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Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq

September 2007
Report to Congress
In accordance with the
Department of Defense Appropriations Act 2007
(Section 9010, Public Law 109-289)


Section 1-Stability and Security

1.3 Security Environment

Although some significant improvements occurred in the security environment during this quarter, multiple conflicts among communal groups for the division of power and resources continued across Iraq that challenge establishing stability and security. These conflicts involve ethno-sectarian violence, the efforts by al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) to exacerbate these tensions with high-profile attacks, the Sunni insurgency, Shi’a militants, and the influence of foreign state actors. While AQI may not account for most of the violence in Iraq, it is responsible for the mass-casualty attacks that serve as a primary accelerant to the underlying sectarian conflict. Coalition adversaries have common objectives: build and enhance their control over the populace; drive out Coalition forces; and undermine Iraqi government institutions. Their tactics include complex ambushes on Coalition convoys, aircraft, river patrols, and fixed facilities. AQI in particular conducts calculated bombings, murders, executions, and indirect fire—targeting primarily Iraqi civilians—to intimidate them and to provoke sectarian conflict. Fragmentation within these groups resulting from disagreements over ideology and strategy is perpetuating infighting among them and weakening alliances.

The security situation in recent years has resulted in the internal displacement of nearly two million people, according to the UN High Commission on Refugees. By the end of May 2007, the number of displaced people was increasing at an average of 80,000-100,000 per month. If the GoI’s February 2007 security plan for returning Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) succeeds, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees expects this rate of displacement to decrease to 40,000-50,000 per month. The U.S., its Coalition partners, and the UN are conducting IDP working groups to assist the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration (MoDM) with IDP coordination between local government departments. A process for tracking the number of returnees is not firmly in place, with most data provided by NGOs. Return to Baghdad is hindered by continued violence, occupancy of property by squatters and destruction of houses. The security situation has also caused approximately 2.2 million Iraqis to leave the country and move to Jordan and Syria. However, in some areas of Anbar where security has improved as tribes have worked with Coalition forces to clear out AQI, some residents are beginning to return to their homes.

Iraqi and Coalition forces are conducting operations to secure the population in Baghdad and its environs to prevent and contain sectarian violence. The final complement of the increase of five U.S. Brigade Combat Teams, two Marine Infantry Battalions and a Marine Expeditionary Unit arrived during this reporting period. This enabled the launch of Operation Phantom Thunder on June 15 to target primarily AQI havens in Baghdad, Babil, Diyala and Anbar Provinces. These ongoing operations are being actively assisted by local Sunnis who have grown increasingly intolerant of AQI’s intimidation and brutality, particularly its mass-casualty attacks on civilians, targeting of senior sheiks, and forcing of ordinary Iraqis to collaborate or face potential execution. Continuation of this trend of Sunni resistance to AQI is encouraging because the Sunni populace in these areas had previously assisted or tolerated AQI.

Overall Assessment of the Security Environment

During this reporting period, there has been an overall decrease in sectarian violence, high-profile attacks, murders and executions. July was the exception when ethno-sectarian attacks6 increased slightly over June levels. Iraqi and Coalition operations and policies have limited insurgents’ ability to relocate their infrastructure from one location to another, constraining their ability to operate. Combined operations in Iraq’s major cities have slowly eroded insurgents’ capacity to operate as freely as they did prior to FAQ, but have not degraded armed groups’ capabilities or motivations to conduct attacks against Coalition and Iraqi forces, the GoI, or Baghdad residents. Iran continues to train and equip militias, including Muqtada al-Sadr’s JAM. These militias continue to attack Coalition soldiers and civilians.

