Saturday, June 17, 2006

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.


Blogger Jamie Irons said...


About all this I am terribly naive, but even to my casual and untrained eye this war appears to be in the process of becoming a different conflict from the one we have been "bogged down in," lo these past three years.

Coalition forces are receding into the background; I read recently that the Iraqi forces number about 250 K and we are down around 100 K. The Iraqis of course are far from independent of our logistical, air and other support, but they are now on the front line, and however haltingly are forming a coherent and effective force.

The much ballyhooed civil war does not appear to have taken off.

Jamie Irons

6/17/2006 05:49:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Seems a lot of folks outside Iraq were promoting a civil war.
...on both sides of the Atlantic.
Betting on Defeat
"The mainstream media is now discredited on Iraq, and their drumbeat of doom and gloom is starting to rile more than pleases the public.
Aside from the bias that counts always our losses and rarely our successes, we are sick and tired of manipulations like the lies about flushed Korans, forged memos, and the rush to judgment on Haditha.
Most weary Americans want at least a moment to savor the death of a mass-murdering Zarqawi, without having to lament that he might have been saved by quicker medical intervention.

Once a democratically elected Iraqi government emerged, and a national army was trained, the only way we could lose this war was to forfeit it at home, through the influence of an adroit, loud minority of critics that for either base or misguided reasons really does wish us to lose. They really do.

It is not easy to offer somber platitudes of defeat when 400,000 coalition and Iraqi troops are daily fighting on the center stage of the war against Islamic terrorism. Someone from Mars might wonder what exactly were the conditions under which a quarter-million Muslim Arabs in Iraq alone went to war against Islamic radicalism."

6/17/2006 05:52:00 PM  
Blogger Jamie Irons said...


Yes, thanks, I happened to catch that VDH piece when it came out on NRO Online (have you made your contribution there yet?!) yesterday.

Victor Davis Hanson has been, in my view, a fairly reliable guide over the past five years.


Jamie Irons

6/17/2006 06:06:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Did you see we now have had the distinction of a comment from someone who was the World's Youngest Doctor?!
17 from Mt Sinai! the previous thread.
Civil Society in Iraq at Work Amid the War

I was born and raised in a place called Habbaniyah, which is now known in the press as the "Heartland of Sunni Insurgents." I happen to be a Shiite. At no point in my youth was there any issue that a certain part of Habbaniyah was associated with a different sect.
In fact, we took pride in our neighborhoods.
We took pride that we were a strongly knit neighborhood community. We took pride in the city, and the city took pride vis-à-vis other towns and areas, and the other areas took pride vis-à-vis the country and the country as a whole took pride in itself vis-à-vis the rest of the world.
New Model
It is this sense of belonging that must be instilled in all Iraqis and this will not come through pious statements or through specific central policies. It will come, I believe, from a constant building up of the basic building blocks, as it were, of society once again.
The involvement of the U.S. is important, not only as an outside agent, but in some cases as an arbiter and referee.

6/17/2006 06:16:00 PM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...


He's on our blogroll as Daylight's Mark.

6/17/2006 06:22:00 PM  
Blogger Jamie Irons said...



Jamie Irons

6/17/2006 08:34:00 PM  
Blogger trish said...

"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."

Not anywhere near the current tempo or on the current scale. I would presume.

You smoke the bastards while you can, as fast as you can. Before they have a chance to catch on and adapt. Which they always will.

6/17/2006 08:40:00 PM  
Blogger trish said...

Except the dead ones.

6/17/2006 08:43:00 PM  
Blogger Mike H. said...

Bandit 3 6 in the green zone.

6/17/2006 09:23:00 PM  
Blogger sunguh5307 said...

It's been a different conflict for most of the past 2 years, it's just now the results of that change are starting to come in. And the fact that it doesn't fit with the Iraq/Vietnam framework is causing a fair bit of dissonance around the world.

6/17/2006 10:17:00 PM  
Blogger bobalharb said...

OT This is interesting. I'm reading that Khomeini's grandson--speaking from the 'holy' city of Qom--is inviting President Bush to send in the troops--"to throw open the prison doors"--the revolution having gone wrong and devoured its own. I wonder what his life expectancy is or whether his kinship would protect him. So we have 'son of shah' and grandson of of Ayatollah Khomeini on the same side at this point! I scratch my head in wonderment.

6/17/2006 10:27:00 PM  
Blogger ledger said...

I do not know if there is enough data from Omar's report to determine if this is just a short term flair-up or a long term trend.

