Haifa Street: One Year Later
Haifa Street lies on key terrain on the western side of the Tigris. Al Qaeda in Iraq and Shia extremist militias contested Haifa Street in 2005 and 2006 because of the street's important location, and because controlling the high-rise apartments symbolized having wealth and social status.
CBS reported on the wave of violence that swept
A large-scale, multi-day battle between insurgent and coalition forces erupted on Haifa Street in early January. The Haifa Street battle was atypical of joint U.S.-Iraqi engagements in December and January – and indeed, insurgent engagements – in scale and duration. But in some ways, the Haifa Street battle shows the parameters that guided coalition commanders last month, when they addressed a difficult security problem in Baghdad. It also received significant media attention that did not place it clearly within the larger context of the challenges in Iraq and coalition plans and operations. It is therefore worth reviewing in some detail.
Haifa Street runs for two to three miles through central Baghdad along the west bank of the snaking TigrisRiver. Many of its buildings are high-rise apartments, some twenty-stories high. Because of their central location and height, their commanding view of Baghdad, and their proximity to the Green Zone, the buildings on Haifa Street are dominant urban terrain, and highly defensible. By the beginning of 2005, insurgents were using Haifa Street as a safe-haven. In spring 2005, The 1st battalion of the 9th cavalry regiment (part of the 4th BCT of the 1st Cavalry Division) cleared the neighborhood, conducted presence-patrols along with Iraqi forces, and repaired damage that they caused to the roads during combat. They departed, and left Iraqi forces in charge. Some Shiite families fleeing Khadimiyah, to the north of Karkh, moved into residences on Haifa Street. They were “protected” by a leading member of the Jaysh al-Mahdi who operated in the vicinity of Haifa Street until he was arrested. Sunni insurgents then returned to the Haifa Street area from other neighborhoods and victimized the Shi’ite refugees inhabiting the buildings. U.S. forces are attested patrolling the area in mid-October 2006. Even then, Haifa Street was marked by violence. Snipers shot at U.S. forces from rooftops and threw grenades at them from the high-rises.
On Saturday, January 6, 2007, Iraqi troops on patrol discovered a fake checkpoint in the neighborhood, manned by insurgents. The Iraqi forces killed thirty insurgents on that day. That night, the insurgents dumped in the neighborhood twenty-seven corpses of Shiites whom they had executed. On Sunday January 7, an insurgent sniper killed two Iraqi security guards at a neighborhood mosque where he was hiding. On Monday, January 8, “gunmen roamed the streets, distributing leaflets threatening to kill anyone who might enter the area.” When the Iraqi unit in the area attempted to oust the insurgents from their stronghold later that day, two of their soldiers were killed in action. The Iraqi unit then called in American forces to help them clear out the insurgents’ safe-haven.
The 1-23rd Infantry Battalion moved out of its assembly area at 3:30 a.m. on Tuesday, January 9. Two hours later, it had joined with the Iraqi forces around Tala’a Square, on the north end of Haifa Street and in the center of the neighborhood, occupied buildings, and began rounding up suspects. Approximately 1,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops were in the area. At 7:00 a.m., the insurgents began firing on U.S. and Iraqi troops and their vehicles from sniper positions on the roofs and the doorways of buildings. They also coordinated their mortar fire, indicating the high degree of their training and cohesiveness. And they continued to fight, rather than running away from American forces, as the enemy typically had done, surprising American forces. U.S. and Iraqi forces had not cordoned off the area before or during the fight. The insurgents occupied positions in successive buildings, and moved effectively from building to building as the American and Iraqi forces went from one to the next. The battalion from the Stryker Brigade called for close air support from Apache helicopters and F-18s, which targeted the snipers on the building roofs until roughly noon. On the ground, the U.S. battalion remained engaged for eleven hours. They patrolled the area after dark with their heavy vehicles, and Iraqi soldiers took positions on the rooftops. No U.S. troops were killed in action. They killed fifty-one insurgents, and captured 21, including several foreign fighters.
The Iraqi unit remained in the neighborhood, but the Stryker battalion had left the area by one week later. The First Cavalry Division had taken responsibility for patrolling Haifa Street by January 16. Conflicting and unreliable witness reports do not allow one to determine whether and how often American troops patrolled the area. Insurgents had reinfiltrated the area by 23 January, just two weeks after the 1-23 Infantry Battalion initially confronted them, according to intelligence reports mentioned by a spokesman for Prime Minister Maliki. The 1-23 Infantry therefore returned to clear the area of insurgents once again. Operation Tomahawk Strike 11, as it was called (after the Tomahawks, the nickname of the 1-23 Infantry Battalion), began when that battalion entered the area from the south at 2:00 a.m. on 24 January. They were ultimately joined by Iraqi forces and by elements of the 2nd BCT of the 1st Cavalry Division. Their mission was “aimed at rapidly isolating insurgents and gaining control of this key central Baghdad location.... Reducing sectarian violence is vital in transferring security responsibilities to the Iraqi security forces and provides a safer living environment for Iraqi residents,” according to officials. Together, the units brought infantry, Strykers, and Bradleys (more heavily armored fighting vehicles than the Strykers, with tracks rather than wheels) into the fight. Americans moved from building to building. An enemy in a Shiite neighborhood on the east side of the TigrisRiver shelled them with mortars, and snipers opposed them from covered positions on street level and from the windows of buildings. They identified a major weapons cache at KarkhHigh School, cordoned off the area, and allowed only pedestrian traffic on Haifa Street.
According to Iraqi officials, the engagement on 24 January was not part of the Baghdad Security Plan. Rather it was meant to “prepare the way for a more concerted effort to clear out and hold troubled neighborhoods.” Like the operations in the Baghdad suburbs, the fight for Haifa Street was an effort to create the preconditions for the success of the BSP by denying the insurgents bases and safe havens from which to disrupt that operation when it began.
By February 1, 2007, the 1st of the 23rd Infantry Battalion had left Haifa Street again, and elements of the 6th Iraqi Army Division were patrolling that sector.
Iraq Report Number One: “
But by August things had begun to change on
CBS returned with General David Petraeus to walk in the markets of this once dangerous street – click here to watch.
And now USA Today reports on Haifa Street:
One year ago, Haifa Street's high-rise apartments were the scene of some of the Iraqi capital's heaviest fighting. Today, the downtown buildings remain pockmarked from the snipers who shot down at U.S. and Iraqi troops whenever they came to clear the neighborhood. But there are many encouraging signs of the tentative peace that has come to much of Baghdad. Workers reinstall floor-to-ceiling windows in the modern Finance Ministry building; many damaged high-rise apartments have been refurbished; commerce in several markets is resuming.