Iraq Report: Al Qaeda in the Northern Villages
11:45 PM, Jul 11, 2007 • By BILL ROGGIO
As Operations Phantom Thunder pushes forward in Baghdad and the Belts, U.S. and Iraqi forces attacked and killed an al Qaeda team attempting to take control of a rural Kurdish village in Diyala. Meanwhile, with critics claiming the U.S. is too al Qaeda focused in its operations, Iraqi and U.S. forces put a significant dent in the Mahdi Army over the past several days.
As Operations Arrowhead Ripper proceeds in the provincial capital of Baqubah and the surrounding areas, al Qaeda in Iraq has been pushed into the farmlands north of the city. Last weekend, al Qaeda struck with suicide attacks at Kurdish cities along the Iranian border, and in a Kurdish village in neighboring Salahadin province, with devastating effects. Almost 200 civilians were killed and hundreds more wounded.
Al Qaeda is pushing into villages where it did not have a presence in the recent past. Yesterday, reports of an al Qaeda assault on the small Shiite village of Sherween slashed across the wires. The AP reported that when al Qaeda in Iraq moved on Sherween, there were no security forces present to stop them. Residents of the town fought back; "25 militants and 18 residents were killed and 40 people wounded in the fighting," a resident of a neighboring town reported. He also stated that al Qaeda was winning.
While the AP report lamented the failure of the Iraqi and U.S. security forces to respond, a joint U.S. and Iraqi task force was quickly assembled and moved in on Sherween early today. "The operation began early Tuesday morning with close air support engaging three river crossings and one bridge with eight 2,000-pound bombs and 14 500-pound bombs. The locations are used by al-Qaida to conduct their attacks and were engaged to prevent their escape," Multinational Forces Iraq reported. "The people of Sherween played a vital role in this operation as they fought side-by-side [with] the ISF to help them capture and kill known terrorists." The attack resulted in "20 al-Qaida terrorists killed, 20 detained, and two weapons caches and 12 improvised explosive devices discovered."
Also north of Baqubah, U.S. and Iraqi security forces found an al Qaeda safe house, which contained a possible torture room. "Inside, the patrol found medical supplies, medical equipment and al-Qaida related propaganda," Multinational Forces Iraq reported. "Also inside the building was a room with indicators that it had been used as a place of torture, such as blood on the walls and blacked out windows."
As U.S. and Iraq forces move forward with securing Baqubah and the outlying regions, the attacks such at those in Sherween are expected to increase. Al Qaeda is working the seams in Diyala, and the rural farmlands and the Hamrin mountain chain are ideal locations for al Qaeda and allied insurgent groups to fall back upon.
Operations Marne Torch in the Arab Jabour region and Commando Eagle in the Mahmudiyah region continue largely under the radar. A tip from an Iraqi led to the capture of south Baghdad's most wanted terrorist, along with seven of his associates. The captured man led an al Qaeda terror and intimidation network and was responsible "for shooting down an AH-64 helicopter in April 2006, the abductions of two Soldiers in June 2006, and complex attacks on patrol bases and terrorist acts against both Coalition Forces and Iraqi civilians."
In Arab Jabour, 13 insurgents were detained and several weapons caches were found. In Jisr Diyala, three insurgents were killed after attacking U.S. forces who were attempting to provide medical assistance to Iraqi citizens.