Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Situation in Iraq today

The Baghdad Order Of Battle as of May 20, 2007. By DJ Elliott, CJ Radin and Bill Roggio It's been three months since the commencement of the Baghdad Security Plan on February 14, and the operation has been marked by both considerable progress and painful setbacks. While the violence in Baghdad has decreased to levels not seen since prior to the bombing of the Samarra mosque, al Qaeda and its allies have carried the fight into the surrounding provinces in an attempt to discredit the plan and destabilize the Iraqi government. In the capital, al Qaeda has not staged a successful mass casualty suicide attack since May 11. Mortar and IED attacks, small arms engagements, small car bombs, and other forms of violence prevail; however, the sectarian killings that once threatened to plunge the country into a full-fledged civil war continue to remain at a low level. Al Qaeda has conducted the majority of its large-scale attacks in the provinces--Niwena, Kirkuk, and Diyala. The Baghdad Operational Command and Multinational Forces Baghdad continue to position their forces throughout the city. The first Iraqi Army units to enter the city on a 90-day deployment rotation are now beginning to rotate out, with new units coming in to replace them. Elements of the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Iraqi Army Division and the 2nd Brigade of the 2nd Iraqi Army Division have been spotted in the Bayaa and Doura districts. The 3rd Brigade of the 4th Iraqi Army Division has moved back to the Kirkuk region, while it appears the 4th Brigade of the 1st Iraqi Army Division has been rotated back to eastern Anbar province. The most significant event to occur in Iraq over the weekend was the formation of the Salahadin Awakening, which opposes al Qaeda's attempt to Talibanize Iraq and erode the traditional power of tribal leaders. Stars & Stripes reported that the Baghdad tribes met to form the front; but, in fact, the tribes represented at the meeting were mostly from Salahadin province. The meeting occurred in Taji, and tribes were present from the northern portion of Baghdad province and Salahadin. Recently, the tribes of Diyala formed the Diyala Awakening in an attempt to replicate the success of the Anbar Salvation Council, which is largely responsible for the dramatic turnaround in the security situation in that province. The potential effect of the Salahadin Awakening became apparent early last week when Iraqi civilians in Duluiyah came to the aid of Iraqi police under attack at a checkpoint in that city. "In response to the attack, 20 armed men from a nearby neighborhood assembled and quickly came to the aid of the policemen manning checkpoint," Multinational Forces Iraq stated. "This grass roots effort contributed a significant impact in thwarting the attack . . . local citizens also responded according to a plan they developed for neighborhood defense." Nine days after the ambush on a U.S. patrol in the 'Triangle of Death' region south of Baghdad, U.S and Iraqi security forces continue to search for the three missing soldiers--five others were killed in the al Qaeda attack. General David Petraeus stated on Friday that intelligence indicates at least two of the soldiers are still alive. Multinational Forces Iraq has information on the cell that conducted the attack and has captured several of its members. Raids have been carried out as far away as Amiriyah in neighboring Anbar province, where nine suspects were captured. The U.S. military has offered a $200,000 reward for information leading to the discovery of the soldiers, and significant resources, including a Stryker battalion, two aviation battalions, and an Iraq Special Operations Forces battalion, have been diverted from Baghdad and Taji to assist with the search operations. All told, over 4,000 U.S. and 2,000 Iraqi troops have been assigned to the search operation. Task Force 145, the hunter-killer special operations teams assigned to target the al Qaeda network, has very likely been added to the mix. Prior to its deployment to the Sunni Triangle, the battalion of 1st Iraq Special Operations Forces was tasked with targeting Mahdi Army cells in Sadr City in Baghdad. The 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Stryker Combat Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, was previously based in the Bayaa district in southern Baghdad. The two aviation battalions, the 3rd Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment [Blackhawk transport helicopters] and the 4th Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment [Apache attack helicopters] from the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division were based out of Taji. The shift of the 1-23 Stryker Battalion and 1st Iraqi SOF will negatively impact operations in Baghdad, while the movement of the two aviation regiments from Taji will negatively impact operations in Salahadin and Diyala. The Triangle of Death remains one of the most violent spots in the Baghdad belts, as al Qaeda and allied insurgent groups have established bases of operation there