Fighting in Baghdad, South against Mahdi Army completes fourth day


Iraqi police patrol in Basrah. Photo from Alalam News. Click to view.

Fighting in Basrah and Baghdad and throughout much of the South continues as Iraqi security forces and Multinational Forces Iraq press the fight against the Mahdi Army and other Iranian-backed terror groups. The Iraqi Army has moved additional forces to Basrah as the US and Iraqi military have conducted significant engagements in Shia areas of Baghdad. The Mahdi Army has taken significant casualties. The US military has denied the Mahdi Army has taken control of checkpoints in Baghdad.

Several hundred Iraqis are reported to have been killed during the fighting since the operation began on March 25. A large majority of them are Mahdi Army fighters, according to the press reports. The US and Iraqi military have killed more than 70 Mahdi Army fighters in Shia neighborhoods in Baghdad alone over the past three days.

Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, who is in Basrah supervising Operation Knights' Assault, has given the Mahdi Army 72 hours to lay down their weapons. "We are not going to chase those who hand over their weapons within 72 hours," Maliki said. "If they do not surrender their arms, the law will follow its course."

Muqtada al Sadr, the leader of the Mahdi Army and the Sadrist movement, is calling for an end to the fighting, according to a statement released by Hazem al Aaraji, a close aide to Sadr. He called for "everyone to pursue political solutions and peaceful protests and a stop to the shedding of Iraqi blood."

The Iraqi opposition held an emergency session in parliament, but only 54 of the 275 lawmakers attended, AFP reported. "The two main parliamentary blocs -- Shiite United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdish Alliance -- were not present for the session which was attended by lawmakers from radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's bloc, the small Shiite Fadhila Party, the secular Iraqi National List and the Sunni National Dialogue Council," according the AFP report. The main political blocs in Iraq's parliament have given their support to the military operations by ignoring the emergency session.

Fighting in Basrah

Basrah has been the scene of the majority of the fighting. Major General Ali Zaidan said that 120 Mahdi Army and other Shia terrorists have been killed since the fighting began, while another 450 have been wounded. Iraqi police said they have captured 218 "militiamen" since the start of the operation on March 25. But the Mahdi Army is said to be controlling some neighborhoods in Basrah, and the Iraqi Army is meeting stiff resistance when attempting to entry these neighborhoods.

The Mahdi Army is targeting senior military and police leaders in the southern city. Major General Abdul Jalil Khalaf, the chief of police in Basrah, narrowly missed an attempt on his life after the Mahdi Army hit his convoy with a roadside bomb. Three officers were killed in the attack. Brigadier General Eidaan Muttar, Khalaf's deputy, also survived an IED attack on his convoy.

The Iraqi military continues to beef up its security forces in the South. The Army and police have committed the equivalent of two additional brigades of security forces. Maliki ordered five extra battalions to the city, putting the number of Iraqi Army in Basrah at 15,000 troops. Additional elements from the Emergency Response Units, Iraqi Special Operations Forces, and helicopter support have been moved to Basrah.

Coalition forces have served in a largely advisory and support role. US military and police trainers are embedded with Iraqi units, while Multinational Forces Iraq is supplying logistical and air support for Iraqi forces. Coalition air forces conducted two attacks on Mahdi Army positions in Basrah, an Iraqi source told The Associated Press.

Fighting in Baghdad

As the fighting in Basrah is under way, the fighting in Baghdad has intensified. US and Iraqi security forces have clashed with the Mahdi Army in Shia-dominated neighborhoods numerous times in Baghdad since the fighting began on Tuesday. Major fire-fights have broken out in Sadr City, Adhamiyah, Rusafa, New Baghdad, Kadhamiyah, Mansour, and other neighborhoods in northern and eastern Baghdad where the Mahdi Army has a significant presence.

US and Iraqi security forces killed 26 Mahdi Army fighters in Baghdad on March 26. Another 42 Mahdi Army fighters were killed in a series of battles throughout Baghdad on March 27. Eight of the Mahdi Army fighters were killed after they attempted to overtake an Iraqi Army checkpoint. The Iraqi soldiers beat off the attack, losing one soldier in action.

