- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2008

SHARQAT, Iraq

Surging U.S. troops and defections of Iraqis previously sympathetic to al Qaeda have spread to the Tigris River Valleybetween Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit and Mosul — the northern edge of the feared Sunni triangle

Although discoveries of bombs known as IEDS and explosions continue to occur regularly along the main highway between the two cities, the frequency of the deadly blasts has dropped by about half, said Capt. Matthew McKee, executive officer of Crazy Troop, 1st Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment.

Soldiers in Crazy Troop cite a number of improvements, including:

c Villages that were once terrorist sanctuaries are becoming less so.

c Iraqi police and U.S. intelligence operations, combined with a joint U.S.-Iraqi information campaign, are helping drive a wedge between al Qaeda and nationalist insurgents in the region, and a wedge between al Qaeda and the general populace.

c The recent deployment from Tikrit of Iraqi army troops, who conduct joint operations against the terrorists with U.S. and Iraqi police forces.

The effort includes establishing security checkpoints along roads from villages to the highway to augment those set up by police and Concerned Local Citizen groups, now renamed Sons of Iraq.

“In the past, the population passively condoned attacks on coalition forces,” said Capt. Sam Cook, commander of Crazy Troop. “They’re struggling internally now, within themselves.

“They don’t want occupation, but they don’t like the insurgency’s foreign links, they don’t like al Qaeda’s thuggery and foreign support, and they’re totally against Iraqis killing innocent Iraqis.”

Capt. Cook and Crazy Troop are based at Joint Security Station (JSS) Sharqat, about an hour’s drive south of Mosul. They share the facility on the southern edge of the city — in a partially destroyed hotel compound they call Camp Crazyhorse — with Iraqi troops.

Crazy Troop’s task is to support the Iraqi police and military, which plan and conduct their own operations. That puts an Iraqi face on missions and, when combined with civic action projects, lessens the impression of Americans as occupiers while increasing the impression of Americans as partners.

Despite improvements in security, soldiers say explosions still occur about every other day between Tikrit and Mosul, compared with about one a day before the surge moved northward.

The estimate, while rough, tracks with the drop in high-profile attacks throughout Iraq of about 60 percent since March — a figure cited recently by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander for Iraq.

“We try to partner with Iraqi forces in the area of greatest threat to secure people in their daily lives,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Dorame, commander of the 1st Squadron.

“I tell the Iraqi troops that we’re here to support them, rather than they support us,” he said. “At the end of the day, success depends on the Iraqis standing up and taking charge of security and governance.”

Sharqat is an agricultural trading center of about 140,000 residents. People in the city and area villages are mainly Sunni Arabs who feel disenfranchised politically and economically since the overthrow of Saddam’s Ba’athist Party regime.

In addition to al Qaeda terrorists in the region, there are members of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) group.

Intelligence officials say ISI, despite its nationalist face, is in the main faction of al Qaeda in Iraq, which was established in Diyala province in 2006.

The “state” and its supposed Iraqi leader — whom U.S. officials believe does not exist — were seen as a counter by al Qaeda to criticism of it being mainly led by non-Iraqi Arabs and funded by outsiders.

Capt. Cook and other U.S. commanders in the Tigris River Valley ensure that the link between the two terrorist groups comes up in conversations with Iraqis, many of whom are unaware of it.

According to U.S. officials and Iraqi police, it’s believed some members of ISI cells are also in the dark about the link and this could lead to recent defections by more nationalist-minded ISI members.

The exact number of estimated hard-core fighters was not immediately available, but Capt. Cook said in one village alone — Aitha — about 100 of its 10,000 people were believed either members of al Qaeda or ISI or support their operations.

Attacks on Iraqi police and U.S. forces follow two main patterns, officials said: bombs planted along the main highway — mainly by unemployed villagers hired for the task — and bombs or sniping by hard-core terrorists in retaliation for the capture or killing of ISI or al Qaeda leaders.

The U.S. military has plans in the works to help put people in the area into jobs through a paid civilian service corps for repairing or building infrastructure.

“I think [terrorist] foot soldiers now are primarily fighting for money,” Col. Dorame said. “Many of those we have captured are not fanatics, they’re not ideologues. … They’re doing it for money to feed their families.”


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide