Operations continue in Sadr City


Map of the disposition of Iraqi and US forces in and around Sadr City and the progress on the barrier. The red portion has yet to be completed. Map courtesy of Multinational Forces Iraq.

US and Iraqi forces continue to strike at the Mahdi Army in Baghdad despite the agreement reached between the Iraqi government and the Mahdi Army late Friday. Seventeen Mahdi Army fighters were killed in northeastern Baghdad over the past 24 hours.

Nine of the Mahdi Army fighters were killed in Sadr City: four Mahdi fighters were killed by an air weapons team as they planted an explosively formed penetrator roadside bomb; three were killed as they attacked the barrier emplacement teams along Qods Street; and two were killed as they fired rockets. Five more Mahdi Army fighters were killed by air weapons teams in New Baghdad as they grouped for an attack, and three more were killed as they conducted attacks in Adhamiyah.

The cease-fire signed yesterday between the Sadrist movement, which runs the Mahdi Army, and the government of Iraq will not hinder the building of the concrete barrier or operations against the Mahdi Army, US military officials have stated.

"Seeing as how the Special Groups never listened to [Sadr] to begin with, I don't see how things will change," Lieutenant Colonel Steven Stover, the chief Public Affairs Officer for Multinational Division Baghdad, told The Long War Journal on May 10. "We're not stopping [construction on the barrier]," Stover said. "The barrier emplacement is ongoing and about 80 percent complete."

Brigadier General James Milano, the Deputy Commanding General for Multinational Division Baghdad, confirmed the barrier is 80 percent complete and gave no indication the construction would be halted. During a briefing in Baghdad, Milano showed a map detailing the barrier.

The northwestern portion of the wall running along Qods Street, which divides the bottom third of Sadr City for the northern neighborhood, is all that remains. Estimates indicate it will take two weeks to complete this segment.

US Army air assets have relentlessly pursued the Mahdi Army in and around Sadr City. "To date, 57 rocket rails and mortars have been destroyed and 150 Special Groups Criminals killed," Milano said.

The Mahdi Army has taken heavy casualties in Sadr City and the surrounding neighborhoods since the fighting began on March 25. A total of 579 Mahdi Army fighters have been confirmed killed in and around Sadr City since March 25, according to numbers compiled by The Long War Journal. More than one-quarter of the Mahdi Army fighters killed have been killed via the air.

Graphs depicting the indirect fire attacks in Baghdad over the past two months.

The Mahdi Army has fired over 1,000 rockets and mortars into Baghdad, causing 269 casualties. "The majority of these attacks have come from Sadr City," Milano said.

The Mahdi Army is also using the deadly explosively formed penetrator, or EFP, roadside bombs to target US forces. Most of the roadside bomb attacks are EFPs, which are "the number one killer of our soldiers," Milano said. Iran has supplied EFPs to the Mahdi Army and the Special Groups, which are a subset of the Mahdi Army.


For more on the recent fighting in Sadr City and the cease-fire, see Sadrist bloc buckles, agrees to let Iraqi Army in Sadr City.



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READER COMMENTS: "Operations continue in Sadr City"

Posted by C. Jordan at May 11, 2008 4:15 PM ET:

Nice! Keep up the great work.
Very happy to see that MNF are keeping on the pressure.

Posted by KnightHawk at May 11, 2008 4:19 PM ET:

Nice update, thanks for the slides too, more informative then the WaPo one, full slides had some interesting nuggets in them. One question though do you know what the 5 light blue triangles on the map south of the security barrier? COPs? GoI related distro\assistance centers(IAC's)?

Thanks Bill.

Posted by Bill Roggio at May 11, 2008 4:51 PM ET:

Knighthawk, I don't know the answer but have asked MND-B for feedback.

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

Thanks Bill much appreciated.

Posted by Thanos at May 11, 2008 6:59 PM ET:

Great work as always Bill, I like the slides and maps, they help. Also if you get a chance stop by my place, reports have it that some of the Afghanistan kills are TTP commanders in Afghanistan, you'll recognize the names.

