Diyala on the horizon

U.S. and Iraqi troops on an operation in Balad Ruz in April. Click to view.

Al Qaeda strikes in Baqubah nd along the Iranian border; 5th Division general relieved of command; the campaign looms

The province of Diyala, where al Qaeda has established its command headquarters over the past year, has been the scene of increased activity of the past several days. Al Qaeda conducted a sophisticated attack in a Kurdish village in the north, and a coordinated attack on a military outpost and a bank in Baqubah The U.S. detained two al Qaeda leaders in a raid in the city, while the general commanding the 5th Iraqi Army Division was relieved of his command. The recent events signal the Diyala Campaign is on the horizon as both sides seek to consolidate their positions in the province.

Today, al Qaeda launched an attack at a U.S. combat outpost in Baqubah the provincial capital and al Qaeda in Iraq’s capital of its political front, the Islamic State of Iraq, according to Al Jazeera. About 50 al Qaeda fighters hit the outpost, and U.S. Strykers, attack helicopters and combat aircraft were called in to reinforce the U.S. troops. At least six al Qaeda were killed in the attack, an anonymous Iraqi Army officer told Al Jazeera. “One resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals from fighters, said he heard heavy machinegun fire and then men shouting ‘Allahu Akbar'”.

On May 18, “gunmen in four vehicles laid an ambush in central Baqubah tor government accountants [carrying] one billion Iraqi dinars [$860,000] as a monthly social security program fund for poor families.” On the same day, 3 American soldiers were killed in an unspecified location after their vehicle was struck by an IED.

On Saturday, al Qaeda launched an attack against the largely Kurdish village of Qara Lus, which is about 60 miles east of Baqubah on the Iranian border. Al Qaeda fighters dressed as Iraqi soldiers, slipped through the Iraqi Army checkpoints and proceeded to feign a security operation in the town. “They then searched the houses and ordered the people to leave. They separated men from the women and children and then they shot at the men, killing 13 immediately and two others a little later,” said Brigadier General Nadhim Sharif, the commander of Iraqi border forces in Diyala Province.

Earlier in the week, al Qaeda conducted a chlorine suicide bombing in the town of Abu Sayadah. Forty-five were killed and 60 wounded in the chlorine suicide attack, al Qaeda’s tenth successful employment of the poisonous gas in Iraq. Elsewhere in Diyala, al Qaeda “abducted 21 civilian passengers at a fake checkpoint near Al-Ghalibiya” and brought them to Al-Hashemeyat, which is a known al Qaeda stronghold.

Coalition forces – or Task Force 145, the hunter killer teams devoted to dismantling al Qaeda’s leadership and network – conducted a raid in Baqubah /a> on May 18, and captured “two individuals allegedly associated with the command network of al Qaeda in Iraq.”

As al Qaeda conducts its mini-offensive in Diyala, Major General Shakir Hulail Hussein, the commander of the 5th Iraqi Army Division, was relieved of his command and replaced by Brigadier General Abdul-Hussein al-Timimi. “I think it is a good decision and the replacement should have taken place months ago,” said Saman Assi Talabani, an Iraqi general who reported the news, citing “a lot of mistakes” that had “made the security situation worse and out of control.”

Maj. Gen. Hussein was relieved a little over a week after Brig. Gen. Dana J. H. Pittard and Lt. Gen. Ali Ghaidan Majid, the commander of ground forces in Iraq, visited his headquarters in Diyala. The New York Times documented the visit, in which Maj. Gen. Hussein appeared less than certain in the status of his forces and when his division would be ready for independence from U.S. forces. The 5th Division, along with the 7th Division – the youngest Iraqi Army division – is still under U.S supervision.

As the U.S drew back from Diyala in the fall of 2006, Maj. Gen. Hussein conducted large operations and rounded up large numbers of Sunnis, while being accused of largely neglecting the activities of the Shia death squads of Muqtada al Sadr. The security situation in Diyala deteriorated under his watch, and Lt. Gen. Ali appears to have lost faith in his ability to command after the visit on May 9.

Recent moves by al Qaeda, as well as by U.S. and Iraqi forces, likely indicate that the Diyala Campaign is coming, and soon. The Iraqi military, which plans to add an unspecified number of troops to the province along with at least one additional U.S. combat brigade, is installing more reliable commanders prior to opening up the new offensive. Competent leadership in the Iraqi Army is required to coordinate efforts with the newly created the Diyala Awakening, the grouping of anti-al Qaeda tribal, religious, and political figures, as the tribal and ethnic dynamics are far more complex in Diyala as they are in Anbar province.

