By Kristen Noel
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 21, 2007 - Ongoing Multinational Force Iraq operations against terrorists are focused in the country's northern provinces, where al Qaeda activity is heavy, a U.S. military official said from Baghdad. Al Qaeda has gravitated north because they've been pushed out of Anbar province, in the west, and improved security has constrained their operations in Baghdad and areas south, Air Force Col. Donald Bacon, chief of strategy and plans for Multinational Force Iraq's Strategic Communications Division, said in a conference call with online journalists and "bloggers" Dec. 19.
Operation Iron Reaper, which began the last week of November, is the current major action by multinational forces in pursuit of al Qaeda in the north and has been centered in Diyala province, with some action extending into the Salahuddin and Ninevah provinces, Bacon said.
A series of engagements Dec. 8 to 11 in Diyala as part of Iron Reaper resulted in coalition forces detaining 37 al Qaeda terrorists and killing another 24 terrorists, he reported.
At the end of those engagements, coalition forces found an execution site and a torture facility where al Qaeda had operated. "At that execution site, there were 26 remains found. Their arms were tied behind their back, and most of them were shot in the back of the head," Bacon said.
Inside the three-room torture facility, tools for carrying out various forms of torment were found, including blood-caked knives, whips, metal beds without mattresses and chains hung from the ceiling, he said.
Bacon added that this is the fifth al Qaeda-operated torture house he's become aware of since arriving in Iraq in May.
"I think al Qaeda is synonymous for many with the car bombs, along with the executions they provide. But I think one thing that is not as well known is that their mode of operation is torture in any area that they are in. It's used to intimidate the locals and to try to cow the populace in that area," he explained.
In addition, nine caches containing 170 pipe bombs, homemade explosives, 21 rocket-propelled grenades, and numerous other weapons and explosives, were uncovered during this operation, Bacon said. "If you think about how those could have been used in roadside bombs, those were significant weapons to get off the street," he said.
Multinational forces in Operation Iron Reaper also have captured several leaders of criminal "special groups" in recent weeks, Bacon said.
He announced that the leader of special groups in Diyala province had been captured Dec. 19. His announcement was later confirmed by a news release issued by Multinational Force Iraq.
(Kristin Noel works for the New Media branch of American forces Information Service.)