"Park your car on the side of the road, open the trunk and get your official papers ready," the soldier told us when he stopped our car Aug. 9 at a military checkpoint north of the capital.
The line of cars waiting to enter or exit the capital on Eid al-Fitr was long and exhausting, while civilians stood around doing nothing except observing how things were going. In fact, these soldiers were members of the military intelligence services, who are involved in a security plan for part of a new campaign called "revenge of the martyrs."
This new security operation was launched after al-Qaeda gunmen stormed the Abu Ghraib and Taji prisons, north of Baghdad, on July 21.
Mohammed Alwan, an army general who was in charge of overseeing the work of a checkpoint on Baghdad's northern border, told Al-Monitor that "the new security process ... began in early August and was designed to move the confrontation with al-Qaeda to the outskirts of Baghdad."
Alwan confirmed that "large military units, with the help of helicopters, are conducting arrests in the villages and vast farms in the vicinity of Baghdad, especially north of the capital."
While this is not the first time that Iraqi security forces have implemented a new security process and announced the arrest of dozens of people wanted on charges of committing acts of violence against civilians, the operations carried out by groups affiliated with al-Qaeda in Iraq have not stopped.
This month, dozens of car bombs exploded in Baghdad and other provinces, and resulted in hundreds of deaths and injuries.
On the other hand, the Baghdad Operations Command (BOC) — the highest security authority in the capital — said that its members had "killed many terrorists in armed confrontations."
A statement released by the BOC on Aug. 11 said: "In a single day, Aug. 10, 2013, BOC forces arrested 98 suspects."
It seems that the new security operations resulted in the discovery of new, unfamiliar sites being used by al-Qaeda. The BOC statement noted that the military was able to "destroy 17 terrorist dens, and seized 10 cars and three motorcycles that had forged documents. [The military] also seized weapons, equipment and explosive materials and destroyed 14 boats being used by terrorist. Furthermore, 77 bombs were seized and dismantled, and the military discovered five labs being used for outfitting cars with bombs."
According to a senior official speaking to Al-Monitor, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki toured the headquarters of the "revenge of the martyrs" campaign in Taji, north of Baghdad, along with a number of security chiefs on Aug. 5. He urged them to "make great efforts to achieve security."
According to the same official, Maliki told a number of generals: "This is the most important battle against al-Qaeda … you must win here … within the walls of Baghdad."
However, in an Aug. 6 statement to some Iraqi journalists including Al-Monitor's correspondent, Maliki revealed his decision to "prepare all of the military units for a state of attack."
That same evening, militants carried out about 10 car bombings across Baghdad.
On Aug. 10, the Interior Ministry released a statement saying that car bombings carried out in seven different areas of the capital resulted in two deaths.
But other figures — released by both formal and informal parties — said that the bombings resulted in nearly 60 deaths and hundreds of injuries.
In a telephone conversation with Al-Monitor, a senior official in the Defense Ministry, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive security situation, said Maliki was frustrated by the poor management of the security file.
"Maliki told the team at the office of the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces that they do not know anything about security, and that the intelligence they have gathered failed, and did not provide any benefit to the government," he said, adding: "In fact … it was a tough night for Maliki."
However, Muzhar al-Janabi, a Sunni member of the parliamentary Security Committee, told Al-Monitor: "The army has been on high alert since the beginning of August, yet bombings have not stopped and Iraqi civilians continue to lose their lives."
Janabi called on the Iraqi government and the Office of the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces to monitor the work of security leaders, and evaluate their performance. He also said that they should announce that they are no longer using traditional methods of maintaining security.
Despite the bombings and violence that occurred in Baghdad and other provinces — in conjunction with the security operation as part of the "revenge of the martyrs" campaign — security chiefs are planning for more than just reducing violence in the cities, according to a BOC source speaking to Al-Monitor.
The Defense Ministry source said that "a major battle is now taking place in the vicinity of Baghdad, with an unprecedented mobilization of al-Qaeda militants."
He continued: "A foreign intelligence agency briefed Maliki's office on its file regarding the battle around Baghdad. [This file] included the fact that al-Qaeda intends to implement the largest wave of violence in the country since 2003. This is aimed at imposing a new reality on the Iraqi government that prevents them from supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in exchanged for a truce inside Iraq."
Such claims, promoted by Iraqi security leaders, do not resonate among the public, given the size of civilian casualties from violence carried out by armed groups.
Ali Abel Sadah is a Baghdad-based writer for both Iraqi and Arab media. He has been a managing editor for local newspapers as well as a political and cultural reporter for more than 10 years.
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