Al-Qaeda in Iraq Resurgent, Part II

 by Jessica Lewis

This report is a continuation of a previous publication entitled “Al-Qaeda in Iraq Resurgent: The Breaking the Walls Campaign, Part I.” Part I of this report put forth the assessment that al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has reconstituted as a professional military force capable of planning, training, resourcing, and executing synchronized and complex attacks in Iraq, in particular waves of Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIED), and combined arms attacks involving VBIEDS, mortars, suicide bombers, and small arms fire. This assessment derives from careful study of the 24 VBIED waves and 8 prison attacks observed during AQI’s “Breaking the Walls” campaign from July 21, 2012 to July 23, 2013. This report will describe these events in detail in order to provide the necessary tactical evidence to support the strategic and operational assessments presented in Part I. 
This continuation will focus upon the geography, volume, interval, and selected targets which characterize the individual waves and prison attacks. Careful study of the individual attacks supports the estimation of AQI’s combat power applied to VBIED operations in 2012-2013. Part II will also show how the four phases of the “Breaking the Walls” campaign that are described in Part I were derived and assessed. It will provide further insight into the evolution of AQI’s military organization over the same time period. The primary object of Part II will be to explain AQI’s battle plan and adaptation over the course of the “Breaking the Walls” campaign.  The paper observes how AQI employed VBIEDS, its historical signature and current weapon of choice, to increase operational momentum in Iraq and establish the initiative at the expense of the Iraqi Security Forces. Part II will also establish the key indicators of the presence and reactivity of AQI’s VBIED planning cell and its distinction from the force-level planning cell assessed to be responsible for combined arms attacks upon prisons. 
Part II uses the definitions and key terms that are established in Part I, including VBIED, VBIED wave, and VBIED cell. A VBIED is distinguished by its design to project explosive power outside of a vehicle. VBIEDS are identified in context either to kill many people outside of the vehicle; as a battering ram to achieve structural damage; or in select instances to assassinate a person in another vehicle. By contrast, car bombs and sticky bombs are small parcel bombs placed on or in a car in order to target its occupants. A VBIED is therefore considered to be a much more sophisticated weapon, requiring explosives expertise and automotive expertise to re-wire a car as a traveling high-yield bomb.
A VBIED wave is an observed phenomenon often repeated by AQI in 2012-2013, in which many VBIEDS are detonate on the same day. Throughout the “Breaking the Walls” campaign, these waves often struck multiple cities on the same day, which provides insight into the minimum command and control mechanisms in place to direct and coordinate attacks. For the purposes of both Part I and Part II, the threshold for distinguishing aVBIED “wave” as opposed to other groupings of attacks is six VBIEDS in a single day. This serves to isolate the distinction between coordinated VBIED activity at a national level and VBIED activity that may be more decentralized. Likewise the methodology to isolate VBIED attacks and to evaluate VBIED waves presented in Part I applies also to Part II. The methodology described in Part I is re-printed in Appendix A of this report.
Part I of this report described the presence of a national VBIED organization within AQI’s military that designs, resources, and directs VBIED waves. Decentralized components of the national VBIED organization are called “VBIED cells.” VBIED cells are not assumed to have been present for the duration of the “Breaking the Walls” campaign. Rather, a principal object of this more in-depth study will be to observe key indicators that decentralized VBIED cells are active, where they may be active, and when they may have emerged. The disposition of independent VBIED cells, which may correspond with increasingly decentralized VBIED construction, is a measure of the operational depth of AQI’s military organization. Individual VBIED cells that can operate without guidance but remain responsive to tasking are difficult to defeat corporately. Destroying one cell, or even communication among across echelons, does not destroy their aggregate lethal capability.
Part II will also discuss indicators of the presence of two echelons of planners within AQI’s military, one that specifically pertains to VBIED operations, and one that incorporates VBIEDS into combined arms attacks. This observation yields a key assessment that AQI has reconstituted as a military organization typified by its operational planning, as opposed to a disrupted and leader-centric terrorist organization. The VBIED command, assessed to be a national-level asset within AQI’s military structure, is further assessed to possess its own planning capability, its own supply chain, and its own training apparatus to propagate technical expertise. The overarching military command, assessed to design and direct combined arms attacks, appears sometimes to task the VBIED command with support to these complex attacks, for example the prison attacks of 2012-2013. This report will explore the phases of the “Breaking the Walls” campaign for what they indicate of the objectives and planning culture of these two military headquarters.