Posted by KW64 at May 11, 2008 7:35 PM ET:

DJ or Bill,

I asked this question before on a stale thread but you may have a better answer for it than we came up with:

Both Hezbollah and the Mahdi Militia seem to have been supplied by Iran and we hear that Hezbollah has trained Mahdi fighters, but Hezbollah in Lebanon had Russian-made Kornet anti-tank weapons that were used to apparent good effect against Israeli armor in 2006. I have not heard of any insurgent groups using these in Iraq. Is this because Russia is not allowing it or do we have better countermeasures so that it is not so effective?

The impression one gets is that everything against armor is done with IED's in Iraq rather than with anti-tank weapons. If that is true, why wouldn't the Hezbollah trainers of the Mahdi be upgrading their anti-armor capabilities to match what they have in Lebanon?

Posted by doug at May 11, 2008 8:04 PM ET:

Bill
It seems that in another two or three weeks the barrier enclosing the southern third of Sadr city will be complete and which should greatly reduce, if not eliminate, the heavy weapons attacks emanating from there.

Do you know what the plan is for the remaining two thirds of the city? Divide it again into a managable peice and "enclose and clear" it?

Or just maintain IA points of presence around the perimeter?

Posted by Belisariusx at May 11, 2008 8:42 PM ET:

All the bad guys are falling apart and the Media is falling all over themselves in a desperate effort to find a way to say otherwise. Good to read the truth instead of Media Spin.

Posted by section9 at May 11, 2008 9:21 PM ET:

Depends on the availability of top-notch Moscow grade Kornets.
Ivan may not want the Iranians handing out their hardware. So they may have cut the tap.

Posted by SoldiersDad at May 11, 2008 11:14 PM ET:

Doug,

The 1st IA Division has been redesignated the 1st QRF.
The rest of Sadr City will be an Iraqi Show.

Anbar is a tad lean at the moment...but having a spare full division to do attitude adjustment for various miscreant groups is quite nice unless of course you are a miscreant.

I'm expecting a lot of crying and whining in the next couple of weeks on the part of Sadrs "Powerful" militia.

Posted by gunjam at May 12, 2008 12:55 AM ET:

"'To date, 57 rocket rails and mortars have been destroyed and 150 Special Groups Criminals killed," Milano said.'"

I'm sorry: The current MNF-I policy of calling one's enemy in a rebellion "criminals" is Orwellian. Why not call them what they are -- Iranian-backed, radical Shi'ite rebels (unless, of course, their main focus is running drugs, or girls, or liquor, or numbers -- which is certainly possible for some, but I hardly suspect is the case for the majority of them)? In my view, it all hearkens back at root to a congenital politically-correct phobia of calling Islamists or jihadists, "Islamists," or "Jihadists." (And to think we called our enemy "J-ps" and "Krauts" during the Big One! Wow! Talk about a cojones-deficit factor these days!)

This is not to say that I don't appreciate the extreme prejudice that Army Aviation is using to eliminate these crimin... -- er, Shi'ite Jihadist rebels. ;-)

Posted by TBinSTL at May 12, 2008 3:41 AM ET:


>Posted by gunjam at May 12, 2008 12:55 AM ET:


My take on this is that they want to be sure that the word can't be reasonably translated into an Arabic word that would glorify them. "Criminal" is short sweet and to the point with little room for obfuscation. "Rebel" sounds romantic to some. Even "fighter" lends some unfounded legitimacy and it should be obvious that "Jihadi" would be a real problem for reporting in Arabic. Imagine if things were being translated into English and the enemy was refering to our soldiers as "Saints".

Posted by Hamidreza at May 12, 2008 3:47 AM ET:

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/iraq/story/36641.html

This article talks about a couple who live in Sadr City combat areas but refuse to leave their home. Why? It cleverly avoids that topic. This despite the fact that the brother in law lives just outside of Sadr City within walking distance.

Then when the battle comes too close for comfort, the couple leaves for the brother in law at the worst possible time.

And then when the "truce" is announced, they rush back to the combat zone.

