Iraq (with a U.S. Assist) vs. the Mahdi Army, Take Two

Multinational Forces – Iraq reports Iraqi Special Forces led the fight against the Madhi militia in Baghdad.


Map of Baghdad, click to enlarge. Image courtesy of Global Security

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.”

A close up of the Ur Hayy neighborhood, click to enlarge.

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.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal.


  • dj elliott says:

    I seem to remember Generals Lynch and Dempsey saying last week that the new Iraqi government would need to address the militias. I guess time has run out for (one of) them…

  • Moqtada has been getting way to much press, and has been acting as though he had real power. Blathering on about “defending” Iran etc. Various media describe him as influential,powerful etc. The reality is that Moqtada couldn’t survive the night in LA or Detroit or DC.
    I was reading the Iraqi Perspectives Report…Saddam’s advisors tried to explain to him that the regime of Manuel Noreiga was disposed of in one evening. Saddam didn’t get it.
    Maybe a small message is being sent..the Iraqi Security Forces can dispose of him in one night.

  • Neo-andertal says:

    Once again your blog is invaluable. It looks like another fork in the road ahead. Will we see more of the same, or will events quickly take off in some direction. Who can say.
    Sadr may have chosen violence over any possible political path. I would have preferred a political settlement but if he is determined to have it, than very well. In that case I would prefer that the US Army initiate the next military move at a time and place of it’s choosing rather than let Sadr set the course of events. If Sadr prefers violence than we should give him a refresher course in it. Maybe, we can jog his memory about losses not so long ago. I hope the Iraqi army has a secure handle on the holy sites and cemeteries in Karbala and Najaf. That sort of Deja vu can make a fellow downright cranky.

  • GK says:

    The future of warfare could result in Iraq triggering the unraveling of Iran.
    I thought Zarqawi decalred war against Shias, so wouldn’t Sadr (and Iran) be against Zarqawi, and want to kill him?
    If we were shrewd, we would know how to turn Iraq in Iran’s Vietname (or what Afghanistan was for the USSR), and drain Iran for along time.

  • hamidreza says:

    It could very well be that Muki is a paper Tiger, as Soldier’s Dad hypothesizes. Mullas are known to be one big blabber mouths. This was demonstrated twice by Sadr himself in 2004. They were good at intimidating and forcing innocent civilians into submission. They claimed millions of adherents and followers. But when they were confronted with a real army in 2004, nobody rose up to support them. There were no serious demonstrations in support of Sadr at that time.
    In this attack on the Husseiniya (most probably not a mosque, rather a function building for a religious party/militia), which was only 2 miles from Sadr City – where were the reinforcement? Where were the citizens to come and protest the firefight?
    This death squad was located on the edge of the Sunni district of Adhamiya. This raid should have endeared the IA with Sunni citizens.
    It is interesting that the government controlled TV stations called the thugs “martyrs”, when it was the Iraqi Army itself that killed the thugs.

  • JAF says:

    I remember reading a few days ago (wish I could find a link) that the military is bringing quite a few more Gunships into Iraq. Seems like this sort of thing was planned out for a while and they expected Mooqie to start writing checks that he can’t cash. Using Iraqi soldiers with American backup, and provide Gunship aircover will quickly demoralize the little Mooq-letts. IEDs are no match for the gunships that could put a lot of lead into your window.

  • ECH says:

    Iraq ruling Shi’ites demand control over security
    Iraq’s ruling Shi’ite Islamist Alliance bloc demanded on Monday that U.S. forces return control of security to the Iraqi government after what it called “cold-blooded” killings by troops of unarmed people in a mosque.
    Harkim and Sadr are morons that have every bit the level of evil as Saddam. Allawi was totally right in his 2003 speech where he said if the mosque and state where ever to allowed to become one in Iraq the country of Iraq was split apart in endless war.

  • TallDave says:

    People should realize that the Mehdi “Army” is a very loosely associated group of very undisciplined militias and street gangs. Sadr himself has little control over most of them. He might even welcome Coalition efforts to root out the worst of them, even while denouncing such actions.
    Sadr knows that ultimately his future in Iraq must be political, not military.

  • Lisa says:

    Where do we stand on this? This is was reported by AP. Is this two steps backwards or are just another battle?
    According to this report which appears to be balanced as far as I can tell says the Iraqis have called off discussions on forming the new government.
    What do your sources say has occured and is occuring?
    As new violence flared Monday in northern Iraq with 40 dead in a suicide bombing, Shiite leaders cut off political talks and denounced the United States over a weekend raid that they said killed worshippers in a mosque.

  • Lisa,
    “As new violence flared Monday in northern Iraq with 40 dead in a suicide bombing”
    Last Thursday General Lynch stated that violence was largely confined to 3 provinces. Which was a departure from previous statements of violence being largely confined to 4 provinces.
    Then today, surprise, a major violent event in the 4th province.
    As I watch the morning news, the lead stories are exactly what someone wanted them to be.

  • matt says:

    Sadr needs to go down. He and his goons murdered al-Khoi inside the Imam Ali shrine. al Khoi was the most pro-western of Sistani’s inner circle and would have beena great friend to us. There is a warrant out for some of Sadr’s henchmen still but they have not been brought in. IraqtheModel hypothesized that this may be due to some reluctance among the “Sheat” (as he calls the Shia) to see their religious leaders below the law, as it were. And prior to our showdown with him in the summer of 2004 his goons were threatening people who would not put his poster in thier windows and it was Mehdi army goons who beat a female student in Basra and murdered her male colleague who tried to come to our aid while our “friends” the Brits stood and watched. We need to make an example our of Mookie.

  • dasbow says:

    We should have disassembled Mookie the first time around. At least this time it’s the Iraqis taking the lead. Mook needs to be arrested or killed, and the Shia leaders need to praise the event, and loudly denounce him.

  • hamidreza says:

    TallDave writes: “Sadr knows that ultimately his future in Iraq must be political, not military.”
    Sadr is ultimately an idealistic opportunist, and he will never give up his trump card of a fascist militia with guns and bazookas. His reluctant acceptance of political precepts are simply becuase he is forced into that role.
    Mookie is the 21st century Khomeini. There are so many parallels between him and 1979-1980 Iran, that it is scary. His whole existence is to demolish the rational political system and get his death squads on top.
    Future of Iraq rests on his elimination.


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