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Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq


March 2008
Report to Congress
In accordance with the
Department of Defense Appropriations Act 2008
(Section 9010, Public Law 109-289)


Section 1-Stability and Security

1.3 Security Environment

Monthly violence levels at the beginning of 2008 were significantly lower than during the mid-summer 2007 peaks. The overall reduction in attacks, casualties and deaths is the result of multiple factors including the increased operational tempo of Coalition and Iraqi forces made possible by the surge in U.S. and Iraqi combat forces, the growth in the Sons of Iraq, sustained Iraqi and Coalition force presence among the population, increased Iraqi force capability and capacity, increasing rejection of AQI by Sunni Arabs and operations aimed at disrupting terrorist facilitation networks. In combination, these factors resulted in sustained pressure on AQI, militia extremists and insurgents and degraded their ability to carry out attacks. The continuation of Muqtada al-Sadr’s August 2007 order to Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM) to suspend all attacks has also contributed to the decrease in overall violence, though some Iranian-sponsored Special Group (SG) leaders have ignored the order.

During this reporting period, the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division (Army Brigade Combat Team) and 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit returned home without replacement, leaving 19 brigade and regimental combat teams and two Marine battalions serving in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Overall Assessment of the Security Environment

While progress in some areas is fragile, the security environment has improved significantly over the past six months. The downward trends that began at the end of the summer continued throughout the remaining months of 2007. Key indicators are at levels last seen consistently in mid-2005 with indirect fire attacks at levels not seen since early 2004. While the Coalition and Iraqi leadership recognize that these hard-fought gains are still reversible, they have seized the opportunities created by increased security to promote greater reconciliation, expand and train Iraqi forces and execute projects that improve quality of life in many parts of Iraq. Evidence of success in these efforts is reflected in the reopening of schools, clinics and markets and in the increasing availability of essential services. These improvements coincide with the growing willingness of Sunni and Shi’a tribal leaders across Iraq to contribute to the stabilization of Iraq.

Despite these gains, AQI remains a serious threat in parts of the country, particularly in the North, and violent conflicts among communal groups for political power and resources persist. AQI continues its efforts to exacerbate these communal tensions with high-profile attacks and a campaign of murder and intimidation against tribal, political and security force leaders. In addition, broader networked security threats in the form of criminal elements and corruption continue to limit political and economic progress.

Subversive foreign influence continues to affect the security situation in Iraq. Although the Syrian Government has taken steps to reduce the flow of extremists across its borders, foreign terrorists, particularly suicide bombers, still enter Iraq through Syria. Despite Iran’s reported assurances that it does not provide lethal aid, the Iranian IRGC-QF continues to use facilitators and proxy networks to train and fund Shi’a extremists.


Sons of Iraq

The Sons of Iraq (formerly known as Concerned Local Citizens (CLCs)) have now grown to include some 91,000 Iraqis who provide security for infrastructure such as roads, municipal buildings, power lines and other key facilities in their local communities under the direction of Coalition and Iraqi forces. The Sons of Iraq are a key component of the counterinsurgency fight due to their knowledge of the local populace and their ability to report activity that might otherwise escape the attention of Coalition and Iraqi forces. When deployed on static checkpoints and security details, Sons of Iraq members allow larger elements of Coalition and Iraqi forces to pursue and engage the enemy. Sons of Iraq members also provide valuable information on individuals linked to extremists and weapons caches. This local intelligence reduces the enemy’s ability to generate attacks and find safe haven and enhances the Coalition and Iraqi forces’ combat effectiveness.

