MOSUL, IRAQ: The Battle for Mosul over the past several years has worked as a microcosm for the larger Iraqi conflict, with Coalition and Iraqi forces successfully imposing their will only after al Qaeda and other insurgent groups held large parts of the city and region for long periods. Control over the city of 1.9 million people and the surrounding Ninewa province has been lost to Coalition and government forces twice since 2003. A successful security operation in May brought attacks to their lowest recorded levels since the conflict began.
Operation “Lion’s Roar” in May involved 5,000 Coalition forces and 55,000 Iraqi Police and Army members and cut insurgent attacks in the city to less than one a day over the next two months. The tactics used to defeat the insurgents were similar to successes in other parts of the country: joint operation with improving Iraqi forces, a focus on intelligence gathering, and economic reconstruction to create jobs to lower a national unemployment rate of 25-40 percent, which is higher in rural areas.
“The fight in the North is still on-going. It’s a balanced fight, pursuing insurgent on the one hand and doing reconstruction and supporting Iraqi government activities,” said Major General Mark Hertling, commander of Multinational Division North and the US 1st Armored Division in an interview on July 22. “When you talk about the growth of security, you have to mention that the government is getting stronger.”
Mosul’s central position, bisected by the Tigris River and the historic crossroads between Syria, Turkey and the rest of Iraq, made it a critical hub for the Sunni insurgency. Al Qaeda’s facilitators used the city’s western Sunni-dominated neighborhoods as a center for funding, insurgent traffic and safe houses after the US-led Coalition toppled Saddam Hussein’s government in April 2003.
Mosul was overthrown by US Special Forces and Kurdish Peshmerga militia units on April 11, 2003, and operations were taken over by then Major General David Petraeus in late May with the 101st Airborne Division. Through the summer and fall Petraeus implemented many of the counter-insurgency techniques he would later use across Iraq, setting up a local government, rehiring police personnel, rebuilding roads and organizing reconstruction projects.
By January 2004, the 101st left and was replaced by a unit half its size, allowing ethnic tensions between Sunni and Kurdish Iraqis to grow and security to be undermined. In November, several hundred insurgents attacked police stations around the city, prompting almost all of the city’s 5,000 police officers to abandon their posts.
Three battalions of the US 25th Infantry, along with several thousand Kurdish militia later retook parts of the city, but a two-year stalemate ensued with the Kurdish force, re-flagged the 2nd Iraqi Army Division, dominating the east bank of the Tigris River, while Sunni insurgents controlled the western side of the city, maintaining a travel corridor for foreign fighters traveling from Syria to safe havens throughout the country.
“The security problem was a political problem,” said Ahmed Mohammed Khalif al Jibouri, the police chief of Ninewa province from December 2004 to October 2005. Tensions between Kurdish political parties and the Sunni population in Mosul caused civil order to collapse, he said. “They destroyed the police stations and left Mosul without a government for two months.”
Khalif al Jibouri reconstituted the province’s police and, although terrorist activities decreased through the year, he was fired in October after losing support within the Kurdish-dominated provincial assembly. Insecurity again returned to Mosul, while the February 2006 mosque bombing in Samarra, north of Baghdad, pushed the country to the brink of a civil war, threatening a wholesale withdraw of US forces from the region.
In 2007, Petraeus returned to Iraq with his “surge” doctrine that increased Coalition combat forces and built tens of dozens of company-sized combat outposts, creating a permanent security presence in neighborhoods and a tactical template to be used by Iraqi forces if the Coalition began to downsize.
In additional, the formation of “Sons of Iraq,” an armed neighborhood-watch program that now includes 2,700 members in rural areas to the south of Mosul, denied insurgency safe havens to terrorists that had used them in past years.
“You can attribute a lot of our success from Sons of Iraq,” said Major Oscar Diano, intelligence officer for the 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment’s 1st Squadron located at Q-West, about 60 kilometers south of Mosul, where IED attacks have fallen by 90 percent since January. “They took responsibility for security in their area.”
The success of “Lion’s Roar,” when troops shutdown Mosul for 72 hours, had its start in January, with an increase in manpower through the arrival of the US 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and the creation of the Ninewa Operations Command, allowing the coordination of Iraqi Army, Iraqi Police, Border Patrol and Iraqi Special Operations troops with Coalition forces.
The national government of Nouri al Maliki also appointed Lieutenant General Riyadh Jalal Tawfiq, a Sunni with roots in Mosul, to lead the Ninewa Operations Command, boosting the potential for cooperation between the predominately Kurdish-led Iraqi Army Divisions and the Sunni-dominated local police forces, the US Army said.
In the first two months of 2008, Iraqi and Coalition forces captured or killed 142 al Qaeda in Iraq insurgents. Hertling said US strategy in Mosul would be similar to the strategy in Baghdad, with the expansion of command outposts in neighborhoods in order to sustain 24-hour-a-day security. By March, the Coalition had built 20 command outposts in Mosul and, on May 10, the lockdown began.
US M-1 Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles circled the city, freezing insurgent reinforcements from reaching Mosul while Iraqi Army and police set up an inner circle of security checkpoints, trapping the enemy within neighborhoods for days.
The operation captured more than 1,000 insurgents, 12 tons of home explosives, 500 mortars and artillery rounds that could be used in Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), 84 rocket propelled grenades, and 221 IEDs.
One of the key leaders captured at the time, Abu Nas, said forces discovered more than 70 percent of the arms caches he personally knew of, suggesting Iraqi intelligence has deeply penetrated the insurgency.
“The insurgency is no big deal now, it’s our duty, so we won’t stop fighting it,” said Brigadier General Noor Aldeen, commander of the 2nd Iraqi Division’s 8th Brigade. “But the bottom line is we are free. It is only outsiders to Mosul that are the problem. ”
Attacks are expected to increase with the run-up to regional elections, which were originally scheduled for October. Sunnis, who make up more than 60 percent of the region’s population, boycotted the last regional election in 2005, leaving them with a meager two seats out of 41 in the regional assembly.
Registration rates in the Ninewa province were the highest in the country during the first week of the 30-day registration, which ends Aug. 15, leaving open the possibility that a more politically engaged Sunni population turning completely against terrorism, said Lieutenant Colonel Robert Molinari, head of operations for the 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment in Mosul.
“Our solution for Iraq will become obvious with the regional elections,” Molinari said. “If you can get a representative government that is interested in getting essential services, then the terrorist will not have a leg to stand on.”
The July 23 veto of voting legislation by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani could delay regional elections for several months. Talabani, who is Kurdish, rejected the law after it passed with less than 50 percent of parliament members present. The dispute is over the makeup of a provincial council in Kirkuk, the northern city which sits on some of Iraq’s largest oil reserves and is contested by both Arabs and Kurds.
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