Obviously they are Mahdi operatives helping the death squadders in the daily fights against US engineers. But McClatchy claims them to be "civilians". And if they get killed, the blame is then put on the US for killing an "innocent" woman.

The guy even subscribes to Mahdi propaganda video that claims that IA is summarily executing civilians in Najaf and Karbala by hanging.

How cluless and unprofessional can McClatchy get?

Posted by PersonFromPorlock at May 12, 2008 7:11 AM ET:

I agree with gunjam, "criminals" is Orwellian. It isn't necessary to denigrate enemies (it's even a little childish), just to kill them.

TBinSTL raises an interesting point but I wonder how "criminals" is in fact translated in Arabic-language reports. Anyone know?

Posted by Marlin at May 12, 2008 7:25 AM ET:

It seems the truce has now officially been signed.

A senior Shiite lawmaker says a Sadr City cease-fire has been signed in an effort to stop fighting.

The deal was officially signed Monday between five representatives of firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and four member of the main Shiite political bloc.

Khalid al-Attiyah, the deputy parliamentary speaker, says Iraqi government forces will be able to enter Sadr City as early as Wednesday.

Associated Press: Shiite bloc says Sadr City cease-fire signed with Sadrists

Posted by Neo at May 12, 2008 9:41 AM ET:

Well, It's day one of the truce and the fighting goes on as usual, perhaps a little bit less of it.

Posted by Bill Roggio at May 12, 2008 10:05 AM ET:

The purpose of the usage of 'criminal' is to provide an out for those willing to take it (I've detailed this in the past). It doesn't have anything to do with any PC concerns.

By the way, the jihadists like it when we call them jihadists. It lends them credibility.

Posted by Mike L at May 12, 2008 11:50 AM ET:

I believe the Arabic for 'terrorists' is (transliterated) arhabi. Any force that uses civilians as shields, which the rogue JAM elements do in Sadr City, is a bunch of terrorists. So why not call them arhabi? Any English speaker can pronounce that, and the point will be taken.

Posted by C. Jordan at May 12, 2008 12:17 PM ET:

Mike L,

arhabi is also spelled as irhabi.

Check out this discussion for more
http://jihadwatch.org/archives/017666.php

Posted by Neo at May 12, 2008 1:47 PM ET:

The designation "criminal" wasn't just a point of semantics. It was picked up directly from Sadr's own political pronouncements. To understand why we use the designation criminal we must go back to the surge last year. Sadr decided not to directly attack US and IA forces while they were taking care of business with Al Qaeda in Iraq. Most probably, his assumption was that with the US and IA diminishing the power of the AQI and the Sunni block, his organization would only gain in strength. Sadr's organization had a problem though. The continued criminal behavior within JAM toward both Sunni and Shiite civilians was undercutting support for the organization. With the threats from AQI against the Shiite community decreasing support for JAM was also decreasing as well.

Sadr needed to clean house of very real criminal elements within their organization. Since he couldn't directly control these elements he called a cease-fire last September to clean house. In this he relied on US forces to take care of "criminal elements" who would not obey the cease-fire. The IA forces and the bulk of US forces were still very much preoccupied with fighting AQI, but what little of their forces that were in the South were only too glad to grind away at JAM "criminals" who for whatever reason disobeyed the cease-fire.

Not only were criminal elements attacking US forces, but also Iran was using JAM forces to attack US convoys and send assassins against non-compliant opposition politicians. This mixing of criminal and gorilla activity pretty much associated the entire armed wing of Sadr's organization with what could be broadly labeled as "criminal" activity. This provided the political cover for US forces to methodically erode the organization while the cease-fire provided a much needed stabilization while the US and IS also pursued their primary AQI objective. Essentially instead of going after distinct criminal elements with JAM the US methodically attacked Iranian supporting interests. This both numerically diminished JAM and kept the organization from coalescing into effectively fighting force.

