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August 3rd, 2005 - The IED Marketplace in Iraq

News article by the Defense News

IED attack (IV) against U.S. humvee

Summary of U.S. Military Operations in Iraq

The IED Marketplace in Iraq


By Greg Grant

Defense News

August 3, 2005


The following revealing picture of how these cells operate and why they remain so hard to penetrate comes from extensive interviews with military intelligence officers with the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq, briefing documents, and interviews and presentations at an Army sponsored counter IED conference June 13-17 at the Army's National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Ca. Much of what U.S. officials know about IED cells was gathered through the interrogation of captured Iraqi insurgents.


Decentralized Structure


Traditional insurgent groups follow a highly centralized, hierarchically organized model. Counterinsurgency forces have long studied the pyramidal model, with strong leadership at the top and the group expanding in size at each lower level, to the foot soldiers at the bottom. That type of guerrilla organization was highly vulnerable to a decapitation strike that would often lead to its collapse. The groups in Iraq have no hierarchical structure, the officers said. Vast numbers of small, adaptive insurgent cells operate independently without central guidance. There may be some loose coordination of attacks, but then the cells go their separate ways.


This highly decentralized characteristic of the IED cells makes them nearly impossible to penetrate. Their small size allows them to focus on specific American units, learn their tactics, patrol schedules, transportation routes and readily adapt to counter-IED techniques. One U.S. intelligence officer said that if you capture the leader of an IED cell, the leaderless foot soldiers simply get rolled up into another cell or start their own splinter cell. By cutting off the heads, you don't fix the problem, as other heads emerge. Taking down the foot soldiers causes a temporary disruption, as new people must be recruited. But even then, the cell is disrupted only for two weeks or so. The only way to get rid of the cell is to target the whole group - and there are a lot of cells.


Commercial Connections


Small, highly skilled IED cells often operate as a package and hire themselves out to the more well-known insurgent groups, such as Amman Al Zarqawi's al-Qaida in Iraq or the Sunni group Ansaar al Sunna. They advertise their skills on the Internet and are temporarily contracted on a per-job basis, but otherwise remain autonomous. This more linear, rather than pyramidal structure, means a decapitation operation is not an option. The IED cells are patient and methodical and they follow an identifiable operational cycle. Five days is usually spent conducting reconnaissance of prospective targets, conducting pattern analysis of U.S. patrols and looking for vulnerabilities.


Target Selection


The insurgents try to discover why and at what times American patrols travel along specific routes. Insurgents have even used hoax IEDs placed in plain view so they can watch the American response and gather intelligence on security methods and bomb disposal team operations to prepare for future attacks. IED target selection is done with the intent of maximizing casualties and media exposure. Favorite targets include convoys of civilian SUVs, as they believe these transport American government officials and intelligence agents.


They also target fuel tankers, as the flames and billowing smoke from a burning fuel tanker makes for compelling television footage. "If the insurgent has a burning fueler or bodies in the street, he wants to get Arab media," said Col. Mike Formica, recently returned from Iraq, at the June IED conference. The target site must also have multiple escape routes. The components are then assembled at a well-concealed bomb factory and then moved from any area likely to be searched by American patrols to a holding area until the weapon is placed.


IEDs are often kept in what the military calls "rolling weapons caches," cars with false bottoms or trunks loaded with explosives that blend into the thousands of vehicles on Iraq's crowded city streets. Five days of preparation are then followed by 10 days of heavy IED attacks, then the cycle starts again. After a successful attack or if a device is detected by a U.S. patrol, the IED cell evaluates the results and adjusts its tactics accordingly for the next strike.




Nine times out of 10, the military and intelligence officers said, the insurgents videotape IED attacks. The insurgents scrutinize the tapes - much as a coach watches postgame films - to prepare for future attacks. They're also used as motivational tools for new recruits and to advertise a cell's technical proficiency.


Business Process: Financier


While all IED cells in Iraq are not alike, they tend to follow a similar organizational pattern. They are almost exclusively made up of Sunni extremists. The typical IED cell numbers no more than six to eight people who collect intelligence on American forces, gather explosive materials, manufacture the bomb, place the device, carry out the attack and then evaluate the results. At the top of the IED cell is the planner or financier ("hot money"), a "money man" who is most often a well educated and intelligent former Baathist government official or military officer.


He is ideologically motivated in his fight against the American occupation. These "white collar" leaders are the most difficult cell members to identify, explained Formica. Even if fingered by an informant or other means, the leaders are so good at covering their tracks it's nearly impossible to develop sufficient evidence to detain them. And if captured, they're smart enough not to say anything. Only 5 percent to 10 percent of the insurgents captured by the Americans are cell leaders.


