Operations in Ramadi & Baghdad Whittle Strongholds
U.S. and Iraqi forces continue their block-by-block liberation of Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s western Anbar Province, and the center of gravity for the Sunni insurgency. It is the one Iraqi city of respectable size which has been largely held by insurgents since 2003, although that may be slowly coming to an end. We wrote about the fighting in a recent report, and an article in the Washington Post provides a further update:
…U.S. and Iraqi forces are advancing one step at a time into key locations in Ramadi’s walled neighborhoods, setting up small outposts of about 100 troops each. The goal is to slowly choke off the insurgents’ ability to move freely, making them easier to capture or kill. Meanwhile, Iraqi soldiers, backed by U.S. troops, are to take the lead in patrolling around the outposts, creating small zones of safety for residents that will gradually spread.
Ramadi has lost as much as a quarter of its population of 400,000 since the insurgency began. The city has no effective government and few police officers. Insurgents assassinate officials with impunity, and recently issued a death threat against anyone entering the heavily shelled Government Center downtown. Last month, after the provincial highways director defied the threat, he was captured and beheaded, his body dumped in the street, according to a U.S. military officer.
Joblessness in Ramadi is at least 40 percent and there is no local industry, with utilities and other vital infrastructure regularly blown up by insurgents, U.S. officers say. Residents survive on irregular food rations and wait hours for fuel that often doesn’t arrive. The chaos and stagnation create steady recruits for the insurgency — estimated to have 1,500 hard-core members and hundreds more part-time fighters — even as U.S. and Iraqi forces have killed at least 200 insurgents since June alone…
Still, the new U.S. and Iraqi presence in Mulaab, the most troubled part of eastern Ramadi, is beginning to have an effect. A mosque next door to the outpost that served as an insurgent base has been reopened for daily worship. A water tower nearby is under constant watch and so no longer offers a platform for an enemy sniper who had used it to kill U.S. soldiers.
The outpost also blocks a main route that insurgents had used to bring explosives into the city. They would stash them at a train station in the south and pay teenage boys to ferry them north at night. Until recently, U.S. troops shot the youths — fighting what MacFarland suggests was a losing war of attrition. “We were killing these guys — kids. We could do that forever,” he said. “Were we creating more insurgents that way?”
With new bases in place, those weapons caches have been eliminated.Key to retaking the neighborhoods are Iraqi army troops, who take the lead in patrols and raids. One moonlit night last month, a platoon of Iraqi soldiers moved quietly through Mulaab on a mission to capture the leader of an insurgent sniper team…
The full article has other important details, but the basic picture is one of slow and painful but steady progress. By the time the city is retaken in entirety, much of it will have been destroyed, and will need to be rebuilt. But nowhere has the insurgency been stronger.
Furthermore, on August 2 Iraqi and American troops searched the Al-Anbar University campus in a sweep operation in response to insurgent activity. The operation was timed to coincide with a period when school was not in session (Camp Fallujah Public Affairs Office).
Operations continued elsewhere, especially in Baghdad as part of Operation Coming Together, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s plan for retaking areas of the capital which had fallen into chaos. In two separate raids on July 29, coalition forces captured prominent al-Qaeda members, one a top leader in the Dhuluiyah area, and the other a logistical coordinator and financier in the Mosul area in the north. Coalition forces captured five terrorists in separate raids on July 31, one who reportedly had links to several high level al-Qaeda in Iraq leaders. On August 2, Iraqi forces captured eight suspected terrorists in the Doura neighborhood, which is considered to be the worst in Baghdad by Iraqi security officials. Iraqi soldiers captured a high-value “most wanted” terrorist in Adhamiyah in east Baghdad, and in a separate operation later captured four terrorists in a house with a large weapons cache in the same neighborhood.
There were also some significant terrorist attacks which succeeded last week, and one significant one which was foiled. The worst day was Tuesday, August 1, in which 61 were killed in multiple attacks. The most gruesome attack, however, took place the next day in which two bombs hidden in gym bags targeted children, killing 12. Three civilians were killed in a mortar attack Ubaydi near the border with Syria (Camp Ripper Press Office). Local police and Iraqi soldiers foiled a complex terrorist attack in Mosul on Friday; the attack involved a suicide bomber using a car bomb and some small arms fire. Mosul is one of the cities over which Iraqi security forces have recently taken security responsibility.
In other matters, the Iraqi newspaper Al-Sabaah reports on what was called the largest reconciliation meeting between the Shi’a-led government and Sunni insurgents so far, and tribal and other civil society leaders representing the neighborhoods of Mustanasiriya, Salikh, Cairo, Sumer, Medicine City, Popular City, Bawab al-Sham, Husseiniya and al-Rashidiya signed a document committing to national reconciliation. The same article notes that the Defense Ministry succeeded in bringing in representatives of the Fadl neighborhood, something which encouraged them to attempt mediation between the Sunni ‘Athmiya and the Shi’a Sadr City, a process which is ongoing.