Bill Ardolino continues his excellent series on Iraqi politics at the Long War Journal.
Pete Hegseth discusses the waning media coverage in Iraq
Otto discusses an NYT piece on out of control soldiers in Afghanistan here.
Megan Ortagus meets up with a Private Ryan in Kuwait on her way to Iraq.
1LT Fishman sends the weekly good news wrap up after the jump
1) Iraqi Parliament pass 3 Key New Laws http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080213/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq_new_laws_3;_ylt=AvP.l4T2stbyqskZjeO5Q1VX6GMA
By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, Associated Press Writer Wed Feb 13, 11:23 AM ET
Iraq's parliament on Wednesday passed three key pieces of legislation that set a date for provincial elections, allot $48 billion for 2008 spending, and provide limited amnesty to detainees in Iraqi custody. The three measures were bundled together for one vote to satisfy the demands of minority Kurds who feared they might be double-crossed on their stand that the budget allot 17 percent to their semiautonomous regional government in the north. The vote came a day after the Sunni speaker of the fragmented parliament, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, threatened to disband the legislature, saying it was so riddled with distrust it appeared unable to adopt legislation.
Following the session, which capped weeks of wrangling over the budget and other issues, the parliament began a five-week holiday. The draft law on provincial elections, which includes a detailed outline on devolving power to the provinces, initially had said voting would begin Oct. 1. Other details on that law and the amnesty were not immediately known. The measures still must be approved by the three-member presidency council. The Bush administration and Congress have sought passage of a provincial powers law as one of 18 benchmarks to promote reconciliation among Iraq's Sunni and Shiite Arab communities and the large Kurdish minority.
It is only the second of the so-called benchmarks to make it through parliament. A measure that allows lower-ranking members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party to reclaim government jobs became law earlier this year, but Sunnis have demanded amendments and the future of the measure is unclear. Other proposals, including divvying up the country's vast oil wealth and amending the constitution, also remain stalled. The disarray has threatened to undermine the purpose of last year's U.S. troop buildup — to bring down violence and allow the Iraqi government and parliament to focus on reconciliation. Violence is down dramatically, but political progress languishes. Still, the U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker congratulated the lawmakers and said it was a victory for the Iraqi people. "These are difficult issues. They required a lot of effort, a lot of compromise, but they are important steps forward," he said at a news conference shortly after the vote. The last time Iraqis voted for local officials was January 2005, when nationwide elections ushered in representational government for the first time in modern history. But many Sunni Arabs boycotted the polls, giving Iraq's majority Shiites and minority Kurds the bulk of power. The U.S. hopes the new elections will empower the Sunni minority and blunt support for the insurgency. The passage of the laws came after weeks parliamentary infighting centered mainly on the Kurdish demand to maintain 17 percent of the budget despite calls by some Sunni and Shiite lawmakers to lower it to about 14 percent. Shiite lawmakers walked out of a rare night session Tuesday when the Kurds refused to drop their demand to lump the budget vote together with two other contested measures. The Kurds said they feared being double-crossed on the budget if parliamentarians voted on the laws separately and lawmakers decried what they called "a crisis of trust." The breakthrough apparently came when the lawmakers present approved an item in the budget that gave the Kurds 17 percent on condition that the government hold a census before the end of this year and reconsider the percentage accordingly for the 2009 budget, officials said. The Sadrist bloc, which holds 30 seats of the 275-member parliament, walked out in protest but returned during for the debate over the provincial elections law and the blanket vote. Underscoring the narrow victory, the provincial elections law passed only after the parliamentary speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, a member of the minority Sunni faction, raised his hand to break a tie after 82 lawmakers cast their votes in favor and 82 against.
2) First Time That General Petraeus Is Cautiously Optimistic About Iraq http://abcnews.go.com/WN/story?id=4292435&page=1 ABC News Clarissa Ward Spends a Day With the General in Jihad, Iraq.
