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Iraq Report: On the offensive in the belts

Iraqi and Coalition forces remain on the offensive in the Baghdad Belts of eastern Anbar province, northern Babil and Diyala, as the bulk of the major suicide and bombing attacks have shifted to the northern regions of Iraq. Kirkuk has seen a massive suicide attack during the past week, while insurgents targeted two bridges in western Anbar province, where U.S. and Iraqi forces have launched a multi-brigade operation.

Diyala

Arrowhead Ripper in the provincial capital of Baqubah has now expanded into the eastern sector of the city, called Old Baqubah. The eastern portion of Baqubah has been cordoned, and Iraqi and U.S. forces are conducting "a deliberate, house-to-house search there for al-Qaida operatives." Multinational Forces Iraq reported that 67 insurgents have been killed, 253 captured and 151 improvised explosive devices and 24 booby-trapped buildings have been dismantled since Arrowhead Ripper began in Baqubah. Iraq's Ministry of Defense reported 67 insurgents have been killed and 50 captured during ongoing operations throughout Diyala province.

Al Qaeda continues to strike in the rural regions of Baqubah. On July 17, an assault on the town of Duwailiyah resulted in 29 civilians killed and four wounded. Al Qaeda fighters attacked while wearing military-styled uniforms, killing women and children. Several Kurdish villages along the Iranian border have been hit in similar assaults over the past month, and al Qaeda has conducted mass casualty suicide attacks in an effort to stir up sectarian violence. Elements of the Kurdish Regional Guards, which are the Kurdish provincial security forces, are deploying to the northern regions of Diyala in an attempt to curb attacks in the area.

North

The provinces of Salahadin, Tamin, and Niwena have seen an increase in activity since the launch of the Baghdad Security Plan and Operation Phantom Thunder in the Belts. Al Qaeda and allied insurgent groups are believed to be stepping up operations in the region as their traditional safe havens in Baghdad and the Belts are under assault.

In the wake of a mass casualty suicide attack in the city of Kirkuk, which killed over 80 and wounded hundreds, Iraqi and U.S. security forces have launched operations in the north. On July 17, Iraqi police arrested 28 suspects in southern and eastern Kirkuk. Twenty-one of those arrested are said to have come from outside the province.

Al Qaeda's network in Mosul has received special attention from Iraqi and Coalition forces of late. Khalid Al Mashadani, the senior-most Iraqi leader in al Qaeda and the founder of the Islamic State of Iraq, al Qaeda's political front, was arrested in Mosul on July 4. On July 17, Coalition forces captured three more al Qaeda operatives in Mosul, one "who is believed to have been promoted within the organization after recent Coalition operations created numerous vacancies in the terrorist leadership structure."

The government is looking to augment security forces in the north, and has turned to the Kurdish Regional Government for assistance. The Kurdish Regional Government has promised the Defense Ministry 6,000 members of the Kurdish Regional Guards to protect oil and electric infrastructure between Kirkuk and Baji. The planned movement of forces is awaiting the approval of Iraq™s prime minister.

Babil

Operation Marne Avalanche kicked off in the Iskandariyah region southwest of Baghdad several days ago. This region, known as the Triangle of Death, is a battleground between Sunni and Shia insurgents. On July 16, U.S. forces conducted two raids in Haswah and Jabella. The Haswah raid netted eight members of an IED cell, including its leader, as well as a mobile IED factory. The Jabella raid, which was conducted with a battalion of Iraqi soldiers, targeted the Mahdi Army. No arrests were reported but the Iraqi Army set up an outpost in the town.

In Arab Jabour to the east, an al Qaeda meeting was hit with Excalibur precision-guided artillery shells. The strike killed "the top target for al Qaeda in Iraq south of Baghdad." The al Qaeda commander was "responsible for improvised explosive devices, vehicle-borne IED and indirect fire attacks on Coalition Forces in Arab Jabour."

