More Raids in Sadr City

Three forrays into Sadr City over the past four days

Muqtada-Sadr-image.jpg

Muqtada al-Sadr.

Iraqi special forces (from the 1st Special Operations Forces Brigade), accompanied by U.S. Special Forces advisors and backed by Coalition air support, raided a location in Sadr City, the Baghdad stronghold of Iranian backed cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The raid netted seven members of an ” an illegal armed group kidnapping and murder cell,” including the cell leader. “The person detained is reported to have first-hand knowledge of the control and movement of [Specialist] Ahmed Al Taie, the [American] Soldier who was abducted Oct. 23,” reports Multinational Forces Iraq.

Sadr’s militia fought back and hit the Iraqi soldiers with “small-arms and rocket propelled grenade fire.” Circling Coalition aircraft were fired upon as well, and struck back with “precision fires at identified enemy targets.” No Iraqi or U.S. casualties were taken, and the MNF-Iraq was unable to determine if civilians were killed or wounded. Baghdad police claim 3 civilians were killed, including a 6 month old boy, and a Sadr parliamentarian was seen on television holding a dead child. Sadr’s Mahdi Army has been known to manipulate media images for propaganda purchases, such as falsely claiming a raid on a husseiniya in Sadr City last March killed civilians.

This is the third raid by Iraqi special forces in Sadr City over the past four days. On November 20th, Iraqi SOF units entered Sadr City in search of a 30 man “illegal armed group responsible for kidnapping, torturing and murdering Iraqi civilians and soldiers.” On November 18th, Iraqi soldiers visited Sadr City “after intelligence indicated that an armed group was holding some of the scores of Iraqis who were snatched from a Higher Education Ministry office building in Baghdad.” In both raids, Iraqi and Coalition forces were fired upon, and no suspects were detained.

Muqtada al-Sadr has been curiously silent on the recent series of raids in Sadr City. Sadr’s silence on these raids will cost him politically in the extremist Shia circles, and will weaken him within the ranks of the Mahdi Army. Rumors that Sadr has lost control of large swaths of his militia remain just that, rumor. Intelligence and military sources inform us that Sadr is still very much in control of the Mahdi Army. The raids inside Sadr City and against the Mahdi Army elsewhere will not abate anytime soon.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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15 Comments

  • DJ Elliott says:

    How long until the rumor goes thru the ranks of the Mahdi Army that Sadr has sold them out?
    At the rate of these raids, his followers have to be wondering what good is his political protection if they all end up dead or in prison…

  • Dave says:

    Hopefully these raids continue and we finally take on miltia groups. Is it too little too late though? Hmmmm

  • Anand says:

    Mahdi army has never had the command and control, or discipline of Badr. They were formed in 2003 as a bunch of unruly teenagers with guns. Most of it still lacks a strong “officer” corp. Only parts of the Mahdi army are capable of large coordinated operations.
    Sadr is keeping the better trained, equipped, motivated and led parts of the Mahdi army (that he is sure will remain loyal to him) and using the Iraqi army and US GIs to get rid of the rest. Some of these unruly elements are also a little out of control and commit awful atrocities that hurt Sadr’s image with the silent Shia majority and the Clerics. Sadr is very careful to appeal to Iraqi “values” and “God-loving” voters.
    Bill, you should post translations of some of Sadr’s speaches. He can be very eloquent, and almost comes across as Jesus like when he appeals to his followers to practice non-violence, and not to fall prey to Satan (America) by attacking the occupier (US troops), inspite of their evil. [I am not claiming that he is sincere, but he needs to do this to moderate his image and keep his popularity up.]
    In any case, Sadr now controls the Iraqi Army / Iraqi National Police/ DBE through proxy via Maliki. He also can influence local police in the parts of Iraq he has done well in local elections.
    As a part of the Iraqi establishment, he would rather exercise his influence through the Iraqi government where possible. He also has a stake in delegitimizing the use of force by militias with less influence over the Iraqi government than he does–“Sunni Arab Militia” or the “resistance”. Do not forget that his five ministries (including Health and Education) allow him to spend between $10 and $20 billion dollars a year of Iraq’s oil revenue as he sees fit.
    If Maliki is seen as failing by Iraqi voters, Sadr will be hurt in the polls right alongside Maliki. Sadr then loses his five ministries.
    This is the leverage America has with Sadr. And we should use it to keep him silent as elements of the Mahdi army continue to be taken out. We should also use our leverage to see if we can reach a grand bargain with Sadr, Maliki and Hakim to fight Takfiris and Baathists, and limit the influence of the Iranian clerics. I think that Sadr/Maliki/Hakim used Iran (and America) and accepted their help to establish themselves in power. Now that they control Iraq’s oil revenue, they may not want to keep taking orders from Iran. In fact, I think they want to start using Iraq’s oil wealth to start bribing powerful people in Iran and start influencing Iran.
    Some of Bill’s posts suggest that some of their Iranian allies might be double dealing them.
    It’s about time that America starts using intelligent diplomacy. Its not about getting even with people who have killed Americans in the past, its about getting ahead.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Anand,
    You’re operating off the assumption Sadr doesn’t control his militia. He does. Everyone I talk to about this says so. The media has bought the Sadr message hook, line & sinker. No one looks at what he says or does critically. You’re discounting the Iranian influence in Sadr’s organization, and the IRGC involvement.