By CLARISSA WARD BAGHDAD If you're looking for one measure of the impact of last year's troop surge in Iraq, look at Gen. David Petraeus as he walks through a Baghdad neighborhood, with no body armor, and no helmet. It's been one year since the beginning of what's known here as Operation Fardh Al Qadnoon. According to the U.S. military, violence is down 60 percent. One key to the success is reconciliation. "A big part of the effort, over the last year, has been to determine who is reconcilable, who, literally, is willing to put down his rifle and talk, who is willing to shout, instead of shoot." Petraeus said. I spent the day with Petraeus, touring Jihad, a predominantly Shiite area in western Baghdad. This place was formerly ravaged by sectarian violence, and militiamen wreaked havoc on the streets. In the last year, U.S. and Iraqi troops moved into the neighborhood, set up joint security stations, earned the trust of local people, and found those men willing to put down their guns and work with them. The results of the last year can be seen on the streets. A soccer team practices on the local pitch. The stalls in the market buzz with customers. I stop to talk to local residents, and ask if they feel a difference. Overwhelmingly, the answer is a resounding yes. "The situation in Jihad is certainly better than before," a mechanic named Ali said. "Work is constant, shops are reopening, and people are coming back to their homes." Notwithstanding significant progress, much work clearly remains. The Iraqi government has yet to capitalize on the relative peace and improve the local infrastructure. Sewage and trash fester in the streets. "We have very little electricity," Ali said. The hope is, that with the passing of a budget this week, that will change. "That unlocks a substantial amount of money for the ministries of Iraq, so that they can start going about the jobs that are so essential, like patching roads that we bounced down today; over long term, improving electricity, fixing water systems, sewer systems," Petraeus said. Normally very guarded in his assessments of the surge, Petraeus now expresses cautious optimism. "I have to tell you that, having been here for a number of years, this is very encouraging, actually. I mean, this is, this is potentially a big moment." he said.
VIDEO STORY: http://abcnews.go.com/WN/Story?id=4292435&page=2
3) Falluja rebuilds, adjusts to peace
http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/meast/02/21/iraq.falluja/index.html#cnnSTCVideo VIDEO LINK
From Barbara Starr CNN FALLUJA, Iraq (CNN) -- Smoke rose from Falluja three short years ago. Once a stronghold for al Qaeda in Iraq, the city saw brutal urban combat after insurgents ambushed, killed and mutilated four U.S. security contractors, leaving their charred bodies dangling from a bridge over the Euphrates River in spring 2004. U.S. and Iraqi forces attacked insurgents in Falluja and embarked on one of the largest offensives of the Iraq war in November of that year. The battles killed about 1,200 militants, eight Iraqi soldiers and 51 U.S. troops, mostly Marines, according to the Pentagon. About 95 percent of Falluja's population was displaced. After the city 30 miles west of Baghdad was pacified, the United States committed more than $200 million to reconstruction projects in Falluja, and a lot has changed in the past three years. Now, small cafes and grocery stores line streets once dusty and abandoned. Customers finger vibrant clothes, fabric and jewelry in shops near beige concrete walls that still bear the scars of war. Watch colorful street scenes in Falluja »
Violence is down, and there's more grass-roots support for the U.S. military and the Iraqi government in the predominantly Sunni Muslim city in Anbar province. Now, Iraqis in Falluja are back to the rhythms of everyday life: They work, shop -- and rebuild. To U.S. commanders, the dramatic turnaround shows why U.S. troops must stay longer in Iraq. The fragile security gains need time to take root in Falluja and other towns and cities in Iraq, they say, time that will help lift a fractured nation toward a future without so much bloodshed. Adm. William Fallon, head of the U.S. Central Command, toured Falluja this week and marveled at the resurgent city of several hundred thousand. He strolled its streets and stopped to accept a sip of tea that a shopkeeper offered in a glass mug resting in a white-and-red saucer. The admiral walked through markets full of tomatoes and meat, past rows of handbags and shoes for sale, near a smiling gaggle of children offering pastries on a plate. He saw vendors selling embroidered women's shirts of yellow and orange, lime green and light blue. "It's a huge change from the last time I was here," Fallon said, surveying a crowd near an outdoor butcher's stall, with carcasses strung up for customers to inspect. "Many, many more people are out." A team of U.S. Marines guarded the admiral at the beginning of his walking tour, but eventually the detail included only Iraqi police officers. Ordinary Iraqis approached to chat or shake his hand. Despite the progress, problems remain. Homes and businesses have power for only a few hours a day. People scramble to find fuel. And men without jobs linger on the streets; the United States even pays some of the unemployed so they won't gravitate to the insurgency. Yet the city is no longer synonymous with chaos, despair and violent death. The U.S. military is working to make normal life normal again in Falluja.
