The US has achieved a significant level of success in Iraq's Anbar province in driving terrorists out. Tribal leaders have allied themselves with American forces and have even started a grassroots political force called the Awakening, acting to pursue al-Qaeda and other foreign Islamists from their territory. As a result, violence has dropped by a third in Anbar over the last four months, and now the US wants to take that show on the road -- to Diyala:
About 10,000 US soldiers have launched an offensive against al-Qa'eda in Iraq, killing at least 22 insurgents.
The raids, named Operation Arrowhead Ripper, took place in Baquba, the capital of Diyala province, and involved air assaults under the cover of darkness. The operation is still ongoing.
The troops were accompanied by attack helicopters, Strykers and Bradley Fighting Vehicles, a statement from the military said.
Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim al-Rubaie, the commander of Iraqi military operations in Diyala, said handcuffs, swords and electricity cables - apparently used as torture implements - had been seized from militant safe houses in the area.
The operation is part of a new US and Iraqi campaign aimed at clearing out Sunni insurgents, al-Qa'eda fighters and Shia militiamen who had fled the capital and Anbar during a four-month-old security operation.
The pursuit of AQI meant that Diyala was the logical next step. Its sectarian mix not only allowed AQI to move into Baquba and its environs, it also gave them opportunities to inflame sectarian tensions. While the US has worked hard to turn the corner in Anbar, AQI fled to fight another day, and that day is today.
The expansion of the effort against AQI and the other insurgencies comes as a result of General David Petraeus getting the final brigade of the surge within the last few days. It took over four months for the necessary troops to arrive in Anbar and Baghdad, and even so, the new strategy and tactics have worked to reduce violence in those areas. However, the new, aggressive tactics have ended up acting like a game of whack-a-mole, with insurgents adjusting to the deployment by setting up shop elsewhere, as in Diyala.
At some point, the terrorists will have no more places to run, but that will take quite a long time. Petraeus wants to get them out of Baghdad in order to allow the central government to finally take steps towards national reconciliation. No one thinks that a military solution exists that will solve all of Iraq's problems, but the military needs to give enough space to allow the political solutions to take place and to root themselves firmly in the Iraqi culture.
At some point, chasing insurgents will become the exclusive province of the Iraqi Army. We will probably work on AQI ourselves for the next few years, but we want to hand everything else off to a strong, representative government in Baghdad in the very near future, if possible. By keeping the pressure on AQI and other terrorists in Baghdad, Anbar, and now Diyala, we're giving that solution the best possible chance to succeed.
UPDATE: Michael Yon reports from the front:
Few ears have heard even rumors of this battle, and fewer still are the eyes that will see its full scope. Even now—the battle has already begun for some—practically no news about it is flowing home. I’ve known of the secret plans for about a month, but have remained silent.
This campaign is actually a series of carefully orchestrated battalion and brigade sized battles. Collectively, it is probably the largest battle since “major hostilities” ended more than four years ago. Even the media here on the ground do not seem to have sensed its scale. ...
But now the AQ cancer is spreading into Diyala Province, straight along the Diyala River into Baghdad and other places. “Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia” (AQM) apparently now a subgroup of ISI (the Islamic State of Iraq), has staked Baquba as the capital of their Caliphate. Whatever the nom de jour of their nom de guerre, Baquba has been claimed for their capital. I was in Diyala again this year, where there is a serious state of Civil War, making Baquba an unpopular destination for writers or reporters. (A writer was killed in the area about a month ago, in fact.) News coming from the city and surrounds most often would say things like, “near Baghdad,” or “Northeast of Baghdad,” and so many people have never even heard of Baquba.
Well, I'm getting the story from a British newspaper, which underscores Michael's point.