Heavy fighting broke out between Coalition and Mahdi Army forces in Sadr City as US troops killed 28 Mahdi Army fighters after being ambushed during a patrol. Seven more Mahdi Army fighters were killed during strikes yesterday.
The 28 Mahdi Army fighters were killed during a four-hour battle in southern Sadr City after a US soldier was wounded by gunfire and US forces began to evacuate the soldier, Lieutenant Colonel Steven Stover, the chief Public Affairs Officer for Multinational Division Baghdad said. “The fire came from the portion of Sadr City we are not in – the northern neighborhoods – and militants fired at our patrol in the southern neighborhoods,” Stover said in an email to The Long War Journal.
During the evacuation, Mahdi Army fighters triggered three roadside bombs and fired rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns at the US patrol. Five more soldiers were wounded in the attacks and two vehicles were damaged. None of the soldiers’ injuries are reported as life-threatening.
During the battle, US soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division directed “a combination of weapon systems available,” including munitions from a Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, at Mahdi Army fighters “firing from buildings, alleyways and rooftops” in the dense urban areas of Sadr City. “The enemy continues to show little regard for innocent civilians, as they fire their weapons from within houses, alleyways, and rooftops upon our Soldiers,” said Colonel Allen Batschelet, the chief of staff for Multinational Division Baghdad.
The Mahdi Army took heavy casualties during the single engagement. “A total of at least 28 militants were killed in the four-hour engagement,” Multinational Forces Baghdad reported.
Stover refuted reports that US forces used aircraft to attack civilians in Sadr City. “Our Soldiers have a right to defend ourselves,” Stover said. “This engagement began as we were evacuating a US Soldier shot while on patrol in south Sadr City and continued as militants continued engaging US Soldiers. We are NOT targeting law-abiding civilians. Those targeted were firing weapons at US Soldiers.”
Today’s clash follows days of heavy fighting with the Mahdi Army as they attempt to eject US and Iraqi force from the southern third of Sadr City. Iraqi and US troops currently control the Ishbilya and Habbibiyah neighborhoods and are in the process of walling off these areas to restrict the movement of weapons and supplies. The Mahdi Army has used these neighborhoods to launch mortar and rocket attacks against the International Zone.
Yesterday, US air weapons teams and ground forces killed seven Mahdi Army fighters in Sadr City. On April 27, US and Iraqi troops killed 38 Mahdi Army fighters during separate engagements. Twenty-two Mahdi Army fighters were killed in a single battle. US and Iraqi troops have killed 186 Mahdi Army fighters since Sadr threatened to conduct a third uprising nine days ago.
The Iraqi government has insisted that Muqtada al Sadr, the leader of the Mahdi Army, disarm his militia or his Sadrist political movement will be barred from the upcoming elections. The Iraqi government has also insisted it would establish security in Sadr City and Basrah. Sadr has refused to disarm his militia and threatened to conduct a third uprising if the government did not halt offensive operations.