Sadr’s Madhi Army the target of Iraqi and Coalition pressure in Diwaniyah
Muqtada al-Sadr, the Iranian backed Shiite cleric, has been a thorn in the side of the Coalition and the fledgling Iraqi government. In the spring and late summer of 2004, U.S. forces fought intense battles against Sadr for control over the Shiite South and the holy city of Najaf. While Sadr’s militia, the Madhi Army, was militarily defeated, the Coalition failed to politically defeat Sadr, and he has remained a threat to this day. Sadr’s political party controls 30 of the 275 seats in Parliament, and runs five ministries.
While much of the public’s perceptions of the efforts against Sadr are shaped by operations in Sadr City in Baghdad, the Coalition and Iraqi government are chipping away at his power base outside of Baghdad. The series of raids and clashes, often masked as efforts against “criminals,” “thugs,” “death squads,” and “kidnappers,” are being conducted against the extreme elements of Sadr and his Mahdi Army. The goal is to remove Sadr from a position of influence, either by force or his surrender, and split his power base. Sadr’s lieutenants are being systematically targeted, which will drive him to either fight or withdraw.
A window into these operations is available in the city of Diwaniyah. A joint U.S. and Iraqi operation, dubbed Constant Solidarity has been announced at the end of September. The operation is made up of elements of the 8th Iraqi Army Division, supported the soldiers of the Fires Brigade (artillery), 4th Infantry Division. The purpose is to “weed out more than 2,000 terrorists in and around the city of Diwaniyah.” Diwaniyah is a Sadr stronghold, the “terrorists” being referred to here are the Madhi Army. To demonstrate the seriousness of the operation, the U.S. has deployed MLRS launchers (Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System) in the region to hit back at the Madhi Army.
Constant Solidarity is said to have begun on September 1, however just days prior to the operation, Iraqi soldiers and the Madhi Army fought a pitched battle on August 27th and 28th, and the Mahdi Army took disproportional losses. Over 50 Madhi fighters were killed, compared to 20 Iraqi soldiers..The Iraqi Army held their ground, and the Madhi Army was forced to withdraw under the watchful eye of the Iraqi Army in the region.
Constant Solidarity continued through the month of September. The Iraqi Army and Coalition forces pursued Sadr’s forces in Diwaniyah. On the 14th of September, “Iraqi Army units liberated a man who was being held and tortured by members of an illegal armed group,” according to a Coalition press release. The Coalition directly points to Sadr’s Madhi Army, although it does not mention it by name. This gives elements of the Madhi Army, and even Sadr himself, an ‘out’ if they choose to accept it.
The suspects are members of a group engaged in sectarian violence against Iraqi citizens, the rule of law, and the authority of the Iraqi government. Their illegal actions include “death squad” activities, the supervision of indirect fire attacks and emplacement of improvised explosive devices in the Ad Diwaniyah area, direct leadership of militia units against Iraqi Army units on August 27th and 28th, and acting as a leadership node for other coordinated and complex attacks against Iraqi army and police forces.
Also on the 14th, U.S. units raided the office of one of Sadr’s clerics. The incident sparked a fight with the regional government. “After the US force withdrew, several dozen Sadr supporters marched to the office of the local governor’s office. Guards there opened fire on them, wounding four,” according to News.au.com. Another raid was carried out on the 17th, units from the 8th Iraqi Army and the U.S. 4th Infantry Division conducted Operation Wilderness, designed to capture “terrorists suspected of numerous attacks on innocent Iraqi civilians, Iraqi Security Forces and Coalition Forces, in the area over the past few weeks.” Thirty two members of Sadr’s militia were arrested. On the 21st, another raid netted “Salah al-Obeidi, a close colleague of firebrand Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, was picked up from his home in Najaf along with cleric Bassim al-Ghuraifi,” according to Sadr’s own office.
On the 22nd, the Washington Post noted that Sadr’s allies are aware of the strategy. Abdul Razzak al-Nedawi, “a leader of the Sadr movement in Diwaniyah,” recognized the Coalition and Iraqi government are pushing Sadr into a corner. “It is obvious they want to draw the Sadr movement into a military confrontation… But we are trying our best to avoid such confrontation and find alternative ways to armed confrontation,” said al-Nedawi.
On the 24th, Sadr himself began to “urges followers to resort to ‘peaceful’ opposition.” “I want you to wage a peaceful war against them (Americans). I do not wish to see a single drop of blood shed because it is very dear to us. Engage them (Americans) in a popular, peaceful and political war,” Sadr said in a speech to his followers. Soon afterward, the Sunni political block began insisting the militias be disarmed. On the 28th, reports began to emerge the U.S. is forcefully pushing for the dismantlement of the militias (read Madhi Army) and yet again accused Iran of providing arms and money to Sadr. The conventional wisdom in the media is Sadr is losing control over elements of his militia. This also provides Sadr with an out, and sets the stage for splitting the Madhi Army.
Are you a dedicated reader of FDD's Long War Journal? Has our research benefitted you or your team over the years? Support our independent reporting and analysis today by considering a one-time or monthly donation. Thanks for reading! You can make a tax-deductible donation here.