Fighting between the Coalition and Mahdi Army fighters broke out today as operations against the Mahdi Army and the Special Groups continue despite Prime Minister Maliki’s call for a halt in operations. Early reports indicate between nine and 20 Iraqis were killed during clashes in Sadr City at the 55 intersection and Falah Street. Abdellatif Rayan, a media adviser to Multinational Forces Iraq said a US Army helicopter killed nine “criminals” in Sadr City. “We do have reports of an air weapons team engagement, a US helicopter, where nine criminals were killed at around 8:00 AM,” Rayan told Voices of Iraq.
The US military has confirmed several clashes today in Sadr City. “Today, while Iraqi Army Soldiers were moving through those areas they were engaged by armed criminals with [rocket propelled grenades] and [small arms fire],” Lieutenant Colonel Steve Stover, the Public Affairs Officer for Multinational Division Baghdad told The Long War Journal. “US troops moved in to assist and that did include Bradleys and Abrams Tanks as well as Strykers.” US and Iraqi Army forces kicked off operations to clear the southern sector of Sadr City in Jamilla and Thawra I on March 25.
US helicopters killed nine Special Groups “criminals” after they attacked the Iraqi soldiers at 8 AM local time. “An air weapons team [AWT] fired a Hellfire missile and killed three criminals after they were observed firing rocket-propelled grenades at the Iraqi Army soldiers,” Stover said. “The team identified four more criminals fleeing the scene and attempting to hide weapons in a vehicle. The AWT fired a missile and destroyed the vehicle and killed the six criminals.” No US or Iraqi Army casualties were reported.
Later that day, a Special Groups mortar team launched 107mm missiles at the Jamilla Market in Sadr City. No casualties were reported. “The market was packed with shoppers at the time of the attack, which is in the vicinity of Joint Security Station Tharwa II,” Stover said.
Today’s fighting in Sadr City follows a clash on Saturday after Mahdi Army fighters attacked an Iraqi Army unit conducting a humanitarian mission with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms. “Iraqi Army soldiers were handing out water and food to local residents when the attack from criminals occurred,” Multinational Forces Iraq reported. “Two innocent civilians were wounded in the attack.”
Muqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army is said to be preparing to fight US and Iraqi forces, according to a report in The Washington Times. Mahdi Army fighters are “positioning explosives to defend the major routes into Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood in anticipation of a major battle with U.S. and Iraqi government forces,” according to reports from Sadr City residents. “Iraqis also said families in Sadr City and other Shi’ite areas of Baghdad are stocking up on food, fearing new fighting that will leave them unable to get to the markets.”
Iraqi soldiers and police continue to conduct operations in Basrah. On March 5, a Coalition aircraft killed an “armed criminal” after Iraqi forces came under fire in the Haiyaniyah district in the southern city. On April 4, Iraqi soldiers distributed humanitarian aid in the Haiyaniyah district. US and British forces are preparing to reinforce the Iraqi units in Basrah. More than 150 British advisers have embedded with Iraqi Army units operating in the city.
The operations in Sadr City throughout central and southern Iraq occur even as Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has stated he was halting offensive actions against militias to allow them time to lay down their weapons. Today, the civilian spokesman said that operations would continue, but that no political bloc was being targeted. “Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has reiterated the need to continue military operations by government forces to impose law and order, and that this security campaign did not target any certain political bloc,” Sheikh Tahseen al Shikhli said in a press conference Sunday. “The government would fight all groups carrying arms and causing unrest and fomenting violence on the Iraqi streets.”