Securing Diyala

Executive Summary


  • Three large scale military operations—Fardh al Qanoon, Phantom Thunder, and Phantom Strike—decreased violence in Iraq dramatically after June 2007 by driving enemy groups from their safe havens.  As security operations, U.S. commanders deliberately negotiated with local leaders to oppose terrorist groups publicly and mobilize their population behind them.  Local leaders made it easier to clear the enemy during high-intensity operations and protect areas from enemy activity afterwards.
  • This Iraq Report explains the summer offensive operations in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, an area of political and militarily significance for al Qaeda. It explains how U.S. forces drove al Qaeda out of Baqubah during Phantom Thunder and channeled the organization’s movement out of the city.  This report also explains how U.S. and Iraqi forces prevented the enemy from re-infiltrating urban areas and reestablishing safehavens in Diyala during Phantom Strike.
  • The improvements in security in Diyala province occurred as positive synergies developed between combat operations, governance, and the policy of tribal engagement. The successful implementation of counterinsurgency doctrine generated these synergies.
  • The Sunni Awakening did not spread from Anbar to Diyala; rather, increasing security in Diyala helped U.S. commanders and local leaders to oppose al Qaeda.
  • The Diyala summer offensive offers important insights into why the U.S. counterinsurgency effort in 2007 has effectively reduced violence in Iraq’s most violent province.


Topic 1: The Summer Offensives: Mission, Operational Concept, and Enemy


  • The overall mission of the Phantom Thunder and Phantom Strike offensives was to disrupt al Qaeda’s operations across Iraq by controlling urban areas; by denying rural safe haven; by disrupting enemy lines of communication; and by pushing the enemy into small, isolated pockets far from Baghdad.
  • The enemy situation in Diyala is complex. While al Qaeda is the primary security threat, a number of other enemy actors operate in Diyala. These include Sunni rejectionists; Shia militias; Iranian-backed secret cells; and the Mujahedeen E-Khalq (MEK).
  • From 2006 to 2007, al Qaeda was the greatest threat to stability and security in Diyala. Al Qaeda used its lines of communication and areas of control across the province to supply and stage its operations in Baghdad and Diyala and to discredit the Iraqi government and Iraqi Security Forces.
  • The actions of the Iraqi Security Forces in 2006 led to the Sunni perception of the organization as a sectarian organization. As a result, many Sunnis turned to al Qaeda for support and protection.
  • Al Qaeda’s attempts to discredit the government and assert control in Diyala were successful. By the end of 2006, al Qaeda – not the government of Iraq – controlled the city of Baqubah and much of Diyala Province.


Topic 2: Arrowhead Ripper in Diyala


  • Following preliminary operations to establish a presence in Diyala beyond its Forward Operating Base, Coalition Forces launched Operation Arrowhead Ripper, a sub-operation of the Phantom Thunder corps-offensive, on June 19, 2007.
  •  The primary aim of Arrowhead Ripper was to clear al Qaeda from Baqubah and secure the city. From June to August, this was done via combat operations in the city; combat operations in Diyala province; aid for the population; and tribal reconciliation.
  • As forces cleared Baqubah, still other Coalition and Iraqi forces conducted supporting operations in the Khalis corridor to block any elements fleeing Baqubah from using the area to escape or reorganize.
  • They also conducted other blocking operations south of Baqubah near Khan Bani Sa’ad to flush al Qaeda from that area and block the organization from supporting the fight in Baqubah from this neighboring area.
  • The blocking operations in Khalis and Khan Bani Sa’ad helped drive al Qaeda along the Diyala River Valley, rather than allowing the organization to reconcentrate in urban sanctuaries.  Following the clearing of Baqubah, Coalition forces began to reconnoiter and destroy al Qaeda positions northeast of Baqubah along the Diyala River Valley, in the vicinity of Mukhisa.


