Move and Countermove in Baghdad
Iraq the Model notices that "terrorists/insurgents" are counterattacking the security operation in Baghdad.
The first time I checked on Iraq's news this morning I read about several violent incidents in Baghdad that included roadside bombs and car-bombs that left dozens of civilians and ISF members dead or injured. I even did pass by close to the scene of at least two of these attacks after which many of the main roads in Baghdad were closed to traffic.
Just an hour ago I heard of another series of bombings, also in Baghdad and the news reports are talking about 5 new car-bombs that went off mostly at police and army checkpoints a short while before curfew time was there. ...
My guess is that the terrorists/insurgents were frightened by the size of the operation and the amount of troops deployed but they were able to check the pulse of the new security measures and adjust accordingly, thus was the period of relative calm we had in Baghdad during the first two or three days between Wednesday and Friday.
These kinds of tactics -- attacking the lines of communication and security elements of the attackers -- were used against US forces when they were conducting operations against insurgent strongholds along the Euphrates river. Some understanding of the what each side -- Multinational Forces and the insurgents/terrorists -- is trying to achieve is provided in an ABC article by Anthony Cordesman analyzing the security operation in Baghdad.
Accordingly, for an operation to have real meaning, and produce sustainable results, it has to go far beyond manning check points, establishing a visible presence, and creating the image of security. These are politically important, but they also will be hollow if they are the core of the operations. Insurgents and militias can simply wait out the operations, bury their arms, shift to targets in other areas, and operate around and outside the checkpoints and areas where forces are present.
This does not mean this operation cannot have great impact, but the real impact will consist of active operations in the high threat areas that directly attack insurgent targets on which there is good intelligence, and efforts to disarm, disperse, or directly control the militias. Given the political nature of this struggle, Iraqi and Coalition sources should stress Iraqi successes, Iraqi tips and HUMINT, and Iraqi control and planning.
Such claims will often be correct, but Iraq does not yet have anything like the intelligence and command and control capabilities to conduct such an operation on its own. It still needs a U.S. partner, although this partner should be as silent about its intelligence and special operations role as possible (and media should be extremely discrete) and minimize its importance in operations.
Cordesman points out the largely political and psychological value of the checkpoints as visible tokens of Iraqi Government control (though they have some actual utility as ways of controlling movement) but emphasizes that the lethal component of the security operation is actually targeted strikes. If we switch over to the Multinational Force briefing given by Major General James Thurman, commander of the MNC Division Baghdad, we see this dichotomy again. There is the public and political component to the security operation. Here's the public component:
You know, this security of Baghdad is about Iraqis. This is about the Iraqi government stepping forward and taking action to lower this violence. That's what this is about. This is not about the coalition. And I want to stress that point. I think that's very important. And since we kicked this operation off, I've been out every day, and what I've observed out there is a commitment from the Iraqi security forces on getting Baghdad in a more secure state. But right now, I think I've got enough troops to do what we need to do in here.
And then there is operational component. IEDs and explosive devices are the most effect enemy weapons both against civilian and military targets. So how will the MNC Division Baghdad attempt to neutralize these weapons? With targeted raids.
First off, our counter-IED effort is as -- first off, is about going after the IED cells. That's the first thing. Last month, we had 814 IEDs that were inside the Baghdad area of operation. We found about 38 percent of those. We're seeing IEDs -- right now, they are very quick to be put down. They're not -- that is our number one killer. But through the surveillance and through our tiplines and interface with people, I think we're starting to drive that in a more positive fashion. They are not as effective as they have been.
And one suspects MNC-Baghdad is also going after cell couriers, moneymen and leaders. What about neutralizing the militias, as Cordesman suggests? Here Thurman sidesteps the political question and recasts the question of militias in legalistic terms.
Q General, this is Jim Mannion from Agence France Presse. Can you say whether Shi'ite militias have been targeted in this security crackdown in Baghdad -- or in the Baghdad area or in your area of operations? And I believe that there was an arrest just in the past couple of days, I want to say in Karbala, but I can't really remember. And I was wondering if you could fill us in on what that was all about?
GEN. THURMAN: Well, what that was all about in Karbala is that was an individual who was responsible for making IEDs and attacking coalition and Iraqi security force units, and he was violating the rule of law. And so we went and arrested him. We don't openly target militias. We target people that are breaking the law and operating outside the rule of law. As the prime minister stated, all Iraqi security forces will be in charge of security and not a bunch of extra armed groups or militias.
But Thurman doesn't deny militias may coincidentally be targets.
At the risk of oversimplifying the picture, both sides are consciously fighting two campaigns. The first is the public battle of perception in which the Iraqi government deploys checkpoints and parades its forces for the press cameras and which the insurgents/terrorists counter by attacking the checkpoints. This is the fight for the headlines. The second is the secret war which will only be rarely if ever noticed, in which Coalition forces hunt down enemy cells. This is the struggle for life and death.
A cynic might argue that the crackdown in Baghdad has changed nothing, since the second war -- the secret campaign of intelligence-directed raids -- has been going on since before. But that would be incorrect. Checkpoints and house searches can make two important operational contributions. First, they restrict the tactical mobility of enemy cells and create avenues of access for raiders; secondly they create opportunities to seed informers and even surveillance devices in the wake of a conventional security sweep.
Crossposted at Tigerhawk.