Attacking Sadr’s Mahdi Army

The Mahdi Army. Click image to view.

Mahdi Army targeted in Baghdad, Basra and Kut

Within 24 hours after the return on Muqtada al Sadr from his self imposed four month exile in Iran, Coalition and Iraqi forces launched five high profile attack against the extremist elements of his Mahdi Army. Today, U.S., British, Polish and Iraqi forces conducted three separate engagements in Baghdad, Basra and near Kut.

In Baghdad, Iraqi Special Operations Forces and U.S. soldiers conducted a raid in Sadr City against an “individual… suspected of having direct ties to a senior leader of a significant EFP network as well as acting as a proxy for an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps officer.” Multinational Forces Iraq also describes him as “the suspected leader in a secret cell terrorist network known for facilitating the transport of weapons and explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, from Iran to Iraq, as well as bringing militants from Iraq to Iran for terrorist training.” The suspect was captured, and five associates were killed in a follow on airstrike.

Iraqi Army and Polish troops killed five Mahdi fighters and captured another 20 during operations in the town of Jihad, about 50 miles west of Kut. British troops “killed a number of militiamen in an airstrike in the southern city of Basra after insurgents bombarded bases where British troops were based.”

Today’s fighting in Basra followed a British yesterday, which resulted in the death of Abu Qader, the Mahdi Army commander in the southern city, along with 3 associates. Qader “was suspected of involvement in planting roadside bombs, weapons trafficking, assassinations and planning and participating in attacks against British troops,” Reuters noted. Also, U.S. forces captured yet another member of an EFP/Iranian cell in Baghdad on Friday. This is the eighth such raid on the EFP/Iranian backed network in three weeks, with 17 members of the EFP cells killed and 31 captured.

The increased operational tempo against the Mahdi Army, and Sadr’s return to Iraq do not appear to be unrelated. Multinational Forces Iraq and the Iraqi government have been conducting a concerted campaign to split the Mahdi Army and court the more moderate elements to work with the government. With Sadr’s flight to Iran, he lost considerable command and control of his Mahdi Army.

The Associated Press recently described the split in Sadr’s militia as one between “a larger group that calls itself the “noble Mahdi Army” and accuses others in the Mahdi Army of going too far by killing innocent Sunni civilians and embezzling militia funds,” and the more radical elements “trained and armed by Iranians.” Sadr was likely motivated to return to Iraq to bridge the growing divide in the ranks of the Mahdi Army.

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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8 Comments

  • DanielMaddison says:

    No, doesn’t look like a coincidence to me either. I’ll bet the Coalition had a “Welcome Back to Iraq, Moquada” plan ready the day after he left. As soon as he arrived to even think about retaking command of the anti-Coalition military resources of the Mahdi Army, those resources would be taken out or put on the run. The question is whether this is merely symbolic or has had a serious impact on Mahdi military assets. And, regardless, the next question is whether Sadr has understood the message–play nice in the political arena, or there is a JDAM with your name on it.

  • Neo-andertal says:

