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The Iraq Report III

The Anbar Awakening: Displacing al Qaeda from Its Stronghold in Western Iraq.

6:47 PM, Apr 5, 2007 • By KIMBERLY KAGAN
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Military doctrine distinguishes between decisive operations and shaping operations. Decisive operations directly accomplish the objectives set by a headquarters.1 Shaping operations "create and preserve conditions for the success of the decisive operation. . . . They support the decisive operation by affecting enemy capabilities and forces, or by influencing enemy decisions. . . . They may occur before, concurrently with, or after the start of the decisive operation."2 Securing Baghdad is the decisive operation planned in 2007, though that operation is still in its early phases. At the same time, extensive shaping operations occurred in Anbar and Diyala provinces in the first quarter of 2007.

Anbar: from Decisive Operations
to Shaping Pperations

Anbar province, to the west of Baghdad, once was the location of U.S. decisive operations. Anbar contains the cities of Falluja and Ramadi. In 2004, U.S. forces conducted decisive operations in Falluja, where the Sunni Arab insurgency had emerged in the summer of 2003. U.S. Marines besieged the city for six weeks from March to May 2004. At that time, U.S. forces turned control of Falluja over to its local leaders, who used the opportunity to develop a broader-based insurgency in the city. They colluded with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, then the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, who established his headquarters in Falluja and used the city as a base for exporting violence to other areas of Iraq. In November and December 2004, U.S. Marines again attacked the city, clearing it of insurgents.3

Zarqawi and the core al Qaeda leadership escaped from Falluja before the November 2004 attack, organized the Samarra Mosque bombing in February 2006, and provoked the sectarian violence that escalated afterwards. Ultimately, some of that leadership, including Zarqawi, based itself in Baqubah, in Diyala province, to the north of Baghdad and northeast of Falluja. Other al Qaeda leaders and operatives relocated themselves in Anbar province, across the Euphrates River in the city of Ramadi, to the west of Falluja. Many local leaders supported al Qaeda elements, and the insurgency in Anbar province resumed forcefully in the spring of 2006.

As the violence in Baghdad increased in 2006, U.S. forces shifted decisive operations from the provinces to the capital. By summer 2006, Anbar was no longer the main effort. Rather, U.S. units in Anbar conducted shaping operations to support the main effort in Baghdad.4

Despite Anbar's ancillary status for U.S. and Iraqi forces in 2006, Ramadi turned increasingly hostile to al Qaeda and its post-Zarqawi offshoot, the Islamic State of Iraq. In February and March 2007, operations in Anbar province shaped events in Baghdad by disrupting the enemy. The events in Anbar since August 2006 had a profound impact on al Qaeda in Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq, and recent events in Baghdad and the provinces.

Terrain and Communications in Anbar Province

Anbar province stretches west of Baghdad to Iraq's borders with Syria and Jordan. Foreign fighters flow from those borders toward Baghdad. The Euphrates River Valley constitutes the main line of communications in Anbar province. Numerous cities and settlements line the lush Euphrates River, which flows across the province through the cities of Al Qaim, Rawah, Haditha, Hit, Ramadi, Habbaniyah, and Falluja.

Some of these cities are hubs for the road network in Anbar. Roads from Syria, running along the south bank of the Euphrates, converge in the town of Al Qaim, about twenty-five miles east of the border. Alternatively, fighters can follow a road along the north bank to Rumiyah, and then sixty miles to Rawah, at which point they must cross the river. Haditha is the next major town along the route for foreign fighters, whether they travel through Al Qaim or Rawah. Fighters then follow roads through Hit and Ramadi, which is the next choke-point along the road network. They may continue to Falluja, from which roads lead east to Baghdad. Or they may leave Ramadi on roads to the southeast to Amiriyah, Yusifiyah, and Mahmudiyah on the outskirts of the capital.

Foreign fighters can bypass the Euphrates routes by crossing the sparsely inhabited Syrian Desert south of the river along a few main roads that ultimately lead to the vicinity of Baghdad. Major roads from the Jordanian and Syrian borders converge at the desert town of Rutbah (about 250 miles west of the capital). From Rutbah, a major highway runs through Ramadi (about 60 miles west of the capital), and thence to Abu Ghraib, just west of Baghdad. Highway 10, a roughly parallel main road, runs from Rutbah to Falluja (36 miles west of the capital), and to Abu Ghraib. Rutbah also sits astride other, smaller roads through the western desert.