Sadr and Iran miscalculated both how much damage was being done to their militia and how powerful government forces were becoming. They also underestimated US attempts at purging IA and IP forces of militia elements. Perhaps they believed their own propaganda and over stigmatization of their strength. This belief in strength was both reflected by, and given veracity within much of the western press. When Sadr launched his second offensive it's effect was far short of the chaos cause by the 2004 insurrection. In Basra a few days of effective resistance gave way as government troops pored into the city and began to overwhelm JAM forces. In the rest of the south the fighting was a disaster as JAM forces where quickly put down.

Iran and Sadr panicked and quickly attempted to resume cease-fire conditions. The Iraqi government as part of the "deal" designated those that resist government as "criminal" elements, which could be broadly interpreted as JAM as an entire organization. Carrying on from US policy the Iraqi government used the cease-fire as an opportunity to recover its position in Basra and the rest of the Shiite south. They than went on a general offensive to clear Basra. At this point JAM basically dissolved within Basra and the occupation by government forces proceeded very quickly.

Things have gone very quickly from there. US and Iraqi forces appear to be using all available forces to pursue Sadr's militia with the main stronghold of Sadr City. At this point the stated purpose of pursuing "criminal elements" has become in effect an understood cover phrase for a full Iraqi government security takeover. I have the feeling that Sadr's political wing sees the end of militia activities coming soon and is trying desperately to hang onto some sort of political position. That's the only logical explanation for JAM agreeing to these cease-fire terms I can come up with, other than desperation mixed with pure stupidity. It latter being always possible.

As you by now see, the "criminal" designation has been a contrived political fiction supported buy both sides from the very beginning. Sadr and the Iranians badly miscalculated though. In my opinion their tactic of letting the US go after rogue elements was a terrible decision that directly contributed to the disintegration of their organization. No legitimate political organization invites and enemy to clean out "criminal elements" within an organization no matter how out-of-control that organization may be. In allowing this, Sadr directly undermined his own support base. Who wants to support a man who deliberately feeds supporters to the enemy? The bewildering number of contradictory statements didn't help either. Once again, I think that Sadr and the Iranians that headed this were all back in Iran watching Al Jazeera, CNN World, and getting second hand reports from their people in Iraq that didn't really reflect the true situation on the ground.

Posted by Neo at May 12, 2008 1:51 PM ET:

over stigmatization = over estimation

Spell Checker

Posted by DJ Elliott at May 12, 2008 2:16 PM ET:

Counter-terrorism 101

Do not give the terrorist any semblance of legitimisy.
Do not call them a terrorist since some people equate that to resistance fighter.
Do not use any of their terms for themselves.
Criminalize them.
Call them by the crimes they commit.
Murderer, Kidnapper, Extortionist, etc.
Call them criminals and gangsters.
Destroy any claims to legitimacy that a political or military reference that they prefer might give them by not using them...

This goes back decades to successful CT ops and is basic PhyOps technic folks...

Posted by David M at May 12, 2008 4:04 PM ET:

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 05/12/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front lines.

Posted by Bill Roggio at May 12, 2008 4:24 PM ET:

Neo,

I completely disagree that Sadr called the August 2007 cease fire to "clean house." The cease fire was called immediately after Sadr's forces took a very real beating in Karbala. Sadr claimed it was to clean house to save face, but in reality he was concerned about further attacks in his (now former) strongholds.

Posted by Richard1 at May 12, 2008 4:52 PM ET:

Bill et al.,

Does Sadr have any strongholds left?

Posted by Bill Roggio at May 12, 2008 5:53 PM ET:

Here are the answers to Knighthawks' questions, from MND-B:

"The light blue triangles are U.S. outposts. We've always said we're in support - IA in the lead. It's true in this event. They're up on the line and we move to support them when they receive contact."

Posted by Bill Roggio at May 12, 2008 5:55 PM ET:

Richard1, I think its premature to say the Mahdi Army has lost its strongholds in Baghdad and elsewhere. Its say the influence has been diminished...

Posted by KnightHawk at May 12, 2008 7:38 PM ET:

Got it.
Thanks again for following up and passing that along Bill.

Posted by Richard1 at May 12, 2008 8:14 PM ET:

Bill,
Thanks for replying.

