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Iraq Security Forces Maintain Operations Against al-Qaeda, 'Death Squads'

This past week saw continued operations against al-Qaeda in Iraq, some led by Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and others by U.S. forces. Perhaps the most important was announced Sunday July 23, the capture of an alleged foreign terrorist leader:

Coalition forces announce the capture of ‘Umar Hasan Al Rashid Al Dusuri, aka , Ja’far ‘Abdallah Jasim ‘Abdallah, an alleged al-Qaida in Iraq foreign terrorist originally from Saudi Arabia.

Ja’far ‘Abdallah admitted to being a member of al-Qaida, and claims he illegally entered Iraq through Syria in July 2005. He provided extensive information of the foreign militia network targeting innocent Iraqi civilians, with the goal of encouraging sectarian violence through Iraq. He admitted to working with multiple terrorist cells throughout Tikrit and the Salah Al Din province…

On Tuesday, Coalition forces killed an important local leader of al-Qaeda in Bayji, which is located in north central Iraq (Salah al-Din Province). He was believed to be a member of the local Mujahidin Shura Council, and three other suspects were captured. At about the same time, another member of al-Qaeda was killed, one wounded and one captured north of Balad. The Iraqi newspaper Al-Rafidayn reports what may be the same capture, but further notes that eight terrorists were captured in a separate operation north of Ramadi.

Significant operations also took place in and around Baghdad. On Friday, a tip from Iraqi citizens led to an operation in which Iraqi soldiers and Iraqi police closed in on a mosque and detained 25 individuals believed to have been involved in last week’s Mahmudiya massacre. The Iraqi newspaper Kul Iraq reports that Iraq’s first mechanized unit executed a raid north of Baghdad on a cell specializing in the manufacture of explosive charges with the aid of helicopter support, and a separate raid on al-Qaeda in Kirkuk. Al-Rafidayn reports that Iraqi security forces have expanded control of Haifa Street, a major thoroughfare that experiences regular exchange of gunfire between the ISF and militants (this [PDF] map of Baghdad shows Haifa Street near the center curving with the flow of the Tigris River).

Last Wednesday ThreatsWatch discussed the escalating conflict between the Mahdi Army militia of radical Shi’a cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on the one hand and U.S. and Iraqi forces on the other, this in spite of the fact that Sadr’s faction is still formally part of the government. The latter part of the week appeared to see continued U.S.-Iraqi raids against the Mahdi Army, or “death squads,” which is used as a code phrase for Shi’a militia who attack civilians in order to distinguish them from al-Qaeda and other Sunni groups. MNF-I reports that U.S. and Iraqi forces detained five suspects and seized a weapons cache while “conducting a counter-death squad operation in southern Baghdad.” A second MNF-I report indicates that five members of a death squad were captured in Mahmudiya, a Shi’a area in which support for Sadr is strong (it notes the capture of four other terrorists for whom there were arrest warrants).

The most significant engagement in a Sadr stronghold took place in Musayyib in Baghdad prior to our last report in which a search for death squads led to a day-long battle in which coalition forces killed 33 terrorists:

…We received reports of small skirmishes between IPs and terrorists erupting at a police station, including the seizing of IP vehicles and weapons in the main downtown circle, which includes the Husseniya, said Donahoe. Soldiers from Company D, 1-67 AR, were in the area to investigate reports of death squads making a presence in the area and surprised the terrorists when they arrived on the scene so quickly. “When we entered the downtown area, we soon came under fire from the area around the Husseniya, including a rocket-propelled attack from inside the structure,” said Capt. Irvin Oliver, commander, Co. D, 1-67 AR.

The Soldiers dug in while other elements of 1-67 AR and their Iraqi counterparts rushed to assist and defeat the terrorists. The combined force cordoned off the city from all directions, keeping the fight to a scaled area and making sure innocent civilians were not harmed…

Baghdad also saw continued attacks on civilians during the week, the worst of which killed 27 through a car bomb and mortars.

Al-Hayat reports on continued changes in security realignment as Iraqi forces take greater control in the provinces while U.S. troops move to reinforce Baghdad. The article reports that Nasiriya in the Dhiqar Province is the be the second section of Iraq to have complete Iraqi security control beginning August 15. It also notes that Iraqi troops took responsibility for the western half of the city of Mosul, in north Iraq, from U.S. troops. Previously Iraqi troops had controlled only half the city.

Separately, Al-Sabaah repors that Iraqi President Jalal Talibani met with the Iraqi Accord Front leader Adnan Dulaimi, a prominent Sunni, to discuss means of effectuating the prime minister’s reconciliation plan.