Mahdi Army takes a hit in Baghdad, Basrah


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US Army soldiers from 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment of the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division guard construction of a concrete wall running through the Shiite enclave of Sadr City, Baghdad, on Sunday, May 4, 2008. AP Photo.

Clashes between the Mahdi Army and US and Iraqi forces continued in Baghdad over the weekend as efforts to complete the security barriers separating the southern portion of Sadr City from the Mahdi Army-controlled north. The US military has moved another battalion of Strykers into the Sadr City. In the South, Iraqi troops cleared another militia-controlled neighborhood in Basrah.

Baghdad battles

US and Iraqi forces have killed 18 Mahdi Army fighters in Sadr City and New Baghdad since the afternoon of May 3. Nine Mahdi Army fighters were killed in Sadr City and northern and eastern Baghdad during the nighttime and early morning hours of May 4-5 after attacking US forces, planting roadside bombs, or preparing to launch mortars and rockets.

US soldiers killed four more Mahdi Army fighters in the eastern district of New Baghdad after coming under attack on May 4. And US troops killed five more Mahdi Army fighters in Sadr City as they attempted to stop the barrier from being built late May 3 and early May 4. No US soldiers were reported killed in any of the incidents.

US and Iraqi forces have inflicted heavy casualties on the Mahdi Army in Sadr City and surrounding neighborhoods since the fighting broke out in Baghdad on March 25. According to US and Iraqi reports compiled by The Long War Journal, 502 Mahdi Army fighters have been killed in and around Sadr City. These numbers do not include Mahdi Army fighters who may have died after being wounded in the fighting.

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Map of Baghdad neighborhoods. Click to view.

With heavy fighting inside Sadr City, the US military is beefing up its forces in the area. Multinational Forces Iraq has moved an additional battalion to the Sadr City region over the past several days. The 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment of the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division has moved from northwestern Baghdad province into the Sadr City area over the past week. This is the ninth US battalion known to be operating inside Sadr City. Two Iraqi Army brigades and a National Police brigade are also operating inside Sadr City.

Raids on the Iranian-backed Special Groups

US and Iraqi special forces teams have renewed their raids against the Special Groups, the Iranian-backed elements of the Mahdi Army. Ten Special Groups leaders and operatives have been captured during raids in Baghdad and Hillah since May 2.

On May 4, Coalition special forces captured two Special Groups operatives, including the main target, in the Rashid district in Baghdad. The main target was a commander who was "wanted for facilitating the import of Iranian-made munitions into Iraq" as well as directing mortar and rocket attacks and operating safe houses for his operatives.

Iraqi special forces conducted two raids -- one in Hillah and one in Baghdad -- on May 2. The Hillah Special Weapons and Tactics team captured two men "charged with conducting a series of attacks against a Coalition forces base with indirect fire weapons." Four associates were also captured during the raids.

Iraqi Special Operations Forces captured a "mid-level Special Groups leader" and an associate during a raid in Baghdad on May 2. The Special Groups leader led a 50-man company that conducted mortar and rocket attacks against Iraqi and Coalition forces. The commander also directed kidnappings and murders.

Iraqi troops clear another neighborhood in Basrah

As operations against the Mahdi Army continue in Baghdad, Iraqi security forces press the offensive in Basrah. Soldiers from Quick Reaction Force 1 cleared the Mahdi Army-controlled neighborhood of Al Latif.

"The clearing of Al Latif resulted in several cache discoveries, including dozens of automatic weapons, mortars and improvised explosive devices," Multinational Forces Iraq reported in a press release. "The QRF 1 also detained several criminals, and raided and demolished the residence of a known IED maker and militia leader."

Al Latif is the fifth Mahdi Army-controlled neighborhood cleared in Basrah since Operation Knights' Assault was launched on March 25. Iraqi security forces have cleared the Al Huteen, Hayaniyah, Taymiyyah, and Qiblah neighborhoods over the past several weeks.

Quick Reaction Force 1 is the new designation for the 1st Iraqi Army Division, the most experienced unit in the Iraqi military. This unit deployed from Anbar province at the opening days of the Basrah operation to assist in the offensive.



