19 Mahdi Army fighters killed during Baghdad battles


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Soldiers from Company A, 64th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division set concrete barriers in place in the surroundings of the southern portion of the Sadr City district of Baghdad May 3. (US Army photo/Specialist Joseph Rivera Rebolledo)

US and Iraqi forces have reported heavy fighting during multiple engagements in Sadr City and the surrounding districts. Nineteen Mahdi Army fighters have been killed and nine were captured during clashes and raids in Baghdad.

US and Iraqi troops and US air weapons teams killed 17 Mahdi Army fighters during a series of engagements in the Baghdad districts of Sadr City, New Baghdad, Adhamiyah, Kadhamiyah, and the Taji Qada northwest of Baghdad.

Many of the Mahdi Army fighters were killed as they attacked barrier emplacement teams and planted roadside bombs in Sadr City on the night of May 7 and the morning of May 8. US Special Forces units killed an additional two Mahdi Army fighters as the US teams were providing security for engineers "making safety infrastructure improvements in Sadr City."

The US and Iraqi military have been constructing concrete barriers around the southern third of Sadr City to cut off the Mahdi Army from the area and provide security and humanitarian assistance. The US military has described the barrier as a "magnet" for Mahdi Army attacks as they seek to stop the construction effort.

A total of 539 Mahdi Army fighters have been confirmed killed in and around Sadr City since March 25, according to numbers compiled by The Long War Journal.

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Map of Baghdad neighborhoods. Click to view.

US and Iraqi troops also captured nine Mahdi Army fighters during raids and operations in Baghdad. Iraqi Special Operations Forces captured seven Special Groups operatives, the Iranian-backed elements that are a subset of the Mahdi Army, during a targeted raid inside Sadr City. The Iraqi special forces teams went after a cell behind the importation and use of the deadly explosively formed penetrator roadside bombs against US forces as well as the firing of mortars and rockets into the International Zone.

The Special Groups cell was also using mosques as weapons caches, prisons, and command and control centers for their operations. "Some of the reported uses of mosques by these Special Groups criminals include: as headquarters for operations, as holding facilities for their kidnapping victims, as interrogation places for captured Sons of Iraq, and as launching points for their attacks against Iraqi and Coalition forces," Multinational forces Iraq reported.

US soldiers captured "a suspected criminal linked to a foiled explosively formed penetrator attack" in the Fadailliyah neighborhood in New Baghdad (number 35 on the map). Another "criminal" was captured in the Taji Qada or county) in northwestern Baghdad province.

Sadr's radio station is shut down

The Iraqi government ordered that the Al Ahad radio station, a news outlet for Sadr's political movement, be shut down. "An Iraqi-U.S. force stopped Al Ahad radio station's broadcast, according to a memo that carried Premier Nouri al-Maliki's signature," Abid Abu Zahra told Voices of Iraq.

The fighting may intensify over the next several days. The closing down of Sadr's newspaper in the spring of 2004 partially fueled the first Mahdi Army uprising. Iraqi soldiers also warned residents to evacuate their homes in the southeastern section of Sadr City. It is unclear if the affected residents are in the neighborhoods inside the concrete barriers or outside the wall.


See US, Iraqi forces kill 18 Mahdi fighters during clashes, raids in Baghdad for more background on the recent fighting in Baghdad.



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READER COMMENTS: "19 Mahdi Army fighters killed during Baghdad battles"

Posted by Trivr at May 8, 2008 12:05 PM ET:

"A total of 539 Mahdi Army fighters have been confirmed killed in and around Sadr City since March 25, according to numbers compiled by The Long War Journal."

Thanks. This site is the best for the day to day events in Iraq, but it's also nice to have these longer term statistics. Info like this as well as the growth of the ISF by DJ and icasualties.org help give a better long term picture of Iraq. This information can be hard to find.

Trivr

Posted by Bill Roggio at May 8, 2008 12:16 PM ET:

Only if you think the Mahdi Army doesn't recognize what is happening in Sadr City.

Posted by Dan R. at May 8, 2008 12:20 PM ET:

What's the over/under on how much longer it is before a cruise missile comes through Sadr's bedroom window?

