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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.

Feedback

My son is an officer in an artillery unit in Ramadi. He called a few days ago and mentioned that their Paladins fire a lot every day. This has been going on ever since he arrived in Ramadi – perhaps a few months ago. So the limited news from the front in Ramadi is not an indicator of the level of combat.

the strategy/tactics being employed in Ramadi are those that the marines advocated before the first assault on Fallujah.

it will be interesting to see which approach yeilds the best results.

Will Ramadi take longer?

will the casualty levels be higher or lower?

Which city will "recover" more quickly?

Which city will suffer the most damage?

it's an interesting series of questions that historians will debate.

Thank you, gentlemen, for your comments. I certainly agree with VRW's comment that the sporadic news isn't much of an indicator of what is happening; it is because of that information gap that I focused this article on Ramadi. Everything I've read about the situation there suggests that it is really gritty, just plain hell. Baghdad tends to get the press, but Ramadi hasn't gone away.

In terms of the questions that Marine Dad has posed, my inclination now would be to say the following:

1) I don't think there was much alternative to the strategy used in Fallujah in late 2004 because then there was no effective Iraqi fighting force on our side, so more aggressive means were used, and the city was wrecked and depopulated as civilians were pushed out beforehand.

2) I think Ramadi will take longer, because they are being methodical, and because in Fallujah they got the bulk of the civilians out first, which allowed them to move more quickly. I think that noncombatant casualties is a greater worry here.

3) I think that Ramadi will probably suffer about as much - much of what has been fought over has been largely destroyed as is - but I suspect that recovery will be quicker because where neighborhoods are taken in Ramadi an Iraqi govt presence remains, and as noted the Iraqis are in better shape now than two years ago.

In the meantime, we can all hope and pray that it will turn for the better. One factor to bear in mind is that if the coming operations in Baghdad go well, in the short term that will lead to an increase in insurgents in the Anbar as they get pushed out, but at the same time if the government wins Baghdad that will likely break the back of the insurgency over the long-term, esp. considering how many insurgents are already looking to give up and join the political process.