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Baghdad Ops Expand to Adhamiya, Mansour

U.S. and Iraqi forces expanded Phase II of Operation Together Forward, which is a neighborhood-by-neighborhood clear-and-hold operation in which buildings are searched, weapons registered and insurgent cells targeted with Iraqi police left to hold afterward. According to MNF-I, through September 2, “Iraqi and Coalition forces cleared more than 45,868 buildings, discovered 26 weapons caches, seized more than 1,066 weapons and detained 75 persons in connection with terrorism or sectarian violence.”

Recent expansions of the U.S.-Iraqi sweep of Baghdad neighborhoods expanded most recently to Mansour and Adhamiya. Soldiers from the 5th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, which is based in Baghdad’s International Zone, have expanded into Mansour, and are focused on search operations. Meanwhile, the 172nd Stryker Brigade has been doing patrols in Adhamiya with Iraqi police. Adhamiya is a heavily agricultural area which has seen a lot of violence in recent months.

The most severe successful terrorist attack recently was the August 31 attack on a residential complex in a Shi’a area of Baghdad that killed 72 and injured 236 (Washington Post). It was a sophisticated operation in which terrorists rented apartments and then planted bombs in them in order to bring them down, flattening a multi-story apartment building. Five minutes later there was a bombing at a primary school and fire station nearby.

The Post article also mentions a clash between U.S.-Iraqi forces and Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army which has been capturing and executing Sunni insurgents and at times targeting Sunni noncombatants. The article reports that coalition forces initiated the clash by raiding the east Baghdad offices of the Mahdi Army in the Kamaliya, Obaydi, and Fedaliya areas. Dozens of Mahdi Army fighters were killed and about 50 local leaders and members arrested. The article also notes some Iraqi army casualties but none American in this context. The Post relies entirely on information provided by the Sadrists and the Iraqi Interior Ministry, the latter speaking on condition of anonymity, noting that U.S. military officials declined to comment.

The most important recent operation was that leading to the capture of Hamed Jumaa Faris Juri al-Sa’idi, and a series of operations against cell leaders based on information gleaned in his interrogation (Washington Post). Sa’idi is believed by some to be the number two man in al-Qaeda in Iraq, and while that is not certain, it seems clear that he was at minimum a senior leader with knowledge of and supervisory authority over cells executing terrorist attacks (this issue further discussed by the Fourth Rail). Perhaps of greatest importance, Sa’idi supervised the suicide bombing on a Shi’a shrine in Samarra on February 22 which has been used as a pretext for revenge kills by the Mahdi Army and others.

The degree of progress which Operation Together Forward has made in Baghdad is a matter of dispute. The Washington Post, however, published an article on September 8 which somewhat overstated claims of progress which have been made by U.S. military officials. Titled Body Count in Baghdad Nearly Triples - Morgue’s Revised Toll for August Undermines Claims by Leaders of Steep Drop in Violence, the article reported in part:

Baghdad’s morgue almost tripled its count for violent deaths in Iraq’s capital during August from 550 to 1,536, authorities said Thursday, appearing to erase most of what U.S. generals and Iraqi leaders had touted as evidence of progress in a major security operation to restore order in the capital…

At the end of August, Baghdad’s morgue initially reported receiving 550 bodies during the month. U.S. military and Iraqi government officials hailed what they said was a massive decrease in violence, calling it a sign of the success of Operation Forward Together. The joint U.S.-Iraqi security push had placed at least four of Baghdad’s most violent neighborhoods under cordons and search operations, which were welcomed by many residents as bringing a relief from violence…

By late August, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell was claiming a 46 percent decrease in the murder rate in Baghdad for that month. “We are actually seeing progress,” Caldwell said at the time. A U.S. military Web site on Thursday continued to assert a roughly 50 percent drop in killings in Baghdad…

For the month of July, Iraq’s worst, Reuters reported that the body count was about 2,000, up from 1,595 in June. This makes August about 25 percent less deadly than July and perhaps 2-3 percent less than June. As we noted in our August 29 report, military sources claimed a drop in daily Baghdad attacks from 52 to 31, about a 40 percent decline (the month’s bloodiest attack, discussed above, took place on August 31). A recent military statement put the daily murder rate at a 52 percent decline, but this was based on the estimated daily murder rate from August 7, not the beginning of the month. This makes sense because Phase II did not begin until the second week of August (this is clear from our report, Second Battle of Baghdad Underway). Phase I had only featured sporadic operations against specified terrorists in Baghdad, not systematic operations.

So what we are seeing is a difference between a 25 percent drop and a 40-50 percent drop, not a 75 percent drop. It therefore seems clear that U.S. military commanders were never under the impression that Baghdad experienced a the vast 75 percent improvement suggested by the Post morgue numbers. Nevertheless, the murder rate may have been higher than initially thought.