Iraq Report: Phantom Thunder Update
With Operation Phantom Thunder, the corps-level operation in the Baghdad Belts, now underway, Coalition and Iraqi forces continue to work to secure Baghdad as they take on the Mahdi Army, Iranian backed cells, and al Qaeda's networks nationwide. In Anbar province, combat operations are underway in Thar Thar and Karma and a false suicide attack in Fallujah was reported in the Washington Post. Muqtada al Sadr fled to Iran and operations continue to target his Mahdi Army and the Iranian-backed Special Groups.
Multinational Forces West and the Iraqi Security Forces are pressing forward on three fronts--Fallujah, Thar Thar, and Karma in eastern Anbar--while senior tribal leaders from Anbar province and beyond met in Ramadi.
In Fallujah, the Marines, Iraqi Army, and police are pushing forward with Operation Alljah. The operation is designed to clear all 11 of Fallujah's precincts and establish local police stations and neighborhood watches in each area.
"This is the operation that will set the conditions for Iraqi Police to control all of Fallujah and allow for the withdraw of Iraqi Army and Coalition Forces," Major Jeffrey Pool, the Public Affairs Director for Multinational Forces West said in an email to The Fourth Rail.
While the Washington Post is reporting a massive suicide attack outside of Fallujah, claiming 23 killed and 27 wounded in an attack on an Iraqi Army recruitment center, Multinational Forces West told The Fourth Rail that this report is false. The Post report is based on a Voice of Iraq article, which claimed 17 killed and 27 wounded.
1st Lt. Shawn Mercer, the deputy Public Affairs Officer for Multinational Forces West, he denied such an attack took place in an email. "We don't have any reports of an attack on a recruiting center (or any static location) and certainly not with that kind of death toll in our AO," said 1st Lt. Mercer. He noted there was an IED attack near Abu Ghraib that killed one Iraqi soldier and wounded three on Saturday night, and he suspected the reports may have been confused. "I'm not sure how the reporting on this got so confused but the sources were not reliable," he stated. In March 2007, Voice of Iraq falsely reported an attack on U.S. forces outside Rutbah.
In the Thar Thar and Karma regions, the Marines of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit "discovered more than 17,000 kilograms of explosives in a series of weapons cache[s]..." The finds included a homemade explosives factory, which "contained more than 6,000 kilograms of homemade explosives, 8,000 kilograms of ammonium nitrate, a common [Home Made Explosive] component, and the equipment to mix, manufacture and transport large quantities of the explosives." Chlorine gas, which al Qaeda in Iraq used against Anbari civilians in the spring of 2007, was also found at one of the caches.
In Ramadi, about 250 Iraqi tribal leaders, sheiks and civilians gathered for "The Promise of the People Conference" on July 7. "The attendees included both Shiite and Sunni leaders from across various provinces including Baghdad, Salahuddin, and Karbala," Major Pool noted in an email. "The Alwani Tribe of Ramadi planned the conference to build cohesiveness and strengthen unity for coalition and government support, while denouncing insurgent activities. The invitation of Shiite leaders to the predominantly Sunni Anbar Province capital was an act of reconciliation and focus toward future cooperation." Both the Anbar Awakening and the Iraqi Islamic Party participated in the conference.
Sadr and the Mahdi Army
Muqtada al Sadr, the leader of the Mahdi Army, has fled Iraq and sought shelter in Iran for the second time this year, according to U.S. military sources. Sadr left Iraq after Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki issued an unusually strong demand for the Mahdi Army to disband, and as Iraqi and Coalition forces have battled Sadr's forces in Baghdad, Diwaniyah, and Samawa in the south.
In Samawa, Iraqi Army and police units deployed throughout the city "after negotiations with Sadr's office in the city reached a 'deadlock.'" Sadr sought a truce with the provincial government. Eight were killed and 66 wounded in the fighting over the past several days. In Diwaniyah, the 8th Iraqi Army Division paired up with the Hilla SWAT special police and killed nine members of the "rogue Jaysh al-Mahdi [Mahdi Army] militia and captured four others on July 7." In Baghdad, Iraqi Special Operations Forces captured seven members of "a rogue Jaysh al-Madhi" cell on July 7. This cell was part of "a network involved in death squad activities, kidnapping and assassination activities."