Posted by Bill Roggio at May 8, 2008 12:36 PM ET:

The ultimate goal is to secure the neighborhoods, put in combat outposts and police stations, not kill every Mahdi fighter in Baghdad/Sadr City. If the Mahdi fighters want to come back and stand up to that, they can do it, but as shown elsewhere in Iraq, it isn't easy to do. If they cede the neighborhoods to the government, they show how weak they really are. Why do you think they are fighting so hard - and dying in large numbers - in an attempt to stop the barrier from being built?

Posted by DJ Elliott at May 8, 2008 12:37 PM ET:

Psyc games.

They know it is comming and we know they know.

With the elections in October, this has to go down soon and everybody knows it.

So they are playing with them, mind games...

Posted by ST333 at May 8, 2008 1:02 PM ET:

It seems like everyday I check in and on average 20+ Mahdi Fighters are killed and numerous captured. I have to think it's only a matter of time before the people of Sadr City turn to the government and not the coward the follow who stays safe and comfy in Iran. Am I correct assuming our full attention will get turned to Mosul and AQI once Sadr City is submissive? I'm thinking we could begin to see a sizable draw down by the end of the year if these current trends in battle stay in our favor.

Posted by Matthew at May 8, 2008 1:05 PM ET:

The warnings are not only mind-games but also pre-emptive moves by the Iraqi and US military to show the Iraqi, U.S. and world media that they ARE warning the civilian populations of an upcoming attack/battle in order to prevent one-sided stories sourced from the other side about wanton civilian deaths at the hands of the Iraqi and U.S. military.

Posted by Matthew at May 8, 2008 1:25 PM ET:

I do think ST333 is correct. I suspect that because the Basra offensive against Sadr and his militia was planned for June (if I recall correctly), the U.S. military was planning give their full attention rooting out al Qaeda in Mosul and other places during this spring. Then, Malki decided that Sadr and Iranian-supported elements had to be dealt with right away in March. His decision did catch the U.S. military by surprise and they had to reconfigure their plans and delay their full attention against al Qaeda. It was to the Iraqi army's credit that they were able to do the heavy lifting against the Madhi Army and the (Iranian/Iranian-trained) Special Groups in Basra with some help from embedded U.S. SF troops for air/ground coordination efforts as well as some U.S. combat ground troops. The Iraqi Army is justifiably proud of their victory in Basra. And I am proud of the U.S. military (many of whom probably bitched and moaned about their well-laid plans gone astray) for changing their strategy to fit to what Iraqi politicans decided to be the priority. It has worked very well - many Sunni politicans that left the government because of suspected Shia favoritism have come back and re-joined the government. After Sadr City is back in Iraqi government hands, the U.S. will resume their full attention in the battle against al Qaeda as ST333 alluded to.

Posted by Batman at May 8, 2008 3:17 PM ET:

"The warnings are not only mind-games but also pre-emptive moves by the Iraqi and US military to show the Iraqi, U.S. and world media that they ARE warning the civilian populations of an upcoming attack/battle in order to prevent one-sided stories sourced from the other side about wanton civilian deaths at the hands of the Iraqi and U.S. military."

Too late for that. Have you been following the London Times Online's embed with the Mahdi militia, already reporting dead babies and all that.

Posted by MattR at May 8, 2008 3:21 PM ET:

DJ, "playing with them" implies we're waiting to finish them off later. Is there going to be a later? The Mahdi are suicidally desperate to stop that wall. it seems to be making an asymmetric war a lot more symmetric and the Mahdi have nothing left to try. So those that haven't quit are doing what they've been doing and just hoping for different results. Playing with them seems to be working.

Posted by Neo at May 8, 2008 3:33 PM ET:

"mind games"

I'm not so sure there is much in the way of mind games going on here, unless you consider waiting for it to end to be a "mind game". The wall and securing the southern section of Sadr City aren't the only story. Troops are gradually moving into adjacent neighborhoods and securing them. Militia activity across most of Baghdad and southern Iraq is being suppressed.

I think this is fairly straight forward. Secure the adjacent neighborhoods, shape the battlefield, gradually increase troop levels, keep the enemy busy knocking himself out. This is a waiting game right now. Waiting for troops.

