Clashes broke out in the Sadr City district in northeastern Baghdad after Iraqi forces detained a senior Sadrist leader, an Iraqi news outlet reported.
Iraqi soldiers and police cordoned several neighborhoods in the Mahdi Army stronghold to contain the fighting that occurred after security forces detained Abbas Abdul Aal, who is a “senior Sadrist leader,” Voices of Iraq reported. Aal’s nephew was also detailed. “Security forces closed all of the city’s outlets and prevented the movement of traffic and pedestrians,” an eyewitness told the Iraqi newspaper.
The move in Sadr comes one day after Iraqi soldiers closed the Sadrist office in the neighborhood of Shula, where the Sadrist maintain a strong presence. This is the second Sadrist office to be closed in Shula since May.
Iraqi and US forces began operations in Shula in early May just as the fighting was winding down with the Mahdi Army in Sadr City. An Iraqi Army brigade moved into Shula in early May and took control of the headquarters of the Office of the Martyr Sadr. Iraqi troops occupied the Sadrist office because it was being used as a headquarters by “Special Group extremists.” An operation to clear Shula was put on hold after Iraqi forces began concurrent operations in Basrah, Sadr City, Mosul, Dhi Qar, and Maysan.
Iraqi and US forces continue to target Mahdi Army leaders in Baghdad and the wider South. Coalition special operations forces captured “senior member of Iranian-trained Special Groups leadership” in the Karadah district in southeastern Baghdad. “The suspect has conducted rocket attacks on Coalition and Iraqi bases, facilitated weapons from Iran, and sent members of his evil militia to Iran for training,” Multinational Forces Iraq reported in a press release.
Iraqi Special Operations Forces captured a Mahdi Army company commander who led an estimated 250 fighters. “The suspect is believed to be responsible for IED and indirect fire attacks against Iraqi and Coalition forces,” the US military reported.
Iraqi security forces also captured seven Mahdi Army fighters during targeted raids in Amarah. Five of the fighters were “accused of financing other Special Groups members and carrying out attacks in Amarah three months ago” and the other two were described as “Iranian surrogates.” On July 4, the Iraqi military stated it detained 1120 “wanted persons” in Amarah.
The Mahdi Army struck back today with a car bomb attack in the Sha’ab neighborhood in the northern Baghdad district of Adhamiyah. Six Iraqis were killed and 14 wounded in a car bomb attack that targeted a police patrol in the neighborhood.
The Arkan Hasnawi faction of the Mahdi Army operates in the Sha’ab neighborhood. The US military and Iraqi security forces fought pitched battles against the Hasnawi network in February, and killed a senior lieutenant of Hasnawi and scores of fighters in the organization.
Hasnawi was behind the kidnapping of Shia and Sunni tribal leaders in Diyala province in October 2007. His network was also behind the kidnapping of six Sons of Iraq from a checkpoint in Baghdad’s Ur neighborhood on Feb. 7. The US military killed Arkan Hasnawi during an artillery strike on a Mahdi Army command and control center in Sadr City on May 3.
Background on the fighting with the Mahdi Army
The Iraqi security forces have stepped up operations against the Iranian-backed Mahdi Army in the southern provinces over the past several months. Operation Knights’ Assault was launched against the Mahdi Army in Basrah on March 25. After six days of heavy fighting, the Mahdi Army pushed for a cease-fire. The Iraqi security forces also dealt the Mahdi Army a heavy blow in the southern provinces of Najaf, Karbala, Qassadiyah, Maysan, and Wasit.
The Iraqi security forces and the US military also confronted the Mahdi Army in Sadr City in Baghdad. After six weeks of heavy fighting, the Mahdi Army and the Iraqi government signed a cease-fire that allowed the military to enter Sadr City uncontested.
In May, the Iraqi security forces expanded operations throughout Basrah province in Az Zubayr, Al Qurnah, and Abu Al Khasib along the Iranian border. This week, an operation kicked off in Dhi Qhar province, which borders Maysan to the southeast.
The Mahdi Army suffered a significant blow during fighting against Iraqi and Coalition forces this year, according to an Iraq intelligence report. The heavy casualties suffered by the Mahdi Army have forced Muqtada al Sadr to change his tactics and disband the Mahdi Army in favor of a small, secretive fighting force.