Thursday, May 11, 2006

Battle for Baghdad II: Zarqawi's Alamo

Multiple raids in the town Yousifiyah and other Baghdad areas have resulted in intelligence regarding Zarqawi's next phase of attacks and explaining some of the situation of the Islamist insurgents in Baghdad. This included some footage of the Zarqawi tape that did not make it into the final cut aired on al Jazeera and other Middle East news stations.

There are other documents that have not been released at this time. However, the basis of the main document is to point to Zarqawi's change in strategy to focus on Baghdad and move away from areas where he may be forced to attack and kill Sunni police or military units. He needs to avoid this because his base of support is solely among the Sunni in Iraq; loss of support means complete death for al Qaeda in Iraq.

During his press briefing, General Lynch provided some slides to accompany his comments and point Zarqawi's staging area in Yousifiyah:

We believe that his primary, main effort right now is in the vicinity of Baghdad. And knowing that his capabilities are these foreign fighters, we're planning and conducting operations to take away that capability.

So let me walk you through these. Intelligence that we received led us to believe that Yusufiya, south of Baghdad, was a staging area for these suicide bombers. Remember, we're in this most vulnerable period with the government of Iraq as they form the national unity government. And if they form this national unity government, Zarqawi is indeed a failure. Remember, democracy equals failure for Zarqawi, so he's going to pull out all stops and he's going to use these suicide bombers, and we need to take away that capability.

In fact, there has been an increase in VBIEDs and IEDs in the Baghdad area over the last 30 days or more even though the Yusufiya cells have been rolled up to some extent and many foreign fighters detained or killed. By the time of the Yusufiya operations Zarqawi most likely had already began the move to consolidate his Baghdad activities.

General Lynch made very clear the main reason for Zarqawi's focus on Baghdad was due to it's significance as a center of power for the new Iraqi government. This was make clear in the Baghdad Strategy Document found at a Yusufiya safe house:

It has been proven that the Shiites have a power and influence in Baghdad that cannot be taken lightly, particularly when the power of the Ministries of Interior and Defense is given to them, compared with the power of the mujahidin in Baghdad.[snip]

Thus, what is fixed in the minds of the Shiite and Sunni population is that the Shiites are stronger in Baghdad and closer to controlling it while the mujahidin (who represent the backbone of the Sunni people) are not considered more than a daily annoyance to the Shiite government.

This is not only a matter of modern government and power, but is also a symbolic seat of power in the Old Caliphate. Every group wishing to control the caliphate that attacked and captured Baghdad would end up controlling the empire; from the Persians to the Seljuk Turks to the Mongols to eventually the Ottomans. It is absolutely true today that Iraqis will most likely follow the Iraqi government and continue to believe that the government can "win the fight" as long as it controls Baghdad. It's the largest city in Iraq from square miles to population. It has the most mosques and controls police, military, oil and money from the center. Further, as long as the parliament continues to sit in Baghdad and even acts like it is governing, Zarqawi's dream of an emirate in Iraq cannot exist.

Further, he's been run out of just about every area he has tried to hold from Fallujah to Mosul to Husaybah to al Qaid to Tal Afar and any other city the mujihadeen have tried to develop permanent, large scale bases. All of his cells continue to be small and incapable of holding any territory or growing beyond a certain size before they become unable to maintain their security among the population.

The document outlines several other problems:

2) The strength of the brothers in Baghdad is built mainly on booby trapped cars, and most of the mujahidin groups in Baghdad are generally groups of assassin without any organized military capabilities.

3) There is a clear absence of organization among the groups of the brothers in Baghdad, whether at the leadership level in Baghdad, the brigade leaders, or their groups therein. Coordination among them is very difficult, which appears clearly when the group undertake a joint operations.

For any insurgency, this is a major problem. Maqo wrote in "On Guerilla Warfare":

During the progress of hostilities, guerrillas gradually develop into orthodox forces that operate in conjunction with other units of the regular army. Thus the regularly organized troops, those guerrillas who have attained that status, and those who have not reached that level of development combine to form the military power of a national revolutionary war. There can be no doubt that the ultimate result of this will be victory.

Conversely, if they cannot organize into conventional forces large enough to hold territory, then they will be defeated. The problems that create failing organization are many according to Mao.

What is the relationship of guerrilla warfare to the people? Without a political goal, guerrilla warfare must fail, as it must, if its political objectives do not coincide with the aspirations of the people and their sympathy, co-operation, and assistance cannot be gained. [snip]

Unorganized guerrilla warfare cannot contribute to victory...[snip] spite of the most complete preparation, there can be no victory if mistakes are made in the matter of command.

Zarqawi's Al Qaeda operations fail on all three of these issues. Multiple letters and other documents support the problem Zarqawi suffers in Baghdad as a microcosm of the whole problem with the insurgency.