4) Measurable improvements in Iraq http://www.washingtontimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080218/EDITORIAL/285016061/-1/RSS_EDITORIAL&template=printart Washington Times Editorial February 18, 2008 THE WASHINGTON TIMES EDITORIAL - In fits and starts, political progress in Iraq is not only possible, but in small steps it is happening. That's the simplest lesson of the Iraqi Parliament's three notable moves on Wednesday. The parliament set Oct. 1 provincial elections, passed a $48 billion budget and also passed a limited amnesty for thousands of prisoners, including former insurgents — potentially significant steps toward reconciliation. Even New York Times editorial headlines are acknowledging the unexpected: "Making (Some) Progress in Iraq." This does not at all fit the unrelenting "Iraq is a failure" narrative favored by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Out of Iraq caucus. "Some" progress is indeed the correct way to describe the three actions. Bound together in a single bill to assuage Kurds suspecting a double-cross, they are not the gold standards of Iraqi political progress, which continue to be a realistic oil-wealth measure to meet the often conflicting demands of Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds, and a realistic long-term power-sharing arrangement. It is also worth noting that the three-person presidency council must approve the measures, and that implementation inevitably brings its own complications.
But their value as steps along the hoped-for road to reconciliation is the reason that Multi-National Forces Iraq Commander Gen. David Petraeus characterized them this way: "This is potentially a big moment." Certainly it would be difficult to imagine any of these moves happening in the absence of the troop surge. Certainly each comprises evidence that the "no political progress" campaign slogan is just that — a slogan — which misses significant facts on the ground. The case for a drawdown "pause" looks stronger by the day. A reckoning is coming in the domestic war debate. At times, it seems as if Republicans and Democrats are speaking of different wars. As the facts change, watch the rhetoric. President Bush will almost surely leave a substantial Iraq commitment to his successor come January. Democratic presidential contenders each promise to end the war while leaving themselves realistic options should they be the eventual presidential winner. Increasingly, a wider circle of American observers believe that the surge has worked militarily. Now we are seeing evidence that it opens the door to political progress. This war is a moving target.
5) Key New Police Stations Open In Baghdad http://patdollard.com/2008/02/key-new-police-stations-open-in-baghdad/
February 15th, 2008 Posted By Pat Dollard. MNF-I: BAGHDAD — Iraqi police stations officially opened for business Feb. 10 in the Adil, Khadra and Jamia neighborhoods in the Iraqi capital’s Mansour district. More than 490 recruits graduated from the Camp Fiji Iraqi Police Training Facility in Baghdad, and more than 260 of them were dedicated to the district. As new policemen learn the ropes of their duties, Coalition forces gradually move to an overwatch posture. “The implementation of a home-grown police force in suburbs of Jamia, Adil and Khadra will allow local Arab men to secure their neighborhoods and homes,” said Army Maj. Chris Budihas, executive officer of 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment. “This will ultimately facilitate our effort to destroy al Qaeda once and for all in the Mansour district of Baghdad.” Capt. Azad, commander of the Adil police station, said it is time for Iraqi policemen to take control of their neighborhoods. “In the next six months, everything will be safer and quieter,” he said with conviction and guarantee. “Everyone who goes to school and everyone who goes to work will be safe, because the Iraqi police will do their job.” The Iraqi policemen will help with some immediate problems in their neighborhoods, Army 1st Lt. Benjamin Kim, executive officer, Company A, 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, said. One of the biggest problems in Adil is the number of abandoned homes. When sectarian violence went into full throttle, many people left their homes for the safety of their families. With the security situation stabilized, many Iraqis are returning to find others occupying their homes, he said. “You have the homeowners coming back with their proofs of deeds,” Kim said. “The Iraqi police will be the legitimate force that helps maintain security in the area while helping to resolve issues of land ownership.” However, Adil is a relatively safe neighborhood, Kim said, and with the addition of Iraqi policemen operating out of the Adil police station, they “will be able to maintain the stability that already exists in the area and provide more security.” Army Capt. John Dixon, Company A commander, said nothing can happen if the area isn’t secure. “More security will enable the residents of Adil to feel safer, thus allowing for more stores to open and essential services returned, stimulating economic growth,” he said. “Furthermore, this will show the people that the (Iraqi government) is