Topic 3: Phantom Strike in Diyala


  • The objective for Operation Phantom Strike in Diyala was to continue to degrade al Qaeda’s capabilities to launch attacks, destroy the organization’s sanctuaries, and prevent fighters from regrouping elsewhere in the province and establishing the infrastructure necessary to conduct its major attacks.
  • Operation Lightning Hammer, the follow-on to Arrowhead Ripper, targeted members of al Qaeda who had survived or escaped elsewhere in Iraq. The main effort for this operation was the area northeast of Baqubah, near Muqdadiyah and along the Hamrin Ridge.
  • Operation Greywolf Hammer targeted al Qaeda elements east of Baqubah in the Wahijah-Kana’an area in late August and September.
  • Operation Greywolf Hammer II focused on the clearing of Muqdadiyah and areas near Lake Hamrin in late September and October.
  • During Greywolf Hammer II, the area south of Balad Ruz, near Turki, was also cleared to prevent reinfiltration by al Qaeda.
  • Together, these operations drove al Qaeda further away from population centers and villages.


Topic 4: The Competition between Enemy Groups in the Khalis Corridor


  • The Khalis corridor is a strategically important hub on both al Qaeda and Shia militia lines of communications. Therefore, it has long been a battleground between the groups. 
  • As Arrowhead Ripper displaced al Qaeda from its positions near the city, Shia extremists took the opportunity to pursue their sectarian agenda vigorously in the city of Khalis and elsewhere in the Khalis corridor.
  • At the same time, elements of al Qaeda that had been fled U.S. operations in and around Baqubah began to displace Shia from other villages in the Khalis corridor in order to re-establish sanctuaries.
  • The actions by Shia militias and al Qaeda during both summer offensives heightened the competition and retaliatory violence between the two groups.
  • By September, U.S. forces increased operations targeting Shia militias and Special Groups in the Khalis corridor, while continuing to target al Qaeda elements in the area. The operations, along with tribal movements, helped mitigate the tensions and violence.


Topic 5: Concerned Local Citizens, Reconciliation, and Restoring Government Services in Diyala


  • Throughout the summer offensives, U.S. and Iraqi Security Forces worked to integrate the tribal and concerned citizen movements with local and provincial government, via negotiations and reconciliation meetings.
  • Tribal movements and reconciliation initiatives occurred in Baqubah and Khalis from June to July, culminating in more extensive reconciliation meetings and agreements in Diyala in August. Concerned local citizens’ groups also formed as local Iraqis volunteered to protect their villages in conjunction with Iraqi Security Forces.
  • The tribal reconciliation and concerned local citizens movements not only made it easier for U.S. forces to hold terrain against insurgents, but it allowed U.S. and Iraqi forces to focus on restoring essential services and rebuilding economic and political institutions.
  • However, tension arose between the security forces and concerned local citizens as central government officials have moved slowly to incorporate concerned local citizens into Diyala’s police force.


Possible Implications: Lessons for Counterinsurgency from the Diyala Case Study


  • The summer offensives in Diyala demonstrate the key features of the 2007 counterinsurgency campaign across Iraq; taken as a whole, these elements are largely responsible for the security improvements in the province.


  • The first important feature of combat operations in Diyala was the primary emphasis on controlling terrain, and secondary emphasis on killing or capturing the enemy.
  • A second distinctive feature of the case of Diyala was the emphasis on securing the population and denying the enemy safe haven.
  • The conduct of simultaneous and successive operations, both kinetic (combat) and non-kinetic (support), addressed both the systemic and localized problems of the situation in Diyala.





  • The offensive operations in Diyala succeeded because they were designed from beginning to end with the goal of establishing stable security in the region, not of transitioning to Iraqi control (the aim of operations in 2006).
  • Kinetic operations during Phantom Thunder and Phantom Strike separated the insurgents from the local populations, while defending the population from retaliation and reinfiltration by enemy groups.
  • At the same time, non-kinetic operations to promote economic and political development, in conjunction with the tribal reconciliation movements and concerned local citizens, also worked to promote lasting security and stability in Diyala.
  • Challenges nevertheless remain.  Greywolf brigade is the first to leave Iraq without a formal relief-in-place by a unit outside the theater, but other U.S. forces within the theater have assumed responsibility for Diyala in order to maintain security.  Coalition forces are not yet in an overwatch role, but rather continue to work with the Iraqi Security Forces and the local population to enable them to take control of their own security.