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.