Weekly Security Update for 26th Aug 2010

National Overview

The total number of hostile incidents reported nationally increased for the third week in a row, seeing a significant rise in the number of recorded incidents in Baghdad and slight rises in the north and north central regions. The west and south east regions remained the same, in terms of numbers of incidents, with the south central region decreasing slightly.

The holy month of Ramadan, now in to its second week and could be responsible for the increase in activity across parts of the country as it is generally agreed that Ramadan is thought to offer an excellent opportunity for insurgents to exploit due to the potentially lax security across the country.

The last US combat brigade pulled out of Iraq at dawn on 19 Aug, a key milestone in the withdrawal of American forces more than seven years in Iraq. At this point the US mission in Iraq was re-christened “Operation New Dawn”, from “Operation Iraqi Freedom”. This pullout coincided with the arrival of James Jeffrey, the new US ambassador to Iraq; his arrival comes during a political deadlock in Iraq.

Iraqi politics is still in turmoil with no real end in sight. American and Iraqi officials have publicly said that the reason an Iraqi government has not been formed is due to Iranian interference. There are a number of Shiite politicians who are close to Tehran and, for a range of reasons, may take their orders from there. There are not enough of these politicians to create a government, but there are enough to block a government from being established. This is of great importance to the security of Iraq; no new government being formed after elections in March and at a time, in the middle of the month of Ramadan, when insurgent attacks have been known to peak in the past is causing much instability.

On 15, 16 and 22 Aug the Basra Contingency Operating Base was targeted by Indirect Fire; of interest is the improving accuracy of the rounds landing in the area, suggesting that the insurgent teams carrying out the attack are becoming more effective. The Indirect Fire attack that took place in the early morning of the 22 Aug, when three 107mm rounds landed with in the Basra Contingency Operating Base, resulted in the death of one U.S. soldier. No further details are known at this time, but this is the first U.S. death since the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division crossed the border in to Kuwait ahead of the planned declaration of an end to US combat operations in Iraq by the August 31 deadline.

The reliability of an 18 Aug 10 report by Asharq al-Awsat stating that a prominent Iraqi Shiite militant leader has returned to Iraq from his refuge in Iran has been confirmed. Ismail al-Lami, commonly known as Abu Deraa, has been high up on the U.S. military’s targeting list since 2004, when he and his aides in Muqtada al Sadr’s Shiite Mehdi Army spent the most violent years of the war carrying out a series of attacks against Iraqi Sunnis under Iranian guidance.

US Forces remain the primary target of insurgents with Private Security Companies an acceptable alternative even though Iraqi Security Forces generally present a much easier target than US Forces. Insurgents will continue to attack US Forces and Private Security Companies with Improvised Explosive Devices and Explosively Formed Projectiles on the main routes around the. The operational tempo stepped up in July and looks as though this will continue through August.

Baghdad

Officially reported incidents in Baghdad have increased again for the third week in succession to 51 incidents compared to 41 last week. This is now the highest level of incidents in the capital since 06 – 12 Jun 10 and a worry to the Iraqi Security Forces.

The International Zone was targeted on only one occasion this month and this was classed as an ineffective Indirect Fire attack. The majority of attacks this week took the form of an Improvised Explosive Devices with 29 out of the 51 incidents being of this nature. It was also reported that on 21 Aug the Director General of the Ministry of Interior was killed in Small Arms Fire attack in the Mansour area of the city.

Under Vehicle Improvised Explosive Devices have also been used on a regular basis with 11 being reported resulting in a number of civilians being successfully targeted – a number of deaths have been reported in open sources, but it is unclear whether this is as a result of the Under Vehicle Improvised Explosive Device attacks.

With the U.S. drawing down its forces and the Iraqi government talks in limbo, Iran appears to be telegraphing to the U.S. that it has retained some critical levers over the years to turn the heat up in Iraq at a time when the U.S. lacks the force strength of the 2007 surge. By insisting on a strong Sunni presence in the Iraqi government and proceeding with its withdrawal plans, the U.S. is taking a gamble that Iran, whose primary interest is to consolidate Shiite influence in Iraq, will impose limits on itself to contain ethno-sectarian fissures and prevent an outbreak of violence so large that it would risk unraveling the political gains Iran has made thus far.

The timing for the return of the Shiite militant leader, Abu Deraa, to Iraq was likely carefully deliberated by Iran with the withdrawal of U.S. combatant forces from the country during the last week when the remnants of the 2nd Infantry Division left Iraq two weeks before their scheduled departure. However, the Iraqi government remains in complete flux, with Iranian-backed political forces blocking an attempt by the U.S. ensuring a prominent place for Iraq’s Sunnis in the ruling coalition and this issue is unlikely to be resolved in the near term. The U.S. will have 50,000 troops in country to maintain a blocking force against Iran through at least 2011 to influence its negotiations with Iran over Iraq.

Basra

In comparison to the other regions in Iraq, it has been a relatively quiet week this week in terms of the number of incidents in the south east region.

This could potentially reflect the start of the second week of Ramadan in this area. The reports of another Explosively Formed Projectile attack in the north of Basra city and a further Indirect Fire attack against the Basra Contingency Operating Base resulting in the death of a U.S. soldier, have been the main incidents this week.

The general atmospherics in Basra are most likely at the lowest for about 18 months. The lack of constant electricity (even regular electricity), the lack of clean water, inflation and the rise in food prices during Ramadan are causing substantial problems. The importance of the religious ceremonies of Ramadan may provoke a heightened level of attacks from insurgent groupings in Iraq who are keen to exploit the strict observance of rituals such as fasting, when Iraqis’ defenses are low. However, there is no substantial data to support or deny this; although ‘spectacular’ attacks such as large scale bombings targeting religious gatherings can be common during this time, particularly in religious cities such as Karbala. These points along with the latest attack carried out on 07 Aug 10 has affected the local populations belief about their security in the City and the role the Iraqi Security Forces are playing in this – especially in light of the U.S. draw down. Public anger is likely to be directed against provincial and national level politicians and their failure to form a government.

There have been further heightened threats issued during this reporting period including heightened threat on Main Supply Routes from Improvised Explosive Devices.

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