Just 24 hours after the capture of 11 Sunni and Shia tribal leaders in northern Baghdad, the Iraqi Army has freed eight of the sheikhs. Meanwhile, Multinational Forces Iraq has identified the Mahdi Army commander responsible for the kidnappings and has begun to name other Mahdi Army leaders as being involved in criminal and insurgent activity.
Iraqi soldiers conducted the raid in a yet-to-be-identified region near Baghdad, likely with the aid of US Special Forces and killed four of the kidnappers. “We have rescued eight of the hostages and are working to free the others. We killed four of the kidnappers,” Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed al Askari said.
Earlier today, Multinational Forces Iraq “identified Arkan Hasnawi, a former brigade commander in Jaish Al Mahdi [Mahdi Army], as responsible for the kidnapping of Shia and Sunni tribal leaders from Diyala Province yesterday.” Hasnawi was identified as a leader of a “gang of criminals” that has “joined forces with Iranian-supported Special Groups that are rejecting Muqtada al Sadr’s direction to embrace fellow Iraqis.”
The identification of Hasnawi as a former Mahdi Army commander and leader in the Special Groups is new pattern of releasing the names of Shia terror leaders. In a recent briefing on the Baghdad security operation, Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, the commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, singled out Mahdi Army commanders sheltering in Sadr city by name. Five Mahdi Army commanders were directly named.
“Unfortunately, there are some individuals who are not interested in reconciliation,” Odierno said. “These individuals continue to use violence to incite sectarian hatred for political gain, to promote foreign interests and to achieve personal wealth through criminal activity. They commit extortion, kidnappings, intimidation and murder against the Iraqi people. We are working hard to prevent men who do this, such as Arkhan Asnawi, Nasr Anad al-Masawi, Haji Duwad, Ahmed Atu, Abu Bolil, and Haji Mahti from seeking sanctuary within Sadr City. They have not honored the ceasefire announced by Muqtada al Sadr. And they only bring harm to the people of Sadr City.”
Multinational Forces Iraq press releases have repeatedly called on Muqtada al Sadr and the Mahdi Army to honor the agreement of the peace pledge made in late August. These warnings have been embedded in reports of the activities of the Iranian-backed Special Groups. The message promoted by Multinational Forces Iraq is that Sadr’s Mahdi Army can easily be placed on the target list if oversteps its bounds.
Sadr, for his part, has reiterated the cease-fire remains in effect, and claimed lies were being spread so as to discredit his Mahdi Army. “Enemy parties are spreading this news (that the freeze ended) to tarnish the image of this heroic ideological army that has shown loyalty to its leadership by implementing the freeze,” Sadr said on October 24. “So, we appeal to everyone to obey the order in every respect or risk being expelled from this … army in which there is no place for renegades.”
Fighting between elements of Sadr’s Mahdi Army and Iraqi Security Forces has been ongoing for months in Karbala, Diwaniyah, and Basra in the south. Sadr called for a cessation of Mahdi Army attacks after a clash in Karbala with Iraqi Security Forces during a religious festival resulted in 52 killed and over 300 wounded. The festival was shut down due to the fighting.
Sadr has been directly implicated in the Karbala fighting and is believed to be behind the assassinations of the governors of Muthanna and Qadisiyah provinces. Shia are beginning to turn on Sadr’s Mahdi Army in the Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City.