March 02, 2007

Rumors of War

Correspondent: What do you think of the new Security Plan? Answer quickly… before the next explosion! [Al Bayyna Al Jadidah Newspaper] (1 MAR)

As we all know, the Baghdad Security Plan (BSP) has been underway for several weeks, and while it is far to early to judge how effective the program will be, the opinion of how the plan is progressing among Baghdadis is almost as important as any measurable yardsticks gauging success.

This morning, I was provided with a copy of an Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) newsletter, THE BAGHDAD MOSQUITO, 2 March 2007, Volume IV, Edition 1257.

The newsletter tracks accounts in the Iraqi media (newspapers, television, and radio), and perhaps as importantly, public opinion and commonly-shared rumors.

Here is a selection of some of the more interesting rumors and Iraqi opinion as related to OSINT yesterday, March 1, from Iraqi citizens. Please keep in mind these are rumors, and may or may not be true:

  • Sharqiya TV channel discovered from a secret source that a few days ago, Muqtada Al Sadr called his high level associates, including those in the government, and told them to leave Iraq within 12 hours.
  • Sunnis believe that the new Baghdad Security Plan (BSP) has focused only on Sunni areas. Interestingly, when Iraqi forces conduct solo raids without US forces, they make mass arrests of Sunnis without any concrete charges. When these same forces accompany US forces, only one or two Sunnis are arrested. The one or two that are arrested are usually arrested due to their possession of forbidden medium or heavy weapons.
  • Around three or four days ago, residents in the Kadhimiya area of Baghdad captured an Afghan suicide bomber. However, rather than turning the bomber over to coalition forces, the Mahdi Army attempted to interrogate the man but were unable to so they executed hi on the spot. It is believed the bomber was going to detonate himself in Kadhimiya Shrine.
  • Iran is sponsoring Al Qaida in Iraq’s activities in concert with pro-Iranian elements inside the Iraqi government. Iran provides funding and weapons to Al Qaida. Al Qaida then purposely operates in Sunni areas, where there may or may not be any actual Sunni resistance. Once Al Qaida begins its activities in a given Sunni area, pro-Iranian elements in the government advise the MNF that operations should be conducted in that area. Once MNF approval is given, then preferably Iraqi forces, under the cover of anti-Al Qaida operations, conduct ethnic cleansing and displacement operations of the targeted Sunni area.
  • Recently, since the beginning of the new BSP, a Shiite family that had been displaced returned to the Mansour area of Baghdad. When asked why they returned, the father of the family stated they came back because the Mahdi Army commander that had displaced them has been arrested by US forces.

The next group of rumors should be called, "Everybody hates Al Mahdi."

  • Some Iraqis believe that the US was behind the recent attempted assassination of VP Adil Abd Al Mahdi. They point out that the US searched the area in question an hour or two before the bombing occurred.
  • Some Iraqis believe that the recent attempted assassination of VP Abd Al Mahdi was a joint effort between the Sadr Movement and Dawa Party who both fear that Abd Al Mahdi will take the PM position from current PM, Nuri Al Maliki.
  • Some Iraqis believe that the recent attempted assassination of VP Abd Al Mahdi was carried out by forces related to former PM Ayad Allawi, who wants to take the PM position from current PM, Nuri Al Maliki.

And as promised, here is the OSINT report on how different sects view the new Baghdad Security Plan (BSP):

How Is The New Baghdad Security Plan (BSP) Going?

The group’s views on this question differed by their sects and the areas in which they live. A snapshot of some Baghdad areas follows.

The Dora area is witnessing daily clashes between the residents there and Iraqi forces because the residents do not and will not, accept the presence of Iraqi forces without their being accompanied by the US. This is based on the residence distrust of the Iraqi forces due to militia/Iranian infiltration of these forces and the mass arrests/kidnappings that have occurred there in the past. The residents are very appreciative of recent US efforts to provide them with fuel and heaters, as well as that the US forced the current Iraqi government to provide them with electricity. The people of Dora say they will accept a US/Iraqi Combat Outpost BUT until the residents can trust the Iraqi forces, only Sunni military members should be part of such an outpost. This includes a Sunni commander of these forces.

