Mahdi Army, Iraqi Police Clash in Suwayra
Sadr's attacks coincide with al Qaeda bombing, media campaigns and 'marches' in western Iraq. Shades of the Fall of 2004...
The Iraqi Army in Amara.
One day after the Mahdi Army attacked police stations in Amara and were beaten back by Iraqi Army and police units, Sadr's militia struck again in the town of Suwayra, a town about 30 miles south of Baghdad. AFP reports "some 150 Mahdi Army militiamen armed with AK-47 assault rifles attacked a police station in the Tigris town... eight gunmen died and two civilians were wounded." Sadr's claims that there are elements of his militia that are 'rogue' look less and less credible as each day passes.
The Mahdi Army attempts to justify the attack against the Iraqi Police because of a purported U.S. raid on Sadr's office in the city. "A spokesman for Sadr's office in Suwayra said the attack on the police station was a response to an earlier raid by U.S. military forces, backed by helicopters, on a Sadr office. Hamid al-Zargani said the U.S. raid killed six people," according to AFP.
The Mahdi Army, unable or unwilling to strike back at U.S. forces, hits the police forces of the legitimate government of Iraq, a government which their leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, purportedly supports. Also note that U.S. security forces are operating in Iraq under the auspices of the United Nations and at the behest of the Iraqi government.
The situation in Iraq today resembles that of the fall of 2004, when Sadr conducted his second uprising in Najaf just as al Qaeda in Iraq was in control of Fallujah. It is believed an informal alliance existed between Sadr and al Qaeda as each struck at American and the nascent Iraqi government forces. Now, Sadr's forces are probing Iraqi police and Army units in the southern Shiite regions, as al Qaeda in Iraq is vying for control of Ramadi and Baghdad is the focal point of sectarian violence.
Sadr's Mahdi Army attacks in Suwayra and Amara, coupled with a protest in Baghdad of the arrest of Sheikh Mazen Al Saedi, occurred just as al Qaeda in Iraq declares a rump Sunni State and announces the creation of the "Mutayibeen Coalition," a union of six Anbar tribes and three small insurgent groups. Al-Qaeda's media campaign was in overdrive the past week. The "Ministry of Information in the Islamic State of Iraq" issued a press release on the Friday bombings in Baghdad. Al-Qaeda conducted mini-marches in Haditha, Haqlaniyah, Anah and Bani Daher on Friday. Note that a 15 minute march through a town does not demonstrate any degree of control, and al Qaeda does not administrative control over territory in Anbar, with the possible exception of a few neighborhoods in Ramadi. According to an intelligence source, the al Qaeda demonstrators took heavy casualties after their march in Ramadi.
Sadr and al Qaeda are tuned into the U.S. political cycles, and are well aware of the results of dramatic announcements of Islamic States, increases in sectarian violence, suicide campaigns and attacks on Iraqi police and Army units have on the American electorate and the political elite. The questions are: will the Coalition and Iraqi government take on Sadr, secure Baghdad and clear Ramadi, just as was done in Fallujah after the 2004 Presidential election? Does the U.S. and Iraqi governments have the political will and resources to get the job done?