The past week has seen some interesting developments as the Iraqi government and Coalition ramp up the Baghdad Security Plan. Al Qaeda in Iraq conducted three major mass casualty attacks nationwide. Nearly half of the U.S. forces devoted to the surge have now been deployed in Iraq as the Iraqi security forces and U.S. continue to assume control over the neighborhoods inside Baghdad and to reorganize the command structure in the belts around Baghdad.
Deaths in Iraq have increased by 15 percent from February to March as al Qaeda in Iraq adjusts its tactics to deal with the new security plan. The three major suicide attacks launched by al Qaeda last week account for much of the increase. Al Qaeda continues to work to reignite the sectarian violence that plagued Iraq after the destruction of the Al Askaria mosque in Samarra over one year ago. Al Qaeda's greatest weapon continues to be the mass-casualty attack--suicide truck and car bombs, and suicide bombers on foot.
Over the past week, al Qaeda in Iraq successfully attacked a Baghdad market, a Tal Afar market, and a cafe in Khalis. The three suicide bombings led to upwards of 300 killed and over 600 more wounded. All of the attacks targeted Iraqi Shia. Al Qaeda took direct responsibility for the Tal Afar strike. There is some disagreement over the casualty figures for that attack--the Iraq government put the number at 152 dead, but U.S. forces and the local Tal Afar government reported 83 deaths.
The most troubling and dangerous aspect of the Tal Afar attack was the backlash from the local population. Initial reports claimed the Tal Afar police force went on a wholesale killing spree, however later reports stated that 14 off-duty policemen cooperated with a larger force of local militia. Forty-seven Sunnis were killed in the reprisal attacks. The Iraqi Army moved in to restore security, and the policemen were arrested. Al Qaeda was able to succeed in provoking the reprisal in Tal Afar, but the silver lining is the response from the Iraqi Army and the government, which reacted quickly and independently to restore order.
While al Qaeda is murdering Shia to provide reprisal killings, it is also conducting a deadly campaign against its enemies in the Sunni community. Al Qaeda is attempting to destroy any resistance in the Sunni community to the Islamic State in Iraq. The recent split of the 1920 Revolution Brigades into pro- and anti-al Qaeda factions has led al Qaeda to step up its attacks on the leadership of the anti-al Qaeda factions of the Sunni insurgency and the tribes.
Part of this terror campaign against the Sunni community includes the use of chlorine gas in its suicide attacks. Al Qaeda launched yet another chlorine gas suicide attack, this time against the Government Center in the heart of the city of Fallujah. While U.S. and Iraqi security forces repelled the attack, the truck laden with chlorine was able to get inside the perimeter of the Fallujah Government Center and detonate. Fifteen were wounded in the blast and scores were poisoned by chlorine cloud. This is the eighth attempted chlorine suicide strike in Anbar province--six were successfully detonated against civilian and military targets while two trucks laden with chlorine gas and explosives were found and disarmed in Ramadi.
The Coalition and Iraqi government continue to court the Sunni tribes in the fight against al Qaeda. The successful model of the Anbar Salvation Council, which consists of Sunni tribes and former insurgent groups opposed to al Qaeda, is being pushed in other provinces where the Sunni insurgency is strongest. "Groups such as the 1920 Revolution Brigades, the Islamic Army, Jaish Al-Rashideen, Omar Brigades and Rayat Al-Sood have been encouraged to severe ties with the Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and join the political process," notes IraqSlogger. Many of these insurgent groups and Sunni tribes are already fighting al Qaeda, as they resist the demand to join the Islamic State in Iraq.
Inside Baghdad, Coalition and Iraqi security forces are building up the infrastructure to provide security in the neighborhoods while reorganizing the command structures to deal with the insurgency in the outer Baghdad belts. The Joint Security Station (JSS) concept has proven so successful in the neighborhoods that the original plan of about 35 such stations has been expanded to include about 70 throughout the city. There are two flavors of the JSS being set up: the full JSS station, which has U.S. forces, as well as Iraqi Army and police, and serves as a neighborhood coordination center; there are also smaller Combat Outposts (COP), which will have elements of Coalition, Iraqi Army and/or police forces. Currently 31 Joint Security Stations and 22 Combat Outposts have been established inside Baghdad.
