The fight for Mosul began to take shape in December 2007. Since that time Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces have prepared for a larger offensive in Mosul and the surrounding areas of Ninawa province. Additional Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces were shifted to Mosul; the Ninawa Operations Command (NOC) was established under Major General Riyadh Jalal Tawfiq; and preparatory operations were conducted in the western, southeastern, and northern sections of Mosul, as well as south of the city and to the west along the line that runs through Talafar and Sinjar to the Syrian border. These developments are documented as part of a comprehensive overview of the fight for Mosul in Backgrounder #31.
On Saturday, May 10, 2008, the fight for Mosul transitioned to a new stage with the launch of Operation Lion’s Roar. Operations in Mosul have gradually increased since December, but the announcement of Lion’s Roar likely indicates a further increase in the tempo of operations as part of a more comprehensive strategy to secure Mosul and Ninawa. The primary focus of Lion’s Roar is the AQI network and the remnants of other Sunni insurgent groups. The operation is being led by the NOC under Major General Riyadh who is coordinating the efforts of Iraqi Army, Police, and Border Enforcement units throughout the province. Three Coalition battalions and a small number of Special Operations Forces are also participating in a support and advisory role. The main effort, however, is Iraqi-led. According to a spokesman from Multi-National Forces – Iraq, “This is their operation. It was conceived and led by the Iraqi military.”
Major General Riyadh has also appealed to former Iraqi Army personnel to help hunt down AQI members. In the last few months more than 1,000 former soldiers have been recruited into the security forces in Mosul. Continuing to court this large and important constituency, which has served as a recruiting ground and offered sanctuary for the insurgency, will be important for establishing security in Ninawa. The Government of Iraq (GOI) and the NOC have also worked to recruit many of the local tribes in and around Mosul. According to BBC News, some 10,000 of these tribesmen are now actively participating in Lion’s Roar.
In the days before the official start of the operation a list of AQI targets was drawn up and warrants were issued for their arrest by the Iraqi judicial system. Beginning on the night of Friday May 9, 2008, an indefinite province-wide curfew was announced barring any non military vehicles from transiting roads. Early Saturday morning, hundreds of police and army checkpoints were set up across Mosul and Iraqi Security Forces began conducting raids in targeted areas across the city. A blackout on security developments was imposed at the start of the operation, but at least 96 wanted individuals were detained, as well as 32 others, and 2 weapons caches were found and cleared on Saturday and Sunday. More detailed information will become available as the operation unfolds.
AQI will not fight pitched battles, but will instead resort to using improvised explosive devices (IED), vehicle-borne IEDs, suicide bombers and hit and run tactics. AQI insurgents may also simply lay low or move on to other areas in northern Iraq. Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces will be active west and south of Mosul to prevent insurgents from escaping the area, and efforts have been coordinated with forces down in Bayji, Tikrit, and Kirkuk to prevent insurgents from moving further south to the Za’ab triangle or northern Salah ad Din province.
Lion’s Roar and possible follow-on operations will likely take several months. This operation presents an opportunity for the Iraqi Security Forces to take the lead in establishing security in Iraq. After initial setbacks in Operation Charge of Knights in Basra, Iraqi Security Forces have begun to turn that city around. The fight for Mosul will prove whether or not some of the lessons learned in Basra have been internalized. Lion’s Roar will be a critical test for whether or not the Iraqis can shift forces and military assets, and plan, prepare for, and execute security operations. If successful, Lion’s Roar will continue to break the back of the Sunni insurgency and clear the way for Coalition Forces to continue to draw down.
(Aswat al-Iraq, al-Sharqiyah, al-Iraqiyah, al-Arabiya, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, The Independent, Deutsche Presse-Agentur, BBC News, United Press International, Multi-National Forces – Iraq, May 10-12, 2008)