Posted by Marlin at May 8, 2008 4:12 PM ET:

There is now a report on a somewhat obscure web site that a committee from the Shiite parliamentary bloc is now meeting with Sadr to get them to lay down their arms. If true, I hope it works, but I don't believe there is much of a chance. It feels like the Mahdi Army wants to fight this to the end.

Jalal Eddin al-Sagheer of the United Iraqi Alliance, the largest bloc in parliament which includes Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's party, says the committee will tell al-Sadr that wanted militants must surrender and roadside bombs cleared.

A female Shiite lawmaker from al-Sadr's bloc, Gufran al-Saadi, added Thursday that they have no problems with the Iraqi army but demand the withdrawal of U.S. forces and an end to U.S. attacks on militants in Sadr City.

PR-inside: Shiite parliament bloc calls on Shiite extremists to lay down arms

(h/t The Strata-Sphere: Iraq Applies More Pressure On Sadr To Disband Militia)

Posted by Neo at May 8, 2008 4:22 PM ET:

This is where one of the ironies of political situation comes in. We find ourselves right at the verge of the culminating battle to basically finish JAM but find ourselves a few brigades short on troops to really keep everything adequately covered. Many of the surge troops are now at the end of their 15 month cycle and are set to go home right when we could really use them for a few more weeks. And I really am talking about four to six weeks.

The troops very much want to go home but it's probably dawned on a few of them that timing couldn't be worse. This may not be the very last large battle but it's all very much down hill if they can break Sadr City. I've never heard of purposely sending needed troops out of theater right before a culminating battle. (Unless we count Churchill sending troops out of North Africa to Singapore and Crete before Rommel's offensive. That went well, for Rommel that is.)

Of course Petraeus could tell the troops what is up and delay them a few weeks while things are at such a critical juncture. I imagine that would get Congresses panties all twisted in a bunch though. Keep troops to win the war, how dare they!

Posted by patrick at May 8, 2008 4:58 PM ET:

Even without the Sadr City situation it would seem to me crazy to not continue with the peak surge level until January 2009.
There is a window of opportunity here to ensure Iraq is not a defeat, before the next administration takes over.

Iraq is such a huge issue it is essential to get it done right. Afganistan can be long fingered and easily sorted later.

This is the biggest miltary issue facing the USA now and it should get top priority. Also it is the the best experience and training a modern army will get in generations.

Posted by Charles at May 8, 2008 5:13 PM ET:

CNN Interanational just reported Abu Hamza al-Muhajir was captured in Iraq, but they haven't confirmed it yet.

Even if he's still at large, the progress of the security situation in Iraq is destined to become one of the biggest defeats for jihadis in the years to come.

They know they need to strike back, they've lost the initiative of the war. Osama Bin Laden and the Al Qaeda senior leadership must be really concerned now about keeping and expanding their stronghold in Pakistan.

Posted by mjr007 at May 8, 2008 5:24 PM ET:

I agree that this is a critical time during which we can (and should) buttress our chances for success: a kick 'em when they're down type of strategy.

The key, as it has been for some time, is how well the IA and INP will stand up. My bro-in-law is on his way home as we speak from Tikrit. Hopefully, he'll have the time to sit and chat.

It seems the IA and ISF have been progressing very well and are certainly supplanting us in our efforts there.

My fear is that we have a draw down and in the vacuum left there will be a very tenuous leadership structure within the Iraq forces. I think the posts of patrick and neo above capture the sentiment of many of us stateside that support our efforts in Iraq.

I am living for the day when we can refocus our efforts in Afghanistan and Paki. What an outstanding coup de etat for the US it would be to capture bin Laden. It's like THAT would be the death nell for all the anti-war bots.

Posted by Caleb at May 8, 2008 5:28 PM ET:

Two comments, if I may please. First, I am really not sure that "Afganistan can be long fingered and easily sorted later." Simple history tells me that NOTHING in Afganistan is ever simple if it involves getting the indiginous population to alter what they are and have been doing. Surely we have not forgotten the USSR's experience there already. Then you add to that the deteriorating situation next door in Pakistan and the effect that will have on the situation in Afganistan, and I believe that things in that neighborhood are going decidedly downhill and rapidly. The whole border area is a powder keg, it seems, and the new government looks like it is going to exacerbate the situation, from our standpoint. If I were Musharriff, I would make sure my money is in Swiss banks and that the arrangements to remove myself and my entire family from Pakistan are complete in every detail and those details cast in concrete.