The 3rd Brigade of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Division is now arriving in Iraq and is setting up shop to the south and east of Baghdad. The headquarters element of the 3rd Division has been designated as the command element for a new command--Multinational Division Central. It appears that Multinational Division Central will secure the outer Baghdad belts south, east, and north of Baghdad, while Multinational Division Baghdad will focus on Baghdad proper. In the past, Multinational Division Baghdad controlled Baghdad along with the outer belts in Diyala to the north and east, and Babil, Najaf, and Karbala to the south.
Last week, U.S. and Iraqi Army and police forces conducted a major clearing operation in the Mansour district and are now working to hold the territory. A U.S. Stryker battalion was involved in the operation. Two brigades of the Iraqi National Police (INP) have been located inside Baghdad proper--the 3rd Brigade, 1st INP Division in Bayaa, and the 1st Brigade, 1st INP Division in Karadah.
The Iraqi Army is evolving from a light infantry force into a motorized infantry force able to quickly respond to insurgent activity. The 1-3-6 Iraqi Army Battalion stationed in Kadhimiyah received 40 Badger armored personnel carriers, which are designed to survive most roadside bomb attacks and are equipped with a remote arm to check suspicious items. Each of the 6th Iraqi Army Division's five brigades are set to receive a battalion of Badgers, which will allow them to serve in a motorized quick reaction force (QRF) roles.
The U.S. and Iraqi Army are also beefing up the armored formations in and around Baghdad. The 1st Battalion, 2nd Brigade of the 9th Iraqi Army Division is supporting the 4th Brigade of the 6th Iraqi Army Division in the south. An armored battalion of the 3-3 U.S. Infantry Division is also supporting the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th U.S. Mountain Division and the 4th Brigade of the 6th Iraqi Army Division south of Baghdad.
A major reason for the Iraqi Army's ability to deploy into Baghdad to implement the security plan is a recent change in laws concerning the AWOL (absent without leave) and deserter policies. On January 24th, the New Military Court Procedure Law was passed, and on February 5, the Military Punishment Law was passed.
Prior to the enactment of these two laws, the Iraqi Army did not have a viable way of punishing AWOLs and deserters. The AWOL rates were between 5 to 8 percent per unit, and the liberal leave policy accounted for another 25 percent of the units being unavailable. There were no acceptable procedures that existed for Iraqi commanders to enforce discipline. With the passing of these two laws, Iraqi Army commanders now have the legal procedures, limits, and punishments codified. This gives the Iraqi Army the equivalent of the U.S. Military's "Uniform Code of Military Justice" and "Articles of Courts Marshal." The laws provide a uniform code of conduct, discipline, and punishment within the Iraqi Military that will curtail desertions, AWOLs, and other breaches of discipline. As the new laws promulgate and troops become familiar with them, disciplinary problems such as AWOL should be reduced to acceptable levels.
One example of the improvement in the staffing of the Iraq Army units can be seen in the deployment of forces into Baghdad. In a recent briefing, Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, the Commanding General of Multinational Corps Iraq, explained how the Iraqi battalions arriving in Baghdad improved its manning strengths. The first seven units that arrived in Baghdad in January were manned at between 55 and 65 percent strength. The next seven were staffed at between 65 and 85 percent of capacity. The last four that deployed were staffed at over 95 percent strength, and one unit arrived at 103 percent strength. The government of Iraq is training 7,500 Soldiers every five weeks as replacements for the units already deployed to Baghdad, which allows the Army units to over man their formations, continue with training, and conduct future deployments.
While the three major attacks in Baghdad, Tal Afar and Khalis have proven al Qaeda is still capable of conducting major strikes against civilian targets, the sectarian violence continues to remain at a level well below the numbers prior to the implementation of the Baghdad Security Plan in mid-February. Al Qaeda will continue to adjust their tactics and probe for weakness. But the U.S. deployment has yet to complete, and will not be fully manned until early June. The Coalition, Iraqi Army, and police are still in the process of securing Baghdad and the outer belts. As U.S. generals have repeatedly cautioned, the results from the Baghdad Security Plan cannot be assessed until some point in the summer, when all of the pieces of the puzzle are in place.