AQI’s “Soldiers’ Harvest” Campaign
Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) announced “The Soldiers’ Harvest,” a new campaign on July 29, 2013, immediately after the Abu Ghraib prison attack. AQI then declared that event the conclusion of the “Breaking the Walls” campaign, which apparently achieved its goals: to stoke sectarian violence by targeting Shi‘a communities; and to reconstitute the veteran AQI fighting force by breaking former members out of Iraq’s prisons. ISW has assessed that AQI has reconstituted as a professional military force.1 It is therefore crucial to examine the first 60 days of the new “Soldiers’ Harvest” campaign for indications of what AQI means to accomplish this year. Initial indications suggest that AQI will seek to establish control of key terrain in Iraq while targeting any Sunnis who work for the government. The campaign name, “The Soldiers’ Harvest,” refers in particular to the intimidation and displacement of the Iraqi Security Forces, especially through the destruction of their homes.
Control of terrain is an important concept to define. Control is defined in doctrine as a tactical mission task that requires the commander to maintain physical influence over a specified area in order to prevent its use by an enemy or to create the successful conditions for friendly operations.2 Control of terrain therefore refers to the nature of AQI’s established physical presence in a particular location. The ability to control an area is determined by AQI’s capacity to repel opposing forces from that location, and often the ability to govern or compel behaviors of a population within a defined space. Controlled terrain may be understood in contradistinction to attack zones and support zones. In an attack zone, AQI deliberately executes offensive operations while in a support zone, AQI executes combat support functions such as logistics to facilitate its offensive operations.
AQI has already established control in some locations in Iraq, such as northern Diyala province and eastern Salah ad-Din. It is necessary to take inventory of exactly where AQI has established control and to estimate where AQI may undermine state control. Where AQI controls terrain, the government of Iraq is prevented from re-establishing control without a military engagement. Where AQI controls terrain, AQI is able to further pursue their goal of establishing an Islamic state.
It appears in August-September 2013 that AQI is attempting to establish control in portions of Ninewa province. Ninewa is critical for AQI because it possesses a considerable border with Syria, a multi-ethnic and majority Sunni population, and Iraq’s northern capital, Mosul. It is also physically removed from Baghdad. AQI is attempting to isolate the ISF in Mosul by cutting its supply lines at Qayara, Shirqat, and Shura, areas south of Mosul along the primary lines of communication from Baghdad. This backgrounder will therefore focus upon AQI’s efforts to control this key terrain and explore the ongoing contest for control between AQI and ISF observed elsewhere in Ninewa province. It will also document AQI’s efforts to target Sunnis in government as well as minority groups in Ninewa.