Targeting Mosul’s kidnappers

Mosul-meeting.jpg

From left to right: Major Eric Vickery, Interpreter “Dosky,” Colonel Hage Alzebari, Lieutenant Colonel Eric Price, Interpreter “Martin,” Brigadier General Noor Aldeen in the brigade Tactical Operations Center.

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.

Map of Mosul. Al Noor is marked as Hayy Al Nur on this map. Click map to view.

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.

Iraqi soldiers patrol in Al Noor in Mosul. Click to view.

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.

A US helicopter flies over Al Noor during the operation. Click to view.

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.

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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11 Comments

  • Max says:

    The reason the IA didn’t “find” the kidnappers is probably because they are infiltrated by the insurgents/al-queda and made sure that they weren’t found. I wish I could believe more in the effectiveness of the Iraqi government and its forces so we can get out of there sooner rather than later, but I’m not optimistic. Things like this only confirm suspicions that the IA has divided loyalties.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    You wish, Max. This confirms absolutely nothing. This IA brigade is nearly 100% Kurdish. They find AQ up here regularly. You should ask questions before making such an ill-informed statement.

  • anand says:

    Ditto Max, the IA 4-2 is one of the best they have got. You comments would be more apt for another ISF unit, not the IA 4-2.
    Thanks Bill. Excellent reporting.
    I am surprised that the IA 4-2 remains nearly 100% Kurdish. Please give us the breakdown for the rest of 2nd IAD, if you come across it.
    {PS. The 2nd IAD started out as local National Gaurds in the the two western KRG provinces and part of Ninevah that later joined the IA.}
    I look forward to continued reporting on the IA 4-2, 2nd IAD more generally, and the INP in your area.
    I wonder how the locals view the IA 4-2. Do they see it as a Kurdish occupying army? Do they regard it as being of benign or malevolent intent? I hope none of them see the IA 4-2 as a prelude to long term annexation by the KRG.

  • Michael says:

    What about Ansar al-Islam? They are from the Kurdish region. Might that be an infiltration point? Natural to ask such questions.
    I respect the Kurdish supplement to IA, but it does not mean they’re impenatrable in the area. The flow of your article built up anticipation, then ended somewhat anti-climatic. In the end, it makes you realize just how difficult this is. Truth is, they may have walked over the top of the abductees in some hidden hole in the ground and never known it.
    If not infiltrated, or not good warning systems by the enemy, then the enemy has a very good underground network that exceeds the obvious areas of criminal activity in Al Noor. The article unintentional or not, ends up with the IA exercise somewhat of a guessing game, not intelligence driven. They hit the obvious area. Now what?
    But most interesting to me was the old Syrian angle of the old RGs.
    Maybe I didn’t understand all the important facets, but that is how I read it. 1) bad intel, or 2) infiltration, 3) big pony show, no intel, 4) obvious spot, but good early warning system and superior enemy movement outside obvious areas.
    But this is guerilla warfare, with some obvious support from locals based upon graffiti.
    So, I recognize, trying to capture a few people, maybe 5-10 at most involved must be the hardest part of this. No different than in America with well organized criminals and kidnappers.
    In Mexico, along the border, they’re are approximately 65 Americans still missing after being kidnapped for over a year or more. I’m guessing, this kind of FARC like kidnapping and ransom routine can go on for years or decades unless the different sides can come together with a strong Rule of Law government as well.
    Still, this shows Iraqis are moving forward in their own exercises and planning.
    I’m curious Bill, are they distributing reward offers leading to tips for any of these people locally as well while amongst the markets and people? I’m sure they are, but didn’t see it covered.

  • Neo says:

    I appreciate the good map of Mosul and it’s neighborhoods. I was under the impression that the Kurds were predominant on the east side of the river and Sunni Arabs on the West. I’ll have to modify that view. I hope someone can come up with a ethnic map of Mosul for the readers too. If such a thing exists.

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 03/11/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front lines.

  • Max says:

    Not at all, Bill. I do not wish evil upon the IA or our military’s work in Iraq. I want both to succeed. It is true that I did not know anything about the particular Iraqi Army brigade in question, and I’m glad the Kurds sent down one of their own to do this job, since it is really their city and their responsibility. I was only questioning how it could be that they cordoned off the section of Mosul that the “street” said the kidnappers were in, and searched every part of the city, and yet were not found. If it had been US troops doing the job, I’ll bet they would have found them. Maybe I’m wrong. I’m just asking questions.

  • anand says:

    Mosul is 50-60% sunni arab, 1/3 Kurd (including Yezidi) and the rest Turkman (Shia and Sunni), Assyrian Christian, Shia Arab, etc.
    No part of Mosul will be annexed to the KRG. Mosul belongs to Iraq.
    For more information on 2nd IAD and its amazingly charismatic Sunni Arab Commanding Brig Gen Mouttah:
    http://www.metimes.com/International/2008/03/11/iraqs_2nd_div_leads_mosul_campaign/3579/
    Mouttah use to command 2nd IAD with close to full autonomy. But now Baghdad and the IGFC are reining him in. They still haven’t promoted him to Maj Gen, although he has commanded 2nd IAD for over a year. And now he needs to check with NiOC commanding LTG Riyadh (who commands all Ninevah ISF) before conducting major operations.
    I hope the IA big wigs leave Mouttah alone, and let him do what he is so good at: smashing Takfiri and Saddamists.
    “The 2nd Division numbers about 18,500 men.”

  • anand says:

    Some more data on 2nd IAD: http://www.metimes.com/International/2008/02/21/us_advisers_take_low-key_approach_in_iraq/3538/
    Colonel Twitty called 2nd and 3rd IAD among the best military units (in any country) he has ever worked with.
    Max, 2nd IAD is really that good. That is why Assad (and Jordan, and Saudi Arabia are so scared of what the IA is becoming. {Me Thinks that is a good thing. ;-)}

  • Michael says:

    Anand,
    thanks for that info…

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