The Sons of Iraq are playing an important role at the local level to quell violence, but they do pose some prospective challenges, including the potential for infiltration by insurgents and lack of a cohesive plan to transition Sons of Iraq to the Iraqi forces and civilian employment. The GoI continues to debate the future of the Sons of Iraq, raising concerns over infiltration by irreconcilable elements, the merits of supporting former insurgents and methods for transitioning Sons of Iraq members into the Iraqi forces, private sector employment or educational programs. Nonetheless, the GoI has supported the integration of more than 9,000 former Sons of Iraq members into Iraqi forces in Baghdad alone with thousands of others having previously joined Iraqi forces in Anbar Province. Approximately 19,000 additional members of Sons of Iraq groups have expressed their desire to join the Iraqi forces and they await an expansion of the government’s integration and training programs. The Iraqi and U.S. Governments are also jointly funding multiple private employment and joint technical education programs focusing on Sons of Iraq members and former detainees.

AQI and some Shi’a extremists recognize the strength and influence of these neighborhood security groups and have increased attacks on their checkpoints and leadership. However, these violent attacks and assassinations have not discouraged over 91,000 Iraqis from joining Sons of Iraq programs. Similar movements continue to spread throughout areas where there are inadequate numbers of Iraqi forces to deal with AQI and other security threats.

Joint Security Stations

Coalition strategy is focused on protecting the Iraqi population. The steady improvement in the security environment during the latter part of 2007 and early 2008 is in large part a result of Coalition and Iraqi forces living among the people through the joint staffing of local Joint Security Stations (JSS) and Combat Outposts (COP). This strategy has a stabilizing effect along ethnic fault lines and complements an active engagement program focused on reconciliation of former insurgents while maintaining pressure on domestic and external insurgent elements. Assisted by Sons of Iraq groups, the net result is increased security at the local and national levels. Over time, as Coalition forces decrease in number and move toward an overwatch posture, JSSs and COPs will be turned over to Iraqi forces to maintain the footprint required to secure the population.

Attack Trends and Violence Assessment

Violence levels have returned to levels last seen in 2005. Nationwide attacks in Iraq have fallen by more than 60% since June 2007 and have remained at roughly mid-2005 levels for the four months since the end of Ramadan in October 2007. Particularly noteworthy progress has been achieved in Anbar Province where attacks in all categories have decreased by approximately 90% since January 2007. Two exceptions to the general downward trend include attacks using explosively formed penetrators (EFPs), which rose in January 2008, and overall attacks in Ninewa Province, which have risen since June 2007 due to infiltration of some AQI and affiliated insurgents into that area.

Overall incidents of violence remained low throughout the religious holidays of Hajj and Ashura. In December 2007, more than 30,000 Iraqi pilgrims traveled from Iraq to Mecca by air and ground in the annual observance of Hajj and reported no violent incidents. The absence of major violence during Ashura in January 2008 was another indicator of the decline in violence in the country. While clashes did occur between Iraqi forces and Shi’a extremists in Basrah and Nasiriyah, the Karbala celebrations, during which 2.5 million pilgrims visited the Shi’a holy city, were peaceful. The relative security during these two holidays was due in large part to the security strategy developed and implemented by the GoI and Iraqi forces with minimal Coalition assistance.

Efforts to improve data collection continue. In conjunction with Multi-National Corps-Iraq (MNC-I) and the Center for Army Analysis, MNF-I recently finished a four-month review of its 218,000-record database for the period between January 2006 (when MNF-I began tracking host nation reports) to January 2008. The review enabled MNF-I to capture civilian deaths in the most comprehensive manner since data has been collected in Iraq. The result is a more accurate measure of the civilian deaths for the period between January 2006 and January 2008. Though the number of civilian deaths during this period has been revised upward by approximately 8,000, the general trends and analytical conclusions previously reported remain valid.

The number of civilian deaths fell by over 72% since July 2007, and it is down over 75% since the peak number in monthly deaths that occurred in the last two months of 2006. There have been periodic high-casualty car and suicide vest bombings throughout the period. However, the downward trends for attacks and civilian deaths illustrates the failure of highprofile attacks to rekindle the cycle of ethnosectarian violence that characterized the period from the Samarra mosque bombing in February 2006 until the surge in Coalition forces reached full strength in the summer of 2007 (the Iraqi surge in forces continued throughout 2007 and will continue through 2008). Another important factor in breaking the cycle of violence has been the increased willingness of GoI officials, Iraqi force leaders, sheikhs, imams and other unofficial leaders to issue statements rejecting retaliatory violence after spectacular attacks.


