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Iraq Report: Arrowhead Ripper and Wider Operations

Operation Arrowhead Ripper, the name of the U.S. and Iraqi offensive in Diyala province remains the hottest front in Operation Phantom Thunder, the overarching operation in the Baghdad Belts. Since the start of the operation on June 16, U.S. and Iraqi forces have killed 59 al Qaeda operatives, captured 40, destroyed 28 roadside bombs and 12 booby-trapped buildings, and uncovered 16 weapons caches in Baqubah and the surrounding regions. U.S. and Iraqi forces have begun to distribute aid to civilians in the city.

U.S. commanders have begun to tamp down expectations of a large fight against al Qaeda believed to be trapped in the city. On Friday, ground forces commander Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno stated that it was thought about 80 percent of al Qaeda senior leaders escaped the city, while a large majority of the mid-level commanders and fighters remained.

Today, Colonel Steve Townsend, the commander of the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 2nd Infantry Division warned that the next day or so will tell how the fight will develop. "We will either make enemy contact quickly, or we won't," Col Townsend told Reuters. "My company commanders' gut feel is that there won't be a big fight here ... The fight so far has gone a little easier than I expected. That does not mean there isn't any fight left in them."

U.S. and Iraqi forces continue to shape the battlefield in the regions north and west of Diyala, in Salahadin, Kirkuk, and Ninewa provinces. These are areas al Qaeda will likely attempt to regroup.

In Mosul, U.S. and Iraqi forces raided "a large factory used to make home-made explosives, improvised explosive devices and vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices" after receiving a tip from a local resident on Saturday. Thirty-two insurgents were captured at the site, which "consisted of three separate buildings with one building used to prepare VBIEDs, a second used as an HME/IED factory and the third, a storage area for VBIED and IED-making materials. Each of these buildings was connected by a tunnel that had openings into each part of the structure."

In Taji, a 500-man neighborhood watch was established in the village of Falahat. "The neighborhood watch is made up of a group of 500 volunteers who are currently being vetted for possible future selection for training as Iraqi Police or some other organization in the Iraqi Security Forces," Multinational Forces Iraq reported. "The volunteers are members of a number of tribes in the Taji area who want reconciliation with the Coalition and the Iraqi government." The Falahat watch turned over an IED cache to Iraqi troops serving in the region. This news comes as Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki stated he supports arming tribal forces to fight al Qaeda just as long as the proper checks ensure the forces can be integrated into the Iraqi security forces.

Operations against al Qaeda's network nationwide continue to focus on the Baghdad Belts and the northwest. On June 22 and 23, Coalition forces killed seven al Qaeda fighters and captured ten during targeted raids on al Qaeda's network in Tikrit, Mosul, Fallujah and "an area south of Baghdad." On June 21, six al Qaeda fighters were killed and five captured during a raid in against al Qaeda in the Karma region.

Operations against Muqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army and the Iranian backed "secret cells" of the Qazali Network continue to remain a focus. On June 22, Iraqi Special Operations Forces "detained a key rogue Jaysh al-Mahdi insurgent leader in Sadr City." The Mahdi Army commander was "responsible for coordinating and conducting kidnappings, death squad killings and improvised explosive device attacks" as well as suspected of "smuggling weapons into Iraq." On June 23, a Coalition raid "as part of an effort to deny Iranian influence in Iraq" in Sadr City netted three "suspected terrorists with ties to Iran."

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