Multinational Forces – Iraq reports Iraqi Special Forces led the fight against the Madhi militia in Baghdad.
Multinational Forces – Iraq disputes the initial press reports (as well as the second hand report from Iraqi blogger Zayed) which claimed the U.S. military unilaterally conducted the raid in the Ur Hayy district of Baghdad, which sits directly west of Sadr City (formerly known as Saddam City, see maps). Note that in our initial post, we pointed out the Washington Post reported Iraqi forces were involved in the battle. If the target was a mosque, or a sensitive target such as Sadr’s militia, it is logical that the U.S. would want the Iraqi Security Forces leading the fight for political and symbolic reasons.
The Multinational Forces – Iraq press release indicates the raid was “in the Adhamiyah neighborhood in northeast Baghdad to disrupt a terrorist cell responsible for conducting attacks on Iraqi security and Coalition Forces and kidnapping Iraqi civilians in the local area.” The raid was carried out by “elements of the 1st Iraqi Special Operations Forces Brigade…” with “U.S. Special Operations Forces… in an advisory capacity only.” Fifteen insurgents were killed and sixteen captured after a gunfight, and one Iraqi soldier was wounded. One foreign hostage was freed and a weapons cache was discovered. MNF-Iraq is clear that “No mosques were entered or damaged during this operation.”
The New York Times refers to the target as a mosque, but then refers to it as a “prayer room”. In fact a “husseiniya” can be a mosque, a prayer room or just “a place of Hussein,” which may be adding to the confusion. The news report shows that whatever the structure was, it had a dual use purpose: “As night fell, American and Iraqi Army forces surrounded a mosque in northeast Baghdad that is also used as a headquarters for Mr. Sadr’s militia, Iraqi officials said. Helicopters buzzed overhead as a fleet of heavily armed Humvees sealed off the exits, witnesses said. When the soldiers tried to enter the mosque, shooting erupted, and a heavy caliber gun battle raged for the next hour.” Mosques and schools have been repeatedly used by al Qaeda, insurgents and militias for bases of operations since the fall of Saddam’s regime, and Sadr, who desecrated the shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf is no stranger to this tactic.
The New York Times also reports Madhi Army militiamen were killed, but then alludes to the possibility those killed may not have been members of the Madhi Army as “Several of them looked well beyond military age.” An eighty year old imam was also reported killed. Age certainly has not been an issue for involvement in an insurgency, militia, or terrorist activity, particularly in this part of the world.
While the details of the raid are being sorted out, the fact that Iraqi troops led the fight against Sadr’s forces is a far more positive development, as this indicates there is backing at high levels within the Iraqi government for this particular mission, and perhaps for the dismantlement of Sadr’s militia. The next few days and weeks will be telling. Will Sadr actively resist a full scale effort to disarm or destroy his militia, if such an effort is in the offering? Or was today’s raid a warning shot? Sadr must be quite concerned, as must be Sadr’s Iranian masters.