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Iraq Issues: Scope and Size of the Insurgency

The most intense Sunni resistance activity takes place in the cities and countryside along the Euphrates River from the Syrian border town of al-Qaim through Ramadi and Fallujah to Baghdad, as well as along the Tigris river from Baghdad north to Tikrit. Heavy guerilla activity also takes place around the cities of Mosul and Tal Afar in the north, as well as the “Triangle of Death” south of Baghdad. which includes the “-iya” cities of Iskandariya, Mahmudiya, Latifiya, and Yusufiya. Lesser activity takes place in several other areas of the country. The insurgents are believed to maintain a key supply line stretching from Syria through al-Qaim and along the Euphrates to Baghdad and central Iraq, the Iraqi equivalent of the Ho Chi Minh trail. A second “ratline” (the U.S. term) runs from the Syrian border through Tal Afar to Mosul.

Although estimates of the total number of Iraqi guerrillas varies by group and fluctuates under changing political climate, the latest assessments put the present number at between 100,000 and 130,000 fighters along with numerous supporters and facilitators throughout the Sunni Arab community. At various points U.S. forces provided estimates on the number of fighters in specific regions. A few are provided here (although these numbers almost certainly have fluctuated):

  • Fallujah (mid-2004): 2000-5000 (in a November 2004 operation, the Fallujah insurgency has been destroyed or dispersed, but has staged a comeback, albeit not to former strength, in the course of 2005)
  • Samarra (December 2003); 2000
  • Baquba(June 2004): 1000
  • Baghdad (December 2003): 1000 (this number may have increased by a significant amount)

Guerilla forces operate in many of the cities and towns of al-Anbar province, due to mostly ineffective Iraqi security forces in this area. There is extensive guerilla activity in Ramadi, the capital of the province, as well as al-Qaim, the first stop on an insurgent movement route between Iraq and Syria. In 2006, reports suggested that the Anbar capital Ramadi had largely fallen under insurgent control along with most of the Anbar region; as a result the US is sending an extra 3,500 marines to reestablish control of the region. In the early part of 2007 the insurgency suffered serious setbacks in Ramadi. With the help of the Anbar Salvation Council, incidents fell from an average of 30 attacks per day in December 2006 to an average of fewer than four in April 2007.

Baghdad is still one of the most contested regions of the country, even after the 2007 troop surge more than two thirds of Baghdad is under the control of various Sunni insurgent groups and the Shiite Mahdi Army. Combatants are waging intense guerrilla warfare against the US Army and some Sunni neighborhoods such as Adhamiya are largely under insurgent control. Suicide attacks and car bombs are near daily occurrences in Baghdad. The road from Baghdad to the city airport is the most dangerous in the country, if the world. Iraqi security and police forces had also been significantly built up in the capital and, despite being constantly targeted, had enjoyed some successes such as the pacification of Haifa Street, which however subsequently saw a massive surge of insurgent activity. and after the failed Coalition Operation Together Forward fell under Sunni insurgent control.

As time passed the insurgent grasp on Mosul has strengthened and by mid-2007 insurgents had control of virtually all the city with the exception of the few Coalition bases sat d throughout the city and their immediate surroundings.

Recent intelligence suggests that the base of foreign paramilitary operations has moved from Anbar to the religiously- and ethnically-mixed Diyala province. By July 2007 Dyala had fallen under almost total Insurgent control, and had become the Headquarters for :e Sunni dominated Islamic State of Iraq which has issued a proclamation declaring the regional capital Baqubah its capital.

In response to a law allowing for the partitioning of Iraq into autonomous regions, ‘embers of the Mutayibeen Coalition (Khalf al-Mutayibeen), one of Iraq’s largest Sunni 9surgent groups, allegedly claimed the creation of an Islamic state encompassing parts of 6 f Iraq’s 18 provinces on October 15. Yet another show of defiance came on October 18 when Sunni resistance brazenly paraded in Ramadi Similar parades were held two days later in several towns across western Iraq, two of which occurred within two miles of US military bases.

By October 2006, small radicalized militias had seemed to overshadow the larger and more organized Sunni groups which had composed the insurgency previously. As disagreements emerged in pre-existing resistance groups for reason ranging from the rift in the Sunni forces between foreign and Iraqi fighters, competition between Mahdi Army and Badr Brigade, and anger over various decisions such as Muqtada al Sadr’s agreement to join the political process, dozens of insurgency groups sprung up across the country, though particularly in Baghdad where the US army has listed 23 active militias. Residents have described the capital as being a patchwork of militia run fiefs. As a result of the insurgency’s splintering nature, many established leaders seemed to lose influence. This was particularly illustrated on October 19, when members of the Mahdi army briefly seized control of Amarah. The attack, while demonstrating the influence of the Madhi army, is believed to have originated as a result of contention between local units of the Madhi army and the allegedly Badr brigade run security forces, and the timing suggested that neither Al Sadr nor his top commanders had known or orchestrated the offensive.

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