The Times Online claimed the Iraqi Army and police have abandoned checkpoints in Baghdad, but the US military denied the Mahdi Army is in control of police and Army checkpoints in Baghdad.

"All checkpoints and ISF [Iraqi security forces] buildings are in ISF and/or Coalition control. No checkpoint is in enemy control," said Lieutenant Colonel Steve Stover, the Public Affairs Officer for the 4th Infantry Division and Multinational Division Baghdad in an e-mail response to questions from The Long War Journal. "There were several cases where the ISF needed our assistance (and more often than not - did not) and either CF [Coalition forces] ground or air responded and either reinforced or took back in a couple occasions the CP or IP [Iraqi Police] building - none of that happened today."

The Mahdi Army and Iranian-backed terrorists of the Special Groups have continued to fire mortars and rockets at US and Iraqi outposts in the city. One Coalition soldier, two US civilians, and one Iraqi Army soldier were wounded in an attack launched on March 26. Sixteen rockets were fired in four separate volleys.

One civilian was killed and 14 civilians and five soldiers were wounded during a series of 11 mortar attacks throughout Baghdad on March 27. US soldiers killed two terrorists as they acted as spotters for the mortar teams. On March 28, two security guards for Sunni Vice President Tareq al Hashemi were wounded in a mortar attack in the International Zone.

Terrorists also conducted a successful kidnapping in Baghdad, according to an unconfirmed report from Baghdad. Tahseen Sheikhly, the civilian spokesman for the Baghdad security operation, was kidnapped and three of his bodyguards were kidnapped after his home was assaulted. The terrorists then burned down his home.

Fighting in Al Kut, Nasiriyah

The fighting has not been contained to Baghdad and Basrah. Clashes are being reported in Al Kut, Nasiriyah, Diwaniyah, and Hillah.

Heavy fighting has been reported in Al Kut, one of the main hubs of Special Groups activities in the south. The Special Groups store weapons in Al Kut after transporting them across the border from Iran. More than 40 people have been killed and 75 wounded during fighting in the city and surrounding regions in Wasit province, according to General Abdul Hanin Hamoud Saleh al Amara, a police chief in the province. The fighting in Al Kut began on March 25. Iraqi police killed 11 Mahdi Army fighters in Al Kut on March 26.

Iraqi security forces are also active in Diwaniyah, another transit point for Iranian-made weapons. A Sadrist spokesman said Iraqi security forces captured four leaders of the Sadrist movement and 12 other members of the group in Diwaniyah on March 28. Terrorists responded by launching seven mortars at the headquarters for the 8th Iraqi Army Division in Diwaniyah. No casualties were reported.

The Iraqi Army and police have been active in Babil province. Hillah's Iraqi Special Weapons and Tactics unit attacked a Special Groups unit in Hillah on March 26. The Hillah Swat team killed 14 Special Groups fighters and wounded 20. The Iraqi Army said it captured a commander of a terror cell in Al Hashimiyah, south of Hillah. Seven other Sadrist leaders believed to be behind attacks in Hillah were captured by the police.

The Mahdi Army is said to have taken control of the center of the city of Nasiriyah, the capital of Dhi Qhar province. Nasiriyah is a strategic city in the south as it sits at the major crossroads for roads running north to south and east to west.


For more information on Iran's involvement in Iraq, see Iran's Ramazan Corps and the ratlines into Iraq.



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READER COMMENTS: "Fighting in Baghdad, South against Mahdi Army completes fourth day"

Posted by Stephen at March 28, 2008 2:28 PM ET:

Thank you for your measured and calm discussion of the situation in Iraq. I am amazed at the hysteria (sp?) in the press at what is clearly a well planned operation. nobody said this was going to be easy. Your commentary is thoughtful and measured and I for one really appreciate the time you devote to this blog as well and the measured tone of your discussions.

This is decapitating the Mahdi Army and the criminal gangs while blooding the Iraqui troops on the toughest kind of fighting. I believe this also sends a very clear message to iran and Syria. maliki for all of the negative comments in the US press seems to be a rather astute politician and may even xhibit some traits of a statesman. Bravo. This just may be the 'defeat' to match the Battle of the Bulge and Tet. We should have more such defeats.