As overall incidents decrease, the number and effectiveness of high-profile attacks is also declining. Both AQI and SG cells remain capable of conducting high-profile attacks across Iraq. In fact, in January 2008, high-profile attacks rose for the first time in five months as a result of a slight increase in person-borne IEDs (PBIEDs) and a slight increase in vehicle-borne IEDs (VBIEDs). However, constant pressure on AQI from Coalition and Iraqi operations has led to a general decline in high-profile explosions in Iraq, falling 67% since its peak in March 2007.


The reduction in ethno-sectarian deaths reflects the improvements in the overall security environment. With fewer and less effective provocative attacks, deaths attributable to ethnosectarian motives were down 94% Iraq-wide and 97% in the Baghdad Security Districts from January 2007 to January 2008. While ethnosectarian violence used to occur across most of Baghdad’s neighborhoods in large numbers every week, current reports show many fewer incidents occurring in a much smaller subset of neighborhoods.

Coalition and Iraqi forces have benefited from the reduced violence. U.S. military force losses are down 72% since the May 2007 high, while Iraqi forces’ deaths have fallen over 70%. The geographic concentration of attacks continues to shift east and north as Coalition and Iraqi forces change focus from clearing AQI and local extremists from their previously secure operating areas closer to Baghdad and operate more in provinces north of Baghdad.

Although the majority of JAM elements in Baghdad appear to have complied with Sadr’s August 2007 order to halt attacks, members of the militia, particularly Iranian-supported SGs, continue to violate this order. Attacks with Iranian EFP IEDs—a trademark weapon of SGs—continued during the ceasefire. The number of EFP attacks was gradually declining through December 2007, but the trend reversed sharply in January 2008, when there were twice as many attacks as in December 2007, and it remains elevated over December numbers in February 2008.


Anti-Coalition violence decreased in Basrah as British forces repositioned to bases outside the city, but occasional outbreaks in attacks against Coalition forces at the Basrah airport still occur. Violence against Iraqi forces and civilians in the province remains a concern, particularly after the Soldiers of Heaven militia clashed with Iraqi forces on January 18, 2008. Occasional indirect fire attacks against the Coalition FOB at the Basrah airport still occur. The leadership of General Mohan of the Basrah Operations Command (BaOC) and Major General Jalil, Basrah Director of Police, and the coordination of their activities through the BaOC, has been instrumental in improving security force responsiveness in Basrah Province. This was demonstrated by the Iraqi forces’ containment of violence sparked by the Soldiers of Heaven incident on January 18, 2008. Nonetheless, Basrah continues to confront numerous challenges from militia and criminal groups that are vying for power and money in the face of growing Iraqi forces’ capability.

During the reporting period, Coalition and Iraqi forces found and cleared an average of 194 weapons caches per week—well above pre-surge levels and an increase from last reporting period. For the year 2007, Coalition forces found and cleared well over twice the number of caches found in 2006. Caches found and cleared continue at high levels for 2008 with a weekly average of 206 weapons caches found and cleared through February 22, 2008.


Improvised Explosive Devices and Explosively Formed Penetrators

The level of weekly improvised explosive device (IED) incidents in Baghdad and the surrounding areas fell 55% since the start of Operation Phantom Thunder in late June 2007. The resulting weekly casualties from IEDs are as low as levels last seen in January 2006. This drop in IED incidents and casualties may be attributed to the significant disruption of insurgent networks through the capture or killing of cell leaders, the elimination of their IED-making facilities and the effectiveness of physical security barriers. Additionally, a greater proportion of IEDs are now found and cleared before they can be used. This is due in part to the Sons of Iraq working with Iraqi and Coalition forces to help identify IED caches, factories and emplacements. As a result, the IED found and cleared rate has recently exceeded 55%—the highest in nearly four years. Although IEDs remain the primary cause of Coalition force casualties, the number of Coalition deaths from IED incidents fell in January 2008 to its lowest level since July 2006.