Their main success has been in the media:

The policy followed by the brothers in Baghdad is a media oriented policy without a clear comprehensive plan to capture an area or an enemy center. Other word, the significance of the strategy of their work is to show in the media that the American and the government do not control the situation and there is resistance against them. This policy dragged us to the type of operations that are attracted to the media, and we go to the streets from time to time for more possible noisy operations which follow the same direction.

This direction has large positive effects; however, being preoccupied with it alone delays more important operations such as taking control of some areas, preserving it and assuming power in Baghdad (for example, taking control of a university, a hospital, or a Sunni religious site).

However, Zarqawi's physical losses of territory controlled, money and leadership in other areas has resulted in the appearance of failure on all fronts accept in Baghdad. Mudville Gazette covers the phenomenon. This success is fairly simple and, contrary to popular opinion, does not require a "genius" or "mastermind" to use this strategy. Most of the American media is holed up in Baghdad. They make heavy use of local stringers. With bombs going off in the city, they barely need to travel to any other town and they don't. All "peaceful" cities get just about no coverage in the international media. Even Fallujah has dropped off the radar. This leaves the "last redoubt"; the area with the "most success" that Zarqawi hopes to capitalize on.

He needs this victory or at least an appearance of a strong showing in Baghdad for many reasons; one such reason is to increase recruiting that has fallen off in the last year. He also needs to improve his "face" value since he was recently demoted as the head of the insurgency to it's military chief, bringing forward the leadership (at least on the face of it) of the Iraqi insurgency groups to form the Mujihadeen Shura Council. In the world that Zarqawi operates in, appearances, legends and myths of invincibility take on half the war effort and determine whether someone is a leader or cannon fodder. He needs to turn Baghdad inside out or the Islamist insurgency will fail.

He indicates two more problems that Baghdad represents:

First, their media power is presented by their special radio and TV stations as the sole Sunni information source, coupled with our weak media which is confined mainly to the Internet, without a flyer or newspaper to present these events.

Second, in the course of their control of the majority of the speakers at mosques who convert right into wrong and wrong into right, and present Islam in a sinful manner and sins in a Muslim manner. At the same time we did not have any positive impact or benefits from our operations.

Based on these comments and the comments that he made earlier in the document about taking over specific locations, it would be easy to surmise that he will be increasingly targeting media outlets including TV stations, radio and newspapers; particularly those that are not sympathetic to the mujihadeen. These have been targets off and on during the past, but largely left alone after the failed attack on the Palestine Hotel last year. That attack did not need to be successful in terms of killing people so much as it was the opening salvo from the new Baghdad Commander that had taken over after the capture of the previous one in mid 2005.

I expect that certain locations around Baghdad will have their security checked and hardened in the coming weeks. The potential targets are endless, but there are some probabilities based on additional information contained in the strategy document:

the military commander of Baghdad (he used to be the commander of the Rassafah County and still is) is a courageous young man with a good determination but he has little and simple experience in the military field and does not have a clear vision about the current stage and how to deal with it Most of his work at al-Rassafah County is to take cars to the Jubur Arab Tribes, convert them into booby traps and take them back inside Baghdad for explosion.

Rusafa (blue) (al Rassafah; ar Rasafah) district contains the Police Headquarters and Acadamy and several ministries. It's been the target of on going bombings and frontal attacks. Haifa street runs parallel to the Dijla (Tigris) river down the lower south west side. Haifa street has been relatively calm since after the elections in January 2005 when several election workers were gunned down in the street.

The Jubar (Jubbar, Jabar, Jibur) [yellow] tribe controls parts of Mosul, all of Tikrit and parts of Samarra. The al Qaeda leader in Baghdad is most likely getting his VBIEDs from Samarra and Tikrit; Samarra being the closest as well as a city that has suffered from recent insurgent activities and suicide attacks. The most infamous was the attack on the Shia al Askari Mosque by two suicide bombers that nearly drove Iraq into civil war. Several other Shia Mosque bombings took place after that, killing and wounding hundreds of Shia.

The Strategy Document goes on to talk about another district:

The current commander of Northern al-Karkh (Abu-Huda) is very concerned because of his deteriorating security situation caused by being pursued by the Americans, since they have his picture and voice print. Therefore, his movement is very restricted and he is unable to do anything here. We should remove him from Baghdad to a location where he can work easier; otherwise he is closer to become totally ineffective. I know nothing about his past military experience or organizational skills.

Al Karkh is circled in green. This is the "green zone" or "international zone". It contains: two Saddam Palaces, one still occupied by US forces; Parade grounds (crossed swords, tomb of the unknown Iraqi soldier, large training facility for Iraqi soldiers); Parliament building, hotels and a many more ministries. There have been several bombings inside the green zone over the last few years, largely perpetrated by "infiltraters". One particularly spectacular attack on the Palestine Hotel against the media there was barely stopped. This was likely carried out by the al Karkh commander. It was also very costly considering the actual number of fighters this group has mustered.