The level of security in Iraq varies from province to province. Decreases in violence in Baghdad, Diyala and Babil are initial signs of progress in those provinces. Similar progress in Anbar, Tamim, Irbil, Muthanna and Dhi Qar indicate the potential for improved conditions in these areas. An increase in Coalition engagement with local tribes who are renouncing the insurgency and resisting AQI, is intended to capitalize on their increasing unwillingness to tolerate such violence and their willingness to take steps to help improve security. Although some GoI statements indicate government officials are skeptical of empowering Sunni tribes, Prime Minister Maliki insists that he supports these efforts. His main concern is that the tribes do not create new militias and that the efforts are undertaken with GoI supervision and control. AQI operations are likely to continue including attacks against mosques such as the Samarra Mosque bombing on June 13 and the Al-Khailani Mosque bombing in Rusafa on June 19. Significantly, these attacks failed to provoke widespread ethno-sectarian violence in part due to the change in tribal attitudes toward AQI.

The mid-August assassinations of the Badr Organization-affiliated governors of Qadisiyah and Muthanna provinces were likely a JAM response to increased efforts by those provincial officials to marginalize JAM. In addition, the August 28, 2007 outbreak of fighting between JAM and the Badr Organization in Karbala highlighted growing tensions between Shia groups in southern Iraq. It is noteworthy that the central government took decisive action in restoring security to the region after the assassinations and the incident in Karbala. The Karbala incident likely sparked Sadr's August 29, 2007 announcement to restrain JAM activity, which Sadr probably intends to use to reorganize the Sadrist movement, and improve his command and control over the organization while improving its public image. This “restraint” will likely only apply to mainstream JAM elements, while specialized JAM units will probably continue violence aimed at Coalition forces and JAM rivals.

Overall Trends and Violence

As a result of the high FAQ-related operational tempo of Iraqi and Coalition forces, the total number of enemy-initiated incidents in May and June were the highest and second-highest, respectively, for any month since 2003.7 Attacks against Coalition forces reached record levels in June, and the proportion of total attacks against Coalition forces increased to their highest levels since December 2005, accounting for 73% of all attacks. Attacks against Iraqi forces declined slightly in June, but the total is comparable to levels of the past six months. The increased operational tempo and success of Iraqi and Coalition forces have helped to slightly reduce total casualties across Iraq during this reporting period although they increased in July compared with June. Car bomb attacks in Tamim Province in July and against the two Yezidi villages in Ninewa Province in August elevate the civilian casualty numbers significantly for those two months. Since July, statistically significant downward trends in total attacks have emerged. Attacks remained concentrated in Baghdad, Salah ad Din, and Diyala. In addition, Baghdad experienced an average of 43 attacks per day from mid-June to mid-July. The other 15 provinces experienced comparatively low levels of attacks.8

By the end of August, Coalition and Iraqi forces will have already found 50% more caches than in all of 2006. Although the number of weapons caches found and cleared has decreased during this reporting period, caches continue to be discovered at a steady rate of about 110 per week and remain above pre-FAQ levels. The decrease does not necessarily reflect depletion in total caches; however, the continued high operational tempo and focused searches of Coalition and Iraqi forces are impacting the availability of safe havens, which may be reducing the ability and opportunity for insurgents and criminals to emplace caches.

Coalition forces continued to attract the majority of attacks, while the Iraqi security forces and civilians continued to suffer the majority of casualties. The GoI has reported that the number of civilians killed in Iraq, mainly due to catastrophic attacks by insurgents and terrorists, fell sharply from about 1,900 in May to 1,227 in June—the lowest level in five months—but rose again in July to 1,653. Militia activity initially decreased but rose in mid-May before falling again in June to the lowest level in a year. July’s level of IED events was the lowest since November 2006, returning to pre-FAQ levels—a result of Iraqi and Coalition security operations combined with Sunni tribal engagement. It is too early to determine the sustainability of these trends.

Assessment of the Security Environment— Baghdad

In this reporting period, Baghdad remained the most violent area in Iraq, but levels of violence have dropped significantly since the commencement of FAQ as a result of combined Iraqi and Coalition operations. Marketplaces and high-profile places of worship are now more secure due to the implementation of physical protection measures and increased patrols by Iraqi forces. Additionally, no significant security incidents occurred on August 9 during the Commemoration of the Death of the 7th Imam, for which the Iraqi police and military planned and provided security for hundreds of thousands of Shi’a pilgrims to the Kadhamiyah Shrine in northern Baghdad. However, Coalition forces still encounter fighting in mixed sectarian areas where AQI elements continue to harass and target the local populace. Fighting between Sunni groups and Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM) has been mostly isolated to the western districts of Baghdad, particularly West Rashid and Al Mansour. Of all the districts in Baghdad, the predominantly Shi’a Sadr City remains the most stable in terms of ethno-sectarian attacks. However, this area continues to provide support for JAM operatives who use the area for planning, logistics, and other support activities and as a base from which to launch attacks on the International Zone and neighboring areas.

