MOSUL, IRAQ: As al Qaeda and allied extremist groups attempt to regroup in the northern city of Mosul, kidnappings inside the city have spiked in the past week. Six Iraqis have been kidnapped in the last six days. The latest victim was a Muslim sheikh.
The most high-profile kidnapping over the past two weeks targeted the leader of the Christian community in Mosul. Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, the Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul, was kidnapped during what Iraqi officers in Mosul described as a professional operation. Three cars pulled up as Rahho left mass, killed his three-man security detail, and put him into the trunk of a car.
His captors were led by a former Syrian colonel and a former lieutenant colonel in the old Iraqi Republican Guard, said Colonel Hage Alzebari, the 2nd Iraqi Army Division’s intelligence officer during a briefing given to the staff of the 4th Brigade, 2nd Iraqi Army Division at Forward Operating Base Lion.
The kidnappings increase as funding for the insurgency begins to dry up, Major Eric Vickery, the operations officer for the 4/2 Military Transition Team said. Kidnappings provide al Qaeda and the insurgency a simple solution to fundraising. High-profile community leaders, businessmen, or members of wealthy families are targeted by terrorists because it is believed their families will pay the large ransoms. The families often do.
Recent intelligence indicated Archbishop Rahho and other victims may be held in the Al Noor neighborhood, Hage said. This neighborhood also borders a stretch of road that has seen a recent spike in roadside bombings. The Al Noor neighborhood is considered one of the most dangerous in northeastern Mosul. Al Qaeda and the insurgency have conducted attacks in the Al Noor, Al Qadussya, Tamooz, Saddam, and Al Tahreer neighborhoods
The Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki is interested in resolving the kidnapping of the Chaldean Archbishop. The central government has been “calling hourly” for status updates, said Hage. Iraqi military has been conducting intelligence-driven raids throughout Mosul in an effort to find the archbishop and other victims.
Seven suspects have been captured so far. Based on interrogations, it is believed the archbishop is being moved around from safe house to safe house. The initial ransom was set at $3 million, but the archbishop of Baghdad was advised not to pay it. The kidnappers later reduced the ransom to $1 million, but also demanded the release of their captured members.
In an attempt to break up the kidnapping ring and roadside bombing cells in Al Noor, the Iraqi Army decided to surge a full brigade into the neighborhood to conduct a cordon and search operation. The operation was conceived, planned, and executed by Brigadier General Noor Aldeen, the commander of the 4th Brigade of the 2nd Iraqi Army Division. The general called for the brigade to cordon off the entire Al Noor neighborhood, then search cars, empty homes, and homes under construction to uncover links to the kidnapping ring and the roadside bombing cells.
The cordon and search in Al Noor was also an independent Iraqi operation. The US 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment operating in the region did not participate. The only US support came in the form of the battalion and brigade advisers and US air cover.
The operation kicked off late in the afternoon. General Noor and his personal security detachment, his 2nd Battalion, and the accompanying Military Transition Teams rolled out the gate of Forward Operating Base Lion and sped to the Al Noor neighborhood. Roadside bombings and suicide car bomb attacks have spiked over the past week, so contact was anticipated. But no attacks were encounter on the way to Al Noor.
Iraqis shop in Al Noor’s markets. The Iraqi soldier in the background has Beanie Babies stuffed in his vest to distribute to children. Click to view.
Iraqi police trucks and policemen lined the route to Al Noor. The two remaining battalions, the 1st and 3rd, had ringed the neighborhood and began conducting searches. The Iraqi troops found the streets busy. Men, women, and children walked the street. Markets were open. Men and boys played soccer, badminton, and volleyball in fields surrounded by garbage as the Iraqi troops searched target homes and looked in cars.
The presence of the insurgency was marked on the walls of Al Noor. One set of graffiti extolled the virtues of the Islamic State of Iraq, al Qaeda’s puppet organization, Martin, the Military Transition Team’s Kurdish interpreter said. Another set promoted the Reform and Jihad Front, the group represented by Ansar Al Islam, the Islamic State of Iraq, and other terrorist groups. But most of the graffiti asked fellow neighbors not to dump their trash in open lots or advertised homes for sale.
The 4th Brigade found no evidence of makeshift prisons, leads to the kidnapping victims, insurgent suspects, or bomb and weapons caches. Some bomb-making material — blasting caps, battery charger, and other items used in bombing attacks — were found in an empty field.
But the Iraqi Army did not encounter any enemy activity in Al Noor or while transiting back to the unit’s bases. Even after the operation, the word on the street is the Archbishop is being held in the Al Noor neighborhood, Hage said in a follow-up briefing on the security situation the next day.
As the Iraqi Army searched for the kidnapping cell, Coalition forces continue to target al Qaeda in Iraq’s senior leadership in Mosul. On March 10, an al Qaeda cell leader for several neighborhoods in northern Mosul was captured. On March 9, US forces captured an al Qaeda in Iraq associate operating in the southeast region of the city who was connected to senior al Qaeda leaders. And on March 7, a senior leader in the Mosul network operating on the east side of the city who distributed weapons to other al Qaeda operatives was captured.