The Diwaniyah Battle
Sadr calls for Iraqi Security Forces to end the fighting in Diwaniyah as the Iraqi military and U.S. forces pursue the Mahdi Army
Operation Black Eagle, the security operation against Muqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army in the central Shia city of Diwaniyah, has entered its fourth day. The last news from the city indicates 39 fighters have been captured and "several" killed. Two known insurgent leaders have also been captured during the operation.
The Diwaniyah operations demonstrates how the Baghdad Security Plan is now expanding beyond Baghdad and even the Baghdad belts. Diwaniyah is about 90 miles southeast of Baghdad. While the city is much more distant than other cities and regions where the Coalition is focusing operations, such as Baqubah nd the Diyala River Valley, it still has a strategic importance.
Preparations for the Diwaniyah operation could be seen in the central and southern regions of Baghdad. Omar at Iraq the Model reported an unusual influx of armored vehicles in Rusafa, just south of Sadr City on April 5. It appears U.S. and Iraqi forces positioned armor to both block reinforcements from Sadr City as and act as a quick reaction force support operations in Diwaniyah if the need arose.
Diwaniyah is the city where large segments of Sadr's Mahdi Army fled to after the commencement of the Baghdad Security Plan, a U.S. intelligence official told us. With the split in Sadr's Mahdi Army, and a large segment looking to reconcile with the Iraqi government, the extremist elements of the militia have hunkered down in Diwaniyah. Security in Diwaniyah is said to have been deteriorating since the Mahdi Army concentrated power in the city. The Iraqi government and Coalition is pursuing the Mahdi Army holdovers remaining in Diwaniyah.
Sadr's plea for Iraqi forces to break for the Coalition and halt the fighting shows he is concerned his forces in Diwaniyah are facing a very real threat. Yesterday, Sadr issued an official statement, "which was distributed in the holy Shi'ite city of Najaf and stamped with Sadr's seal." The statement called for Iraqi Security Forces to end the fighting against the Mahdi Army. Reuters excerpts portions of Sadr's letter:
"And here we can see in ... (Diwaniyah), a civil strife the occupier planned, to drag the brothers into clashing, fighting and even killing... Oh (Mahdi Army) and my brothers (Iraqi forces) enough of this clashing and killing. This is success for your enemy ... and (Iraqi army and police) don't be dragged behind the enemy... God has ordered you to be patient in front of the enemy and to unify your efforts against it, not against the sons of Iraq."
The operation in Diwaniyah is likely an attempt to preempt Sadr's forces. Sadr called for a protest against the U.S. occupation on April 9, the date of Iraq's liberation from the Saddam Hussein dictatorship. Sadr shrewdly asked Iraqis to fly the Iraqi flag to capitalize on the patriotism of Iraqis. Sadr instructed his followers to demonstrate in Najaf.
The demonstration in Najaf has been muted. While the Middle East Online claimed "hundreds of thousands of Shiites burned and trampled on US flags," the reality is the protest was far smaller than Sadr would have liked. Reuters puts the protest size in the thousands, and during a press round table briefing today, Rear Admiral Mark Fox noted the Coalition is closely monitoring the protest, and put the numbers at 5 to 7 thousand. The protest is monitored both on the ground and via air, which allows for a relatively accurate count of the numbers of protesters.