continuing to make progress to return the area to a sense of normalcy and encourage reconciliation.” In Jamia, the police force will operate out of Joint Security Station Jamia, with 65 Iraqi patrol officers. “It will give the residents of the neighborhood hope for continued improvement in the security situation,” said Army Capt. Mark Battjes, commander of Company B, 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment. “This will allow Coalition forces to deepen our partnership with the Iraqi security forces as we work together to secure the population.” More than 100 policemen operate out of the Khadra police station. Some are recent graduates of the police academy, but their training will not stop there, as Coalition forces want to build the strongest police force possible. “Discipline is something you have to enforce,” Kim said. “You can’t have people showing up late to formation. It also shows that these people didn’t show up because they were drafted; they showed up because they want to be here. They just need guidance in the right direction, and that is what this is really all about — giving them the guidance and showing them the way.” Soldiers will train the new policemen on various tactics to continue to develop their skills, Kim said. Army Staff Sgt. Terry Blogg, a Bradley fighting vehicle section leader with 3rd Platoon, Company A, 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, said the Soldiers will teach various topics such as duties and responsibilities, medical training, reacting to improvised explosive devices, ethics, operating tactical checkpoints, and rules of engagement. As they continue to train, they will continue to learn and grow as a more organized and legitimate police force, he said. One day, he said, the streets will be solely theirs to control and secure. “In the future, Coalition forces will be able to take a back seat as the people of Iraq begin to solve problems on their own,” Budihas said. “The need for Coalition forces will still be present, but as a facilitator instead of the initiator.”
6) Al Qaeda in Iraq 'killing off' former allies http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/meast/02/18/alqaeda.sunnis/index.html BALAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Video provided to CNN shows an al Qaeda in Iraq firing squad executing one-time allies -- fellow Sunni extremists -- who were not loyal enough to the terror organization, coalition military analysts said. In the video provided by coalition military officials, armed men wearing masks are shown standing behind nine kneeling men, all of whom are wearing blindfolds or hoods with their hands presumably tied behind their backs. The video shows the men being executed. "Al Qaeda in Iraq, which is foreign led and foreign dominated here inside Iraq, is killing off other Sunni groups that are certainly not supportive of the government of Iraq, currently, or of the foreign occupation, but are not sharing the same ideology that al Qaeda in Iraq has," Rear Adm. Gregory Smith said. The video was recovered late last year during a raid on a compound near Samarra that was being used for killing and torture, a coalition official said. A number of documents -- some found in the same raid -- bolster the coalition notion that al Qaeda in Iraq is waging a violent campaign against its former allies, intelligence analysts said. Watch how the documents could aid coalition forces » Samarra is the site of a February 2006 attack on al-Askariya Mosque, revered by Shiites. The attack set off a wave of sectarian violence between Shiites and Sunnis, who were suspected of perpetrating the attack. The northern Iraqi city lies in Salaheddin province, one of four provinces where coalition forces have beefed up operations against Sunni militants.
Coalition officials say the documents are indicative of a deep rift among the militant groups fighting coalition forces. Al Qaeda in Iraq "would like nothing more than to aggravate the situation," Smith said last week. Al Qaeda in Iraq has a history of documenting its actions, the analysts said. One document found in the Samarra raid shows the execution of a woman believed to have helped Iraqi police. Another describes the murders of 12 men who al Qaeda in Iraq felt were not sufficiently loyal. In another document, al Qaeda in Iraq criticizes jihadist groups that it says are following "a false path," according to the analysts. The analysts said one document also describes the stance of six Sunni splinter groups being targeted by al Qaeda in Iraq. The document, signed by leaders of the groups, outlines their opposition to the U.S. presence in Iraq but includes a pledge to avoid attacks on civilians. Coalition officials said the documents and video may reflect a move toward reconciliation among some Sunni factions. In recent months, the U.S. has paid Sunnis and some Shiites $148 million to help fight extremists, military officials said. These groups have taken on many monikers, including Awakening Councils, Concerned Local Citizens and Sons of Iraq. Coalition officials said they are trying to determine whether the documents found last year are a reason to expand efforts to bring more Sunnis into the fight against al Qaeda in Iraq.
