A Focus on Counterterrorism
Iraqi general promotes cooperation in fight against ISIL
During tough situations, tough military leaders emerge. They are warriors who prefer the shadows to the limelight. They defend their nations and lead vital fights against enemies far away from the flashes of cameras. They seldom brag about their victories, and they humbly smile when someone recounts their bravery and sacrifices.
One of these rare men is Staff Gen. Talib Sheghati Alkenani, head of the Office of Counter Terrorism in Iraq, who was recently charged with leading a task force to counter the terror group calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). His military professionalism and loyalty to his nation are evident by his accomplishments. This quiet hero is considered a true expert in his field. His major concern is for national security and the safety of Iraqi citizens. He doesn’t just track terrorist groups, but takes on the people who finance and plot terror attacks.
His military resume reveals a legacy of hard work in the field of counterterrorism. He earned the rank of major general before 2003. He served as the director of operations at Iraq’s Air Defense headquarters, dean of the Air Defense Institute and later dean of the Air Defense College.
Gen. Alkenani was appointed to chair the Office of Counter Terrorism during a critical time for Baghdad: Innocent civilians were being blown up by al-Qaida car bombs, and sectarian violence was peaking. He was able to build the counterterrorism organization quickly under difficult circumstances. Soon, the force became the pride of Iraqis and the topic of discussions at special forces conferences and exercises.
The Iraq Office of Counter Terrorism is composed of many entities, and national security dictates that its operations and inner workings be kept private — yet the successes of Iraq’s special operations forces (ISOF) are evident across the country. The forces’ victories against terrorists have served as the subject of songs and poems. The ISOF logo became a regular emblem on T-shirts proudly worn by college students, and social media sites used by Iraqis display images of their ISOF heroes.
“Leading the fight against al-Qaida in Ramadi and Fallujah, the Iraqi Office of Counter Terrorism has proven to be a strategic force that specializes in defeating terrorism and has the capability to win battles rapidly and beyond the call of duty, displaying bravery that is well-respected among Iraqis,” the general told Unipath. “The name of the organization was dubbed ‘Medal of Honor’ for all Iraqis, and the name of the ISOF became the favorite rhyme in Iraqi songs.”
Alkenani transformed the forces under him into a powerful national asset loyal only to the country, with Soldiers who rise above political and sectarian struggles.
“The punishment for violations of asking about sect or revealing it to someone is dismissal from the institution,” he said. This is how Alkenani set his zero-tolerance policy to fight internal sectarianism, a policy that is key to ensuring forces were loyal only to Iraq.
“Our forces carried out many successful operations against terrorist groups. For instance, they freed the hostages of the Lady of Salvations Church in the center of Baghdad in 2010. Al-Qaida in Iraq attacked the church during prayer time and held the people hostage, the majority being women and children. The terrorist objective was to cause a media storm, kill the hostages and destroy the church while the whole world watched. They hoped to further terrorize citizens and to send a message to the world that they were in control,” Alkenani told Unipath.
“However, our forces disrupted al-Qaida’s plan, took control of the church and freed the hostages in a very rapid and surprising move that killed the assailants in a short time and freed the hostages. The stories from the survivors revealed the plans of the terrorists to kill all hostages and destroy the historic church. The ISOF entered the church while the terrorists began executing their plan by randomly shooting and throwing hand grenades on the hostages. The bravery and heroism of our forces shocked the terrorists and defeated their plan.”
The general is proud of such accomplishments and many others that help to safeguard Iraqi civilians.
“Our office conducts many missions to free child hostages and many advanced operations that I cannot talk about due to sensitivities and the confidentiality of the ongoing investigations,” he added.
As ISIL increased its activities in Syria and northern Iraq in the second half of 2014, Gen. Alkenani was called upon to command the Iraqi task force operating against ISIL. Many Iraqi officials expressed optimism about the new commander. For example, the country’s new President Fouad Masoum has invited Gen. Alkenani and his team to update him on progress against ISIL.
“We must pay attention to the regions that suffer conflicts and lack of law and order because these areas are considered a haven for terrorist organizations,” Gen. Alkenani said. “A good example is what is happening in Syria and how the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant took advantage of the situation to stage attacks in nearby cities and countries. Without the training camps located across the border, ISIL would not be able to attack Iraqi cities and towns and terrorize our citizens.
“However, the Iraqi security forces, and especially the counterterrorism units, were on the front lines to fight and defeat ISIL in western and northern Iraq. And I’d like to commend the role of our brave tribes in honorably backing our security forces and helping liberate their towns and villages.”
Achieving long-term stability will require more of that type of cooperation.
“The single effort cannot defeat terrorism because terrorism doesn’t stop at international borders. For example, the lack of security in Iraq from 2005 to 2006 crossed the border to Jordan, where al-Qaida attacked three hotels, including a wedding party in Amman attacked using suicide vests. It also reached Saudi Arabia by what has been known as the Abed Alziz Almaqran cell, responsible for car bombings, kidnapping and killing civilians. Therefore, we must unify regional efforts, concentrate on training and exercises, and focus on weapon quality and technology as well as participate in exercises with our friends like the United States that help develop the skills and knowledge for our Soldiers and introduce new tactics, technology and weapons that keep the ISOF at the advantage.”