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READER COMMENTS: "Mahdi Army takes a hit in Baghdad, Basrah"

Posted by Mark at May 5, 2008 7:22 PM ET:

Are the past months operations the beginning of an overall effort to pacify the Mahdi army? Or is the security wall, separating southern Sadr city from the Thawra, being constructed in order to control mortar attacks on the Green Zone? If it is former and not just the later, this could this be one of the largest and most difficult operations of the war to date.

Posted by freedomlost at May 5, 2008 8:43 PM ET:

Bill, A small typo...
"US and Iraqi forces have killed 18 Mahdi Army fighters in Sadr City and New Baghdad since the afternoon of March 3".... I'm assuming you meant May 3... otherwise this is great as always.

Thank you!

Posted by Dan R. at May 5, 2008 10:27 PM ET:

Mark,

Others here know more than I do, but I believe that the construction of the wall is just the first step in a larger operation to clear all of Sadr City. As you say, if we are to do so without simply calling in the B-52s and reducing the place to rubble, it will be a long and difficult operation that will likely require several more weeks of effort.

Posted by Bob at May 5, 2008 11:17 PM ET:

Bill,
Pardon my skepticism here buts lets have a reality check here. This a city of 2.5 million people, Shia majority, all armed. Building a wall and giving out enemy body counts to the press may feel warm and fuzzy to the uninitiated, but it never worked in Vietnam and it won't work here. Google the Mahdi army, half the police force and Iraqi Army is infiltrated by the Mahdi Army and has been for years. If we are not able to protect the people from the militia's, Sunni/Kurd or Shia, it's over, period. I take that lesson from the '68' TET Offensive which I fought in. Some of the worst fighting I saw was along Highway 1 between Cu Chi and Saigon, a distance of 20 klicks. The villages along that route were host to 300 US vehicles a day passing through, stopping for cokes, joking with kids. Well let me tell you hundreds of ARVN troops lived there, as well as National Police. What was not known to us was that the enemy had been fortifying those villages to attack us for many years under our nose. Concrete bunkers, spider holes, tunnels three story's deep. The simple truth is all the people knew what was going on but because we were unable to protect them... Silence was a weapon and damn effective. The Madhi Army will lose men, but recruiting will be a booming business. Fighters will fade away and live to fight another day. Who said war is fair? I see too many parallel's to my war to be encouraged.
Keep up the fire,
Blackhawk187

Posted by RichRd at May 5, 2008 11:28 PM ET:

Bob, Regarding the population of Sadr City..... Check out some of the blogs discussing the attitude of the populace after the Iraqi and U.S. troops throw out the Mahdi Army.. It's pure jubilation and FREEDOM.. I think you give Sadr and his henchmen much too much leeway when it comes to how the people feel about them.. Unless they want to live in a totalitarian country where they can be killed for listening to music at a wedding amoung other things, they can't wait for the U.S. and Iraqi troops to rid them of the cancer. Regards, Richrd

Posted by Alex at May 6, 2008 12:17 AM ET:

I think a much better historical parallel than Vietnam is Colombia in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Colombia was a country where drug cartels got so powerful that they literally almost toppled the government. Presidential candidates were assassinated by Pablo Escobar's henchmen. His rivals in the Cali cartel were equally ruthless. And, at the same time, FARC guerillas would kidnap people and blow things up. Read Killing Pablo by Mark Bowden for more. See, unlike Vietnam, there isn't really some sort of central cause or rallying point behind these militias. They're just heavily armed criminals, not someone who is going to bring about some kind of glorious Communist revolution.

JAM and Sadr are in trouble after losing Basra. An army marches on its stomach, and without extortion rackets and oil smuggling revenues from Basra, it is going to be harder for them to finance their operations. Without a third of Sadr City, things get worse for JAM.