Thank you.

Stephen

Posted by Marlin at March 28, 2008 4:19 PM ET:

Engram has another astute post up today that makes the same points that Bill does.

Muqtada al Sadr is not our enemy in Iraq. He is not our friend either (not by a long shot), but I am amazed that more people do not realize that he isn't the threat they think he is. And to understand why Shiite-on-Shiite violence is not the big problem you fear that it might be (and why Muqtada's cease fire is also not the big deal you think it is), it helps to briefly review the basics about how Iraq exploded out of control in the first place:

I encourage you to read the entire post.

Back Talk: Iraq is Falling Apart, so it's Time to Panic (as usual)

Posted by bard207 at March 28, 2008 5:50 PM ET:

I realize that the setting - terrain is different in Southern Iraq than it is in the Western Border Regions of Pakistan and the United States is nurturing the Iraqi military.

Iraq is Shia dominant and Paskiatn is Sunni dominant as are their respective "Miscreants".

But, the Iraqi government is showing resolve to subdue their "Miscreants" while the Pakistani government keeps talking about political settlements.

It is a puzzle to me.

Posted by AQI Losses at March 28, 2008 6:42 PM ET:

I figured the MSM was over doing it. I'm not saying things are peachy and many challenges remain, but I wasn't believing in the doom and gloom reporting from the MSM either.

This site is a great place for reporting that is in context with the reality on the ground. This is why LWJ is one of my main sources of information regarding Iraq and The War on Terror.

Because of this new confrontation with the Mahdi Army which the Iraqi government initiated, many are already saying the surge is a failure, but to the contrary, I believe it proves otherwise.

General Petraeus' counterinsurgency strategy has been very effective in Baghdad and her belts, as well as Anbar. Even with AQI fleeing to northern Iraq, we are seeing improvements in that theatre of operations.

The biggest challenge with this renewed violence with the Mahdi Army seems to be in Basra. This is the theatre that the British were responsible for. Instead of a surge, they reduced their number of troops and basically withdrew from Basra to a forward operating base. As a result, the biggest problems for security and stability appears to be Basra and the decision by the Iraqi government to confront it.

Posted by Elroy Jetson at March 28, 2008 7:14 PM ET:

Confront they must then, and God bless the Iraqi security force as they attempt to rid the city of Basrah of these thugs.
You too, MF force. And God bless America.

Posted by Dan at March 28, 2008 7:22 PM ET:

Stephen, are you seriously surprised at how the western press is playing this up? Comes as no surprise to me at all, regretably. Slanted, sensationalist reporting is what I've come to expect from them.

But this fight was inevitable. These independent militias simply have to be de-fanged. I just hope the Iraqi Army is up to the task, because it sounds like, for the most part, the Americans are laying back and letting them handle it. If they can win this battle and seriously damage the Mahdi Army, it will greatly enhance the prestige of the central government. On the other hand, if they can't get control of the situation and they have to call in the Americans to bail them out like they've had to do before, it will be a major setback.

Still, these guys have been getting training from us for quite a while now and Al-Maliki now has 15,000 of them in Basra alone going against a few thousand armed thugs. I think in a few days time they should have the city under control.

Posted by abu al-fin at March 28, 2008 7:39 PM ET:

This is a necessary and inevitable evolution of the forming of the Iraq nation. The Kurds and the dominant Shia grouping are united to destroy Iran's chokehold on the new country. By first squeezing the Sunni terror fight into a small part of northern Iraq, the Iraqi and coalition forces are quite free to pursue the Iranian--Sadrist terror groups in the south.

Basra has been badly in need of attention for the past 4 years or so. Sadr should not still be breathing.

Posted by the nailgun at March 28, 2008 8:23 PM ET:

Looks like somewhere near a thousand JAM have either been killed/wounded/captured in 4 days. Most reports I read now talk about JAM being a 40K to 60K operation. If you are losing what would be close to 2K of men a week you can't afford too many weeks like this with even a 60K operation. This excludes "defections"/AWOL's as it becomes clear who the "stronger horse" (to use Bin Laden terminology) is. I think there is a very very good reason why Sadr keeps calling for talks and negotiations. Something the MSM are oblivious too as they have him pegged as the Ho Chi Minh of Iraq.