7) Violence gives way to calm in Iraq http://www.gazette.com/common/printer/view.php?db=colgazette&id=33280 By TOM ROEDERFebruary 18, 2008 - 3:46PM BAGHDAD — The Baghdad insurgency’s high-water mark can be seen on the Ameriyah neighborhood’s pock-marked walls, Fort Carson soldiers say.
Eight months ago, the Sunni enclave of 70,000 was declared Iraq’s capital by al-Qaida’s followers. One open space was nicknamed for the bodies found there, and a park where children now play was known then as a nest of bombs and mines. Scores of people died in gunfire and bombings here on Baghdad’s west side. Attacks are rare now, less than one incident per week.
Troops from Fort Carson’s 4th Squadron 10th Cavalry Regiment say their challenge in Ameriyah centers on maintaining calm in the neighborhood and nurturing the locals who are reopening shops and establishing government institutions. Ameriyah is seen as a role model for the rest of the country, making it a target for future attacks. “It would be a huge step backwards if this neighborhood falls,” said Capt. Tom Fournier, an Exeter, N.H., native who commands Comanche Troop, as he patrolled Ameriyah’s streets today. Baghdad remains a dangerous place. Just west of Ameriyah is Camp Liberty, home to the squadron’s headquarters, which was shaken by rocket fire today for the first time in weeks. Soldiers rushed for cover to shield themselves from the 10-minute barrage that shook buildings. But amid the sporadic violence, locals say something special is happening here that could spell the end of the insurgency nationwide. “After the nightmare, the people are happy and ready for peace,” said Imam Hussein, as he ate rice and lamb Sunday night in an Ameriyah mosque with Lt. Col. Monty Willoughby, the squadron’s commander. “I’m excited about the success I’ve seen so far,” Willoughby told the Muslim preacher and a half-dozen other neighborhood leaders. To keep insurgents out of Ameriyah, Comanche Troop has settled in the heart of the neighborhood. Its 85 soldiers rotate through three-day stints in a grim-looking bunker with 4-foot-thick concrete walls that was built to protect Saddam Hussein’s followers from American bombs. Called Joint Security Station Ameriyah, it’s a dark place with fire-blackened walls that’s shared by the Americans, Iraqi troops and members of an American-backed local security group dubbed “Sons of Iraq.” Sharing the building allows the Iraqis and Americans to work together, with the locals offering information while the Americans give guidance, and if needed, firepower. The Americans say the Iraqis know the neighborhood because of their local ties, allowing them to gather information that is out of reach to Westerners.
“They are the future that’s going to make this a safe place,” said Comanche Troop’s 1st Sgt. Tim Bolyard of Grafton, W.Va. The Americans have wired the bunker for the Internet and have set up a gym and a game room to offset the submarinelike feel of the place. “You get over it. Just like everything else in the Army,” one passing sergeant said of the bunker’s charms. The bunker contrasts with the colorful neighborhood re-emerging around it. Businesses are opening rapidly. Vegetable stands contend for sidewalk space with vendors hawking everything from imitation Gucci purses to gasoline. Vendors smiled and waved to Comanche Troop soldiers on patrol today. Iraqi flags, unseen during the violent summer, wave from buildings in a sign that residents are starting to shun sectarian rifts. On patrol today, Fournier stopped by a few shops to hand out grant applications that offer money to rebuild. But most of the businesses are growing without aid. “This place is like America,” the captain laughed as he walked through a spotless and well-stocked Ameriyah grocery store that could compete with its American equivalent. It’s not America yet. Soldiers are watchful for danger every day. Insurgents still want to reclaim Ameriyah. But there’s hope in this part of Iraq, three-tour veteran Staff Sgt. Jimmy Higgs of Grand Junction said. With more than two of his past five years spent in Iraq, Higgs is a cautious judge of progress here. “It’s changed,” Higgs said as he ate lunch Monday in the dim bunker. “I think it’s getting better.”
