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Iraq Report: Diyala operations

Diyala province, once the stronghold of al Qaeda in Iraq, remains a major focus of Operation Phantom Thunder, the overarching security operation to eject al Qaeda from the Baghdad Belts. As operations in Baqubah, once the capital of al Qaeda in Iraq's puppet state, have "shifted from combat operations to reconstruction and humanitarian missions," offensives in the outlying areas of the provincial capitol have increased.

Iraqi and Coalition forces have recently shifted combat operations to the cities and towns north and east of the city. On August 8, a joint US and Iraqi force cleared al Qaeda from the town of Abu Tina, which is about 10 miles northeast of Baqubah. Two al Qaeda fighters were killed and four captured during the operation.

On August 4, an offensive in the Had-Muaskar area north of Baqubah resulted in five al Qaeda fighters killed and 10 captured. At the end of July, a two-day operation in Miqdadiyah resulted in seven insurgents killed and one captured, while operations to secure the Turki village resulted in 11 insurgents killed and 13 more captured. These operations appear to be shaping operations designed to keep al Qaeda off balance and prepare the cities and towns for the hold phase.

Meanwhile, al Qaeda is attempting to push back in Diyala. Iraqi police captured a suicide bomber before he could detonate in an outdoor market in Baqubah, while insurgents fired Katyusha rockets and mortars at an Iraqi Army checkpoint in the town of Jwamir near the Iranian border. Al Qaeda in Iraq has conducted a series of violent attacks against civilian and military targets along the Iranian border since the US began beefing up forces in the province.

Further north in Tamim province, an Iraqi Army and police force backed by US troops launched an operation about 40 miles southwest of provincial capital of Kirkuk. Twenty insurgents were captured in the operation. A suicide bomber killed five civilians and wounded 29 in an attack on a market in Kirkuk. Insurgents reportedly destroyed a bridge linking Salahadin and Kirkuk on August 9. While this bridge bombing has not been claimed, al Qaeda destroyed a series of bridges stretching from south of Baghdad to north of Tikrit, and along the Euphrates River in Anbar province.

US and Iraqi forces press the operations against al Qaeda in Iraq's command and facilitation network. Coalition forces killed four al Qaeda operative and captured 43 during raids in Tarmiyah, Balad, Mosul, Baghdad, Kirkuk, and Muqdadiyah on August 9 and 10. The al Qaeda operatives captured include the military leader in southern Tarmiyah, a car bomb maker in Mosul, and an emir in Kirkuk. The leader of a foreign al Qaeda cell was also killed during the raids. Iraqi security forces captured five al Qaeda operatives during raids near Sinjar on August 6 and 7.

US and Iraqi forces maintain the high attack tempo against the Iranian-backed elements of the "rogue" Mahdi Army. On August 8, the same day a raid in Sadr city resulted in the death of 30 members of the Iranian "Special Groups" and the capture of another 12, an Iraqi Army operation in the Baghdad neighborhood of Mahmudiyah resulted in the capture of five Mahdi operates, including a cell commander, a weapons trafficker, an IED cell leader, and a death squad commander.

Muqtada al Sadr, the leader of the Mahdi Army and the Sadrist movement, is still believed to be in Iran, Col. John Castles, commander of US military forces in Sadr City, told reporters during a briefing in Baghdad. Sadr is believed to have left for Iran in the beginning of July, after returning from a prior four-month stint of self-imposed exile in Iran from January to May.

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