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What We've Accomplished

Nine months of progress.

4:39 PM, Sep 19, 2007 • By FREDERICK W. KAGAN
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  • Baqubah has been cleared of al Qaeda;
  • Violence in Baqubah and the surrounding areas has dropped dramatically;
  • Coalition forces pursued AQI fighters fleeing from Baqubah up the Diyala River Valley, where they have captured and killed many terrorists, preventing them from reestablishing a safe-haven

AQI had spread its influence throughout Diyala Province and was using it as a base to attack Baghdad;

  • Coalition forces are pursuing AQI throughout Diyala province, preventing it from being used as a base for attacks against Baghdad, and working with the Iraqi Government and the provincial government to begin reconstruction;
  • Multiple cease-fires have been signed between former insurgents and warring tribes;
  • Baqubah is now protected by "Baqubah Guardians," another "concerned citizens" group fighting AQI

AQI was in the process of coopting the Sunni insurgent groups like the 1920s Revolution Brigades that had not previously supported al Qaeda's ideological agenda

  • The Sunni insurgency has broken;
  • Some 30,000 former insurgents have rallied to the Coalition cause and are participating as "concerned citizens" or volunteers for the ISF;
  • The remaining insurgents are inextricably tied to AQI and will share in its defeat;
  • Support for those insurgents among Sunni populations is collapsing apace with support for AQI

AQI was able to conduct spectacular attacks almost unimpeded, including the destruction of the Samarra Mosque in February 2006 and massive car bomb attacks on markets and other gatherings of large groups--mostly Shia--throughout Baghdad;

  • The number and especially the scale of AQI attacks has dropped dramatically over the past few months, particularly in urban areas;
  • Baghdad, Ramadi, Fallujah, Mosul, Baqubah, Kirkuk, and Samarra have all seen a steady reduction in the effectiveness of AQI attacks and, in many cases, in the absolute number of attacks;
  • AQI attacks against small villages like the one that killed 500 Yazidis in Ninewah or the recent bicycle bombing in Tuz Khormatu (in the Diyala River Valley) demonstrate the terrorists' inability to conduct large-scale attacks in major urban areas

The flow of foreign fighters via Syria continued unabated, and those fighters comprised 80-90 percent of al Qaeda's suicide bombers

  • MNF-I reports that the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq from Syria has been falling over the past weeks, a trend visible in the falling numbers and effectiveness of AQI spectacular attacks

Reversing the Slide toward Civil War

It is not possible to separate operations against AQI from the effort to stop sectarian fighting in Iraq. Sectarian conflict in Iraq was triggered by the deliberate strategy of AQI leader Abu Musaab al Zarqawi, and AQI uses that violence as a key means to implant itself among the Sunni population. Unlike in Afghanistan under the Taliban, al Qaeda in Iraq establishes safe-havens in urban areas, surrounded by Iraqis. It cannot be effective in Iraq without those urban safe-havens, which in turn cannot be eliminated if the sectarian violence is not brought under control.

December 2006
September 2007

Sectarian violence exploded after the destruction of the Samarra Mosque in February. It increased almost every month in 2006. Brief declines during American military operations in Baghdad vanished almost immediately as the violence continued to climb. The trendlines at the end of 2006 all pointed toward exponentially increasing violence in 2007.

  • The rise of sectarian killings in Iraq stopped immediately when the "surge" strategy was announced in January;
  • It has fallen steadily thereafter, and is now something like 75% lower than in December;
  • The previous pattern of violence rising again after an initial drop has vanished, and the projections of dramatically expanded sectarian violence based on trends in 2006 have proven completely wrong

Sectarian violence was initially conducted by extremist groups on both sides--AQI for the Sunni and the Jaysh al Mahdi, primarily, for the Shi'a. By the end of 2006, the Iraqi people themselves had begun to mobilize to fight a civil war. Neighborhood vigilante groups formed to protect their areas, but then started striking neighboring areas of different sectarian composition. Iraq seemed head toward a full-scale civil war in which everyone had to choose a side and fight.