  • Anand says:

    Bill, I do not disagree with you. I am just trying to define control.
    Sadr does control the Mahdi militia, but some of the more unruly elements are more trouble than they are worth from his point of view. He needs to waste time talking to them that he would rather spend eating his favorite dishes. It’s a lot of effort and money (patronage) to keep them under control. They will do what he wants, if he insists, but they also try to make money on the side through organized crime, settling family scores by killing rivals etc. If Sadr orders them to seize a building . . . they will try to seize the building . . . but not necessarily in the way Sadr would like. They aren’t dependable or capable.
    Its a lot of trouble for Sadr to keep his more crazy followers from doing bad things that hurts his popularity with Joe Smith Iraqi Shia.
    Its like a minister controlling a couple thousand corrupt, illiterate and slightly incompetent employees. If any of them get too far out of line, Sadr can have them killed. But there are limits to what Sadr can achieve with them.
    Under local culture, Sadr cannot lay off the dead weight–so that he can stop wasting his money and time on them. He is using the IA and GIs to do it for him.
    Sadr wants to keep the cream (and bulk) of his Mahdi army.
    On another note, other forces are trying to influence his organization, including the IRGC, other Iraqi politicians, Iraqi clerics and powerful Iraqi organized crime elements.
    I do not think Sadr likes sharing influence with the IRGC and others. Sadr wants to be the the top Don, rather than share some influence with many other families that may have competing agendas etc.
    There are also ancient rivalries between the Sadr family, and some of the clerical families in Quom. In his heart of hearts, I think Sadr believes Khomenei (and Sistani) should be less influential within the global Shia community (including with Shia in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India) than the Sadr family. He probably wants to use Iraqi oil revenue for this purpose.
    That’s why he would like to maximize Iraqi oil production, Iraqi oil revenue, and the money he has to play with. This means advancing the power and influence of the Iraqi state. Sadr would rather disband more unruly members of his militia and have them join the ISF. That would help Sadr influence the ISF (and Maliki) to do what he wants.
    At the same time, Sadr would like to keep a smaller elite well-trained and well-equipped Mahdi army corp loyal only to him.
    And although we do not talk about this in the States, Sadr believes that end times might be near. He is looking for the 12th Shia Mahdi (about a thousand years ago, Shia believe that the 12th Mahdi bodily ascended to heaven from the Sammara mosque that was blown up in February). The Salafi/Takfiris a thousand years ago were trying to kill the 12th Mahdi and solve the global Shia problem–AlQaeda and company still are. Sadr would rather “find” the Mahdi himself rather than allow Khomeinei, Sistani, Hakim to do it.
    I know it sounds crazy, but many Iraqis insist that Sadr really thinks this way.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Anand,
    Actually, we do disagree. I don’t subscribe to most of what you said above.

  • Anand says:

    Bill and anyone else,
    Why is Sadr condoning these raids? Has Maliki offered him something for his silence? If so, what?
    If you are correct that Sadr doesn’t mind retaining and paying patronage to the entire extended Mahdi army, does that suggests that he is able to siphon a lot of money from the health and education ministries?
    Does he want to keep the Mahdi army to fight Badr after Americans leave Iraq and the Sunni Arab militia are defeated? (Do your sources tell you that most Iraqis believe that US troops are leaving Iraq within less than 3 years? I might be wrong about this . . . but this is my best guess.)
    How much money is Sadr able to squeeze out of the five ministries, according to your sources?
    What are Sadr’s real (not stated) short and long term objectives?
    Are some of the Iranians who are supporting Sadr also supporting Sunni Arab militia that attack Mahdi army? If so, can this be used to cause tension between them.
    Do rival factions within Iran support SCIRI and Muqtada? Or are the same Iranians backing both SCIRI and Muqtada. If so, are the Iranians trying to play Muqtada against SCIRI? Is there any reason to believe that this can be used to make Muqtada angry at his Iranian allies?
    This is a lot of questions without obvious answers. Please feel free to share your thoughts about this over a couple posts.

