Operation Lion’s Roar nets more than 1,000 suspects

With the Mahdi Army subdued in Basrah and a cease-fire under way with the Sadrist movement in Sadr City in Baghdad, the focus of the Iraqi government has shifted to the northern city of Mosul, where al Qaeda maintains its last urban stronghold. On May 10, the Iraqi security forces launched Operation Lion’s Roar in an effort to roll back al Qaeda and allied Sunni insurgent groups.

Al Qaeda in Iraq’s last major ratline into Syria spans westward from Mosul into Tal Afar and the crossing point at Sinjar. The terror group is waging a brutal campaign to prevent the Iraqi Army and US forces from securing the province and to keep their supply lines to Syria open.

The Iraqi security forces started the operation by declaring a curfew in the province and conducting operations to round up wanted terrorists. In the six days since the operation began, Iraqi forces detained 1,068 suspects, according to General Riyadh Jalal Tawfiq, the commander of the Ninewa Operational Command.

Of those captured, “just under 200” Tier 1 and Tier 2 al Qaeda and Islamic State of Iraq operatives have been detained, said Major General Mark Hertling, the commander of Multinational Division North said during a briefing on May 15.

“There have been some very big fishes caught,” Hertling said. Tier 1 operatives are operational leaders. Tier 2 operatives are foreign fighters or weapons facilitators, bomb makers, and cell leaders.

US and Iraqi forces have killed or captured several key al Qaeda leaders in Mosul over the past several months. Fourteen of the top 30 al Qaeda operatives who have been killed or captured in the past three months were al Qaeda leaders in Mosul, including three al Qaeda leaders from Saudi Arabia.

The release of captive terrorists and insurgents has been a problem in Mosul and elsewhere in Iraq. US military officers have complained that the Iraqi courts are ill-equipped to deal with captured suspects, as judges are bribed or intimidated to release detainees known to have conducted attacks. Or some judges are corrupt. “The bad judges here make it difficult to keep them in,” Lieutenant Colonel Eric Price, the leader of the 8th Brigade, 2nd Iraqi Army Division’s Military Transition Team told The Long War Journal. Only 57 detainees have been released in Mosul since the operation began.

To counter the problems with the courts, the Ninewa Operational Command has established a special court. “Detainees will go from brigade to division and then to the NOC [Ninewa Operational Command] instead of the Iraqi Police (the usual route),” Price said. “Maybe, that will make the difference here.”

The Iraqi government is also providing an opportunity for members of the insurgency to lay down their weapons. “We have decided to grant clemency to members of armed groups in return for handing over their medium and heavy weapons to the security agencies or tribal chiefs in their areas within a period of 10 days,” said Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki. The prime minister flew to Mosul on May 14 to personally direct operations in the northern city.

The Sahwa, or Awakening, forces in Ninewa are beginning to mobilize in the province. Fawaz al Jarba, the leader of the Mosul Sahwa Council, said more than 11,000 tribal fighters were prepared to assist the security forces during Lion’s Roar.

The Iraqi government declined the offer of the Awakening forces to operate inside Mosul but welcomed their participation in the rural areas where security forces are thin. The Iraqi and US military have resisted the formation of the Awakening inside Mosul because of the ethnic makeup of the city.

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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19 Comments

  • Bill Ginnett says:

    Great reporting as usual. Any estimates of how many of these bad guys we are fighting against in Mosul? Keep up the great work.

  • KaneKaizer says:

    According to this artice: //www.upi.com/International_Security/Emerging_Threats/Briefing/2008/05/16/mosul_fighting_expected_to_be_ferocious/6004/
    We may be fighting 5,000-7,000 militants in Mosul. That includes Islamic State of Iraq and Ansar al-Sunnah fighters, as well as other smaller groups. Unfortunately I’m sure many of those 1,000 detained are either simply providing services for those groups or were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. There are still many fighters to be dealt with. If they put up a serious fight we could have another Fallujah on our hands.

  • Noah Herskovitz says:

    It’s a little hard to believe that these 1000 suspects were all targeted individuals. If they were, the IA has engaged in an intelligence operation of incredible accuracy and speed.
    If 200 were really Tier 1 and Tier 2 suspects, the rest were probably “simply providing services for those groups or were just in the wrong place at the wrong time” as you said Kane.
    The fact that this is all being done without reports of heavy violence is surprising. Was al-Qaeda not prepared for this sort of “stealth” operation?

  • colawman says:

    Of those captured, “just under 200” Tier 1 and Tier 2 al Qaeda and Islamic State of Iraq operatives have been detained, said Major General Mark Hertling, the commander of Multinational Division North said during a briefing on May 15.
    I think Mr. Roggio would have considered the validity of MG Hertling’s. If there was doubt I am sure Mr. Roggio would have either not reported the statement, or opined on contrary evidence. That is why I read his journal.

