Baghdad Offensive Expands to Seven Areas
Operation Together Forward Phase II is a joint U.S.-Iraqi military offensive in Baghdad based upon a “clear, hold and build” strategy of sweeping one neighborhood at a time and then working on rebuilding government and commercial institutions in the area. Begun the second week of August, Phase II appears to have successfully cleared a half dozen Baghdad city sections, but both attacks on coalition forces and brutal killings of local civilians continue elsewhere in the city of 6.8 million. As we discussed in our September 11 report on Phase II, July was the bloodiest of the war for Iraqi civilians, especially in Baghdad, with August seeing about a 25-30 percent drop in violence in the capital city. While recent “death squad” killings have been deliberately provocative, with victims’ mutilated corpses left in the streets, the overall death rate may have been lower than August, although that is not certain. In addition to the sweep operations integral to Phase II, there have also been targeted raids on cells belonging to Sunni insurgents and the Mahdi Army of radical Shi’a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Military press briefings, conducted by Major General James Thurman, Commander of MNF-Baghdad, and Major General William Caldwell, MNF-I spokesman, respectively, provide some update on Operation Together Forward (Pentagon Sept. 22 Briefing, MNF-I Sept. 27 Briefing). As indicated by the briefings, those areas of Baghdad in which clear and hold operations have been conducted have seen declines in violence, but some other areas have seen increases, possibly resulting in a slight decrease in violence for the first three weeks of September over August, although an aggregate picture is difficult to draw at this time. The Ameriya area of Baghdad has already been cleared as Phase II began. Ameriya is now in the build phase, and more recently Dura, Baya, Mansour, Kadhimiya and Adhamiya are the focus. Dura was identified by the Iraqi Baghdad security chief as the single worst area of the city over the summer, so if that area remains quiet it will be a very significant achievement. An examination of city maps indicates that these areas are in the south and west of Baghdad (two maps contained in the September 27 briefing linked above).
A September 14 release also reported that coalition forces had just begun clearing operations in the Baghdad neighborhood of Khadra. Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that the Iraqi government had begun the process of building barriers around the city, using natural barriers where possible and otherwise restricting the flow of traffic into the city to monitorable routes.
Current foreign coalition and Iraqi forces in Baghdad were given as follows: 9,000 Iraqi soldiers, 12,000 national police (Interior Ministry forces), 22,000 local police, and 15,000 coalition forces. Maj. Gen. Thurman stated that he was requesting an additional 3,000 Iraqi soldiers from the Iraqi government to serve in Baghdad.
Maj. Gen. Thurman was asked directly about fighting with the Mahdi Army. He responded by saying that no specific organization was being targeted, but that coalition forces were taking down death squads whenever they were tipped off to them, and that likewise being a member of any organization would not protect someone deemed to be in a death squad. According to reporting by the international Arab newspaper Al-Hayat (Sept. 20, “Confrontations Between the Mahdi Army and American Forces”), there were multiple operations by coalition and Iraqi forces striking Mahdi Army members, whether the latter was being specifically targeted or not. The article reports that British forces killed Habib Jasim al-Abadi, a Mahdi Army leader, in Basra, and that multiple hits were made on Mahdi Army elements in Basra, Baghdad and Karbala. Sadrist representatives in the Iraqi parliament accused the U.S. of directly targeting the Mahdi Army in order to draw Sadrists into an open fight.
As noted above, there was significant violence in areas of Baghdad outside of current focus, and the second full week of the month saw the most gruesome effects. According to Al-Hayat (Sept. 17, “205 Corpses in a Week, Including 190 in the Capital Alone”), about 190 corpses were found in the streets in a week, usually with signs of torture. This included 60 corpses recovered on Wednesday the 13th, 50 corpses recovered on Thursday and Friday, and 47 bodies recovered on Saturday.
Al-Hayat, referring to that week as “Kill Week,” quoted Sadrists in the Iraqi parliament as blaming “Saddamist and takfiris [e.g. al-Qaeda],” while quoting Sunni members, as well as the Sunni Muslim Scholars Association, as blaming the same groups, but also blaming “political elements which are part of the government.” This statement could theoretically apply to either Sadr’s Mahdi Army or the Badr Brigades of SCIRI, the largest Shi’a faction, but the former is most likely. Sadr has openly called for calm and restraint by Shi’a in the face of Sunni attacks while Mahdi Army leaders claim that only rogue elements of their organization work in death squads. Yet the Sadrists have taken no visible steps to counter those kill squads which are operating out of neighborhoods they dominate, including Sadr City in Baghdad.