from which to attack targets in both Baghdad and Karbala provinces. U.S. and Iraq forces have been preparing to conduct operations in the region in support of the Baghdad Security Plan. The capture of the three American soldiers has forced Multinational Forces Iraq to change the time line and push forward operations south of Baghdad. As a result, the Triangle of Death is getting its surge early and hard, and the hunt for the missing soldiers is turning up a wealth of intelligence on al Qaeda's network in the region. As Iraqi and Coalition forces scour the area, the province of Diyala, where al Qaeda has established its command headquarters, has been the scene of increased activity over the past several weeks. Al Qaeda conducted a sophisticated attack in a Kurdish village at the northern edge of the province along the Iranian border, targeted a military outpost and a bank in Baqubah, and employed a chlorine gas suicide attack in the town of Abu Sayadah. U.S. forces detained two al Qaeda leaders in a raid in the city, while the general commanding the 5th Iraqi Army Division was relieved of his command. Recent moves by al Qaeda, as well as by U.S. and Iraqi forces, likely indicate that the Diyala Campaign is coming, and soon. The Iraqi military, which plans to add an unspecified number of troops to the province along with at least one additional U.S. combat brigade, is installing more reliable commanders prior to opening up the new offensive. Competent leadership in the Iraqi Army is required to coordinate efforts with the newly created the Diyala Awakening, the grouping of anti-al Qaeda tribal, religious, and political figures, as the tribal and ethnic dynamics are far more complex in Diyala as they are in Anbar province. Al Qaeda wants to maintain the pressure on U.S. and Iraqi security forces and keep the political and media pressure on the American government. Al Qaeda is also attempting to maintain its base of operations in Diyala, which serves as a launch point for attacks into Baghdad. The operation on the Iranian border may also be a sign the terror group is attempting to secure a fall back position. The U.S. and Iraq military are working to cordon the province to prevent al Qaeda from escaping and to create a kill box or remaining enemy forces. Al Qaeda may be attempting to secure their exit into Iran.The northern region has seen a recent spike in activity, as a significant number of Iraqi Army units have deployed to Baghdad in support of the surge. On May 16, over 200 al Qaeda attacked a police station in Mosul. Fifteen terrorists and four police were killed in the battle. Also, al Qaeda attacked and destroyed two bridges in Mosul in a coordinated suicide car bomb attack. These are the sixth and seventh bridges hit over the past two months. In Kirkuk, al Qaeda conducted a series of attacks that targeted municipal leaders, police, a school, and a health center. Despite the increase in al Qaeda attacks, Iraqi Army and police units have held their ground.After a long lull in al Qaeda's chemical attacks, the terror group launched two successful chlorine gas suicide attacks--the tenth and eleventh such attacks in Iraq this year. The previously mentioned attack in Abu Sayadah in Diyala province resulted in 45 killed and 60 wounded or poisoned. Last weekend, al Qaeda conducted another such attack against a police checkpoint in the town of Zangoura, north of Ramadi. Eleven police and civilians were treated for chlorine poisoning. On the Iranian front, Multinational Forces Iraq killed a major player in the January 20 kidnapping and murder of five American soldiers during a complex attack on the Provincial Joint Coordination Center in Karbala. On May 19, Coalition forces killed Azhar al-Dulaimi during a raid north of Baghdad. Azhar al-Dulaimi is described as the "mastermind" and "tactical commander" of the Karbala attack and is known to have been a key player in numerous other high-profile terror attacks in Iraq. He was a major figure in the Iranian-supported Qazali network. "Intelligence reports indicate Dulaimi received military training from Iranian intelligence agents and from Lebanese Hezbollah, to include training on how to conduct terrorist-style kidnapping," according to the Department of Defense. U.S. forces continue to dismantle Iranian-backed networks, which smuggle weapons into the country from Iran, including the dangerous armor piercing explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, and facilitate the movement of fighters between Iran and Iraq. Coalition forces dismantled yet another EFP cell last week. This was the sixth such raid on that particular network in less than two weeks, with 13 members of the EFP cell killed and 29 captured. The United States Army still has one more combat brigade to throw into the fight, and Baghdad has not yet been fully cleared. The last brigade is scheduled to begin its deployment into Iraq in early June. As the Iraqi summer heats up, the intensity of the fighting in Diyala, eastern Anbar, and the Triangle of Death, as well as inside Baghdad, will only increase.

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