8) Senior Al Qaeda in Iraq intel officer killed in Diyala http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2008/02/senior_al_qaeda_in_i_2.php
By Bill RoggioFebruary 20, 2008 Multinational Forces Iraq has confirmed it killed a senior intelligence officer of al Qaeda in Iraq’s network in Diyala. Arkan Khalaf Khudayyir, also known as Karrar, was killed during a raid by “Coalition forces” in Khan Bani Sa’ad on Feb. 17. Multinational Forces Iraq uses the generic term Coalition forces to describe Task Force 88, the special operations hunter-killer teams tasked with dismantling al Qaeda in Iraq’s senior leaders and wider network. Karrar was described as a senior intelligence leader for al Qaeda in Iraq’s network in Baqubah. Karrar facilitated suicide bombing attacks in the Diyala River Valley. This network also has been responsible for attacks in Baghdad, “to include attacks by female suicide bombers.”
9) Iraqi Brigade Graduates Besmaya Combat Training Center Members of Iraqi Army 3rd Brigade, 14th Division participate in a parade for Iraqi and Coalition military members attending the graduation ceremony, Feb. 13. Photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Erica R. Gardner.
BESMAYA — A graduation ceremony filled with music, marching and speeches marked a tremendous step for Iraq when the Iraqi Army’s 3rd Brigade, 14th Division graduated here, Feb 13. The brigade is fully equipped and trained to battle enemies of Iraq because of ‘Unit Set Fielding’, a process that takes an entire Army brigade and gives the Soldiers the equipment and training they will need to fight. Iraqi Army Gen. Babakir, commanding general and chief of staff, Iraqi Joint Forces, attended the event and delivered a compelling speech to the graduates of the brigade “I am proud to stand before you on this great day,” said Babakir. “The people of Basra will be proud to have you secure their future.” The commanding officer of Iraqi Army 3rd Brigade, 14th Division, Col. Hussein, spoke of the training received from the Besmaya combat training center. “We are happy to come to Besmaya for training,” said Hussein. “We will provide the best security for the people of Basra and are prepared to defend the people from north to east and from south to west from all enemies of Iraq.” After the ceremony, Babakir, along with Coalition and Iraqi military, toured the Besmaya Range Complex, viewing the ranges and the lot of equipment supplied to each brigade participating in Unit Set Fielding. They then enjoyed a luncheon in honor of the graduates.
10) $5.6M sewer project announced in Iraq http://www.upi.com/International_Security/Emerging_Threats/Briefing/2008/02/18/56m_sewer_project_announced_in_iraq/2479/ BAGHDAD, Feb. 18 (UPI) -- The Iraqi minister of public works inaugurated a $5.6 million sewer project and broke ground on a sewage rehabilitation program in Karbala.
The Iraqi minister of municipalities and public works, Riyad Ghareeb, appeared with provincial leaders to lay the foundation stone at one project and announced the renovation of current sewage systems, Voices of Iraq said."The project includes the rehabilitation of six water stations and the installation of six electricity generators," said provincial Gov. Aqil al-Khazali. Khazali said the $5.6 million project will last six months. The rehabilitation program revamps the cities storm-water discharge system.
11) Dwindling Insurgent Forces Target of Operation Marne Grand Slam http://www.mnf-iraq.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=17159&Itemid=1
U.S. Army 1st Lt. Trevor Plummer, from 3rd Infantry Division, provides security while stopping to check on the progress of a new Iraqi Army checkpoint. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Timothy Kingston.
BAGHDAD — Coalition forces began pursuit of remaining insurgent elements near Salman Pak Feb. 15 with the kickoff of Operation Marne Grand Slam. The operation is designed to terminally disable the dwindling number of al-Qaeda in Iraq operatives remaining in the region southeast of Baghdad. The first phase of Grand Slam involves clearing a peninsula that stretches into the Tigris River, directly south of the city of Salman Pak. In addition to targeting the terrorist network there, Coalition forces will go after AQI’s infrastructure of safe houses, weapon caches and firing points. From that point, U.S. Soldiers will increase their presence in the area surrounding Salman Pak, to assist the local population in regaining control of their area.