Wretchard notes: 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...

I do agree with that. So, I would suggest that Gen. Thurman carefully balance the need to check points (including "flash" check points against the possibility of a big car bomb causing mass causalities).

The need to remove weapons from the city is paramount to a lawful, productive, city.

I would also suggest that the citizens be informed of the origin of the explosives, mortar shells, mines, and RPGs that are killing their citizens (this may cause citizens to pin point any new weapons smuggled in before they are used). And it may provide insight into who is facilitating the killing of civilians.

The propaganda side of the war is very complex. I will discuss the propaganda war at a later date.

I did read Gen. Thurman's briefing and I thought he had a fair good handle on the situation.

But, I would caution against "arresting" members of these private "militias." These guys seem to be heavily armed and are willing to uses said arms. That's not a good thing for the average Iraqi police officer with just a rifle.

It may take more fire power to neutralize these groups than what the Iraqi police have - and it may take a sting to de-fang these groups (or at least use the element of surprise).

I would like to know exactly how these "militias" are funded. One would guess that funding of said "militias" is their life blood. If the funding is cut they will die.

If these "militias" are simply roving bandits of Sadism's old guard who rob for money then they should be actively targeted.

If these "militias" are funded by an outside state sponsor then them must be investigated, interrogated to find out who the state sponsor is, and neutralized (and the state sponsor must be sanctioned).

The "Militias" that fall in the middle like "Al Capone's [sp] gambling, drug, hooker gang" could be handled by well armed police.

I may have suggested this before, but it's about time Saddam final legal disposition be completed (to the very end).

Sadism's presence gives hope to his old gang that he will be put back in power. This emboldens his buddies to fight on. With Saddam out of the picture permanently, this would close the book on an ugly chapter in history.

6/18/2006 03:16:00 AM  
Blogger John Samford said...

All war is a dynamic process. That is why those attracted to fixed and orderly schedules with firm deadlines have so much trouble understanding War.
And as far as there being a civil war in Iraq, there is. A civil war is where two or more national groups are fighting for control of a nation.
But wait, there's more.
Iraq is also in the middle of what could be seen as a revolution. Revolutions are civil wars that are fought not only for control, but as the means to a change in the type of government. In Iraq, the guerrillas are fighting to throw out the revolutionaries (pro-democratic groups, supported by the USA).
And then, just to drive the soundbite types right over the edge, there is also a 5th coulmn working.
5th column tactics are where a hostile foriegn power uses guerrilla tactics to de-stabelize a sitting government, in hopes of replacing that government.
The entire process has been called 'the great game' in the past. For a n example, look to the French-Indian wars here in the Colony of America. You have 2 major powers fighting by proxie (sometimes, sometimes not), a native people who just want everybody dead or gone, and colonists who are interested in forming their own nation.
We live in interesting times.

"The conqueror is always a lover of peace; he would prefer to take over our country unopposed."
- Karl von Clausewitz

6/18/2006 04:19:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Mideast Analysis, Fast and Furious

6/18/2006 04:34:00 AM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...

Dear Bob Al Harb,

a link or reference to the statements of Khomeini's grandson would be greatly appreciated.

I assume these are not audiocassettes...


6/18/2006 05:04:00 AM  
Blogger bobalharb said...

Fiddler--read it on World Net Daily. Evidently, he had said about the same thing a couple of years ago; wasn't aware of that. I am inexpert at doing the link thing.

6/18/2006 05:19:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

They are not targeting militias but they are going after lawbreakers...

Brings to mind the famous quote from Willie Sutton, about robbing banks because that is where the money is.

6/18/2006 08:24:00 AM  
Blogger David said...

Great column. I wish there were more publicity about the attacks on enemy safe houses. More publicity on such attacks would engender more confidence.

6/18/2006 09:35:00 AM  
Blogger Karridine said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the follow-on to Zarkman's thumb drive of death has been something more than 250 raids, 100+ dead enemy, hundreds captured, and bean-spillers and captured documents fueling a rapid conflagration for the Good Guys, which is continuing apace, and will, until we've killed or captured the A-level, B-team, C-recruits, D-umbells and Extras...

This, to me, was a VERY CLEAR turning point... against the 'insurgents', no matter WHAT a few of them have been able to pull off against a few troops!

6/19/2006 02:41:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Since that's a Bogus Thumb Drive,
none of those killed and captured really count for a Hill of Beans.
You wanna die on that Hill?

6/19/2006 11:03:00 AM  

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