is aimed to stir up sectarian violence in the mixed Sunni-Shia province of Diyala, while the Kirkuk strike is designed to pit Kurds against Arabs in the contested oil rich northern city.
In Baghdad, the establishment of neighborhood security stations and troop deployments in support of the Baghdad Security Plan continues. The Joint Security Station (JSS) concept, which puts Iraqi Army and police and U.S. troops directly inside the neighborhoods, has proven so successful that the number of stations has expanded. There are currently 54 JSS and small Combat Outposts (COP) inside Baghdad. Major General William Caldwell stated 76 JSSs and COPs will be built and that the Baghdad Commander, General Aboud, is considering building 104 stations.
The 3rd Brigade, 3rd U.S. Infantry Division (Mechanized) has arrived in Iraq, and “will be deployed in and around the city of Baghdad.” This is the third of five U.S. combat infantry brigades assigned to the Baghdad Security Plan that has arrived in theater. The 3rd Battalion, 2nd Brigade of the 4th Iraqi Army Division, a Kurdish battalion, is en route to Baghdad from Kirkuk.
To date, 16 Iraqi Army battalions and 5 brigade headquarters have deployed into Baghdad from the provinces. The first brigade to deploy into Baghdad, the 4th Brigade of the 1st Iraqi Army division, is expected to rotate back to Anbar province as it has reached the end of its 90 day deployment to the capital. Another Brigade from the 1st Division is expected to replace the 4/1. The Bayaa district currently does not have an Iraqi Army unit, however two battalions from the Kurdish provinces are expected to deploy soon. The 7th Brigade of the 2nd Iraqi National Police Division was relieved by the 2nd and 3rd INP brigades. The 7th INP Brigade is expected to attend Quicklook II, the operation designed to vet, retrain and reequip the Iraqi National Police units.
The Baghdad Security Plan has resulted in the death or capture of three senior al Qaeda operatives over the past week. The Iraqi Army announced Abu Bara’a Al Libi (the Libyan), who was described as “one of the prominent leaders in Al Qaeda,” was killed in a raid. The U.S. announced the capture of two unnamed al Qaeda leaders. One was described as the “gatekeeper to the al Qaeda emir of Baghdad.” The other ran a car bomb cell which has upwards of fifty members.
As the U.S. and Iraqi forces are still in the process of deploying into Baghdad, operations are underway in the provinces. Al Qaeda and the insurgency have increased attacks in the provinces after moving significant numbers of forces from Baghdad in anticipation of the Baghdad Security Plan. Operations in Diyala, Diwaniyah, Anbar, and Mosul were underway last week in an effort to disrupt al Qaeda, the insurgency and in Diwaniyah, the Mahdi Army.
Violence in Diyala has spiked since U.S. forces began to draw down forces in the province, and worsened since al Qaeda redeployed forces from Baghdad in February. Multinational Forces Iraq deployed a Stryker Battalion to Baqubah the provincial capital, and since has been conducting a series of targeted raids, clearing operations, search and destroy missions and some permanent presence missions in the Diyala River Valley north of the city. The latest operation resulted in 30 terrorists killed and another 28 captured. The raids also uncovered an al Qaeda in Iraq training facility and 25 weapons caches.
In Mosul, over 179 insurgents were captured and 8 killed during operations over the past week. Violence in Ninewa province has increased since U.S. and Iraqi forces have shifted towards Baghdad. In Anbar, Iraqi and Coalition forces are pushing outward from the larger cities and towns into the rural farmlands that snake along the Euphrates River Valley.
Operations are ongoing in Diwaniyah, where elements of Muqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army fled after the announcement of the Baghdad Security plan. The split in Sadr’s Mahdi Army has led to a large segment looking to reconcile with the Iraqi government. The extremist elements of the militia have reestablished themselves in Diwaniyah, and security in the city is said to have been deteriorating ever since. The Iraqi government and Coalition is pursuing the Mahdi Army holdovers remaining in Diwaniyah. Thirty-nine Mahdi fighters have been captured since the operation began on April 6, and several have been reported killed.
Sadr has made a semi-personal plea for Iraqi forces fighting in Diwaniyah to break from the Coalition and halt the fighting. On April 8, Sadr issued an official statement, “which was distributed in the holy Shi’ite city of Najaf and stamped with Sadr’s seal.” The statement called for Iraqi Security Forces to end the fighting against the Mahdi Army. Reuters excerpts portions of Sadr’s letter:
“And here we can see in … (Diwaniyah), a civil strife the occupier planned, to drag the brothers into clashing, fighting and even killing… Oh (Mahdi Army) and my brothers (Iraqi forces) enough of this clashing and killing. This is success for your enemy … and (Iraqi army and police) don’t be dragged behind the enemy… God has ordered you to be patient in front of the enemy and to unify your efforts against it, not against the sons of Iraq.”
The operation in Diwaniyah is likely an attempt to preempt Sadr’s forces. Sadr called for a protest against the U.S. occupation on April 9, the date of Iraq’s liberation from the Saddam Hussein dictatorship. Sadr shrewdly asked Iraqis to fly the Iraqi flag to capitalize on the patriotism of Iraqis. Sadr also instructed his followers to demonstrate in Najaf.
The demonstration in Najaf has been muted. While the Middle East Online claimed “hundreds of thousands of Shiites burned and trampled on US flags,” the reality is the protest was far smaller than Sadr would have liked. Reuters puts the protest size in the thousands, and during a press round table briefing today, Rear Admiral Mark Fox noted the Coalition is closely monitoring the protest, and put the numbers at five to seven thousand. The protest is monitored both on the ground and via air, which allows for a relatively accurate count of the numbers of protesters. Sadr’s weak showing during the April 9 protests highlights the setbacks he has suffered both politically and militarily since the inception of the Baghdad Security plan and his flight to Iran.
We have witnessed some positive signs during the first eight weeks of the Baghdad security Plan. Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s government has shown a willingness to move forward on reconciliation while appears committed to curbing the power of the Shia militias. Sadr’s flight from Baghdad to Iran, and fragmenting of his Mahdi Army have been a pleasant surprises. The Iraqi Army has redeployed its battalions into Baghdad from the provinces, something it could not do just last fall. The reduction in sectarian attacks has provided a welcome respite to the Iraqi government and the people of Baghdad. The relaxation of the U.S. rules of engagement and the commitment to end the catch & release program, where insurgent prisoners are released from custody within months of capture, will pay dividends in the long run. The Coalition has regained the initiative and is taking the fight into the provinces, even though the full contingent of U.S. combat brigades has yet to reach the theater.
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