Expanding Security in Diyala
The security dynamics in Diyala Province demonstrate the continued need for Coalition forces to clear, control, retain, and rebuild the provinces to defend against al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). U.S. and Iraqi forces launched their counter-offensive against al Qaeda in Iraq in June of 2007, driving the organization from its safe havens around Baghdad. Working together they cleared Baqubah, once a major AQI stronghold, in June and July of 2007. Consequently, AQI leaders and fighters fled north up the Tigris River Valley and northeast up the Diyala River Valley to cities and villages that they had previously used as bases for their terror campaign.
From December until May of 2008, Coalition forces performed kinetic and non-kinetic clearing operations to secure, retain, and rebuild Baqubah and other towns Diyala province. The terrorist infrastructure, torture facilities, and devastated local economy demonstrated to military planners the magnitude of al-Qaeda’s hold in the region. The area acted as a pipeline for al-Qaeda communications and attacks in and around Baghdad, making the success of these operations a crucial component of the ‘surge’ strategy. Iraq Report #10 delves into the complicated, yet effective, operations in Diyala Province that cleared out al-Qaeda and rebuilt security and stability in this essential Iraqi province. The report starts by introducing the important actors, followed by an explanation of al-Qaeda’s activities in Diyala, and finally explains the strategy and operations involved in stabilizing Diyala Province.
Topic 1: Diyala Operations in 2007: Battlefield Conditions and the Enemy
- <!--[if !supportLists]--><!--[endif]-->In early 2007, Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces began shaping operations in southern Diyala in preparation for the division-level offensive Operation Arrowhead Ripper. Battles in Baquba, Muqdadiyah, and rural areas in Diyala Province soon proved to be some of the toughest fighting in the Iraq War.
- Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces operations in Diyala Province focused on al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). AQI sanctuaries both in and around Baqubah and Muqdadiyah permitted the organization to build and transport IED attacks in Diyala Province as well as Baghdad. To preserve these safe havens, AQI terrorized local populations using physical and psychological intimidation.
- <!--[endif]-->Operations in Diyala pursued a ‘concentric rings’ strategy to establish and maintain security. Coalition forces cleared areas of AQI forces, built Iraqi police and military facilities, and initiated reconciliation efforts to establish effective tribal and government relationships.
- Some of the most intense and effective clearing operations took place in the ‘Breadbasket’ area north of Muqdadiyah. AQI took advantage of the terrain and intimidated the populace to build an effective terrorist infrastructure. Coalition and Iraqi forces partnered to clear, retain, and rebuild the Breadbasket, killing dozens of militants and destroying weapons caches. Alonside kinetic operations, Coalition troops engaged the populace to build trust and rebuild the local economy. The clearing and securing of the Breadbasket proved to be one of the most remarkable successes of the ‘surge’ and Lt. Gen. Odierno’s counter-insurgency strategy.
Topic 2: New al-Qaeda Tactics and the Battle Against Suicide Attacks
- <!--[if !supportLists]--><!--[endif]-->In response to increasingly effective Coalition operations to block attacks by Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBEIDs), AQI began a new campaign of suicide bombings using men, women, and even handicapped persons. In the first few months of 2008, over 20 female suicide bombers effectively detonated their explosives against high value targets, especially against the Sons of Iraq organization.
- To respond to increasing demands for bombers, AQI developed a network that facilitated the movement of persons from outside Iraq’s borders and into areas around Baghdad. As AQI’s infrastructure in the Breadbasket was dismantled, Coalition forces in and around Baqubah discovered this suicide bombing network in Diyala Province.
- <!--[if !supportLists]-->From December until March of 2008, Coalition forces targeted top AQI leadership and cut lines of communication in a campaign against AQI's suicide bombing network in Bqubah, killing and capturing dozens of AQI leaders and fighers.
Topic 3: After Operation Raider Harvest: Maintaining Security and Stability in Diyala Province
- <!--[endif]-->Operation Raider Harvest’s brigade-level operations ended in April of 2008. Troops cleared the Breadbasket, Baqubah’s villages, and disrupted the suicide bomb network in Baqubah and Southern Diyala. The 4-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT) continued to pursue enemy fighters until the end of May.
- The 4-2 SCBT also trained Iraqi Security Forces to take over security responsibilities in Diyala Province. Intensive training programs helped train new Iraqi police recruits while Iraqi army units were sent out in the field to fight AQI remnants. The 5th Iraqi Army Division proved highly capable of planning and executing operations in Diyala.
- Sons of Iraq (SOI) groups proved to be an essential component of the Coalition security strategy. Over 10,000 SoI members joined the groups in Diyala by May of 2008. Building on the SoI program’s successes, a series of meetings were set up between tribal leaders, army leadership, and local government to support reconciliation and development. Each sheik took an oath to promote engagement and reconciliation between Iraqis in Diyala province.
- Operation Raider Reaper tested the fledgling Iraqi Police and helped further train Iraqi Army units. The 4-2 SCBT's training programs helped establish an increasingly competent Iraqi Security Force that expressed a desire to take over the security portfolio of Diyala Province. By the close of operations, the 5th Iraqi Army Division proved willing and capable of taking over the pursuit of AQI remnants, while Iraqi Police showed a large improvement in their ability to perform police duties.
Coalition and Iraqi forces proved highly effective at expanding security in Diyala Province. A carefully planned combination of kinetic and non-kinetic operations in the province cleared out AQI forces and replaced them with Iraqi Security Forces, reconciliation, and economic development. By clearing and retaining key areas, Coalition forces hope to see a gradual improvement in the quality of life for the citizens of Diyala province. As fighters are pushed away from population centers, a significant reduction in violence in Diyala’s secondary and tertiary areas should prepare the province for Iraqi Security Force transition, reconciliation, governance, and economic development.