Posted by bubarooni at March 28, 2008 11:18 PM ET:

motown67,

ya gotta quit reading msm. either they are to ignorant to know or they are obfuscating. 72hrs is for militias, april 8th is anyone turning in weapons gets a cash reward.

by sunday night mahdi's will be ground to dust if maliki sticks to his guns. sadr may try to extricate himself via a deal though.

Posted by SoldiersDad at March 28, 2008 11:31 PM ET:

Nailgun,

The various miscreants had their talking points ready...they always do. Emphasize their minor little victories...I.E..manage to take over a checkpoint for 10 minites...blah..blah. The MSM likes the whole "World is Ending" nonsense. SOP in the Middle East is to claim victory if even one man is left standing. Someone will believe it(NY Times/WaPo/Reuters/AP/AlJazeera). They all still believe all their wars against Israel were victorious.(The fact that Israel is still there is a bit of an 'inconvenient truth').

Posted by BB at March 29, 2008 12:00 AM ET:

Bill, your reporting is priceless. Thank you for your continued volunteer service to your country in a time of war.

This part of your article was all that I needed to read:

"Muqtada al Sadr, the leader of the Mahdi Army and the Sadrist movement, is calling for an end to the fighting, according to a statement released by Hazem al Aaraji, a close aide to Sadr."

Translation: He's losing, really, really badly.

The media here is trying to turn this into the Iraqi/Iranian Tet. Fortunately for America, it now has Bill Roggio, Michael Yon, and Michael Totten to counterbalance the terrorists cheerleaders in the MSM.

Posted by Michael at March 29, 2008 12:55 AM ET:

Excellent reporting indeed as usual...

BB,

I agree, that is the zinger.

He's losing big. This happens everywhere the radicals lose. They want to negotiate "peace" until they can rebuild their forces again. Then they feign insults and victimization, as if they cannot control their soldiers. Hamas and Hezbollah play this trick daily. We try to stop them from firing rockets at innocents, but we can't. Give us "more money" "more weapons" yada yada.

Hopefully the PM will not fall for it this time. Sounds like he has the right idea with the call for unconditional surrender and weapons turnover. Pursuing this publically as Rule of Law is a good strategy by CF and IA. We're turning the tables on propaganda by Sadr. And it seems to me to be beautifully executed. Two can play at this game.

We love ya Sadr for calling for a cease-fire. To bad we have to kill those who do not follow you during the cease-fire. Oh and since this is a cease fire, why do you have RPGs, Iranian rockets and weapons in the first place? Hand them over!

Which is exactly the way to do it as part of COIN. The only legitimate government duly elected by the people Iraq are now acting powerfully to assert this point. There is no longer a need for militias, especially not in Basra and the south.

Posted by TS Alfabet at March 29, 2008 10:37 AM ET:

Maybe Sadr has just gotten a tug on his leash from his Iranian masters.

According to AFP report (link below and at Bill's sidebar), Sadr is telling the Mahdis NOT to surrender their weapons or comply with Maliki's ultimatum.

http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5iLUh4xCmgQ2SGmaR8tJsFRL0G5rw


Have not heard any discussion or mention of IA casualties, but if the Mahdis are getting pummeled and the IA is suffering relatively few casualties, then that will have to be a huge boost in morale for the IA.

Tip: any day now the MSM will come out with a new poll that shows that the American public's confidence in the Iraq war has plunged, to be followed by Democrat leaders calling for immediate withdrawal from the "civil war." It's the standard playbook.

Posted by KW64 at March 29, 2008 11:48 AM ET:

In his NPR interview yesterday, Retired General Jack Keane indicated that clearing 8000 to 10,000 militiamen from an urban area would take weeks and not just a few days. I wish everyone would wait at least a few months to see what happens with Maliki's effort to reestablish lawful govenment control in Basra before they conclude that this offensive was a failure and thus the surge was a failure and thus the war was a failure etc. etc.

Posted by Neo at March 29, 2008 12:49 PM ET:

Seems to be a relative lull today compared to the last few days. I'm still not sure the extent of things in Basra. I'm not sure who has control of what areas where the fighting is and how far the Iraqi army has gotten.