  • ECH says:

    Bill, here is how a visiting scholar from Baghdad who writes occasional articles for the NY Post talks about the splintering of the Madhi Army.
    //talismangate.blogspot.com/2006/11/nyt-fragmenation-of-mahdi-army.html
    and here is another very interesting post about who likely has the missing soldier.
    “Sgt. Ahmed Qusai al-Taayie, the kidnapped American soldier. Shaimaa Abdul Satar, al-Taayie’s Iraqi sister-in-law, identified the leader of the group that kidnapped al-Taayie as “local gangster Abu Rami, whose real name, they said, is Majid al-Qaissy. They said he is a Sunni Arab, as is their family and Taayie’s.”

  • More Raids in Sadr City

    Courtesy of The Fourth Rail:
    Three forrays into Sadr City over the past four days
    Iraqi special forces (from the 1st Special Operations Forces Brigade), accompanied by U.S. Special Forces advisors and backed by Coalition air support, raided a locati…

  • Anand says:

    //talismangate.blogspot.com/2006/11/missing-soldier-update.html
    Interesting points:
    “The operation had been delayed so as not to generate bad press prior to Tuesday’s election. It shall be subsequently enacted without the support of Maliki’s government, leaving the latter looking ineffective and irrelevant.”
    –Can the US military conduct major military ops in Iraq without the tacit support of Maliki? I think not (we would have to offer Maliki something that he wants to bring him onboard).
    A Baathist plot to cause a clash between the Mahdi army and US military.
    –Possible, the Baathists are getting killed right now and could use the relief. Might it also be a IRGC plot? The Iranians might be trying to use Muqtada to make life difficult for the US (to forestall US pressure on the nuclear issue). I think that Muqtada knows that the IRGC are trying to use him, the way Muqtada is trying to use Iran. Sometimes, Muqtada publicly criticizes Iran much the way he does the US. Some of this as Bill Roggio would point out is for show–but not all his followers and allies are sophisticated enough to figure this out. We have to be alert and aware enough to take advantage of any actual fissures that develop between Muqtada’s followers and the Iranian clerics.

  • Anand says:

    Lisa,
    Maliki remains the most popular Iraqi politician according to the last Iraqi oppinion poll that I saw. He is more popular than Sadr among Shia, and the only Shiite except for Allawi who is partially acceptable to non-Shia. We have to work with him.
    Maliki has $39 billion in annual revenue from Iraqi oil sales to work with, and he’s doing the best he can with that. If we helped him generate more revenue (either through increased Iraqi oil productions or grants from Congress), his hand is strenghtened. With new possibilities, he will behave differently. Our challenge is to strenghten his hand (increase his revenue, improve the ISF, weaken his enemies, increase his leverage on other countries etc.).
    Iraq is not lost yet. But it will take a lot more money from American tax payers, and some of our best and brightest (sobering thought).

  • Rancher says:

    When Maliki made us pullout of Sadr City the last time I thought he had thrown in his lot with the Iranians. Maybe not. Or like Anand thinks, maybe he is thinning out the herd with Sadr’s approval. In any case I’m extremely happy to see us going after the Mahdi army.

  • Anand says:

    The reason for the strikes in Sadr city:
    //video.google.com/videoplay?docid=5767337426863032052&q=%22the+death+
    squads%22+channel+4&hl=en
    Both Andrew Sullivan and HealingIraq.blogspot.com are talking about this.
    Another reason:
    //www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=20676&Cr=iraq&Cr1 =
    UN reports 3709 dead civilians in Iraq in October.
    Maybe this has caused enough public pressure that Sadr is leaving some of lieutenants out to dry.
    On another note:
    //foreignexchange.tv/?q=node/1715
    Salameh Nematt, Washington Bureau Chief of Al-Hayat International Arab Daily (London) and the LBC, the Lebanon-based Arab satellite channel, confirms what Bill Roggio saying about Iran and Syria helping Al-Qaeda. He says that a Regional conference is useless and might even anger most Iraqis.

  • Devin Leonard says:

    It’s sad that only some publications like Fourth Rail, actually publish the number of insurgent deaths in Anbar on a regular basis.
    Some 600 Sunni and Al Qaeda insurgents have been killed in Anbar over the last three months, yet the mainstream media refuses to acknowledge these numbers…pathetic.

  • Econ-Scott says:

    Bill:
    What is the Cost/Benefit Analysis or the $1.57 solution?
    e.g. the cost of One really good bullet for Sadr and each of the IRGC that can be found in Iraq ?
    Nobody likes the idea of making the puke a “martyr” to “the faithful”. Yet hasn’t this proven effective in Chechnya ?

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