Troops from the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division are already moving into Combat Outpost Carver, currently under construction southeast of Salman Pak. The outpost is located on a peninsula on the Tigris River, in an area that was a former stronghold of the Iraqi Republican Guard. From here, Soldiers can maintain visibility on river traffic and impede insurgent movement. The outpost is named after Pvt. Cody Carver, from Haskell, Okla., one of three soldiers killed in an Oct. 30 attack in Salman Pak and, at 19, the youngest of the 10 battalion Soldiers killed over the past year. COP Carver hosts the first permanent presence of Coalition Forces in an area that has troubled the battalion for months.
The move south was facilitated by cooperation with Coalition partners from the Republic of Georgia. A battalion of Georgian troops, part of the 1st Georgian Brigade, recently assumed control of an area to the north of COP Carver, allowing U.S. troops to move south.
U.S. commanders are now working with local tribal sheiks to set up a security cooperation arrangement with their tribesmen, the same as has been done elsewhere throughout MND-C with the Sons of Iraq groups. Talks have been underway for almost a month, preceding Marne Grand Slam, to organize SoI leaders and plot locations for security checkpoints.
12) US troops attack al-Qa'eda's Iraq stronghold http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2008/02/20/wiraq120.xml
By Damien McElroy, in Mosul 20/02/2008 American and Iraqi forces have begun their final offensive against al-Qa'eda in Iraq having surrounded the organisation's last major stronghold in the northern city of Mosul.After setting up a security cordon around the outskirts of the city and an inner ring of police stations, a joint force of almost 11,000 troops is now mounting strikes on hundreds of terrorist sanctuaries between the two rings in an effort to eradicate the al-Qa'eda threat. The operations are fraught with danger as streets and houses are often booby-trapped. The city, which has a population of 1.6 million, has no sectarian divides, so al-Qa'eda bases are intermingled with civilian homes. But house by house, the force intends to clear the city of terrorists in what Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, has called a "decisive battle". On an operation attended by The Daily Telegraph yesterday, one of the first in the new mission, US and Iraqi forces targeted an al-Qa'eda safehouse used by terrorists. After rescuing a grateful local man, Wassim Mahmoud, who had been kidnapped and stashed beneath a trap door in the floor of the building, the commanding officer, Capt Alexander Rasmussen, consulted members of the 2nd brigade Iraqi Army on what to do with the compound. "Do we blow it up or set an ambush?" With suspicious wires indicating a booby-trapped arms cache, the Iraqis persuaded Capt Rasmussen to set a trap. Before driving off, Capt Rasmussen stopped at local houses to apologise for ripping down electricity cables.
The gesture paid off when an elder told the patrol about a freshly planted roadside bomb just 50 yards away. Local residents appear to be ready to offer Americans conditional support - provided the military can install a sense of security on Mosul's streets for the first time since Saddam Hussein's demise. "We need a peaceful living environment," said Abdullah Qais, a retired merchant. He added: "There are good people living in good houses in Mosul but they are scared. The bad people can come at any time and you cannot stop them." A year after Washington and Baghdad introduced a "surge" in troop numbers the north of the country has become the epicentre of terrorism in Iraq. The country's biggest Sunni Muslim city has seen an influx of fighters seeking refuge from elsewhere in the country. "Mosul is the elephant in the room," said Lt Col Michael Simmering, of the 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment. "It is the last major stronghold of al-Qa'eda and home to a fractured insurgency of many different groups." The Ottoman trading outpost traces its roots to Biblical Nineveh and Nimrud. Mosul's Sunnis prospered under Saddam's Ba'ath Party, dominating Iraq's professions and the army.
