Country Reports on Terrorism 2008 - Iraq

Iraq remained a committed partner in counterterrorism efforts. The Iraqi government, with support from Coalition Forces, continued to make significant progress in combating al-Qa'ida in Iraq (AQI) and affiliated terrorist organizations, as well as Shiite militia elements engaged in terrorism. The significant reduction in the number of security incidents throughout much of Iraq, beginning in the last half of 2007, continued in 2008, with an even further decrease in civilian casualties, enemy attacks, and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks.

Terrorist organizations and insurgent groups continued attacks on Coalition and Iraqi security forces using IEDs, including vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, and suicide bombers. Beginning in November 2007 and through July 2008, improvised rocket-assisted mortars were used in attacks on Coalition Forces resulting in both military and civilian casualties. AQI and its Sunni extremist partners also increasingly used Iraqi nationals and females as suicide bombers. Coalition Forces conducted a full spectrum of operations to defeat the adaptive threats employed by AQI, by, with, and through Iraqi forces.

Iraqi and Coalition Forces tactically defeated many AQI cells in Baghdad and Anbar, and AQI elements consolidated into Ninewa and Diyala provinces. Despite being limited to smaller safe havens within Iraq, AQI retained pockets of extremists in and around Baghdad and in Anbar. In Ninewa, Coalition Forces focused operations against AQI and like-minded Sunni extremists by capturing or killing senior leaders. On October 5, U.S. troops killed Abu Qaswarah, AQI's Emir of the North and second-in-command. AQI continued primarily to target the Iraqi security forces, SOI (Sons of Iraq) groups, and tribal awakening movement members. Despite the improved security environment, AQI still possessed the means to launch high-profile attacks against Iraqi civilians and infrastructure and their focus seemed to have shifted to such attacks. In addition to countering AQI and Sunni extremists, Iraq is making progress in defeating terrorists with alternative motivations.

Foreign terrorists from North Africa and other Middle Eastern countries who were sympathetic to Sunni extremists continued to flow into Iraq, predominantly through Syria. Their numbers, however, were significantly fewer than in the previous year. Terrorism committed by illegal armed groups receiving weapons and training from Iran continued to endanger the security and stability of Iraq, however incidents of such violence were markedly lower than in the previous year. Many of the groups receiving ideological and logistical support from Iran were based in Shia communities in Central and Southern Iraq. Iraqi government officials continued to strongly condemn terrorists from all quarters. On November 19, Iraq, Turkey, and the United States renewed its formal trilateral security dialogue as one element of ongoing cooperative efforts to counter the militant Kurdish nationalist group, Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Iraqi leaders, including those from the Kurdistan Regional Government continued to publicly state that the PKK was a terrorist organization and would not be tolerated in Iraq. The Trilateral discussions continued through the end of the year.

The Iraqi government increased its bilateral and multilateral efforts to garner regional and international support against the common threat of terrorism. The Expanded Neighbors Process continued to provide a forum in which Iraq and its neighbors could address the political and security challenges facing Iraq and the region. In November, the government sent representatives to Syria to participate in the second Neighbors Process working group on border security where the group sought new ways to limit the flow of foreign terrorists into Iraq. Also on the diplomatic front, ambassadors from Jordan, Bahrain, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and the Arab League all presented their credentials in 2008.

The Iraqi government pressed senior Iranian leaders to end support for lethal aid to Iraqi militias, and the Iraqi army defeated extremists trained and equipped by Iran in Basra, Baghdad, and other areas. For example, in the Charge of the Knights operation in April in Basra, Prime Minister Maliki ordered Iraqi security forces to combat extralegal Iranian-supported militias. Iraqi forces arrested violent extremists, confiscated arms, and helped to reestablish the rule of law in Basra. The operation was Iraqi-led, while small British and American Military Transition Teams were in place to provide Iraqi leaders with advice, access to surveillance, and the ability to call for additional resources as needed.

On April 19, in published comments in response to the operations, Muqtada al-Sadr threatened to wage "open war until liberation" against the Iraqi government unless it agreed to stop targeting Mahdi Army members. Attacks by Mahdi Army members increased in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood after Sadr's statement. However, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari vowed, in response, that the Iraqi government would continue to pursue militias. Although attacks by militants have since sharply decreased, Shia militant groups' ties to Iran remained a challenge and threat to Iraq's long term stability.

The Government of Iraq attributed security gains to both the Coalition troop surge and the purported decisions by some elements affiliated with Muqtada al-Sadr's Jaysh al-Mahdi Army to forego armed action in favor of political activity. Improved Iraqi Security Forces proficiency and increasing popular support for the actions of Iraqi Forces against AQI and other extremist groups also illustrated security progress. SOI groups provided Coalition and Iraqi forces with valuable information that helped disrupt terrorist operations and exposed large weapons caches. The SOI began integration into Iraqi Security Forces in October. Sunni tribal awakening movements formed alliances with the coalition against AQI and extremist groups. Ethno-sectarian related violence continued to decline, although reports late in the year that Christians were targeted for assassination in Mosul indicated that AQI still sought to sow fear and instability by promoting inter-ethnic and inter-religious animosity.

The Iraqi security forces continued to build tactical and operational momentum and assumed responsibility for security in all of Iraq's 18 provinces. On November 17, the Governments of Iraq and the United States signed a Security Agreement that provided the legal basis for continued security cooperation, which will help Iraq build its capacity to fight terrorist organizations, and established formal mechanisms for ensuring that future security operations are conducted in accord with the Security Agreement. Continued international support will be critical for the Iraqi government to continue building its capacity to fight terrorist organizations. Iraq's intelligence services continued to improve in both competency and confidence, but will require ongoing support before they will be able to adequately identify and respond to internal and external terrorist threats.


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