Al Qaeda wants to maintain the pressure on U.S. and Iraqi Security Forces and keep the political and media pressure on the American government. Al Qaeda is also attempting to maintain its base of operations in Diyala, which serves as a launch point for attacks into Baghdad. The operation on the Iranian border may also be a sign the terror group is attempting to secure its fall back position. The U.S. and Iraq military wants to cordon the province to prevent al Qaeda from escaping, and create a kill box to eliminate al Qaeda’s forces. Al Qaeda may be attempting to secure their exit into Iran.

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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  • anand says:

    Wow! Bill thanks for this critical and very infomative story.
    We Americans are betting the farm on Gen Petraeus and Lt. Gen. Ali Ghaidan Majid, the commander of ground forces in Iraq.
    I believe Gen. Petraeus is up to the job. I pray that Lt. Gen Ali Gaidan Majid is. It is fascinating that there is almost no discussion about the qualities and competence of Lt. Gen Ali Gaiden Majid–when so much depends on him. We are spending $10 billion and 50-100 lives a month. Our discussion and debate in this country is massively dysfunctional.
    Bill, would it be okay to start a thread discussion Lt. Gen Ali Gaidan Majid here? What GIs who have served in Iraq and informed observers think about him etc.

  • hamidreza says:

    This is more proof of the involvement of Iran with the al-Qaeda movement. Top Al-Qaeda operatives, including bin Laden’s son are still “guests” in Iran.
    The attack of al-Qaeda sympathizers beholden to Syrian intelligence, in Lebanon, is another link.
    Its time to send in the drones into Iran and track the al-Qaeda bases and workshops, and expose them to the world. I don’t know why the US is not taking advantage of this propaganda coup. Then using a GMLRS at the Iraq-Iran border, we could strike these camps and workshops.
    BTW, what happened to the GMLRS. It does not seem to be deployed in Iraq?

  • DG says:

    Seems to mi that the weak link in the chain is Iraqi government and the parliament. I am very sorry to say that, but they don’t seem to have will and strength to deal with the situation. They seem to be the main problem of their own.
    I am afraid that, no matter how good the situation will be on the day they when US troops depart for home, Iraqis will drive their country to chaos again.
    I think that the problems within Iraqi Army command structure are the reflection of the problems within their political leadership. I hope I am wrong.

  • DG says:

    Hamidreza, there might be Al-Qaeda camps in Iran, but I doubt that. Current Iranian leadership might consider AQ as temporary ally against common enemy, but I don’t think that they would let them to establish military structure within their borders.
    There are many bad precedents in recent history of Middle East, just to mention Palestinian military presence in Jordan and later Lebanon that dragged both countries into war.
    Iranian leadership is running out of time. Hizbullah effort to take control of Lebanon, which started as conflict with Israel, has failed. Iran contributed with billions of dollars, and the result is nothing. On the other hand Iranian people can not be unaware of the fact that their country is a major oil exporter, and yet their living standard is not very high, there is unimployment and inflation. I doubt that Islamic Republic will live to their 30th anniversary as such.

  • Marlin says:

    This sounds like a positive development for the Baghdad area.
    Mirroring a nationwide trend, tribes near Baghdad are on the verge of banding together against al-Qaida and have met with U.S. military officials seeking aid and guidance in fighting the terrorist network.
    Acceptance of – if not outright support for – al-Qaida among the tribes eroded after the strict Islamic law imposed by insurgents clashed with the authority of the sheikhs, according to U.S. military officials.
    On Saturday, a group of local chieftains met with military commanders and a representative of the State Department at Camp Taji, about 20 miles northwest of Baghdad, and tentatively agreed to form a council that would oversee the creation of a provincial security force similar to the tribal militia created in western Iraq.
    Stars & Stripes: Baghdad tribes close to fighting al-Qaida

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Taji is on the border of Salahaddin and Baghdad Provinces.
    This is not a meeting of Baghdad City.
    Tribal leaders are not as influentual in the city.
    This is South Salahaddin/North Baghdad Province Tribes meeting.
    Good but, not a meeting of only Baghdad Tribes as S&S makes it out to be.

  • ECH says:

    Major General Shakir was a pro-Medhi Army sectarian idiot and I am very much glad he is gone, he should have been gone last year.

  • anand says:

    “No huge fan of the amazing and unbelievable Major General Shakir Hulail Hussein am I”
    So sayeth I.

  • David M says:

    Trackbacked by The Thunder Run – Web Reconnaissance for 05/21/2007
    A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

  • nick says:

    hamidreza, I have read reports of guided rockets deployed in Iraq. I’ve also seen videos of strikes purported to be GMLRS on web sites such as so they are definately unverified, but I do believe they have them in theatre.


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