Six days after the Iraqi government launched Operation Knights’ Charge in Basrah against the Mahdi Army and other Iranian-backed Shia terror groups, Muqtada al Sadr, the Leader of the Mahdi Army, has called for his fighters to lay down their weapons and cooperate with Iraqi security forces. Sadr’s call for an end to the fighting comes as his Mahdi Army has taken serious losses since the operation began.
“Sadr has sent a message to his loyalists urging them to end all armed activities,” the Al Iraqiya television channel reported. Sadr “disowned anyone attacking the state institutions or parties’ offices and headquarters.”
“Based on responsibility towards Iraq and to stem Iraqi bloodshed and to preserve the country’s unity and integrity as a prelude to its independence, I call on the people to be up to their responsibility and awareness in order to maintain Iraq’s stability,” according to a statement issued by Sadr and sent to Voices of Iraq. Sadr has called for the government to free members of the Mahdi Army and the Sadrist Movement captured during recent operations.
The Iraqi government has welcomed Sadr’s call for his followers to cease fighting. “The order to pull off gunmen off Basra along with all Iraqi provinces and to disavow those who has taken up arms against government offices and security forces is responsive and patriotic,” Ali al Dabagh, the spokesman for the Iraqi government, told Voices of Iraq. The Iraqi government has not called for a halt in military operations.
Sadr’s call for an end to fighting by his followers comes as his Mahdi Army has taken high casualties over the past six days. Since the fighting began on Tuesday, 358 Mahdi Army fighters were killed, 531 were wounded, 343 were captured, and 30 surrendered. The US and Iraqi security forces have killed 125 Mahdi Army fighters in Baghdad alone, while Iraqi security forces have killed 140 Mahdi fighters in Basrah.
From March 25-29 the Mahdi Army had an average of 71 of its fighters killed per day. Sixty-nine fighters have been captured per day, and another 160 have been reported wounded per day during the fighting. The US and Iraqi military never came close to inflicting casualties at such a high rate during the height of major combat operations against al Qaeda in Iraq during the summer and fall of 2007.
US and Iraqi forces are maintaining the high pace of operations against the Mahdi Army and the Special Groups. While the daily reporting from Iraq is far from over, initial reports indicate at least 18 Mahdi Army fighters have been killed and another 30 captured.
US soldiers killed 14 Mahdi fighters in Baghdad during a series of separate engagements. Iraqi security forces killed four Mahdi Army fighters and captured another 30 in Babil province, where a major offensive led by the police has been underway.
For more information on the Special Groups and Iran’s role in the Iraqi insurgency, see Iran’s Ramazan Corps and the ratlines into Iraq and Targeting the Iranian “Secret Cells.” For more information on the Mahdi Army, see Sadr calls for Mahdi Army cease-fire and Dividing 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.