Eliminating Terrorist Cells in the Iraqi Capital is a Priority After the Defeat of Daesh
Terrorist gangs have focused on targeting the civilian population in the capital, Baghdad, with the aim of destabilizing the city and provoking a media whirlwind suggesting the Iraqi government has lost control of security. Terrorist groups intensified their truck bombings in Baghdad in mid-2009, but the cohesion and courage of the security forces thwarted the terrorist schemes. The bloody bombing of Karrada in 2016, which coincided with the announcement of the liberation of Fallujah from Daesh, marked a turning point in the thinking of security leadership. Commanders intensified their focus on protecting the capital and unmasking these killers throughout the Baghdad region, which reflected positively on security of the capital. Unipath met with Lt. Gen. Abdul Jalil al-Rubaie, Baghdad operations commander, who briefed the magazine on successes against the terrorists and on the strategy to increase security in the capital.
Unipath: What is the role of Baghdad operations in liberating cities from the abomination of Daesh?
Lt. Gen. al-Rubaie: Baghdad operations played a heroic and historic role in protecting and controlling the belt areas of Baghdad (north, west and southwest) and halting terrorist elements intent on mobilizing toward the capital. The enemy occupied this sector for more than a year, and we prevented them from achieving any progress. And then the leadership began its extensive military operations, and we rushed out from our sector toward the Anbar area of operations and played a key role in liberating the cities of Fallujah, Karma and Saqlawiyah, in addition to other areas related to the mentioned cities such as Albu Shagl, Azarik and other villages.
Unipath: Describe your achievements in dismantling networks producing vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED).
Lt. Gen. al-Rubaie: Our area of responsibility (AOR) is one of the most active sectors because terrorism aims to hit the capital, where there are foreign embassies and international news agencies, with the goal of obtaining wider media coverage. To give readers a clear picture of the achievements of Baghdad operations, I would like to think back to the period of sectarian violence in 2006, when the capital was living through a bloody period of VBIEDs, suicide bombers and bodies in the streets. This was followed by the period of 2010, when the gangs of the Islamic State of Iraq sent trucks and tankers loaded with explosives to target ministry buildings in the heart of Baghdad. Most of these bombs were manufactured on the outskirts of the capital. But for more than two years we have eliminated bomb-making networks in Baghdad and its surroundings and have not detected any VBIEDs factories in and around Baghdad. All the car bombs — a limited number — that have targeted the capital during the past two years were assembled outside our area of responsibility and came from places like Anbar, Mosul and Diyala. This is a positive indication of the efforts of Baghdad operations in clearing the capital of bomb factories and arresting and killing most of the terrorists.
Unipath: What areas do terrorists use to deliver explosives to Baghdad, and how do you deal with these?
Lt. Gen. al-Rubaie: As I mentioned, Daesh recently tried to rush some car bombs from Anbar, prioritizing Baghdad and the areas mentioned above, but intelligence operations successfully targeted some of these cars before they entered our AOR, especially in Anbar, and the plan was foiled. In the past, Daesh tried to find hiding places to establish factories in the agricultural/rural areas outside the capital and away from the eyes of the authorities. But we were able to raid these areas and destroy several weapons caches. Our units are conducting intensive search campaigns in the suburbs of the capital and Greater Baghdad after closing the entry points for the region and carrying out a large search to find weapons caches, VBIED factories and wanted terrorists. These pre-emptive operations have helped to extend security and cut off safe havens for terrorist gangs. In addition, we maintain continuous contact with residents in the AOR. By identifying their needs and building bridges of trust, we gain their support and they become our eyes.
Unipath: What is the role of Iraq’s coalition partners in tracking terrorist networks in the capital?
