June 19, 2007

Diyala's Turn

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.


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Comments (12)

Posted by the fly-man | June 19, 2007 7:39 AM

So if the Iraqis don't solidify an agreement on the oil sharing revenues, will we just have our embassy sitting there in the middle, kinda Gitmo like? Representative government? Isn't this whole mess going to end up as tribal regions? National reconciliation? You mean King of the Hill, don't you. Capt'n Ed, your optimism, euphemisms, slay me.

Posted by NahnCee [TypeKey Profile Page] | June 19, 2007 8:42 AM

According to Yon, we're not trying to take prisoners any more, but are just killing them then and there. What an excellent idea.

Posted by David M | June 19, 2007 9:29 AM

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 06/19/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

Posted by Gary Gross | June 19, 2007 9:33 AM

Harry Reid's dire diatribes notwithstanding, this surge stands a good chance of working because Gen. Petraeus is taking a methodical approach to eliminating AQI & insurgent sanctuaries.

If this offensive achieves its objectives, I suspect that the political climate in DC will change dramatically.

Posted by Tom Shipley | June 19, 2007 9:44 AM

This is great, very welcome news. We're finally making some progress in the "war on terror" in Iraq, though it's kind of 2-steps-forward, 1-step back as we spawned the creation the AQ in Iraq.

AQ is not the problem in Iraq. There are a problem, but not the problem.

For this offensive to really help Iraq, it must somehow spur a reconciliation between the Sunnis and Shia in regards to the coalition government. Right now I don't see that. There are many in the Shia-controlled government that are worried that the US is arming these Sunni groups in the fight against AQ. The worry is, if/once AQ is eliminated, these groups will turn their newly-armed sites on the government, whom they fear will become an arm of the Iranian government once the US leaves.

I love taking the fight to AQ. And the surge may have helped move them from Baghdad, but violence has not waned as of yet in the capital because of the surge, and political rifts have shown no sign of healing. Those are the more important sign posts of success.

Posted by MarkW | June 19, 2007 10:04 AM

If this succeeds, the real question is, will most of our population ever hear about it?

Posted by Lew | June 19, 2007 2:08 PM

As has always been the case, a successful military suppression of the various terrorist groups will only be useful to the extent that the political operators can take advantage of it to establish civil order. In that sense, there can be no political solution without a military one. The great tragedy lurking on the other side of a military success however, is that the opportunity will be frittered away by myopic and short-sighted politicians, and all of those fine young people with all of their bright tomorrows will have been sadly wasted.

In that sense, Iraq and America are in identical situations!

Posted by celticdragon | June 19, 2007 4:46 PM

I agree with Tom Shipley. Every offensive we have launched has produced sucess at that moment, and glowing reports on the ground...yet things are still worse. Unless the Iraqi government can get its' act together and start being a government instead of a thuggish cabal, the surge is doomed to go like every other operation we have tried there since the fall of Baghdad. We could be here 50 years from now, (which Gen Petraueus predicted we would be this weekend) and still be talking about operations and AQ bodycounts with the way the Iraqi government seems to be working. With the way that public opinion has turned against the war, we won't be there anywhere near that long...and who can blame them?

It's popular to blame the media, but the evidence of a badly managed war, incompetant leadership both civilian and military and a disasterous premise (planting a liberal democracy in Iraq??!!) have been obvious for all to see. I'm hoping this last gasp of a plan really does something, but I would never think of putting any odds on it.

Keep your fingers crossed, but start thinking about what happens when the violence and anarchy continues through the next presidential election and the Iraqi government continues to be incompetant kleptocrats and thuggish sychophants. We need a plan to disengage from a sinking ship if the ship is, indeed, sinking. We need to figure out how to contain Iran and what to do if Israel decides to launch a first strike, and we need to know how to deal with AQ in what remains of Iraq at that point.


Posted by NahnCee | June 19, 2007 5:43 PM

I found this comment of Yon's interesting: "But when we flattened parts of Fallujah not once, but twice, primarily in response to the murders of four of our people, we helped create a spectacle of injustice and chaos, the very conditions in which Al Qaeda thrives."

Say what? They murdered four civilians, dragged them through the streets, set their bodies on fire, and then strung them up on bridges. Seems to me "conditions of injustice and chaos" were already thriving then in there in Fallujah and it NEEDED flattening. And if it didn't stay flattened, it needed flattening *again*.


Take down two of our buildings, we'll take down two of your countries. I can't believe Yon now seems to be advocating a warmer and more caring military in dealing with both Iraqi thugs and Al-Queda imports.

Posted by gaffo | June 19, 2007 6:38 PM

since when were those four Mercs (the second lowest life form on the Earth - after Lobbyists) "our people".

fucking mercenaries are not my people.
but you gotta like em since they will be the future of our Armed Forces once the Republican party breaks the Military in order to re-build it as a Private merc force.

Republican wet dream no doubt.


oh ya, Whack a Mole is not a sign of victory.

Posted by rob | June 19, 2007 8:54 PM

Tighten the screws here and there and eventually even the most vile and suicidal enemy can be starved of oxygen. As for news coverage, the fact that insurgent groups have teamed up with the United States to defeat our mutual enemy Al Qaeda in the heart of the Middle East is nothing short of Dramatic.

Posted by TMLutas | June 21, 2007 12:40 AM

Every time insurgents move, they are vulnerable. New cities mean new rules, new escape routes, new local power structures to cow or placate. So whack-a-mole isn't useless but merely a long-term plan for victory. We can do better and we seem to be doing it.

We've got 7 out of 18 provinces transitioned to local control, seven down, eleven to go. In two more provinces, expect to see the media start to wake up to the fact that we're turning over control to the Iraqis and we've hit the 50% mark. As the Iraqis grow in competence, we'll be able to concentrate our forces and grind down what's left of the insurgency. The only question is whether the politicals in DC will let the strategy work or they'll pull the plug prematurely.