Operation New Market
There are several interesting things about the battalion sized operation against insurgents in Haditha, Iraq. First, Haditha is near the place where US forces nearly captured Abu Musab Zarqawi on February 20 of this year. Readers may recall the details of that story, in which Zarqawi escaped capture by jumping out of his vehicle and hiding in the area.
US forces just missed arresting Al-Qaeda's frontman in Iraq in a February 20 raid between Hit and Haditha, near the Euphrates river, a statement said. "Zarqawi was able to escape capture as coalition forces closed in on his vehicle. Zarqawi's driver, Abu Usama, was captured during the raid," it said.
Second is location. Haditha is in the middle of the Euphrates river line that has Qusabayah/Qaim on its northern terminus on the Syrian border and Falljah as its southeastern anchor. Haditha is also where a roadline goes northeastwards across the top of Tharthar Lake, the scene of an earlier operation against an insurgent camp, toward the Tigris river line. The third is tempo. Haditha is the second straight operation against the Euphrates river line this month. It is about the same size as Operation Matador. "U.S. military officials said Operation New Market is about the same size a weeklong assault dubbed Operation Matador that began May 7." The Globe and Mail also notes the succession of attacks:
Earlier this month, U.S. forces conducted a weeklong operation in the city of Qaim and other Iraqi towns near the Syrian border aimed at rooting out militants allied to Jordanian-born terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and destroying their smuggling routes into Syria. At least 125 militants were killed in that operation, along with nine U.S. Marines, the military said.
The obvious inference, though not necessarily the correct one, is that the Haditha assault is part of a campaign to 'chop up' the Euphrates River line. A convenient place to start the narrative is the second battle of Fallujah in November, 2004, followed by Tharthar Lake in March, 2005, Qusabayah/Qaim in May 2005 and lastly, the current attack on Haditha.
Although some news stories are describing this attack as a reaction to a recent attack by insurgents on US vehicles launched from Haditha hospital, it is more probable that the arrow of causality is the other way around. US forces were drawing a noose round Haditha and the insurgents had hoped to bloody the American nose to slow them down. If so, they succeeded only temporarily. Reuters has eyewitness details of New Market.
Haditha residents said U.S. troops began their operation at around 5 a.m. (0100 GMT), moving door-to-door through the largely deserted streets as helicopters hovered overhead. "They came to my house, there were about 15 of them, and they searched everything, looking for weapons and asking if I knew any insurgents," said Maher Dali, dean of the college of arts at the province's Anbar University. "After they'd finished searching, they left, that was it."
A doctor at Haditha's hospital, Waleed al-Hadithi, said he had received two dead and one wounded person since the operation began. Other residents said the town was completely occupied and the streets were empty, with most people too frightened to leave their homes. Some said U.S. troops had used sound bombs, which cause a loud blast but little damage.
So far -- and it is early days yet -- there have been no reports of the fights to the death in fortifications that characterized Operation Matador. One reason for the fairly weak enemy response is that they may be beaten down. Although it seems almost too pat to be connected, it is impossible not to connect the events in Haditha to reports that Abu Musab Zarqawi has been seriously wounded. The Chicago Tribune reports:
Amid an onslaught of attacks against Iraqis and U.S. troops, a statement posted Tuesday on the Internet said the man believed responsible for much of the violence has been wounded in action. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the most wanted man in Iraq, is suffering from an unspecified "heroic injury," according to a Web site used by al-Zarqawi's organization, Al Qaeda in Iraq. Al-Zarqawi, whom the U.S. has linked to many of the bloodiest acts of terrorism in Iraq during the past two years, has a $25 million bounty on his head, equal to that of Osama bin Laden.
Whether that is true or not, the location of the US attack, and above all the quickening tempo of operations, indicates that the coalition can now land battalion-sized blows in quick succession.