In the Aftermath, Forward Together

The aftermath of Zarqawi's death has seen ongoing follow—on operations, both Baghdad specific and countrywide.  In his June 12 press briefing Multi—National Force Iraq spokesman Maj. Gen. Bill Caldwell stated that

'in the last 48 hours coalition forces conducted 140 company and above level (battalion, brigade) operations.  32 anti—Iraqi elements were killed and 178 detained. Six major caches were found, and due to a tip from an Iraqi, one high—value individual with a $50,000 price on his head was detained.' 

These operations followed the initial 17 conducted in and around Baghdad and the 39 all around Iraq, based on Zarqawi kill site intel exploitation that resulted in 25 suspects detained and one killed. Here are specifics on two of those operations:

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Coalition forces killed seven terrorists, wounded three, and  detained an additional two terrorists during a raid in the vicinity of Baqouba June 12. 

The targeted terrorists have been linked to previous Coalition operations and had ties to senior al—Qaida leaders across Iraq . Intelligence also indicates this particular terrorist cell is involved in the facilitation of foreign fighters in the area. 

Coalition forces received enemy machine gun fire from a rooftop upon arriving at the objective. Two other individuals with AK—47s had been seen fleeing that area just prior to the assault.

Coalition aircraft supporting the ground force immediately suppressed the enemy fire, killing seven. 

All three of the wounded terrorists were evacuated to a nearby military medical center.

There were numerous women and children on the scene. Coalition forces safeguarded those who fled the engagement area prior to the onset of hostilities. Following the assault, Coalition troops discovered two children had been killed. One child was wounded and evacuated for treatment.

Coalition forces secured one rocket propelled grenade launcher, five rockets, nine AK—47 assault rifles and 20 loaded ammunition magazines. 

A vehicle parked near the target building was also damaged by the aircraft gun fire.

Coalition forces take every precaution to mitigate risks to civilians while in the pursuit    of terrorists and deeply regret any injury or death.

Note that 'Coalition forces safeguarded those (women & children) who fled the engagement area prior to the onset of hostilities.' 

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Coalition forces killed one suspected terrorists and detained 23 others June 12 during coordinated morning raids north of Ramadi.

The forces were targeting reported terrorist activity in the area, to include the reported use of an elementary school for an improvised explosive device and suicide bomber training facility. Several of the detainees have been identified as terrorists by Iraqis. 

Coalition forces secured several buildings during the raids and located multiple weapons in each building. The weapons were destroyed on site. One terrorist was killed during the assault.

These terrorists continue to place women and children in potentially deadly situations. Several non—combatants were present during the raids, but none were injured and they were returned to their homes once the troops ensured the area and buildings were secure.

Further exploiting the post—Zarqawi death situation and at the same time sending a clear signal to terrorists and insurgents that Iraq's new National Unity Government means business, Prime Minister Maliki announced a new and massive security operation in Baghdad.  Named 'Forward Together' it will involve some 70,000 Iraqi  (mostly these) and coalition forces.  It is not the first major operation centered on the capital city.

Operation Lightning began June 1, 2005 and continued on through the month.  By the end of its third week, 67 raids and 4400 patrols had been conducted, over 1500 checkpoints established. 1,215 terror suspects had been arrested and 49 weapons caches discovered.  Among the terrorists captured was Zarqawi's military aide, former general Abid Dawood Sulaiman.

Operation Thunder followed Lightning. Its mission: detain terrorist suspects, seize weapons caches and acquire actionable intelligence to disrupt future terrorist operations.  In its first week, Thunder netted 100 plus suspected terrorists captured in raids on safe houses in and around Baghdad neighborhoods adjacent to the International Airport.  Most of those raids were based on tips from local Iraqis. Among the captured were a number of foreign fighters, including Egyptians.

On July 14, a Thunder raid bagged key Al Qaeda terrorists Abu Abdul Aziz and Abu Seba.  Aziz was not only a cell leader for Zarqawi, he was operations leader for Al Qaeda in Iraq.  According to MNF—Iraq sources, Aziz began cooperating with their officials

There can be no doubt that interrogations of Abid Sulaiman and Aziz contributed to the intelligence 'arrow' that ultimately pointed to Zarqawi.

The Operation Forward Together plan, reports The Australian, calls for dividing Baghdad into several zones with US commanders heading a mixed force of Iraqi and coalition forces backed by tanks and armored vehicles to purge each city sector of known insurgents.  Iraqi troops will wear a new uniform to thwart the terror tactic of pretending to be Iraqi army or police personnel. 

'The raids will be very tough,' Prime Minister Maliki said. 'There will be no mercy toward those who show no mercy to our people.'   

There will also be a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew. Forbes is reporting that PM Maliki's Public Order Forces commander, Gen. Mahdi al—Gharrawi said the plan included securing roads in and out of Baghdad and banning personal weapons.  He stated,

'We are expecting clashes will erupt in the predominantly Sunni areas.  The terrorists will escalate their violence especially during the first week (of the operation) as revenge for killing Zarqawi.'

Iraq the Model is commenting,

'Baghdad looked tense today as the city witnessed the launch of the new massive security operation 'Forward Together.' The feeling here ranges from anxiety to hope.' 

Proving its responsibility to citizens, the Iraq government announced phone numbers and e—mail addresses so Iraqis could report abusive behavior by its security forces.  Iraq the Model goes on to say,

'the militants know the strategic value of Baghdad so they will probably try hard to keep a low profile during the operation in order to stay in Baghdad and I don't expect them to risk open confrontation...and they will not be dragged into confrontation; they depend entirely on hit & run attacks...for this operation to work we will need to focus on collecting every weapon that can be collected.  The media here is reporting that all unnecessary weapons from individual homes will be taken.' 

As it stands now, Iraqi families are allowed two weapons.  Now, it will be only one, with a small amount of ammo.

In his remarks about Operation Forward Together to the people of Iraq, PM Maliki stated that the plan has two objectives: humanitarian aid and to provide security. His Interior Ministry would take the lead with the Iraqi army and coalition forces in support.  Besides the curfew and weapons limitation, raids against terrorist cells would be conducted. 

'We will confront the cells of terrorism everywhere. We don't have any sectarian agendas.' 

Multi—National Force commander General Casey said:

'We fully support this government and the people of Iraq in their quest for a secure, unified and prosperous nation.  Operation Forward Together is the logical step for the Coalition and Iraqi forces to stand together and stamp out the kidnappings and murders we believe are largely conducted by illegal armed groups (militias).'

PM Maliki also noted that insurgents and terrorists have targeted Baghdad to incite sectarian violence. 'Murders and revenge killings must be stopped,' he said.  He went on to say that security operations

'have been increasingly successful due to the untiring efforts of Iraqi security forces supported by the Coalition, that Iraqis from all walks of life are helping to secure their own neighborhoods by providing information to root out lawlessness and evildoers.'

Based on the records of previous Baghdad—centered operations and the clear will and determination of the new National Unity Government, plus the size of the force involved, I hereby predict that Operation Forward Together will be a great success that will indeed allow all Iraqis to move forward into a more secure, stable, fully independent future.

John B. Dwyer is a military historian.

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