Northern al-Karkh groups are estimated at 40 mujahid, so is the Southern Karkh. They could double that number if necessary.

The problem is that they are operating within a heavily fortified area with many police and other security patrols on a regular basis. My best guess of his strategy would be to focus on Rusafa and take out the police headquarters and acadamy first. He needs to establish control of the area and to cause enough chaos in the security aparatus to weaken the green zone. It's also in the center of Baghdad with access to several crossing points into al Karkh.

Another area that might be immediately targeted would be Baghdad University [yellow circle], directly across from the al Karkh district. Several smaller schools are in the Rusafah district including a technical college.

Finally, there is Adhamiya. Iraq the Model and several other bloggers are reporting continuing gun fights in the district. For some who don't live in the area, the stories are confusing.

Azzaman Newspaper:

Adahmiya repels an attack for death squads.

Azzaman reporter in Baghdad said that militia men in police uniforms riding vehicles with no registration plates tried to raid parts of Adhamiya in an attempt to kidnap some of the locals but the residents of Adhamiya fought back and forced the assailants to withdraw from the district. This was the second attempt within 24 hours, in the first incident armed men driving a vehicle and dressed in interior ministry uniforms opened fire on homes and pedestrians but also fled the district when residents raised to chase them.

al Sabah notes:

An interior ministry source announced that fierce clashes erupted between terrorists and Iraqi security forces in Adhamiya district.
The source who did not give details on whether there had been casualties said that security forces are "encircling the district in its entirety".

Where they can actually "encircle" and shut it down completely is the question. These battles have been going on since April and several other papers in the US are acting equally confused about the situation.

Why the confusion is simply a matter of the American newspapers being caught between the information war being fought out between the pro-government and pro-insurgency papers as well as the probably tendencies of their stringers. As far back as the beginning invasion of Iraq and following months in 2003, it was reported that the Adhamiya district was pro-Saddam and continuously attacks US and Iraqi government forces.

As for the Baghdad papers, Azzaman is reported by another Iraqi reader to be the voice of the Sunni Islamic Iraqi Party that also has ties with insurgent groups; largely referred to as "rejectionists" and likely made up of ex-Ba'athists and Sunni Islamists with loose ties to al Qaeda for the most part. Jill Carroll was kidnapped within 300 yards of al Dulaimi's (prominent Sunni politician and part of the Dulaimi Sunni tribe in the triangle) office and released within 100 yards of the Islamic Iraqi Party in al Amiryah, a section of Baghdad in the south west Mansour district (prominent district also known to be Sunni Ba'athist stronghold where Saddam made his last public appearance before going underground at the beginning of the war) near the Baghdad Airport Expressway.

To complicate matters, al Dulaimi's convoy was attacked last year in the al Adl district of Mansour, most likely by either Sadrist "al Mahdi" because of his opposition to Jafari or al Qaeda in Baghdad because his Sunni tribe and parts of the insurgency have been participating in government as well as making truces with Coalition forces in order to join the process.

Al Adhamiya district also contains the al Hanifa mosque that has been raided many times. It is widely known to spread anti-American and anti-government information via sermons as well as the use of their external PA system. Also suspected of providing sanctuary to insurgents and storing weapons.

The purpose of the raid was not immediately clear but some worshippers, gathered outside the mosque, said the security forces had arrested the mosque's imam, Shaikh Muayid al-Adhami.

According to the US Commander of the district, in 2004, he had warned Adhami several times about mosque activities and finally had him arrested when he continued his activities. Adhamiya is largely Sunni rejectionist and Ba'athists. Zarqawi tries to make common cause with them to prepare the way for his arrival and operations in Rusafah. He may even be hoping for "joint operations".

After the curfew was lifted on Tuesday afternoon, residents gingerly came out onto the street once more. Meanwhile, a statement issued by al-Qaeda in Iraq, the country's most prominent insurgent organization, promised more fighting on Wednesday.

"Al-Qaeda in Iraq is announcing a new raid to avenge the Sunnis at Adhamiyah and the other areas, and the raid will start with the dawn of Wednesday, if God wishes," the statement said. "The Shiite areas will be an open battlefield for us. We will strike anything we face."

Breakdown of districts:

Mansour: mixed, majority Sunni, previously Ba'athist loyalists and likely government rejectionists.

Adhamiya: Sunni majority; Ba'athist/rejectionist.

Rusafah: Sunni Islamist and al Qaida

Al Karhk: mixed, largely Sunni; rejectionists but mainly AQ supporters

Thawra: Shia; Mahdi Army

Zarqawi is in Baghdad to make his "last stand" his "Alamo". Without Baghdad, he holds nothing. Without Baghdad, the government stays in place and wins.

Iraq the Model on current security in Baghdad and a conversation in the Barber Shop: Zarqawi American Agent.

Update Follow Up on New Documents: Battle for Baghdad II: Zarqawi on the Offense
Also linked at the Castle

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