Tigris River Valley (وادي نهر دجلة)
The upper Tigris River Valley runs from the northern border of Iraq down directly into the center of Baghdad. As the Tigris winds its way south to the capital, a number of key Iraqi cities lie along the route; these are Bayji, Tikrit, Samarra, and Balad. A major highway, Main Supply Route Tampa, also runs from the Syrian border, through Mosul, and down along the Tigris River and aforementioned cities into Baghdad. Therefore, the Tigris River Valley has functioned as a primary line of communication, supply, and foreign terrorist facilitation for the Sunni insurgency and, in particular, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).
AQI has used the areas along the Tigris River Valley as support zones for the insurgency. The cities in Salah ad-Din, a predominantly Sunni province, have also formed important nodes on the AQI communication lines. Bayji is home to the largest oil refinery in Iraq and it has functioned as an important base for the insurgency. Indeed, AQI has used oil diverted from the refinery as source of funding. South of Bayji, Tikrit has traditionally been a stronghold of insurgent activities, as it was the hometown of former president Saddam Hussein. The city of Samarra, which lies south of Tikrit along the Tigris, is also strategically and symbolically important to the Sunni insurgency, evidenced by the February 2006 and June 2007 attacks on the Golden Mosque, a highly revered Shiite shrine in Samarra. The city of Balad has a small, but predominantly Shi’a population; however, the surrounding rural areas are heavily Sunni. Hence, the area has remained a hotbed of Sunni insurgent activity.
To weaken al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Sunni insurgency, coalition forces have sought to disrupt the lines of communication and supply that run throughout northern Iraq. During Operation Phantom Thunder, which began June 15, 2007, U.S. and Iraqi Forces conducted a number of operations in the cities along the upper Tigris River Valley targeting AQI leaders, facilitators, and financiers. The tempo of operations in the cities of the Tigris River Valley north of Baghdad increased in late 2007 during Operation Phantom Strike, the follow-on to Phantom Thunder. Coalition and Iraqi forces have conducted frequent intelligence-driven raids, seeking to deny sanctuary to AQI insurgents and to further disrupt lines of communication, supply, and foreign terrorist movement in these areas.
The presence of Coalition Forces along the Tigris River Valley in Salah ad Din province is characterized by an economy of force. U.S. Special Operations Forces also operate throughout the province, and have conducted a large number of targeted raids. U.S. Forces work alongside Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). The 4th Iraqi Army (IA) Division and the 12th Iraqi Army Division are responsible for Salah ad Din and Kirkuk provinces.