Pacifying the Sunni Triangle

The 4th Division, that covers the Sunni Triangle from Kirkuk to north of Baghdad, and the 1st Armored division deployed in Baghdad are the two key front line units of the Iraqi War.


Although fully engaged in intense combat in the least hospitable region of Iraq for any American force, the 4th has built valuable bridges to local leaders in the heart of Saddam Hussein’s stronghold.


Its commanders spend hours of long palaver with local and tribal leaders in an ongoing process of interaction with the civilian populace. In an area covering the Sunni section of Mosul and the Sunni towns of Huwaiyat, Baiji, Tikrit, Ar Dawa, Samarra, Balad and sections of the Iranian and Syrian borders, their efforts to win Iraqi sentiment have produced an exceptionally high level of recruitment: more than 2,500 Iraqis for the Civil Defense Force, close to 9,000 police officers, 1,000 border police and army units. Since the 4th Division entered the Sunni Triangle region, the communities have sent representatives to multiethnic provincial and local councils and held some elections. Kirkuk has an Interim Government run along ethnic lines. Schools, social services and infrastructure goals are in progress on a vast scale.


A uniquely digitalized force


DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military experts single this division out on another score: it is fully digitalized, the only one of its kind in the world. Computer networks and monitors in all its vehicles and command centers have proved invaluable tools of combat. Increasing its men’s security, these devices help the force focus its raids more precisely and respond more rapidly to danger and emergency situations. It is especially important to pinpoint targets in pro-Saddam towns like Tikrit, Baquba and Samarra. The 4th also has a fleet of drones at its beck and call at all times, integrated at the brigade level. The data they record can be analyzed and integrated with digital location data. The drones also interact efficiently with mortar locating radar and helicopters.


Like other units, this division also finds the M-1 tank too big for cities. The Humvee is not a favorite either. Even if fitted with heavier armor and guns, it is considered too light on armor and firepower. Men of the 4th are looking forward to the arrival of the Stryker brigade next month.


The 4th Division – again like other units – does not want more troops, only quality in some areas. Its officers look to Iraqi Civil Defense, police, army and border guards to boost manpower as well as human intelligence.


Escalation of tactics predicted


The most common threat is posed by improvised explosives. But since August, the guerrillas have added mortars and rockets. With the help of newly-recruited Iraqi Civil Defense and Border Patrol personnel, more and more explosive caches are being unearthed or defused before they go off. Dozens of mortar and rocket attacks were recorded in the first week of November.


However, there is every expectation in this division that the enemy will improve its tactics, skills and intelligence over time. Attacks will become better planned and more use made of foreign fighters.


Future threats are seen from shoulder-launched anti-air missiles, artillery, heavier mortars, more sophisticated explosive devices, mines and anti-tank missiles – all supported by improved intelligence.


Random checks are conducted to locate Saddam Hussein who is believed to be constantly on the move.


Roughly three quarters of the enemy combatants captured so far are paid attackers and criminals. However, a stream of foreigners is reported coming in through Mosul from Syria and also from Iran.


Muhammad’s Army (as DEBKA-Net-Weekly has reported in the past) is present but not thought to be genuine Islamists only a cover for Saddam diehards.


Winning over the tribes


Officers of the 4th Division are careful to defer to the tribal notables. Recruiting officers consult the intertribal council before drafting volunteers. All eight tribes of the region are represented in proportion to size. However, they also apply a carrot and stick. Tribal leaders are rewarded with money and influence according to the level of their cooperation, denied perks if they prove obstructive. The men in khaki have made a study of indigenous Sunni tribes and clans and the lore of the region, finding this knowledge crucial for effective intelligence. They have coaxed local sheiks to take charge of guarding oil pipelines that run through their terrain. However, nothing has availed the American force in Tikrit, where tribal leaders and young men remain implacably hostile. This has not stopped the division’s commanders from approaching former generals and colonels who served the deposed ruler and drafting them into local government and consultative roles.

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