Winning The Battle For Baghdad

On August 20 soldiers from the  1st Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, acting on a tip, conducted a raid that freed a kidnap victim being held in Baghdad's Adhamiya district.  In the house where the victim was held soldiers found 2 rocket—propelled grenades (RPGs), 20 RPG rounds, an AK—47 rifle, 2 sniper rifles and 12 hand grenades.  Two suspected terrorists were detained.

Also on August 20, Iraqi Army forces conducted multiple, simultaneous, precision raids on three objectives in  Baghdad's Al Rasheed district, capturing two key insurgent leaders during ongoing Operation Forward Together missions.  The captured personnel controlled death squads operating in the Dura, Al Sahha and Abu D'Shair districts of Baghdad.  Four others were detained during the raid.

On August 22 Iraqi army and coalition forces discovered and destroyed seven IEDs in and around Baghdad.  The deadly IEDs, consisting variously of 120, 122 and 152 millimeter rounds, were found south and north of the city by soldiers from the 1st Squadron, 10th Cavalry, 8th Squadron, 10th Cavalry, 1st Battalion, 66th Armor and 2nd Brigade Combat team, 101st Airborne Division and Iraqi army units.  In all cases EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) teams were called in to destroy the terrorist munitions.

An August 27 raid, targeting an Al Qaeda in Iraq terrorist leader associate resulted in one terrorist killed and two detained.

During two raids on August 28 searching for a known Al Qaeda in Iraq leader, one terrorist was killed and 4 detained in southwest Baghdad.

Both the 27 and 28 August raids here were conducted in populated areas where terrorists hoped to induce civilian casualties. There were none in either operation (see date specific Multi—National Force Iraq press releases here).

I begin with this snapshot of one element of the ongoing Operation Forward Together in Baghdad to supply context for the more recent Big News announced by Iraq's national security adviser Dr. Mowaffak al—Rubaie: that Al Qaeda in Iraq's No. 2 man, Hamed Jumaa Farid al—Saeedi, has been captured. In a nationally televised statement, al—Rubaie said that al—Saeedi was the

'direct supervisor of the criminal Haitham al—Badri, who planned and executed the bombing of the Askariya Shrine (Golden Mosque) in Samarra. (al—Badri himself was captured in June).' 

Al—Saeedi's chief mission in Iraq was to promote sectarian violence.  Al—Rubaie stated that he

'created death squads, ordered assassinations, bombings and kidnappings and attacks on Iraqi police.' 

Since his capture, al—Saeedi has provided interrogators information that led to the death or detainment of 11 top Al Qaeda in Iraq personnel.  It will be recalled that locating and killing Zarqawi was the result of piecing together the intelligence mosaic through tireless, ongoing efforts by various personnel and agencies.  Since his death, that same process has allowed Iraqi and coalition forces to continue to attack and degrade the effectiveness of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

If Iraq is the central front in the war on terror, then Baghdad is its main battleground.  As I wrote here earlier,

Most of the violence in the capital occurs in 5 of its twelve municipalities, or baladiyats.  It is roughly a microcosm of the combat situation countrywide, where 14 out of Iraq's 18 provinces are relatively quiescent.  On a daily basis, 51,000 troops (combined Iraqi and Coalition forces) conduct 700 patrols.  Most of them are executed independently by Iraqis. Six hundred checkpoints are manned.

A recent report titled 'Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq' was trumpeted gleefully by the MSM because it stated there has been a 51% increase in civilian casualties over the past 3 months.  Well then, we must be losing? Not at all. 

In his most recent press conference Multi—National Force Iraq spokesman Maj. Gen. Bill Caldwell talked about what's been done in Baghdad over the past month in Operation Forward Together:

'We brought in 5 additional US military police companies...with three of them to be embedded with Iraqi police units, the others at police stations (and) there are about 100 police stations in the city.. .we're already getting some tremendous feedback in talking to our military police training terms of what they've already been able to accomplish..' 

Discussing operational methods, MG Caldwell explained:

'We go in, clear an area, ensure it has protection, then continue with the build phase.' 

Once protection is assured, Iraqi and coalition forces move on, leaving area security to the Iraqi National Police, of which there are now 27 battalions.  How well they do is assessed on a continuing basis.  MG Caldwell continued,   

'Our fight in Baghdad is not only against insurgents, but continues to be against death squads.  From August 21 through the 27, Iraqi security forces (ISF) and coalition units have taken down 5 cell leaders and 11 cell members...over that 7—day period 21 operations were conducted, 19 of them specifically focused in the Baghdad area... there are 3—4 intelligence—based operations every night conducted by dedicated forces against death squads in Baghdad.' 

MG Caldwell provided a series of statistics:

These and other operations have resulted in the city's murder rate decreasing by 46% for the July—August period; down 50% for the 7—25 August period. 

VBIED (Vehicle—borne improvised explosive devices) attacks are down 50% last week (21—25 Aug.) for a total of 8, the lowest monthly average in eight months. 

