Operation designed to uproot al Qaeda and Iranian-backed terror groups
With one month left before General David Petraeus’ report to Congress on the status of progress in Iraq, Iraqi and Coalition forces have launched the next phase of security operations designed to pursue al Qaeda in Iraq, the Iranian-backed Special Groups terror cells, and the rogue Mahdi Army elements. Operation Phantom Strike was launched today, and “consists of simultaneous operations throughout Iraq focused on pursuing remaining AQI terrorists and Iranian-supported extremist elements.”
Operation Phantom Strike follows Operations Fardh Al-Qanoon (the Baghdad Security Plan) and Phantom Thunder, which pushed Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces into areas previously unsecured, as well as ejected terror groups from safe havens in Baghdad and northern Babil, eastern Anbar, Salahadin, and Diyala provinces. During this time, Iraqi and Coalition forces conducted daily, intelligence-driven raids against al Qaeda in Iraq and the Iranian-backed cells nationwide, with a heavy emphasis on cells in Baghdad, Diyala, and central and northern Iraq.
The Baghdad Security Plan and Phantom Thunder can be considered shaping operations for Phantom Strike. Once Iraqi and Coalition forces moved into previous no-go zones, they have established local security forces and intelligence networks able to pinpoint the makeup and location of the Sunni and Shia extremist groups. Phantom Strike will be a largely intelligence-driven operation.
Signs of Phantom Strike could be seen in the Multinational Forces Iraq press releases issued over the past week. Prior to that, there were one or two press releases a day on raids against al Qaeda and the Iranian-backed Shia extremists. During the last seven days, multiple press releases announcing numerous raids were issued. Iraqi and Coalition forces were clearly ramping up operations based on intelligence gains.
While the scope of the operation has yet to be disclosed, Operation Phantom Strike will likely focus on securing several key areas. One critical area is north and east of Baqubah n Diyala province, where al Qaeda in Iraq has conducted vicious attacks against small villages in an effort to stir up sectarian violence. Security forces will also strike in the Hamrin mountains, a region that stretches from Diyala to Kirkuk where al Qaeda is believed to be basing operations. Iraqi and Coalition forces have been striking hard at al Qaeda cells in Kirkuk and Mosul in the North. Iraqi and Coalition forces will also look to consolidate gains in northern Babil.
Operations against the Shia extremists will be more difficult. Iraqi and Coalition forces have conducted an aggressive campaign to weed out individual Special Groups and Mahdi Army cells in Baghdad (particularly Sadr City), Diwaniyah, Amara, Najaf, and elsewhere in the South. However, it is unclear how aggressive the Iraqi government will be against the Mahdi Army. If the gloves are off, large battles may take place in Diwaniyah, Amara, Najaf, Kufa, Sadr City, Basra, and throughout the South.
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