Posted by Marlin at March 29, 2008 1:32 PM ET:

McQ makes a couple of good points this morning that we all need to keep in my mind the next few weeks.

Let's consider the ground reality there, ok? The shia militias in Basra are indigenous to the area and are on defense. The ISF is conducting offensive operations. Any idea which is harder to coordinate and execute?

We have the ISF conducting it's first attempt at a large scale offensive operations. Of course there are going to be problems ... many problems, screw-ups and snafus.

Q and O: More thoughts on Basra and Iraq

Posted by Charles at March 29, 2008 1:57 PM ET:

This is the way this crisis is going to end. Sadr is extremely popular among Shiites in the country and Mr. Maliki knows it. The Iraqi Army will not be able to extricate Sadr's militia from any of its strongholds. The result is going to be a ceasefire that is agreed upon very soon. Sadr is going to emerge from this stronger than he was before.

Posted by DJ Elliott at March 29, 2008 2:15 PM ET:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2008/03/29/wirq229.xml
When the PM starts demonizing them at this level, ceasefire is nowhere near and the ISF is winning...

The only person calling for talks and yelling for help from the arab community is Sadr. That means he is losing and he knows it...

Posted by Neo at March 29, 2008 2:48 PM ET:

I hate to make a smart comment, but a lot of the speculation is a bit like betting on invisible horses in horse race run in the dark. We're all straining our ears to hear who might be pulling ahead.

Posted by DJ Elliott at March 29, 2008 3:12 PM ET:

Neo

Only too true.

Most of the reporting is pure propaganda and/or speculation.

The few hard details hint at what is going on but, most are single source with no confirmation...

Posted by GCS11111 at March 29, 2008 4:35 PM ET:

Moqtada al-Sadr is responsible for the death of many people. All resources available should be used to find and eliminate this man who has caused so much suffering.

Posted by bubarooni at March 29, 2008 7:29 PM ET:

'reporting is pure propaganda'

head over to msnbc. their lead story on the topic is 100% al-sadr propaganda.

Posted by Marlin at March 29, 2008 10:34 PM ET:

U.S. Special Forces are now in Basra supporting the Iraqi Special Forces.

While engaged with hostile forces, ISOF and a supporting U.S. Special Forces team identified additional armed criminal elements in the area.

MNF-Iraq: Iraqi Special Operations Forces engage, kill 22 in Basra

Posted by DJ Elliott at March 29, 2008 11:41 PM ET:

Marlin

That is not news. The MiTTs and air support for ISOF has been US SOF all along. Since the ISOF stood up a commando battalion in Basrah last fall...

When you see ISOF Commando Bn, think Ranger trained. Now if you see reference to 2nd CT Bn showing up down there, that would be the same as reinforcing with Delta...

Posted by TS Alfabet at March 30, 2008 10:26 AM ET:

Charles said, "This is the way this crisis is going to end. Sadr is extremely popular among Shiites in the country and Mr. Maliki knows it. The Iraqi Army will not be able to extricate Sadr's militia from any of its strongholds. The result is going to be a ceasefire that is agreed upon very soon. Sadr is going to emerge from this stronger than he was before."

Disagree, Charles. From many interviews with Shiites in Baghdad including Sadr City residents over the past 6 months, it appears that Sadr and the Mahdi militia are quite unpopular with the common person. Now that Sunni attacks have largely ceased, the shiite people are wondering why the Mahdis continue to tote their guns around and extort protection money from merchants and families... they see the Mahdis for the criminal enterprise that they are and have expressed gratitude when U.S. and IA forces provide security in an area which frees them of Mahdi "protection." As far as Sadr's popularity, it is worth noting that his most recent statements from Iran admitted his failure to either drive out the U.S. or rally the people to his cause. Direct evidence of this failure and his falling popularity is seen in the recent protests: back in 2004 he was able to rally hundreds of thousands of people to protest; now he can only manage several hundred or a thousand. Clearly the Mahdis are trying to position themselves for the Fall elections using violence as their leverage because they know that they don't command a wide, popular support.