Iraqi troops free tribal leaders kidnapped by Mahdi Army commander

The Mahdi Army. Click image to view.

Just 24 hours after the capture of 11 Sunni and Shia tribal leaders in northern Baghdad, the Iraqi Army has freed eight of the sheikhs. Meanwhile, Multinational Forces Iraq has identified the Mahdi Army commander responsible for the kidnappings and has begun to name other Mahdi Army leaders as being involved in criminal and insurgent activity.

Iraqi soldiers conducted the raid in a yet-to-be-identified region near Baghdad, likely with the aid of US Special Forces and killed four of the kidnappers. “We have rescued eight of the hostages and are working to free the others. We killed four of the kidnappers,” Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed al Askari said.

Earlier today, Multinational Forces Iraq “identified Arkan Hasnawi, a former brigade commander in Jaish Al Mahdi [Mahdi Army], as responsible for the kidnapping of Shia and Sunni tribal leaders from Diyala Province yesterday.” Hasnawi was identified as a leader of a “gang of criminals” that has “joined forces with Iranian-supported Special Groups that are rejecting Muqtada al Sadr’s direction to embrace fellow Iraqis.”

The identification of Hasnawi as a former Mahdi Army commander and leader in the Special Groups is new pattern of releasing the names of Shia terror leaders. In a recent briefing on the Baghdad security operation, Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, the commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, singled out Mahdi Army commanders sheltering in Sadr city by name. Five Mahdi Army commanders were directly named.

“Unfortunately, there are some individuals who are not interested in reconciliation,” Odierno said. “These individuals continue to use violence to incite sectarian hatred for political gain, to promote foreign interests and to achieve personal wealth through criminal activity. They commit extortion, kidnappings, intimidation and murder against the Iraqi people. We are working hard to prevent men who do this, such as Arkhan Asnawi, Nasr Anad al-Masawi, Haji Duwad, Ahmed Atu, Abu Bolil, and Haji Mahti from seeking sanctuary within Sadr City. They have not honored the ceasefire announced by Muqtada al Sadr. And they only bring harm to the people of Sadr City.”

Multinational Forces Iraq press releases have repeatedly called on Muqtada al Sadr and the Mahdi Army to honor the agreement of the peace pledge made in late August. These warnings have been embedded in reports of the activities of the Iranian-backed Special Groups. The message promoted by Multinational Forces Iraq is that Sadr’s Mahdi Army can easily be placed on the target list if oversteps its bounds.

Sadr, for his part, has reiterated the cease-fire remains in effect, and claimed lies were being spread so as to discredit his Mahdi Army. “Enemy parties are spreading this news (that the freeze ended) to tarnish the image of this heroic ideological army that has shown loyalty to its leadership by implementing the freeze,” Sadr said on October 24. “So, we appeal to everyone to obey the order in every respect or risk being expelled from this … army in which there is no place for renegades.”

Fighting between elements of Sadr’s Mahdi Army and Iraqi Security Forces has been ongoing for months in Karbala, Diwaniyah, and Basra in the south. Sadr called for a cessation of Mahdi Army attacks after a clash in Karbala with Iraqi Security Forces during a religious festival resulted in 52 killed and over 300 wounded. The festival was shut down due to the fighting.

Sadr has been directly implicated in the Karbala fighting and is believed to be behind the assassinations of the governors of Muthanna and Qadisiyah provinces. Shia are beginning to turn on Sadr’s Mahdi Army in the Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City.

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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  • I had to pull a post I was about to publish because the news has changed

    Luckily it is good news! I am sure most of you read about the 11 tribal leaders kidnapped in Baghdad. Frankly, I figured they were toast. What is interesting is that they were kidnapped by Shiites and identified as Shiites by…Shiites!
    Hadi al-An…

  • Winger says:

    Any news on whether the 8 rescued were Sunni or Shiite? I understand there were some of each kidnapped. I am wondering if the rescued ones were all Shiites.
    It seems we are getting very good intelligence on this issue. That is good. At one time Al Qaeda and the Iraqi insurgents had the upper hand at infiltration of the security services. Now it looks as if the tables have been turned.
    Sadr must have been b-slapped since his Karbala escapade. Don’t want to get those religious festivals cancelled. At one time, I think he harbored some aspirations of running Iraq. He has really changed his tune.
    He has either realized that his “Army” would be wiped out if they confronted the coalition or he has some sneaky underhanded plan going on. I wouldn’t trust him as far as I can throw him. Something is rotten in Sadr City. What is he up to?
    Maybe he is just making public pronouncements about cease fires, etc and then has his followers trying to work covertly to do his bidding. That would make more sense to me. He has tried direct confrontation, boycotting government, making deals with Iran, etc and it is not really working for him. Since we apparently know the name of the Rogue Commanders, it appears his clandestine war is not working either. Give it up Muqie! Your Shiites have hit the Apache rotary oscillator.
    Al Qaeda- check
    Muqtada- check
    Sunni insurgency- check
    Rogue Special groups- in progress
    Rogue Al Douri’s- coming soon
    Rogue Jihadis- see ISF
    PKK- Turkey for Thanksgiving
    Kurds- no whey

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  • Turner says:

    Just as Osama’s forces went astray because he was hiding from George Bush under a Burkha in Pakistan, so it is with Muqtada. Everytime things got hot, he’d run away to Iran. Mohammad was said to have stayed with his troops in battle crying out and weeping over their losses. Patton won because he would walk among his troops and inspire them. President Lincoln was the same. So was McArthur. So was George Washington, a wealthy plantation owner who inspired his troops, walking among their insurgency as America beat the British with our tiny army in the revolutionary war.
    Muqtada and Osama are cowards, running from George Bush when things get hot. Of the two, however, Muqtada is braver than Osama, because he came back to be with his men. Osama still hides while his men are being blown away.
    Note Bill’s reference link to Shiites turning on the Mahdi army: It’s the New York Times! Maybe the surge is working at home too. Bill you’re working overtime with this one!

  • Turner says:

    One more:
    George Bush came to Iraq, to be among his troops in the middle of Al Quada’s territory, even in Fallujah, but he wasn’t scared. He even met with Shiek Satter, shortly before he was killed. He did this more than once. He was fearless and walked among his troops, inspiring them, learning about the battle space first hand and answering to their needs. He came into the very land that Osama claimed to be taking from the Iraqis, while Osama was hiding from him and playing games on the computer.
    In the end, these guys are losing because they’re cowards. Only the people under them have any courage.

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