Following a gradual decline in EFP incidents since late August, the number of EFP attacks and EFPs found and cleared more than doubled in January, but remains well below the peak levels of July 2007. Reductions during the second half of 2007 may be attributed to effective Coalition interdiction of EFP networks, the partial adherence to the JAM ceasefire and the seizure of caches.

Aggressive Coalition and Iraqi operations targeting VBIED networks, assistance from Sons of Iraq, increased presence of security forces and vehicle checkpoints and improved perimeter security around neighborhoods and markets have decreased the number and effectiveness of VBIED and suicide vehicle-borne IED (SVBIED) attacks. Casualties from VBIED attacks have decreased correspondingly.

Following a downward trend throughout most of 2007, the number of PBIED incidents began to increase during the last three months of the year and into January 2008, possibly in response to AQI’s degraded VBIED networks and improvements in population security that reduced the vulnerability of soft targets to VBIED and SVBIED attacks. It is not yet clear if the near simultaneous remote detonation of PBIEDs in two separate Baghdad markets on February 1, 2008, signals a significant shift in tactics on the part of AQI.

Increasing the protection of Coalition forces is a top priority, and the fielding of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle is one response to the threat. As of January 24, 2008, U.S. and Coalition forces have received 1,725 vehicles, representing 14% of authorized MRAPs and a 98% increase in little more than two months. The MRAP has demonstrated that it is much better than other wheeled vehicles in protecting troops from the effects of IEDs, and the newest of the MRAPs has sustained enormous explosions without any breach of the personnel compartment.


Regional Security Assessments

Assessment of the Security Environment—Baghdad

The security environment in Baghdad Province continues to improve. Total attacks fell 46% since the last report. Within the more narrowly defined Baghdad Security Districts, total attacks have fallen from an average of almost 225 per week in the summer of 2007 to approximately 57 per week in the last four months. Almost one quarter of the current attacks in the province and security districts include IEDs that are found and cleared before they can be used. These low levels of violence are comparable to levels seen in late 2005 to early 2006. Many factors are at play in this improved security environment. Foremost among them are the extensive Coalition and Iraqi forces’ operations to clear extremists from their long-held sanctuary areas, an increasingly effective campaign to degrade AQI’s SVBIED and VBIED networks, the expansion of the JSSs and COPs in contested areas of the city, physical security improvements that control access to communities, rejection of AQI by Sunni Arab neighborhoods and the continuation of Sadr’s August 2007 order to cease JAM violence. While AQI elements retain the capability to assemble, transport and emplace VBIEDs and SVBIEDs inside Baghdad, the number of these attacks and their effectiveness has been severely degraded. The coordinated PBIED attacks in Rusafa and Karadah on February 1, 2008, may be an indication that AQI is shifting its IED tactics toward use of more PBIEDs and fewer suicide car bombs.


Assessment of the Security Environment— Western Iraq

Security in Anbar Province has improved dramatically since this time last year. The number of attacks is at its lowest level since 2004. The average number of attacks in Anbar since the last report is now five incidents per day. Due to effective cooperation between the Sons of Iraq and the Iraqi and Coalition forces, AQI is unable to obtain resources or operate effectively in the population centers, forcing them to operate and conduct attacks from the most remote locations in the province, though AQI continues efforts to regain footholds in the Euphrates River Valley. The Iraqi Army has transferred security responsibility for most of the major population centers to the Iraqi Police and is now concentrating its efforts to drive AQI from more remote locations. The tribal movement, Sahwa al Iraq (SAI), has largely overcome AQI attempts to target its key leaders.6 These attempts further embolden the tribes to oppose AQI. SAI is attempting to position itself as an alternative to the existing provincial political leaders, deriving much of its credibility from its fight against AQI and the resulting security gains. SAI leadership has also reached out to prominent Shi’a figures in other provinces to promote reconciliation and unity under the theme of “One Iraq.”