Posted by Hamidreza at May 6, 2008 12:39 AM ET:

Bob, Iraq is not a Vietnam because 40% of the population are of a different ethnicity and sect than the Sadrists. Furthermore, the Shiites are internally divided. JAM is ruling by a combination of intimidation, access to scarce resources, and genuine popularity among a minority devoted and activist Islamists. Take away 2 of the 3 legs, and JAM is bound to topple.

This happened in Anbar, Salaheddin and Basrah, and will happen in Sadr City, Shaab, and Shula/Kazemiya.

The Vietcong were backed by a superpower and an emerging superpower - they even had MIGS. And the Vietnamese are a lot more rational, sensible, diligent, and hardworking than Muslim Arabs.

Imagine the charlatan private dungeon keeper and death squad leader Ayatollah Muqtada Sadr having an airforce like North Vietnam. Will not happen.

Posted by Daryl at May 6, 2008 5:32 AM ET:

Yes, and don't forget the idea of a "tipping point". It is a normal part of the tribal culture of the region to "switch sides" ie to the winning side. We used this to great effect in Afghanistan. We are not going to have to clear the entire Sadr City area block by block. Once the Iraqi Army establishes supremacy in some key areas, the "insurgency" will melt permanently back into the docile population while the Iranian instigators are forced to flee to another sanctuary as Al Queda did from some Sunni areas. If you keep after them eventually they become a manageable problem, even if it is difficult to eliminate small groups of extremists altogether.

At that point, general security gets reestablished. This allows the economy to develop, which creates jobs, which increases govt revenue, which increases services etc. We can pull our troops off the streets and back to secure bases, we take less casualties, the war becomes less attractive as a political issue at home and so on and so on........

Posted by Robert at May 6, 2008 6:04 AM ET:

The Sunnies/al Qaida kept away and blowed up their own people, ie Iraqis, at markets and weddings. That is not so dangerous but on the other hand it kind of estranges your supporters.

The Mahdi special forces on the other hand have a much more difficult task, they attack the army directly, the US and IA at the same time. That must be one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. I wonder if they are insured?

Anyway is there anyone who knows how far the barrier has got along Quot Street?

Posted by jeandon at May 6, 2008 6:16 AM ET:

Responses to Bob's defeatism are on the mark.

Viet Nam was a victory betrayed by Nixon's political enemys. One of the things he did do right was to train and equip the South to defend itself then withdraw our forces (sound familiar?); with promises by the North not to invade, and our promises to the South to support them logistically and with our full sea and air power in case the North reneged on its agreement.

The Democrats, taking treasonous political advantage of Nixaon's domestic weakness, blocked our promised support for the South when the North violated their agreement and invaded, and thus they ensured our defeat. We're not going to let that happen again in the middle east now, we're in a much better position to see it thru, politically and militarily. Cheers all.

Posted by Anti-Herman at May 6, 2008 8:23 AM ET:

When did Bill or DJ write that half the Army and police are Sadrists? If they are, it looks like "mookie" can't control them in Basra.

I would also point out that Iran has Persian Shia. In Iraq they are Arab. Sort of like German and British Protestants getting along in the 1940's.

Also, I believe the "surge" strategy is a direct descendent from the Abrams strategy circa 1969-1972.

There's the Vietnam experience.

Posted by Major John at May 6, 2008 11:02 AM ET:

Heck, I've slept much better since Hayaniyah got cleared, heh heh.

BTW - the 1st IA DIV bunch that is down here is BADASS. I'd go anywhere with them.

Posted by TS Alfabet at May 6, 2008 11:07 AM ET:

Let's give Bob some credit, here.

First, thanks for your service to the country.

Second, he makes a good point that when a population does not feel protected from the terrorists, they will not rat out the bad guys. We saw this amply demonstrated in Anbar Province prior to the COIN strategy.

Conversely, Bob should take heart in the fact that the relatively new COIN strategy being used in Iraq has seen dramatic and positive results. There is no reason to think that it will not work in Sadr City once the population is sure that they are safe. We already see the first fruits of this in Basra where several reporters have noted the open rejoicing by Basrans when the militias were cleared out. This in turn led to population-driven intelligence on weapons caches and wanted criminals.