  • KaneKaizer says:

    It is surprising, perhaps the hardcore fighters are deeper within the city and the ISF has only been chipping away at the boulder thus far. US forces are supposed to begin air strikes in the second week of the offensive, followed up in the third or fourth week with Iraqi-led raids against the senior AQI operatives, which is when we will most likely see some intense fighting.

  • Euro 2.0 says:

    First post here; superb work guys!

    Just to clarify your last sentance:

    “The Iraqi and US military have resisted the formation of the Awakening inside Mosul because of the ethnic makeup of the city.”

    If that’s right, why would the IA-US military prevent such an Awakening? surely a mixed ethnic group is ideal.

  • KaneKaizer says:

    And of course, Maliki has given the insurgents in Mosul 10 days (9 remaining) to turn themselves in before the main offensive begins.

  • Neo says:

    KaneKaiser,
    Sorry but that UPI article titled “Mosul fighting expected to be “ferocious”

  • Neo says:

    This type of operation is a continuation of “aggressive” clearing operations.
    sorry should have proofed that sentence.

  • AQI Losses says:

    Noah,
    “It’s a little hard to believe that these 1000 suspects were all targeted individuals. If they were, the IA has engaged in an intelligence operation of incredible accuracy and speed.
    If 200 were really Tier 1 and Tier 2 suspects, the rest were probably “simply providing services for those groups or were just in the wrong place at the wrong time” as you said Kane.”

  • C. Jordan says:

    Ratline out of Syria into Iraq. And where is the ratline feeding Syria? Who makes the weapons feeding AQI?

  • Cordell says:

    How large is a typical AQI cell? If it is about 10, capturing ~200 Tier 1 and 2 leaders would imply that Iraqi and Coalition forces have captured nearly a third of AQI’s remaining command and control structure in Mosul, (~6000 men @ 10 men/cell = 600 total cells, assuming one leader per cell). At what point does command and control for AQI break down sufficiently that its troops start running for the hills or accepting amnesty? One would think the weaker AQI becomes, the less they can intimidate the local population into silence and, consequently, the better the intelligence on AQI and capture rate — a virtuous cycle.

  • Noah Herskovitz says:

    Same post, just this time I remembered to include paragraph breaks so that it’s actually readable.

    colawman, I certainly didn’t mean to imply that I thought the number of captured was inflated. While the exact number is bound to change(either increasing or decreasing a little) with so many detainees in so short a time, both the source, MG Hertling, and Mr. Roggio are of course better informed on the operation than I am. I began reading LWJ only 2 weeks ago. Both the day-to-day and strategic analysis of the the situation throughout Iraq provided by LWJ are better than anything else I’ve come across so far.

    The intent of my comment was to point out that the arrest of approximately 200 AQI leaders and motivated foreign fighters, along with 800 other suspects, is an incredible blow to an enemy that seems hesitant to fight openly. As Neo and AQI Losses pointed out, the enemy in Mosul will have to make a decision to stand and fight, or flee. And with the apprehension of so many of their leaders in the past 3 months, that decision will hopefully be made too late and in too disorganized a fashion to be successful.

  • Hamidreza says:

    That is a load of “insight” KaneKaizer. Mosul is a mirror copy of Fallujah – both are on rivers, both have Iraqis in them, and neither has oil nor copper. And of course nothing has changed – 2004 is mirror copy of 2008. Great observation bro.
    I am sure we will be defeated in Mosul (like you, I am looking forward to that defeat), and we will learn the lesson that we did not in Fallujah – white phosphorus, Abu-Ghraib, Gitmo, and Blackwater not withstanding. The 60,000 al-Qaeda patriots wishing to bring freedom and cultural independence to Iraq will put up a good stand and most likely defeat the US and its stooges, cause they are so compassionate for the poor and they come from the oppressed poor.
    Yeah, and those 1,000 arrested were simply passerbys who were picked up so that the US general can make up some numbers for the lapdog press.
    I am looking forward to the revolt of the Mosulites against the imperial forces of hegemony. The intense fighting you predict in Mosul where 2 million people will rise up in support of al-Qaeda against the imperialists will certainly be a vindication of our “no blood for oil” narrative. NOT

  • Colawman says:

    Thanks Noah!
    Hamidreza: That had to have left a mark!

  • mjr007 says:

    This thread brought me to think how long I’ve been reading LWJ and the former TheRoggioReport.com (?)
    It’s been awhile but I am deeply greatful for the straight talk express reporting provided here by Bill, DJ and Bill Ardolino.
    I am also most greatly to the respectful comments by the highly-informed participants in this forum. I wont mention you by name because to do so would run the risk of offending by omission some of you. You know who you are and I am very thankful of your presence here.
    The honest facts with which I discuss frequently in other political forums are a god send.
    Be well all.

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  • Euro 2.0 says:

    Thanks for the analysis motown67, no wonder this is taking a lot of time.

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