Assessment of the Security Environment – Central/Northern Iraq

As pressure on AQI in Anbar Province and Baghdad has increased, some AQI leaders and elements have sought refuge in the central and northern Tigris River Valley in Ninewa Province and the Diyala River Valley in Diyala Province. Mosul, in particular, has become a greater focus for AQI operations as they try to retain a base of operations in northern Iraq. As Coalition and Iraqi forces pursue AQI into these areas, attacks have increased such that northern Iraq now accounts for over 60% of daily attacks in Iraq. With the pressure on Mosul, Ninewa Province has become the only province in which attacks are increasing. Although attack levels are higher, Iraqi forces are demonstrating an increased ability to limit the impact of the attacks. The recent establishment of the Ninewa Operations Center and changes in leadership are expected to further improve the coordination and effectiveness of Iraqi forces in the province.

In response to AQI’s movement to these provinces, Multi-National Corps-Iraq launched Operation Phantom Phoenix in January 2008. Operation Phantom Phoenix is a series of division-and brigade-level offensive operations in the northern and central provinces to target AQI strongholds, establish an improved security presence with Iraqi forces and support the burgeoning Awakening movements and their corresponding Sons of Iraq programs. Applying a JSS/COP-based strategy in Mosul similar to that employed in Baghdad, the operation has resulted in the death or capture of over 90 high value insurgents and the discovery and clearing of over 568 weapons caches and over 848 IEDs. Although the struggle for control of Mosul continues, some extremists have either fled or decided to remain inactive in response to this offensive.

Variations of Awakening movements continue to emerge from tribal, familial and, in some cases, nationalist insurgent movements in Ninewa, Salah ad Din and Diyala Provinces. The growth of these programs should serve to further isolate extremists and increase the effectiveness of counterinsurgency operations throughout the area.

Assessment of the Security Environment – Southern Iraq

On December 16, 2007, Basrah became the fourth and final province in Multi-National Division-Southeast (MND-SE) and the ninth province in Iraq to come under Provincial Iraqi Control (PIC). While the number of attacks in the MND-SE provinces accounts for only 3% of all the attacks in Iraq, high-profile attacks, extremist assaults on security forces and assassinations of key government officials, illustrate that the communal struggle for power and resources has yet to be resolved or confined to the political process.

Competition between Shi’a parties and militants for local control continues to be the primary threat to stability in southern Iraq. On December 12, 2007, two VBIEDs exploded in succession in the predominately Shi’a city of Al Amarah as part of what is believed to be criminal extortion activity in the city markets. In December 2007 and January 2008, extremists assassinated Iraqi force leaders in Babil and Dhi Qar in response to the pressure they were exerting on local militia groups. In January 2008, the Soldiers of Heaven cult attacked local security forces during Ashura, attempting to provoke a larger conflict. Throughout this period, Iranian-backed Shi’a extremists and rogue elements of JAM continued to attack Coalition and Iraqi forces in Basrah, Babil and Dhi Qar Provinces.

In response to these threats, senior leaders from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and Office of the Martyr Sadr (OMS) met to address the growing conflict between JAM and Badr elements in the southern provinces. To date, there have been no significant improvements at the local level from this agreement, though reconciliation attempts continue. The Iraqi forces recently highlighted their increased effectiveness during Operation Lion Pounce— an offensive operation to drive extremists from the city of Diwaniyah. This operation resulted in the capture of a number of high value individuals and weapons smugglers as well as the arrest or flight of most criminal JAM leaders from the area. In addition, the Provincial Director of Operations for Basrah and OMS agreed in December 2007 that JAM was not authorized to carry weapons in Basrah and that Iraqi forces would be responsible for security in the province. Nevertheless, SG and rogue criminal elements continue to broadcast negative radio statements about the Coalition to influence public opinion.