Anbar

Iraqi troops and U.S. Marines continue to pressure al Qaeda and Sunni insurgent groups throughout Anbar province. On July 15, over 9,000 U.S Marines, Soldiers, and Sailors, and Iraqi Army members launched Operation Matwani in the western expanses of the Euphrates River Valley. The goal of Matwani is "to neutralize any future attempts by Anti-Iraqi Forces to re-establish a presence in key urban areas along the Euphrates River valley." On July 3, one such al Qaeda team attempted to strike in Ramadi, but was routed south of the city by Coalition airpower and Iraqi ground forces.

In the Triad region of Haditha, Haqlanniyah, and Barwana, insurgents attacked two bridges in Udasiyah and Haqlanniyah with car bombs. While Voices of Iraq reported the bridges were destroyed, 1st Lt. Shawn Mercer, the Deputy Public Affairs Officer for Multinational Forces West informed us the bridges were damaged. "MNF-W forces and Baghdadi Police discovered one bridge had been attacked approximately 7 km northwest of Udasiyah at 8:20 pm July 18," Mercer said in an email. "Another Marine unit reported a second bridge attacked 5 km west of Haqlaniyah at 9:30 pm. Both bridges were rendered impassable, cordoned off and bypasses prepared. Scattered vehicle parts indicated truck bombs were used in an attempt to destroy the bridges. There were no sign or reports of casualties in the attacks. Engineering assessment teams are in the process of determining the damage to the structures and repair plans." Al Qaeda in Iraq has destroyed bridges in Baghdad and along the rivers north in anticipation of Coalition and Iraq operations.

Elsewhere in Anbar, the provincial government has met with provincial officials in neighboring Karbala, and agreed to form a joint security committee. "We agreed on securing the international highway to ensure safety of the passengers including pilgrims and visitors of holy shrines in the province, determining boundaries of security responsibility and areas of joint patrols, and securing the area of Kilometer 160 which lies on the highway between Iraq and Jordan," the governor of Karbala told Voices of Iraq. "We also agreed on the necessity of securing the area near Razazah Lake (150 km west of Karbala), exchange intelligence tips, establishing a hotline between the two sides in both operation rooms, reporting any operations within the borders between the two provinces to take the necessary measures, and assist in evacuating bodies of the killed within the geographical boundaries of Anbar province."

Al Qaeda

U.S. Special Forces continues the hunt for al Qaeda™s senior leadership cells, facilitators and operatives. Multinational Forces Iraq confirmed that Ahmed Sancar, also known as Khattab al-Turki, "a known terrorist and senior leader in al-Qaeda and a key financier and facilitator for the terrorist group," was killed during a raid on June 23. Khattab al-Turki held several key positions in al Qaeda, and was planning to conduct attacks in the Kurdish north.

Khattab al-Turki, was an associate of Turkish al Qaeda members Mehmet Yilmaz and Mehmet Resit Isik, who were killed during the same raid. "Yilmaz was a close associate of Khalid Shayikh Muhammad, the mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon," Multinational Forces Iraq stated. "Yilmaz also led a group of Turks to Afghanistan in 2001 to fight against Coalition Forces."

Special Forces captured 12 al Qaeda operatives during raids in Baghdad, Taji, Fallujah, and Ramadi on July 18 and 19. Raids in Tarmiyah resulted in three al Qaeda operatives killed and two captured on July 17. In Qayyarah, Iraqi troops captured the emir of the town along with three associates during a raid on July 15.

Sadr and the Special Groups

The Sadrist Movement has ended its self-imposed political exile and canceled its boycott of the Parliament. Sadr™s bloc of 20 representatives ended its one-month absence from Parliament on Wednesday, while the Sunni political bloc ended their boycott today. Muqtada al Sadr is currently in Iran after leaving the country earlier this month. This is Sadr™s second trip to Iran this year, the prior trip last over four months.

Meanwhile, Coalition and Iraqi forces continue to dismantle the Iranian-backed "Special Groups" of the rogue Mahdi Army. A raid in the Amil neighborhood in Baghdad resulted in the capture of three members of the Special Groups "suspected of facilitating the flow of Explosively Formed Projectiles (EFPs) and other lethal aide into Iraq from Iran." Also, Multinational Forces Iraq confirmed it captured Sheikh Mohammad Hassan Sbahi Al Khafaji, a key leader of the Mahdi Army with close links to Iran™s Qods Force, along with five associates on June 28 in Nasiriyah.

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