Archive for May 26, 2010
Plays Well with Others
The U.S. military is continuing with plans to draw down forces in Iraq to 50,000 troops by September. Meanwhile, Iraqi politicians are still wrangling over forming a coalition government after the confused results of the March 7 elections. And violence is on the rise, especially in Diyala Province north of Baghdad.
However, one bright spot in all the uncertainty say U.S. officials in northern Iraq is the growing cooperation among the Iraqi Army, Iraqi police and the Kurdish defense force, known as the peshmerga.
Joint raids by U.S., Iraqi and Kurdish security forces have uncovered several caches of weapons – as well as a thriving arms smuggling business along Iraq’s northeast border with Iran, in and around the rugged Hamrin Mountains. But a top U.S. Army intelligence officer says there’s been no indication that the arms are coming from Iranian government sources.
“There are profiteers selling weapons to both Sunis and Shia,” Lt. Col. Michael Marti, the G-2 – intelligence chief – for the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division, told a recent bloggers roundtable. “We look very closely at any cache that we find and subsequently destroy,” to determine if it is was looted from the Sadam Hussein regime’s pre-war stockpiles or brought in from outside Iraq.
As far as Iranian involvement: “We get very little reporting of the specifics, of lethal munitions coming across the Iranian border. The information just isn’t there,” Marti says.
But he adds: “I know that on the Iranian border, we haven’t interdicted a smuggling operation that’s been bringing lethal munitions across.”
Marti, who is also in charge of intelligence for Task Force Marne, also called U.S. Division-North, a unit of about 21,000 troops responsible for U.S. operations in northern Iraq, spoke with bloggers by phone from Contingency Operating Base Speicher, in Tikrit, Iraq last week. He discussed a series of joint U.S.-Iraqi-Kurdish raids – known as Operation Chelan – that have captured stockpiles of arms and at least eight insurgents — some believed to be mid-level leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq for Diyala Province.
He says small arms, including mortar systems, artillery rounds and some anti-tank missiles have been recovered in the raids. And the intelligence gained in each raid has driven subsequent operations. The focus of the operations have been al Qaeda in Iraq, specifically in Diyala province because the area has been targeted by extremists seeking to stir sectarian tension among the wary — if not openly hostile — Suni and Shia communities.
The operations have usually included a brigade-sized unit of the Iraqi Army and peshmerga troops and a battalion of U.S. forces, operating in an advisory capacity. Marti says cooperation went well among the U.S., Kurdish forces and the Iraqi army units – which are usually about 60 percent Sunni and 40 percent Shia. He called the cooperation “very important” in light of the planned decrease in U.S. forces. “It wasn’t easy to conduct the operation. I mean, there are some cultural barriers and communication barriers to break through,” Marti said, but U.S. forces were there to help facilitate it.