Business Process: Bomb Maker


Below the financier is the bomb maker. He also is typically ideologically motivated, a former regime member or Sunni Arab angered at the American occupation. As with the financier, American officers said the only way of getting the bomb makers to stop the attacks is by capturing or killing them. Initially, IEDs were constructed by former Iraqi Republican Guard or Special Republican Guard soldiers. That skill has spread throughout the country over the past two years. According to Army intelligence officers, outside expertise also has come into the country, both from Hizbollah, which has extensive bomb-making expertise, and from Iranian intelligence. Bomb-making skills proliferate rapidly among IED cells in Iraq via the Internet, used by insurgents to share skills.


The insurgents' technical proficiency has increased over time with experience. In recent months, shaped-charge explosives have become more common, Votel said. Also called platter charges, these devices combine an explosive charge with a low melting point metal like copper that is shaped in a concave way. When the blast occurs it shapes the metal into a molten slug that can penetrate the heaviest armor. That technical expertise wasn't in Iraq when the insurgency began and is suspected as having come in from Iran or Syria, said Lt. Col. Shawn Weed, an intelligence officer with the 3rd Infantry Division. The military has found no appreciable decrease in IED attacks when a bomb maker is killed, and it represents at best a temporary setback for the insurgency as that talent is easily replaced.


Business Process: Emplacer


The next person in the cell is the "emplacer." This person usually has some military expertise and is skilled at moving unnoticed into and out of an area while transporting an IED. While some IEDs are small, 60mm or 81mm mortar rounds, more common is the wired 155mm shell that can weigh 100 pounds. Moving these objects around unseen and placing them along high-trafficked roads takes experience and daring, as he knows if he's spotted placing an IED he'll be killed. He is familiar with American patrolling tactics and techniques and is often supported by lookouts armed with cell phones who will tip him when a patrol nears.


The emplacer's primary motivation is money. He is a foot soldier, is often paid as little as $50, and told to place an IED in a specific location at a specific time. A common technique is to pull a car over to the side of the road to change a tire or appear as if it's broken down. He places the IED - 75 percent of IEDs are placed in a hole previously used for the same purpose - covers it up with something, turns the switch on and drives away. Often they don't even stop, as insurgents use cars with a hole cut in the floor so they only have to slow down and drop the device onto the road. Of all the members of the IED cell, the emplacer's skills are the most difficult to replace. When taken out, an IED cell's activity is at least temporarily disrupted as a replacement is sought.


Business Process: Triggerman


The next person in the cell is the triggerman, the one who lies in wait until an American convoy passes. Often in a car, the triggerman detonates the IED either by remote trigger or command wire. Remote detonation is the preferred means, as it allows the insurgent to be further away from the blast. Captured triggermen said they prefer to hit the second vehicle in a patrol. The first vehicle passes the IED and they time it, then they hit the second vehicle. Like the emplacer, the triggerman's primary motivation is money.


Sometimes these lower-level operatives will hire themselves out as a package, changing affiliations based on money. If an alternative means of earning money is provided for the emplacer and the triggerman, they can take them out of operation, Formica said.


Business Process: Suicide Car Bombers


Suicide car bomb cells are similar in structure, although the bomb maker's technical expertise is usually greater as the triggering often requires engineering skills. Car bombs are assembled in a factory assembly line-like process that begins usually in small towns south of Baghdad. There, a vehicle is modified in an auto chop shop, with space cleared inside the vehicle to fit the explosives, suspensions strengthened to carry the additional weight and windows blackened. As the vehicle is driven north to Baghdad, where most car bombs are detonated, additional components are added. This decentralized construction process makes it more difficult for American intelligence to identify a car bomb factory and eliminate it. Intelligence gathered from a captured would-be suicide car bomber, who was a member of Zarqawi's group, provided U.S. officials with the best insight into the inner workings of a suicide car bombing cell.


The cell is kept small and focused, and contact with insurgents outside the suicide group is strictly controlled. Suicide bombers are selected on a first-come basis, with no shortage of recruits. The bombers are most often foreigners and enter Iraq from Saudi Arabia or Kuwait with the specific intention of martyrdom. The only training they receive is the target information and instruction on how to trigger the device. Two vehicles are commonly used. The first transports the bomber to the location of a pre-positioned car bomb and then follows behind to guide the bomber along the route and videotape the attack. The captured car bomber said it would be easy to drive around Baghdad and pick out up to 20 soft targets.


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