Second Battle of Baghdad Underway
The month of July may have been the deadliest since the fall of the Baathist regime, with Baghdad alone having about 2,000 killed, mostly civilians. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s security plan for the capital, Operation Together Forward, began in late June, but has mostly consisted of scattered raids on Sunni terror cells and Shi’a death squads, while an expected neighborhood-by-neighborhood sweep-and-hold operation of the entire city has been kept on hold until this week. Over the past few weeks U.S. troops have been realigning from outlaying areas, handing over security control to Iraqi forces and moving toward Baghdad. Referred to as “Phase II,” this more systematic urban offensive seems to have begun this week.
Regarding the achievements of Phase I, MNF-I has reported that “During Phase I, which began July 9, Iraqi Security Forces and MND-B Soldiers have killed or captured 411 murderers associated with death squads. Together the combined forces conducted more than 32,382 combat patrols, seized more than 43 weapons and ammunition caches.” A large number of coalition raids have taken place successfully recently in Baghdad and elsewhere, including raid in the Arab Jabour area of Baghdad in which 60 terrorists suspects were captured. The targets of the operation were believed to be associated with a senior al-Qaeda leader specializing in bomb making and IED attacks. These efforts, however, have obviously been inadequate.
Al-Hayat has more details on Phase II, reporting that an additional 5,500 American and 6,000 Iraqi troops are to reinforce the capital. This is part of a realignment in which the 4th Iraqi Army Division is taking over security for Kirkuk (Al-Ta’meem Province), Salah al-Din Province (Samarra is the capital) and Sulaymaniya Province; all in the Sunni north. This adds to the provinces of al-Muthana (Samawa), al-Dhiqar (Nasiriya) and Maysan, all in the south, so that six provinces are now under Iraqi security. The article quotes the head of Baghdad security, Mahdi Sabih, as specifically mentioning that the areas of Dawra, al-Khadra’ and al-‘Aamariya as areas of focus.
And it was in al-‘Aamariya that coalition forces began Phase II this week. As reported by MNF-I:
…The Iraqi and Coalition forces searched about 6,000 houses and buildings in the Ameriya neighborhood, said Jaleel. The local citizens requested the market area be secured first. “We re-opened shops that had been closed and a neighborhood gas station,” he said. The 2nd Brigade Combat Team commander, Col. Robert Scurlock Jr., re-iterated Jaleel’s point, noting that people are returning to the streets. “More than 50 percent of the shops have re-opened,” Jaleel said.
Jaleel and Scurlock see the market as a way to repair the neighborhood that was torn apart by violence. “We want to get the stores open and get people back to a normal life,” said Scurlock. He credited his fellow troops for helping to restore peace in Ameriya. “It’s the dedication of Iraqi soldiers and their professionalism and sharing information with Coalition forces,” said Scurlock. According to Scurlock, eight arrests were made and 128 weapons seized. “We’re making progress,” he said…
Once U.S. and Iraqi forces have swept an area, it will be up to Iraqi national police to maintain order. According to MNF-I, Iraqi Interior Ministry forces, considered the national police, have reached 92 percent of the intended strength of 188,000, and are 90 percent trained and 83 percent equipped. Of those areas of Baghdad outside the control of the government, some are controlled by Sunni jihadists, some by Shi’a militia cells, and some are subject to total chaos. It will now be up to U.S. and Iraqi troops to lock down these neighborhoods one by one, and Iraqi police will then have to hold them. Their mettle will be verified soon.
The death toll in Baghdad during July was simply ghastly, and Phase II of the offensive could not be put off any longer if the government was to retain credibility. The violence has of course grabbed the headlines in the Western press; the Iraqi media has contained articles with headlines about people waking up in the morning and finding bodies in the streets or floating in the river. Suicide attacks have continued to succeed in August; a suicide bomber killed nine in Samarra on August 7, four different bombers killed a total of 19 in Baghdad on the 8th, a bombing in Najaf on the 10th targeting a Shi’a shrine killed 35, multiple bombs killed more than 40 on the 13th in Baghdad, and on the 16th multiple bombs killed another 21 in Baghdad, among other attacks.
Aside from the apparently increased efficacy of the Iraqi military, the main positive in July came from the strong reception to the prime minister’s amnesty and reconciliation initiative, which we have discussed in a number of previous reports. This draining of the domestic Iraqi insurgency may explain the apparent ease with which Iraqi troops have now taken over several provinces, although time will tell whether the government can maintain its hold on these areas, especially those in the Sunni center and west. Those who are seeking to destroy Iraqi public’s consensus in favor of reconciliation - largely foreign jihadists, mainly al-Qaeda, and Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army - have stepped into what would have been a void in violence and actually increased it by focusing on civilians rather than U.S. or Iraqi troops. So while some of the pieces have been coming together for the Iraqi government, time is not on the government’s side, and the Second Battle of Baghdad can wait no more.