One area that has not improved with the new BSP is the Saydia/Bayaa area. This area is still witnessing displacements, kidnappings, and assassinations. However, militia and/or terrorist activity is not conducted in the open. Snipers are operating from the roofs of homes and buildings in the area. There have been a few US patrols but not many.

The Kadhimiya area of Baghdad has changed some. Prior to the new BSP this area was fairly calm due to the majority Shiite population and militia provided security. There is now more of a US patrol presence in the area and the militias no longer appear out in the open. However, when an event does occur, Mahdi Army members still appear on very short notice, as witnessed by Rumor # 9 above [note: this related to the rumor of the Afghan suicide bomber executed by the Madhi Army militia -- ed]. Services were and still are fairly good in this area.

The Mansour area has not changed much with the new BSP. The pattern for this area, as before, continues to be quiet days with little or no activity, to days of intense attacks and clashes. There are also still sporadic clashes between Sunni and Shiite militias in this area as well as kidnappings and assassinations between the two sects.

The area that has probably benefited the most under the new BSP is the Shaab/Hay Urr area of NE Baghdad. A Sunni resident reported that when the plan began, US forces conducted raids against suspected militia/terrorist targets which ahs succeeded in forcing the Mahdi Army out of this area. The Mahdi Army had been exercising heavy handed control of this area previously. Prior to the new plan, residents report finding five to ten bodies every morning and the control of the markets there by Mahdi Army though extortion. Now, there is no noticeable presence of militia. Some families that had been displaced have returned and the markets and neighborhoods are becoming lively again. The residents credit this improvement to the US forces efforts to chase the Mahdi Army from the area and the presence of the US Combat Outpost there as well.

Overall this week, Iraqis are more pessimistic about the new BSP than they were last week. This week’s pessimism is related to the continuing lack of confidence in the current Iraqi government which transfers into a lack of confidence in the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police. The group continues, for the most part, to believe that the current Iraqi government is still full of corruption and overwhelming Iranian influence.

In short, the Baghdadis interviewed may or may not be impressed with the BSP as executed thus far, depending on what they've seen in their neighborhoods, and what sect they belong to.

In areas where Coalition forces have been active (especially U.S forces), the residents seem to have a better opinion of how the plan is progressing. In areas where the plan is being implemented primarily by Iraqi forces, which many Sunnis do not trust, the plan is not seen as working, and it has led to conflict... which shouldn't be all that surprising, as government forces are focusing operations on stomping out the Sunni insurgents operating there, and have been accused in the past of operating as cover for Madhi Army death squads.

Areas where U.S. combat outposts have been established seem to be displacing the Madhi Army militiamen, and while it is far too early to know if a long-term change will result, these areas seem for the present to be "becoming lively again," and the residents credit U.S. forces.

Iraqi opinion overall is mixed, but more pessimistic, and this is likely due to expectations (or at least hopes) that the new BSP would reduce violence across all areas of Baghdad as soon as it began, and for those people who are not in the neighborhoods being secured first, there is some obvious disappointment.

The opinions contained in this edition of THE BAGHDAD MOSQUITO seem to reinforce the importance of the plan to "surge" more American forces into Baghdad over the next weeks and months.

It seems that regardless of whether the neighborhood is Shia, Sunni, or mixed, they seem to have more confidence in U.S. forces to be able to help bring security, at least in the short term. Sunni Baghdadis seem more receptive to U.S. forces than they do the Shia-dominated Iraqi police and military, but they do seem willing to accept predominately Sunni military units with Sunni commanders acting in conjunction with U.S. forces.

It is important to note that the BSP/"surge" is only in its opening stages, but that most citizens hope it will succeed. The downside of what they are reporting is that the changes have not been uniform nor widespread, and that Iraqis simply do not yet have faith in their own forces to enforce the plan equally across sectarian lines.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at March 2, 2007 10:40 AM