    I’m a bit surprised at how this is playing out. These are very high level targets. Lets go through the significant facts.
    1. We are getting actionable targeting intelligence on high level individuals in the Mahdi army.
    2. We have taken down a large number of high level targets recently.
    3. The IA has clearly chosen sides on this.
    4. The Iraqi government isn’t making much of it.
    5. The Shiite Clerics aren’t commenting. The Shiite political coalition isn’t either.
    6. Shiite news sources by and large, aren’t roundly condemning it.
    7. There’s no general uprising or even an uprising among Sadr followers.
    8. Reprisals so far are fairly limited.
    I would have to conclude that we aren’t acting alone on this. There’s more here than meets the eye. In fact there has been so little in the way of reprisals that I must conclude that much of the Mahdi army has moved to the sidelines at least. I wonder how long it will hold up without major reprisals. I’ll be watching closely at how this develops.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Michael
    The purpose of the surge is and always was a “gap-filler” for the GoI/ISF.
    This month the IA personnel count jumped up by 14,000 (a Division’s worth of men).
    Expect the same in July (8 weeks bootcamp).
    New elements in the IA identified in last two months include:
    – 11th Division
    – Rusafa Area Command
    – Karkh Area Command
    – 1-11 Brigade
    – 2-11 Brigade
    – 5-10 Brigade
    – 4-9 Brigade
    – 4-7 Brigade (planned)
    – 4-4 Brigade
    – MP Brigade
    In MoI the new elements have been:
    – 10th INP Brigade
    – Anbar Provisional Security Force (Division)
    – 1st PSF Brigade
    – 2nd PSF Brigade
    – Quick Intervention Brigade
    The IA is to receive a major shipment of armor in the fall which will convert 4th and 11th IA Divisions to Mech.
    To provide cadre for this the IA had to reduce the capability of existing formations.
    That is what we are covering for:
    – The reduced IA formations that are providing cadre.
    – The new ISF formations that are still green and only now forming.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Michael, Michael, Michael
    You really should keep up with what is going on. Try reading the notes page of the ISF OOB (on left column of page).
    In parallel with forming these new units, the MoD has been filling out the combat force to a planned 110% manning with Individual Replacements for the existing units since October.
    They passed 100% manning in March.
    Part of the May 14,000 is for the overmanning of the rest of the combat units.
    Part of the purpose of the Baghdad unit deployments (which have been at over 95% manning since Feb) is to inspect these units, replace equipment/personnel to full, conduct Bde level range training and then 90 days of urban combat experience in Baghdad. Besmaya is the only Bde level range available (30km east of Baghdad).
    These are real units. Real people. Becoming real operational.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Michael:
    Also, the point forces for dealing with Mahdi Gang (they are not an army) is and has been:
    – Iraqi Special Operations Force – HQ Baghdad
    – 8th IA Division – HQ Diwaniyah
    – 10th IA Division – HQ Basrah
    I SOF stood up Diwaniyah and Basrah Detachments as part of this increase in force…
    95% of the raids that the press claim were US that occur in Sadr City are I SOF and have been since September…

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Michael
    While the politicals and press are concentrating on Baghdad, the ISF is taking over the outer provinces and working in to the center.
    The new formations went to Baghdad, Basrah, Salahadin, Anbar and Kirkuk.
    Most of what is showing up in Baghdad so far is command and control plus new bases.
    We are working the outside to the center.
    Anbar, Diyala and Baghdad will be the last to hand off…
    Same with how we are working the ISF. Bns first, then Bdes, Divs, Training,
    next will/is logistics and Corps (only BOC has formed so far).
    Those support elements are the US focus at this time. The FY07sup has funding for training and equipping 33,000 IA support troops. They only have 12,900 now…
    Note: The only schools that are still US taught in IA are comms and medical.

  • RHYNO says:

    Mr. Elliot, you have very good info [or intel?] on wat is planned for the IA, the number of formations and that armor is on the way. that 2, the 4th and 11th will be mech., is good news God knows they need it. the destruction of the radical elements of the Mahdi is imperative. they are Iranian proxies, and all Iranian influence in this “new” country must be crushed. the touchy part is the elimination of the pig Sadr. will his death cause Shia to retaliate, to go full throttle? or will it only affect a small number.? i want him DEAD so badly…repercussions? thats the operative word i believe. as far as the 3 fronts comment, this op may be #2 in importance. #1 has to be the Awakening Movments, which i think are a milestone. the destruction of AQ in Iraq is #1. the help of Sunni tribes is of great importance, the U.S. must [and have been] capitalize on this. the good intel is flowing, our best are there [18th Airborne Corps.] this may be our last power move. lets get it done. DJ Elliot, if there is a site you would like to share, please post it, if you can. if you can’t for other reasons, i understand. thank you for sharing that info, truly…Rhyno

  • DJ Elliott says:

    RHYNO
    //billroggio.com/oob/index.php
    All open source and available to those that take the time to read. I do not publish non-atribitable or off-record for OOB data…

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