Rumor and Combat
KUWAIT CITY: While Coalition forces press operations along the Euphrates River Valley, an interesting report emerges from the city of Mosul. During a shootout at a suspected al Qaeda safe house, eight terrorists either shot each other or blew themselves up to avoid capture. Unconfirmed reports indicate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al Qaeda’s commander in Iraq, may have been one of those killed. According to an unnamed U.S. counterterrorism official, “[t]here are efforts under way to determine if he was killed.”
In the past we’ve looked at potential successors to Zarqawi. Since this time, three known al Qaeda in Iraq “princes” have been confirmed killed (Suleiman Khalid Darwish and Abu Azzam) or captured (Abu Talha), and Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri is believed to have died as well. The death of Zarqawi would be an important psychological victory for the Coalition and a blow to al Qaeda, but, as Col Stephen Davis commented in the past, “[t]he reality is that while one day Zarqawi will die or will be captured and nothing much will change. We will continue to fight and kill the insurgents in [Western Anbar] with our focus being on dismantling the networks.”
And the dirty job of fighting the insurgency and dismantling the jihadi networks continues. In Haditha, a roadside bomb attack killed fifteen Iraqi civilians and one U.S. Marine. An ambush followed the bombing, and Iraqi Army soldiers and Marines beat off the attack and killed eight insurgents and wounded another.
Fresh on the heals of Operation Panther, a combined Coalition force of 150 Iraqi Army soldiers and 300 Marines launched Operation Bruins in northern Ramadi. Multinational Forces-West describes the operation as “part of a series of disruption operations in Ramadi and is designed to set the conditions for successful elections in December. The forces are conducting cordon and searches, blocking off known insurgent escape routes and searching for weapons caches.” In Ramadi: North, South, East and West, and Operation Panther, we stated “the Coalition is attempting to address the Ramadi problem by slowing bringing in Iraqi troops and pairing them off with U.S. units, and trying to avert a full scale operation like the one conducted in Tal Afar… the small scale offensives in Ramadi… are designed to target specific neighborhoods as well as outlying areas of the city…”
Multinational Forces-West reports “Attacks against Iraqi and U.S. Forces in the Ramadi area have decreased 60 percent in the last few weeks, as a result of these ongoing operations.” One such insurgent attack in downtown Ramadi had disastrous results; thirty two insurgents were killed by U.S. And Iraqi troops.
The Coalition is slowly and methodically strangling the insurgency and al Qaeda in northern and western Iraq, and persistent operations are denying al Qaeda safe havens in their former self-declared “Islamic Republics” on the Syrian border. The death of Zarqawi, if true, should be credited to the persistent pressure applied by Coalition forces, and the introduction of Iraqi troops into the northern and western regions of Iraq.