Iranian-backed Special Groups
The Special Groups continue to attack Coalition and Iraq forces in Baghdad. One U.S. soldier was killed and three wounded in an Explosively Formed Projectile (EFP) attack in eastern Baghdad on July 6. U.S. soldiers found an array of five EFPs in the New Baghdad District and destroyed them in place. An Iraqi citizen tipped off U.S. soldiers to the location of an EFP in the Rashid District, which led to the capture of three members of an EFP cell after tracking the "command wire" back to a home. Soldiers found "a trigger device, four Motorola radios, a video camera, an Iranian Type-85 sniper rifle, a pistol, a spool of wire, three EFP tubes and three EFP plates" inside the home. Three insurgents were killed and one captured after attacking a U.S. patrol in the same district.
In Baghdad, the clear, hold, and build operations, along with efforts to disrupt the IED networks in the city, continue. The number of "held and retained" neighborhoods was about 49 percent just over one week ago, and this number has likely jumped. A joint U.S. and Iraqi Army force cleared the two neighborhoods of Hateen and Yarmouk in the Mansour District. The 2nd Battalion, 5th Regiment, 2nd Iraqi National Police Division opened a police station in the Khadra neighborhood in western Baghdad. Additionally, 10 members of a car bomb network were captured during a Coalition raid on Sunday.
In Northern Babil province, Operations Marne Torch and Commando Eagle are underway. Late last week, Major General Rick Lynch, the commander of Multinational Division Center and the 3rd Infantry Division, briefed on Operation Marne Torch and stated that roughly 70 percent of the area of operations for Marne Torch in the region southeast of Baghdad centering on Arab Jabour are now under control, while 30 percent still required clearing. No numbers were provided for Commando Eagle, which encompasses the region around Mahmudiyah.
In the village of Qarghuli, near where three U.S. troops were kidnapped after an assault on their patrol in early May, residents pointed out 12 weapons caches to U.S. forces operating in the area. Two wanted insurgents were also identified by the villagers and captured. "Residents, fed up with the violence plaguing their neighborhood, have repeatedly revealed al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists in the area to patrolling Soldiers," Multinational Forces Iraq reported. In the in Chaka III area, Coalition forces captured four members of an IED cell and found IED materials. Since those arrests, a significant drop in attacks in that region has been reported.
The kinetic portion of Operation Arrowhead Ripper in Baqubah has largely finished, as Iraqi and Coalition forces are focusing on aid and reconstruction efforts in the city al Qaeda once declared as the capital of its Islamic State. "Since the beginning of Operation Arrowhead Ripper, at least 60 al-Qaida operatives have been killed, 215 have been detained, 55 weapons caches have been discovered, 124 improvised explosive devices have been destroyed and 24 booby-trapped structures have been destroyed," Multinational Forces Iraq reported. Iraqi and U.S. forces have pushed outwards into the Diyala River Valley north of the city. Al Qaeda has conducted horrific suicide attacks and assaults on small villages along the Iranian border.
As Operation Arrowhead Ripper is underway in Diyala, al Qaeda in Iraq has been shifting its focus to the northwestern region of Iraq. The deadly suicide attacks in the hinterlands of Diyala and Salahadin province highlight al Qaeda's move from Baghdad and Baqubah to the regions northwest of the country. Iraq and Coalition forces are conducting raids to thin al Qaeda's capabilities in this region and have moved units from the Kurdish Regional Guards to bolster the stretched security forces in the region.
In Mosul, Iraqi Army soldiers and Mosul police officers found an IED factory and weapons cache with "approximately 10,000 pounds of ammonia nitrate and other bomb making materials." The Iraqi forces also found a "military grade bunker system nearby, which had been used as an insurgent safe house." Near Kirkuk, Iraqi troops captured a facilitator for the Islamic Army in Iraq, along with four associates. One insurgent was killed and eight captured during raids in northwestern Iraq on July 7. "The insurgents are allegedly responsible for providing a safe haven and weapons for other insurgents in the Ba'aj and Bulayji areas of Iraq."
Closer to Baghdad, U.S. troops captured seven insurgents in Taji in Salahadin during an extended operation. "The suspects are believed to be directly responsible for an improvised explosive device attack on June 23, a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device attack on a Coalition Outpost in Tarmiya, Iraq Feb. 18 and a car bomb attack on a bridge May 11."
As Iraqi and Coalition forces press al Qaeda and its insurgent allies in Baghdad, the Belts and the north, Task Force 88, the hunter-killer teams assigned to target al Qaeda's leaders and operatives nationwide, struck on July 7. Four al Qaeda operatives were killed and nine captured during raids in Khan Bani Sa'ad, Hit, and Mosul.