Assessment of the Security Environment— Western Iraq

The encouraging signs of Sunni tribal resistance to AQI reported in the previous quarter have led to considerable progress in Anbar’s security. Once an AQI stronghold, Anbar is no longer among the most violent provinces. Average daily attacks in the province during this period were only onethird their daily average during the November 2006-February 2007 reporting period, when Anbar had the second highest number of attacks of any province. Since January, attacks and murders against civilians and against Iraqi and Coalition security forces in Ramadi have decreased significantly, from a high of 108 in the week ending February 23 to fewer than eight per week in July. Coalition forces have worked closely with a variety of tribes and Sunni resistance groups in Anbar to expel AQI from operating in the area. In addition, cooperation from local sheikhs and tribal leaders has dramatically increased the number of new recruits for the Iraqi Army and Police in Anbar. Since December 2006, a total of 7,100 Anbar residents have received police training. The operational capabilities of the locally recruited police and Iraqi Army units are gradually increasing, and the GoI is supporting efforts to increase the number of recruits. The Minister of Interior, Anbar provincial government representatives, and Coalition forces officially opened the Anbar Iraqi Police Training Center in Habbaniyah on June 4 and can train 750 recruits in a 10-week training cycle. Iraqi citizens are increasingly providing information concerning insurgent operations to the Iraqi forces. In some parts of western Iraq, however, foreign fighters still enjoy freedom of passage from Syria.

Assessment of the Security Environment— Central/Northern Iraq

The security situation in Diyala, Salah ad Din and Ninewa remains fragile. Recent successes when combined Iraqi and Coalition operations targeted AQI, coupled with increasing initiatives by tribal sheiks to disavow support to terrorists, show some progress in stabilizing this difficult region. Local dissatisfaction with, and lack of confidence in, the GoI is particularly strong here, which exacerbates violence and political instability. On June 5, 2007, the GoI officially opened the Diyala Operations Command (DOC), one of several new Iraqi operations centers representing a new GoI approach to combating terrorist organizations and militia groups. The operations centers integrate command of the Iraqi Army and National Police under a single Operations Commander and expand on the role of the Provincial Joint Coordination Centers. Operation Arrowhead Ripper, which was conducted from June 19 through August 22, cleared Baqubah of AQI and reinstalled Iraqi security outposts and police stations in the city. Initial reports of an increased public sense of security, coupled with aggressive Government of Iraq support to Phase IV reconstruction and services, are consolidating the gains of this operation. In just the past few weeks, these efforts resulted in over 2,000 new jobs in agriculture and food processing, the opening of banks across Baqubah, and the delivery of the first government wheat ration. The recent VBIED attacks in Ninewa Province demonstrate the risk of increased violence as extremists attempt to provoke greater ethnosectarian violence.

Assessment of the Security Environment— Kurdish Region

Although Irbil, Dahuk and Sulaymaniyah are generally stable, AQI maintains a presence in those areas and there is some evidence that AQI is increasingly targeting the region. Attacks on infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, have increased during the reporting period, likely in an effort to hinder Iraqi and Coalition forces’ mobility and undermine local confidence in the government’s and Coalition forces’ ability to protect them. For example, the Sarahah Highway Bridge (south of Kirkuk), which was destroyed on June 2, was a key conduit for transportation between the southern and northern provinces. Kurdish unity, to some extent, is preventing insurgent groups from establishing a presence across the provinces. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is attempting to demonstrate that security in the area will not compromise prospective investment in the region, particularly in the oil sector. Instability elsewhere in Iraq, however, always has the potential to increasingly spill over into the relatively calm Kurdish area. One destabilizing factor may be that the majority of the country’s Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) have relocated to northern provinces. The KRG and Ninewa and Tamim Provinces also could experience increased violence as various ethno-sectarian groups vie to control disputed territory prior to an Article 140 referendum on the status of Kirkuk.

