Counter-Terrorism: Tracking the Tip Line

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May 24, 2006: In Iraq, as in all previous peacekeeping operations, order was not restored until the locals were doing most of the policing. Thus, as of the middle of May, Iraqi troops and police are involved with 80 percent of the 70 major operations (raids, cordon and search) that take place each day. Nineteen percent of these are conducted with just American or Coalition forces, and half of them involve both Iraqi and Coalition forces. The percentage of operations that are either partly, or wholly, Iraqi have been increasing each month over the past year. That causes other Iraqis to get involved. The telephone tip line is now a prime source of information on terrorist activity. Currently, 70 percent of the tips lead police to criminals or terrorists.

With so many Iraqi troops and police on the street, terrorists can no longer use mosques as bases with impunity. Recently, police chased a van, from which someone had fired at cops. The van pulled up in front of a mosque, and the three passengers ran into it. The van was found to be full of weapons and explosives. The police surrounded the mosque compound, called their boss, who talked to the imam, and got permission to search the compound. Inside they found more weapons and explosives in the courtyard, and eleven young men. Nine of these men were found to have terrorist connections, and were arrested, and all the weapons were hauled away. The mosque was being used as a bomb making workshop.

Mosques are often taken over by terrorists, either with the cooperation of the imam and congregation, or by using threats. In the past, there was no one the imam could call on, unless the mosque was connected with a powerful (lots of armed men) nearby tribe. But now police, once they establish a presence, often after some fighting, in a neighborhood, they go around to the mosques and let the imams know that they can take care of any armed squatters. Some imams still turn away the cops, but these imams know that if anyone sees weapons coming in or out of the mosque, or fires out of the mosque, the police are going to come in. Islamic law specifies that Mosques are not supposed to be turned into fortresses, and very few imams even try to defend this sort of thing.

The police are still establishing themselves in some pro-terrorist neighborhoods and towns. The drill is pretty well developed by now. When there are enough police to run regular patrols and staff a station for a neighborhood or town, a force or soldiers, police and Coalition troops move in to flush the terrorists out. Sometimes there's a few days of fighting, and then the surviving terrorists just depart. Then the Iraqi troops stick around to back up the cops as they establish relationships with local religious, business and civil leaders. After a while, the cops are on their own. At that point, the tip line becomes a lifeline. There are still occasional major assaults on police stations. These rarely succeed anymore, but police casualties are high. There are always Iraqi and Coalition "reaction forces" standing by to help deal with these attacks. But if the tip line works as it should, the police will get advanced warning of the assault, and will be able to head it off.

There are still dozens of contested neighborhoods (mainly in Baghdad, but also Mosul) and towns. Putting together the police teams to take on these areas is time consuming. It's a dangerous job. You can go in with troops (American and Iraqi) and temporarily chase out the terrorists. But to get the terrorists out permanently, you need the police who will settle in and stay.

 


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