Lt. Gen. al-Rubaie: I am grateful for the role of our coalition partners in supporting our units in the fight against these gangs. The coalition’s role is essential and influential in assisting us on the intelligence side and the implementation of accurate airstrikes in the district north of Baghdad. We also exchange and coordinate information about important terrorist leaders trying to operate in the Baghdad sector. In addition, coalition forces play a role in training our units and building capacity. We have weekly meetings at the leadership level and meetings at the departmental level. Baghdad operations has a team of advisors working side by side with our Soldiers.
Unipath: How important is border security in limiting terrorist operations in the capital?
Lt. Gen. al-Rubaie: This aspect is very important and effective in ending terrorism and significantly restricting its role in the capital and other cities. This confirms that all the attacks that targeted the capital, whether they succeeded or were aborted by intelligence work, ultimately came from outside our area of responsibility, especially the provinces that have a common border with Syria like Mosul and Anbar. Since 2003, terrorist gangs have infiltrated Iraq through weak gaps in the border. However, after the disturbance of the security situation in Syria, which directly affected the security situation in the border areas of Iraq, Mosul, Anbar and other areas were invaded. So, border security is the backbone of Iraqi stability. We are in contact with our brothers in the border guards and al-Jazeera, al-Badia and Anbar operations to exchange information and track terrorism and organized crime that extend across the Iraqi-Syrian border. We have begun to focus on the use of modern border-control techniques such as reconnaissance aircraft and sensors. We encourage cooperation between the Air Force, Army Air Wing and coalition forces in intensifying round-the-clock surveillance missions and targeting terrorist groups near the border or in remote areas deep in the desert.
Unipath: How do you use social media to communicate with the population and receive notifications of terrorist activities?
Lt. Gen. al-Rubaie: We have an official page on Facebook followed by about 195,000 citizens. The page is managed by the Directorate of Media and Moral Guidance. We publish some security information on this site, such as arresting terrorists or thwarting terrorist attacks. In addition, we inform citizens when we conduct controlled bombing so as not to confuse them when they hear explosions. By this I mean the controlled detonation of ammunition and car bombs. This communication made us close to the citizens and encouraged them to report suspicious activities in their areas. Sometimes they write on the web pages about cases of corruption or mayhem in their areas and often correspond directly to the page management staff to provide accurate information about the movements of terrorists. We receive the information from citizens through all means available because we believe that they are an essential part of the security system. Therefore, we seek to gain their confidence and encourage them to make available information that we will audit, analyze and act on.
Unipath: How can leaders benefit from your experience with thwarting terrorist plots around Baghdad?
Lt. Gen. al-Rubaie: Our leadership approach is to coordinate and cooperate with our counterparts in nearby operational commands. Our security guidelines and methods allow us to execute successful pre-emptive operations based on accurate intelligence. For example, at the beginning of June 2018, we had a conference to coordinate with all the leaders of neighboring operations regarding the exchange of experiences and security information.
Unipath: What exercises and training are important for building the capabilities of Soldiers in the fight against terrorism?
Lt. Gen. al-Rubaie: Our Armed Forces and all its branches have gained extensive experience in combating and fighting terrorism, both on the battlefield and in direct confrontation with Daesh, during the liberation of our cities and the use of intelligence and fieldwork in tracing cells and arresting and killing terrorists. We believe in the absolute necessity of mixing training curriculum with on-the-ground experience. We are working to coordinate with coalition forces to train at the brigade level.
Unipath: How important is sharing security information with friendly countries to defeat terrorist networks?
Lt. Gen. al-Rubaie: We are facing a great security challenge, which is the existence of terrorist networks with threads in all countries of the world. They move quickly and secretly, so it is necessary to have intelligence cooperation and information exchange so that we can abort their malicious schemes. Terrorist gangs cannot be defeated by a single state because terrorism depends on the spread of extremist ideology, a complex network of funding and logistical strands throughout the world, so we must work as a team to defeat them. As I mentioned at the outset, most of the VBIED come from areas controlled by terrorists in Syria. Therefore, we must intensify intelligence work and aerial reconnaissance of roads used by terror networks so that we can foil terrorism before it occurs.