Secondly, I would like to ask a question. The figures on the KIA and captured for the Mahdi Army are great, and I trust the folks here to give us realistic figures. I would like, however, to see some estimate of the total numbers in the Mahdi Army. These numbers may be a bit soft and a bit hard to come by, but it would give context to the KIA and captured numbers and give us some idea of how much good we are doing, and how much the situtation is improving.

Thank you for this site. I find myself visiting at least once daily and usually twice - morning and late night.

Posted by Mark Pyruz at May 8, 2008 6:20 PM ET:

Bill, good photo of the armored crane vehicle (looks armored from this view) with M1 in the background. In the future, could you link pics like these to a hi-res page?

Posted by DJ Elliott at May 8, 2008 8:42 PM ET:

There is nothing worse than the wait.
Advertising what is going to happen just amplifies it.
For amatures, and JAM is rank-amature, the urge to do something, anything gets very strong.
Fight or flight insticts get stronger.
Cohesiveness, such that it is, falls appart as some break and run, and others try to attack...

Anything we do to amplify this effect is "mind games", aka PsyOps. And yes, we have people playing mind games daily...

Posted by Anti-Herman at May 8, 2008 9:45 PM ET:

DJ

Once Sadr City is done, what's left of the JAM and the other Shia militias?

There also seems to have been a rash of Abnar bombings. Random or is AQI trying a comeback?

Posted by DJ Elliott at May 8, 2008 10:06 PM ET:

After Sadr City is Mosul and western Ninawa ratline from Syria. Then their are smaller enclaves.

As to the bombings in Anbar, of course they are trying to make a comeback. They can only do a handfull fo bombings despite over half the IA stationed in Anbar being deployed elsewhere. That says much about how weakened they are...

Posted by Neo at May 8, 2008 10:23 PM ET:

Caleb and others,

It isn't the number of dead Mahdi fighters that makes me think they are close to collapse. It's the number that are quitting, staying at home, sitting on the fence, sitting on their hands, or just don't have the heart to fight a Shiite led government. It's hard to get at those numbers but in my opinion the preponderance of evidence points in the direction of a collapse. Whether it happens some time this fall or earlier, it is inevitable. (Since I have no real reputation to put on the line, I'll guess July. As early as June is also a fair possibility with August being about as likely.) I don't think that will be the very last of JAM, Al Kut and Amarah are still problem spots. There is also a chance Sadr's people will try to make some sort of symbolic last stand in Najaf. I will refrain from any speculation on how the Sadr City will be taken since I tend to get that sort of thing wrong anyway. I might mention though that the US Army is still quite capable of kinetic warfare when the need arises.

Take my opinion with a grain of salt. I realize that I am a bit of an outlier in my viewpoint. I never thought that Sadr's support was as strong as advertised. Even in 2006 with the upwelling of support after the shrine bombing I believed much of that support for Sadr didn't run very deep, and may be temporary if supporters thought that the Iraqi government was a viable alternative. That's too complicated a point to really go into here, but I maintain that the power of Sadr's organization has been systematically overestimated from that time on. I also think there was a temptation to make Sadr's organization out be every bit a tough as Al Qaeda in Iraq. This was never the case. JAM by nature was always a conglomeration of every sort of Shiite rabble that could be mustered against the government and occupation. Al Qaeda in Iraq by contrast was from the beginning fully supported by effective organizations, Al Qaeda, former Iraqi Government Security and Army, Syrian Intelligence, The Muslim Brotherhood, and at a monetary level Saudi Arabian interests and even Iran. JAM really never coalesced as a single organization. Put that together with the fact that a constant level of pressure and erosion on JAM had kept them in check.

Afghanistan is a totally different ball game, and I agree that it is difficult to assess what eventual direction it will take, only that it will take a very long time to get anything positive out of it. The two wars are indeed very different wars. Many of the players are the same, but very different places, history and circumstance.