Assessment of the Security Environment— Southern Iraq

The security environment in southern Iraq took a notable turn for the worse in August with the assassinations of the governors of Qadisiyah and Muthanna Provinces by Iranian-backed extremists. Both governors had been pushing back on Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM) expansion and control. There may be retaliation and an increase in intra-Shi’a violence throughout the South, whereas before, this violence was mostly limited to Basrah. Violence in Qadisiyah, Dhi Qar and Muthanna in recent months has highlighted JAM’s ability to attack Iraqi forces and cause instability in the South. After Coalition and Iraqi security operations blunted Sadrist growth in Qadisiyah, the withdrawal of these forces allowed JAM to reassert itself. An increase in its militia members has emboldened JAM to increase the frequency and intensity of attacks on Coalition and Iraqi forces. This influx has occurred as militant elements moved out of Baghdad to avoid FAQ-related operations. Local Iraqi government security operations conducted against JAM are intended more to contain its political influence than to enforce the law.

These operations have been able to contain much of JAM’s violence but have yet to defeat JAM. High unemployment throughout Basrah and an estimated 5,000 displaced families are a potentially large recruiting pool for insurgent and militia groups.

In Basrah, various rival Shi’a militias, factions, tribes, and criminal organizations aligned with political parties are positioning themselves for greater influence over local authorities and resources. With the expected continued reduction of British forces, insurgent groups are increasingly focusing on Basrah and are posturing themselves to control the city, where violence has increased due to the presence of multiple Shi’a militias—most notably JAM and its splinter groups, the Badr Organization and the Fadilah Organization—and criminal groups. These groups all seek to exert their influence over local government and social institutions. Thus far, Basrah’s oil infrastructure has not suffered serious interdiction attempts. Over 90% of Iraq’s oil is exported through Basrah’s oil terminals, and most Iraqi imports and exports go through Basrah’s Umm Qasr port. Although various Shi’a parties and militias are locked in fierce competition over access to oil and other sources of patronage, they appear to have a common interest in ensuring the continuous flow of oil.

Public Perceptions of Security

For this reporting period, attacks against mosques incited considerable resentment among the Iraqi populace but resulted in minimal retaliatory attacks due to the GoI’s rapid political and security response and widespread calls for restraint by key political and religious leaders. The Samarra Mosque bombing on June 13 and the Al- Khailani Mosque bombing in Rusafa on June 19 were attempts by AQI to undermine public confidence in the ability of the government and Coalition forces to protect them. Public perception of the Iraqi Army and police forces improved during this period due to their increased interaction with the local populace through initiatives such as the Joint Security Stations (JSSs) and Combat Outposts (COPs). An August 2007 national poll indicated that 79% of Iraqis feel safe in their own neighborhoods but only 33% feel safe traveling outside of their neighborhoods.9 In the July poll, 71% of Iraqis surveyed were satisfied with the ability of the Iraqi Army to provide local security.10 In addition, more than half of those surveyed had confidence in the GoI’s ability to improve the situation.11 Polling data also shows a national average of 3.5 on a scale of 0 to 10 with 0 representing violent and 10 representing peaceful/calm.12


The increase in force levels and the growing rejection of AQI by Sunni Iraqis has changed the dynamic in Iraq’s security environment. During this reporting period, there has been an overall decrease in sectarian violence, high-profile attacks, murders and executions. Most notably, violence levels continued to drop in Anbar, formerly AQI’s stronghold in Iraq. Baghdad remained the most violent area in Iraq, but levels have dropped significantly since the commencement of FAQ. The level of confidence in the GoI to improve the situation has remained relatively stable since May 2006. Many of the GoI and U.S. initiatives to support the increase in security operations appear to be beginning to take hold. Whether FAQ produces sustainable, permanent improvements in the security environment will depend on the degree to which diplomatic, political and economic achievements can be realized.

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