As of August 27 ISF with coalition support cleared 30,000 buildings, discovered 19 weapons caches, seized 700 weapons and detained 70 suspects.

The MNF—Iraq spokesman reminded everybody that context is an important factor when judging Iraqi army and police forces. They

'are about 3 years old at the most, and any new organization is going to have growing pains...and so its going to take time to continue developing them.' 

Yet, he stressed, Iraqi citizens are showing increased confidence in the reliability of their army and police forces.

MG Caldwell noted that Operation Forward Together is concentrating on a handful of baladiyats, such as Dura, Mansour and Kadhimiya.  Commenting on the nature of enemy attacks, he said: 

'Their methods are simple — attack innocent Iraqis.  They want to inflict as many casualties as possible on innocent civilians and Baghdad security forces...because the effectiveness of those attacks has been reduced, terrorists and insurgents are seeking dramatic attacks in other areas... we have reduced the amount of violence and are working to set the conditions so the Iraqi leadership and local citizens can revitalize their communities.  It's not just the statistics that show progress. We're seeing progress out there...(an interesting sign of which) are the unusual numbers of weddings in the streets of Baghdad recently... whether its shops or banks opening, women and children moving about in their neighborhoods, the Iraqi security forces are making progress.'

In his September 1 briefing, Colonel Thomas Vail, whose 4th Brigade, 101st Airborne is responsible for the east Baghdad area, cited progress in the Adhamiya sector where, before Operation Forward Together, there were 11 crimes per day. That number has been reduced to 6 per day.  Six of the top 10 most wanted terrorists have been captured.  Tips from citizens are increasing.  When a tip is received, units from the 34 ISF battalions in the sector, backed by coalition forces, can respond quickly.

As important as these security efforts, perhaps more so in the long run, are the ongoing efforts at improving basic services and cleaning up neighborhoods.  In each one,  a specific Iraqi police unit and U.S. company is assigned to cement relations and strengthen confidence. Emphasis is on the Iraqi police who patrol the neighborhood.   Coalition forces units meet regularly with local leaders in Neighborhood Advisory Councils to discuss what they need most in terms of water, electricity and sewage, etc. so the relevant agencies can focus on improving them.  Actions we take for granted such as trash removal are provided so Iraqis can be proud of a clean neighborhood.

While the Iraq security and stability report cited above noted the civilian casualty percentage and some other sobering statistics, it also provided other positive information which the MSM did not tell you about for obvious reasons.

1. 277,600 Iraqi soldiers and police have completed training, an increase of 14,000 for the preceding quarter.

2. 92% of  authorized Iraqi army battalions have been organized.

3. More Iraqi units are able to take the lead in counter—insurgency operations and to assume the lead in their territory.

4. One—third of company—sized operations in the last 3 months have been conducted by Iraqi units.

5. As of Aug. 27, eighty—five (5 divisions, 3 brigades) Iraqi army battalions have taken the lead in counter—insurgency (C/I) operations.

6. All 27 National Police Battalions are now conducting C/I operations & 2 of them have taken the security lead for their area of operations.

7. In all areas of Iraq except the mostly Sunni provinces, 80% or more of those polled expressed confidence in the Iraqi army & police to improve the security situation. In the other provinces the percentage is around 50%.

8. The majority of Iraq now has 12—16 hours of electricity per day; Baghdad & surrounding areas, 9—11 hrs./day.

9. The private sector is expanding, with non—GDP oil growth up 10% in 2006.  Iraqi government agencies are offering micro—loans to expand small businesses & encourage entrepreneurs.

10. The communications sector is expanding.  3 major cell phone companies continue to gain subscribers, which have doubled over the last 9 months.  35 of 42 government sites in Baghdad, the Central Bank & 2 state—owned banks, are connected by wireless broadband.

The only way the Battle for Baghdad, that Iraq, can be lost is if we Americans wimp out and surrender to the 24/7 drumbeat of negative news, the Cassandra chorus of commentators and the cut & run crowd.  That way lies defeat, disgrace and disaster. 

We are Americans, whose ancestors saw their way through bloodier wars and tougher times than these.  We are Americans, whose sons and daughters, families, friends and relatives are fighting, being wounded and dying in this 21st century war for liberty, freedom and our very way of life.  Are we going to act the cowards and render their sacrifices to have been in vain? 

We are Americans.  Are we going to allow our national will to be eroded and crushed; allow Iraq to be left to the tender mercies of Islamofascists?  A great and terrible danger lies down that path.  As President Bush reminded us in his August 21 speech,

'We're not going to leave Iraq before the job is done, and we'll complete the mission in Iraq. I can't tell you exactly when it's going to be done, but I do know that it's important for us to support the Iraqi people, who have shown incredible courage in their desire to live in a free society.  And if we ever give up the desire to help people live in freedom, we will have lost our soul as a nation.'

John B. Dwyer is a military historian.

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