Iraqi-led campaign against city’s Sunni militants appears to be a sign of progress among its military
Stars and Stripes May 22, 2008
MOSUL, Iraq — Few outside observers following Lt. Col. Sagvon Mirani on Wednesday would have imagined he was a part of a potentially momentous military operation.
The Kurdish battalion commander strolled through avenues in the Sunni-dominated Al Bareed neighborhood, chatting with any of the residents who happened to be out in the cool Iraqi morning. Mirani jotted down complaints about electricity problems. He tussled kids’ hair and gave a couple of boys Iraqi dinars worth about $1 each, joking with one that he was paying him not to lay roadside bombs.
Yet Mirani’s easygoing manner is, itself, a testament to the success the Iraqi army has had in the city during the past month. Wednesday’s mission was the most recent phase of an ongoing operation against Sunni insurgents in Mosul, an action that coalition and Iraqi leaders say has been successful. Sunni insurgents like those from al-Qaida in Iraq fled to Mosul after crackdowns in other parts of the country, and many analysts see the city as one of the group’s last urban strongholds.
Lion’s Roar, as the Mosul operation was initially called, kicked off May 10 with a weeklong search to find 400 suspected insurgents on a government list. National Police, Iraqi SWAT teams, Iraqi Special Operations Forces and other units reinforced Iraqi army units already in the city.
Searches have since continued throughout Mosul, with Iraqi forces clearing every house in a neighborhood until the entire city has been searched. The government recently changed the operation’s name to""Mother of Two Springs,""Mosul’s nickname, to reflect a shift away from combat operations.
The Iraqis initiated, planned and implemented the operation with minimal American help; American soldiers advising Iraqi units reported not finding out about the operation until less than a day before it began, officials said.
Leaders in Mosul can point to several encouraging indicators:
As of Sunday, the Iraqi army had detained 1,156 people throughout Ninevah province, said Lt. Col. Robert Molinari, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment operations officer.
Each week before the operation, the 3rd ACR saw 100 to 120 "significant acts,""a catch-all term for encounters with insurgents or bombs, he said. That number plummeted to just 19 "significant acts" during the week of May 11.
There were no car bombs last week, where once Mosul averaged a half dozen a week. Roadside bombs have also all but disappeared, officials said.
"The Iraqis made this happen on their own. All we did was watch," Molinari said.
The Iraqi army is seeing such success that one Iraqi officer asked more senior leaders in a meeting Tuesday what he should do when insurgents approached him on their own to surrender. The answer? Detain and interrogate them. A brigade commander in the 2nd Iraqi Army Division also reported finding guns in a trash can.
"They’re just throwing their weapons," he said. "They know they can’t keep them so they’re just throwing them away."
Insurgent actions appear to confirm the soldiers’ observations. Insurgent commanders have slowed the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq, and an insurgent leader in Syria ordered fighters to lay low for the time being, according to Molinari.
Some Iraqi leaders are more guardedly optimistic. Maj. Kawa Tahir, an operations officer with 1st Battalion, 8th Brigade, 2nd Iraqi Army Division, told an American adviser that he thinks insurgent leaders are waiting outside the city to see what will happen. Tahir said he’d like to see similar-size operations expand from inside the city to neighboring areas.
"So far it’s good, but I think the most important bad-guy leaders, they knew that something was coming," Tahir said.
For now, though, American and Iraqi soldiers are overwhelmingly considering the operation a success.
"It is the most self-reliant operation that we’ve seen since we’ve been to Ninewah," Molinari said.