Perhaps the best evidence that the current approach in Sadr City will work is that the JAM is putting all they've got into attacking the wall going up on Qods Street in a desperate effort to keep it from being completed. They know that a secure population connected to the GoI will have no support for JAM. JAM's game is mainly a mafia-like racket with a few, hard-core idealogues at the top who are willing to use any method to advance their agenda. Very much like Al Qaida, actually.

Posted by WILLIS at May 6, 2008 11:47 AM ET:

Bob,
You do not give yourself enough credit. The VC did indeed fortify the villages along Highway 1 and attacked in force during the TET offensive. Thanks to good guys like you we replied in force and slaughtered them almost to a man. It was our most decisive victory of the war. The loss was manufactured by our liberal media. When I was there in 70-71, we ran convoys from Long Binh through Phouk Vinh all the way up to Song Be and almost never heard a shot fired in anger. You won guy and did it like the heroic American you are. When the loss came, it came to an invading army from another country, North Vietnam. They suceeded because the liberals held sway in our government and cut off all aid to engineer the loss. They stole your victory Bob.

Posted by DaMav at May 6, 2008 2:52 PM ET:

Vietnam was lost in the halls of Congress, not on the battlefield. Even after the US troops were pulled out, the South Vietnamese held out for nearly two years. America promised them air support. Congress blocked it. America promised them military aid. Congress blocked it. Eventually they were overrun not by peasant farmers but by modern tanks & armored columns supplied by their enemy's more reliable allies.

After the war, North Vietnamese General Giap said of the Tet Offensive that it was a major defeat for the VC and caused North Vietnam to consider ending the war. However the reaction in the US media, which labeled it a major American defeat, encouraged the North Vietnamese to continue the war. They believed, correctly as it turned out, that America lacked the resolve to win the war. Much of that resolve was undermined by the constant refrain of defeat echoed by the press, and the lack of alternative sources of information.

Iraq is a very different situation in many ways. But the fundamental fact remains. The war will be won on the ground or lost in the halls of Congress. And most the media is doing all that it can do to bring about the latter.

I thank all for their service in both Vietnam and Iraq. I pledge to do all I can to back our troops and their mission and make sure that we do not have repeat of the disgraceful actions of Congress that occurred in the 70s.

One small but not insignificant difference is the internet, with LongWarJournal and other blogs that can get out the truth. They don't have the megaphone that the NY Times et alia have, but they provide far better quality coverage of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Worth keeping in mind if you haven't hit the donation button recently. (I have no affiliation with lwj; just a reader here)

Posted by Dan R. at May 6, 2008 4:06 PM ET:

DaMav wrote:

"Much of that resolve was undermined by the constant refrain of defeat echoed by the press, and the lack of alternative sources of information."

This statement is 100% correct, and the cub reporters who reported on that war are now the senior editors and production managers at places like CNN, the NY Times, CBS News, the Associated Press, etc. They are doing their absolute best to try and force a repeat of the 1970s because it suits their leftist worldview of America as "the evil empire."

Thank God for independent talk radio, the internet blogosphere, and websites like this one where the other side of the story can be presented.

I think the American public now appreciates just how biased the mainstream media has become.

Posted by Freedom Now at May 7, 2008 3:09 AM ET:

Bob,

Today the protest movement cannot gain any momentum like they did during the Vietnam days because there is no draft.

To this date the biggest advocates of the draft are those who want to abandon Iraq. Take for instance the fact that it was Democratic Party politicians, who are against our policy in Iraq, that introduced legislation calling for a draft.

The draft is the pipedream of those who want to reproduce the "antiwar" movement of the sixties.

 And you compare the wall the to U.S. strategy used in Vietnam? I would suggest that you educate yourself about the current conflict in Iraq because the walling off of neighborhoods has been successfully implemented in the recent past. The Wall of Adhamiya, the Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad, was predicted to be a failure as well; but the violence in Adhamiya settled down and the wall saved the Sunni neighborhood from extinction. (It is surrounded on three sides by Shiites.)

This was a huge success story.