13) Al-Qaida feels pressure in Iraq http://www.upi.com/International_Security/Emerging_Threats/Analysis/2008/02/19/feature_al-qaida_feels_pressure_in_iraq/6107/
Published: Feb. 19, 2008 at 10:13 AM By RICHARD TOMKINS UPI Correspondent
SHARQAT, Iraq, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- U.S. and Iraqi forces are disrupting al-Qaida operation in the Tigris River Valley south of Mosul, where the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ha predicted a major battle against terrorists. IED finds and explosions do occur regularly, mainly along the highway leading north from Tikrit in Saladin province to Ninewa's provincial capital of Mosul, but the frequency is down by half -- about one every other day now. Villages that were once terrorist sanctuaries are becoming less so. Iraqi police and U.S. intelligence operations, combined with a joint U.S.-Iraqi information campaign, are helping drive a wedge between al-Qaida and nationalist insurgents in the region and between those groups and the general populace.And there is the recent deployment from Tikrit of troops from the Iraqi army, who conduct joint operations against the terrorists with U.S. and Iraqi police forces but are also establishing security checkpoints along roads from villages to the highway to augment those set up by police and Concerned Local Citizen groups, now renamed Sons of Iraq."In the past, the population passively condoned attacks on coalition forces," said Capt. Sam Cook, commander of Crazy Troop, 1st Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. "They're struggling internally now, within themselves. They don't want occupation, but they don't like the insurgency's foreign links, they don't like al-Qaida's thuggery and foreign support, and they're totally against Iraqis killing innocent Iraqis."Cook and Crazy Troop are based at Joint Security Station Sharqat, about an hour's drive south of Mosul. They share the facility on the southern edge of the city -- in a partially destroyed hotel compound they call Camp Crazyhorse -- with Iraqi troops.Crazy Troop's task is to support the Iraqi police and military, which plan and conduct their own operations. That puts an Iraqi face on missions and, when combined with civic action projects, lessens the impression of Americans as occupiers while increasing the impression of Americans as partners."We try to partner with Iraqi forces in the area of greatest threat to secure people in their daily lives," said Lt. Col. Thomas Dorame, commander of the 1st Squadron."I tell the Iraqi troops that we're here to support them, rather than they support us," he said. "At the end of the day, success depends on the Iraqis standing up and taking charge of security and governance."Sharqat is an agricultural trading center of about 140,000 residents. People in the city and area villages are mainly Sunni Arabs who feel disenfranchised politically and economically since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's Baathist Party regime.In addition to al-Qaida terrorists in the region there are members of the Islamic State of Iraq group. Intelligence officials say ISI, despite its nationalist face, is in the main al-Qaida in mufti. AQI established the so-called Islamic State of Iraq in Diyala province in 2006 under the leadership of a previously unknown Iraqi, who U.S. and Baghdad officials say doesn't actually exist. The "state" and its supposed Iraqi leader were seen as a counter by AQI to criticism of it being mainly led by non-Iraqis and with having foreign-derived financing and goals.Like its parent, ISI follows a cell-like structure, which limits members' knowledge of other cells and organizational leadership.Cook and other U.S. commanders in the Tigris River Valley ensure that link comes up in conversations with Iraqis, many of whom are unaware of it. According to U.S. officials and Iraqi police spoken to, it's believed some members of ISI cells are also in the dark about the link and this could lead to defections by more nationalist-minded ISI members.Dorame said both AQI and ISI use the TRV as a main resupply point and as operations base for senior leaders, financiers and facilitators. He estimates AQI's leaders in the area are in single digits following a series of military operations; for ISI it's in the double digits.The exact number of estimated hardcore fighters was not immediately available, but Cook said in one village alone -- Aitha -- about 100 of its 10,000 people were believed either members of AQI or ISI or support their operations. Some funding and supplies are believed -- but not yet definitively proven -- to come from neighboring Syria, but money also is derived from extortion and other criminal activities as the terror cells "morph into mafia-type" gangs.Attacks on Iraqi police and U.S. forces follow two main patterns, officials said: IEDs planted along the main highway -- mainly by unemployed villagers hired for the task -- and car bombs and sniping by hardcore terrorists in retaliation for the capture or killing of ISI or AQI leaders."I think their foot soldiers now are primarily fighting for money," Dorame said. "Many of those we have captured are not fanatics, they're not ideologues, they have no hatred for us," he said. "They're doing it for money to feed their families.""For every bomb-planter I detain today, there will be two ready to replace him tomorrow for the money," said Cook.The U.S. military has plans in the works to help put people in the area into jobs through a paid civilian service corps for repairing or building infrastructure. Jobs are now being created by emergency infrastructure projects chosen by local government and approved and funded by U.S. military commanders. The U.S. government's Provincial Reconstruction Teams have other projects to be implemented.Meanwhile, Cook and the men of Crazy Troop continue their daily routine of joint patrols and raids, rolling up terror suspects and their weapons through information garnered by undercover police, detainees and increasing numbers of citizens tired of the violence.