Assessment of the Security Environment – Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Area

The KRG region remains the least violent part of Iraq. The situation within the KRGcontrolled territory of Irbil, Dahuk and Sulaymaniyah remained stable with no significant activity since the last reporting period.

Tensions among the KRG, the GoI and Turkey increased over the past two months as Turkey conducted multiple artillery and cross-border air strikes targeting PKK elements. In response to PKK attacks in July 2007, Turkey has continuously stressed that the KRG needs to put additional pressure on the PKK. The KRG has taken some steps to isolate the PKK and reduce border frictions, and it is hoped that this increased attention to the PKK issue will lead to a comprehensive strategy shared between Iraq and Turkey.

Public Perceptions of Security

National polls conducted in January 2008 continue to show that Iraqis believe the security situation is better locally than nationally. When asked to describe the situation today in Iraq, 26% of Iraqis said the country was calm and not violent.7 This is an 18 percentage point increase from September 2007 when only 8% of Iraqis responded that the country was “calm.” When asked the same question about their province, perceptions of calmness improved to 50%.8 When asked about individual neighborhoods, 67% of Iraqis replied that their neighborhoods were calm.9 Nationwide polling in January 2008 indicates that 79% of Iraqis feel safe in their neighborhoods, but only 49% feel they can safely travel outside their neighborhoods. 10 Iraqis respond that they feel more secure in their neighborhoods in January 2008 than they did in September 2007. Perceptions of being able to travel safely outside neighborhoods increased four percentage points from September 2007. When Iraqis were asked how they rated the level of peace and stability in Iraq today, 41% of Iraqis felt the country was stable nationwide while only 33% said that Iraq was unstable.11 The percentage of Iraqis who say the country is stable increased 25 percentage points from September 2007 (16%).


When asked if they had confidence in the GoI and Iraqi forces to improve the overall security situation in Iraq, Iraqis placed their highest confidence in the Iraqi Army at 77%, a ten percentage point increase from September 2007.12 National polls conducted in January 2008 indicate that 76% of Iraqis have at least some confidence in the Iraqi Army and 74% have at least some confidence in the Iraqi Police to protect their families against threats.13 14 This is a 12 percentage point increase in perceptions from September 2007 for the Iraqi Army, and a 7 percentage point increase for the Iraqi Police. The Iraqi Army and Police continue to engender the highest confidence of Iraqis. In contrast, only 27% of Iraqis trust the Multi-National Forces to protect them.15 Confidence in the Multi-National Forces has decreased 18 percentage points since September 2007 (45%). National polls also indicate that 51% of Iraqis believe that the Iraqi Police are winning the battle against crime.16 Similarly, 54% of Iraqis believe the Iraqi Army is winning the battle against terrorists.


Conclusion

Overall violence levels have markedly decreased since the last reporting period, including a reduction in virtually all categories of attack incidents. Day-to-day life for the average citizen has improved in many parts of Iraq as evidenced by the reopening of schools, clinics and markets, as well as in the increase in the availability of essential services compared to the year before. These improvements coincide with the growing willingness of Sunni and Shi’a tribal leaders to cooperate with the Coalition in an effort to reduce violence in their neighborhoods and provinces. Although the progress is encouraging, the overall security situation in Iraq should still be regarded as reversible. The situation in parts of Ninewa, Diyala, Salah ad Din, Basrah and Baghdad remains challenging. For many Iraqi families, the effects of violence continue to be an everyday concern. To prevent a reversal in this tenable security environment and to help the Iraqi people realize livable communities throughout their country, the GoI must continue to work toward local and national reconciliation to solidify the hard-fought security gains.



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