Posted by Neo at May 13, 2008 9:25 AM ET:

Bill,

"I completely disagree that Sadr called the August 2007 cease fire to "clean house." The cease fire was called immediately after Sadr's forces took a very real beating in Karbala. Sadr claimed it was to clean house to save face, but in reality he was concerned about further attacks in his (now former) strongholds."

Fair enough, I think Sadr's organization had a number of problems some specifically stemming from Karbala others more general that became a major frustration for Sadr or anyone else trying to command JAM. I am of the opinion that had more problems at Karbala than losing a major confrontation. They had serous problems with execution.

In the months prior to the major confrontation it was obvious that Sadr and his Iranian backers were trying to make a play for Karbala. They wished to either to bring down the local political and security apparatus or possibly to intimidate the religious establishment into being more cooperative with Sadr's and Iran's wishes. Your own web site details the many incidents around Karbala in the months prior to the August clash. I believe there is both direct and circumstantial evidence of a major attempt to destabilize Karbala. There is little direct evidence about what was really intended to happen at Karbala, but from news releases in the aftermath I gather that Sadr and his Iranian backers were genuinely unhappy about how it played out. Did Sadr need to save face after JAM's attacks were thwarted and exposed? Quite possibly. I also doubt that Sadr and the Iranians were genuine in their concern about the riots and street fighting. On the other hand maybe they were genuinely upset that the riots and street fighting were feeble and ineffective and they made little headway against security in Karbala. They certainly didn't set the streets of Karbala into a general revolt or even serve as a show of force to intimidate Sadr's enemies.

I see genuine dismay in Sadr's news releases following the Karbala riots. I don't think it was all because they got caught or that security was a lot tougher than they had hoped. I suspect that the whole plot was botched. Elements that could be depended on the year before were conspicuously missing. The riot was far too small to generate uncontrollable street battles. The masses certainly didn't rally to Sadr's cause and the thugs didn't show up in numbers like they had in the previous year.

Did traditional criminal elements within Sadr's organization have a part in all of this? In 2006 they certainly could be depended on to show up in force and intimidate the local populous but they didn't seem to show up in useful numbers this time around. Where they a major no-show at Karbala. Keeping a bunch of thugs around who aren't following orders is a bad idea. I maintain that they were recognized as a major liability to Sadr's organization?

I believe that there is ample reason to believe that the Karbala riot was meant to be something much more substantial. I also think that the effort was botched and quite likely undermanned. I don't think it is much of a stretch to say that the supporting cast of traditional criminals were now seen as a useless liability. I also see signs that many of the traditional criminal elements were dumped after the Karbala riots and ensuing cease-fire.

I must admit getting at the real motives of Sadr and JAM leadership requires a certain amount of conjecture. Your reasoning that that Sadr's forces were taking too many casualties and Sadr opted to save face after Karbala does have the benefit of being a little more straight forward. I would maintain that my line of reasoning that Karbala was an ill executed flop that was intended to be an uprising, also fits the evidence, and perhaps might better account for why the leadership were so upset they felt the need for such a radical change in direction as to pull out of direct confrontation for an extended period of time. I'm sure that maintaining their position was a priority as well, either as a result of losses, or in addition finding themselves with inadequate and unreliable support. This also leads me to believe that JAM did want to clean house as well as recoup losses. Their wish to rid themselves of certain "criminal elements" within JAM may have been true in a limited sense. US and IA forces were only too happy to pick up the "criminals" as well as use it as a pretext to undermine the Militia's core.

JAM is a victim of it's own creation. Take on every thug, criminal, and malcontent and you end up with a group of unmanageable rabble that cannot be depended on. The group that fought in 2004 were professionals brought in from the outside and Iraqi's with military experience. The uprising in 2006 was a major emotional reaction to the profanity of the shrine bombing. It brought a lot of people to Sadr's side that he would not keep long term. Had the surge in 2007 been less successful Sadr's fortunes may have been much better. I think people also fail to account for how much support the Iraqi government has. I don't think all those Iraqi Army soldiers joined up for the paycheck.