Sadr orders followers to end fighting

Map of Iraq. Click to view.

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.

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  • Michael says:

    And so, there it is… the false peace. Much like Hezbollah or Hamas when getting shredded to pieces.
    It is good to see PM has not stopped IA yet and RoL. I assume they’re going forward with weapons for cash collection similar to the DDR program and the implementation to the end of militias? Or, does anyone here think it will just be another negotiated settlement with Sadr still in power over his militias to attack another day?

  • axt113 says:

    Sadr came off better it seems
    Aide to Iraq’s Sadr: “No handover of arms”
    Sun Mar 30, 2008 9:39am EDT
    NAJAF, Iraq (Reuters) – Followers of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr will not hand over their weapons as part of a move to end a week of fighting in Iraq, a top Sadr aide said.
    The aide, Hazem al-Araji, also said that Sadr’s followers had received a guarantee from the government that it would end “random arrests” of Sadr followers.
    “The weapons of the resistance will not be delivered to the Iraqi government,” he told journalists at Sadr’s office in the holy city of Najaf after distributing a statement from Sadr calling on followers to stop fighting.
    Sadr’s statement also called for the government to halt arrests of his followers and implement an amnesty law to free prisoners.
    “We confirm that there were guarantees taken from the Iraqi government to fulfill all the points in this statement. Thus, no more random arrests,” he said.
    The Iraqi government launched a crackdown on Sadr followers in the southern city of Basra last week. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered them to surrender and has offered cash in return for heavy and medium weapons handed over by April 8.
    So they remain in Basra, and keep their weapons and get Amnesty, what does Maliki and the US get?

  • elhombrelibre says:

    At some point, Sadr will have to lose whatever small bit of credibility that he still has with these treasonous punks. And they must be wearing out their welcome with the people of Iraq who obviously long for peace and security and not the unending chaos of the militias.

  • Blake says:

    Yeah, Sadr maintains his power base with this one. He seems pretty intelligent…definitely thinking longer term than AQI, that’s for sure.

  • Neo says:

    Both sides need this right now. Both sides were hoping for a lot more than they got out of it. That probably goes for the press too 😉

  • Marcello says:

    “Or, does anyone here think it will just be another negotiated settlement with Sadr still in power over his militias to attack another day? ”
    This would appear to be the case, given what has already happened in the past.
    No doubt some people will be gloating about the “huge losses” inflicted upon him. But if things are like above the bottom line is that he has defied the government, survived and got away with concessions. Which given how the game is played is a victory in itself, regardless of what may have been the exchange ratio on the battlefield. And his losses can probably be replaced in a few months anyway.

  • Marlin says:

    I’m no fan of the ‘Paper of Record’ but I suspect this concluding quote of their article yesterday will play out pretty accurately.

    A former political adviser to the American military in Baghdad, Matthew Sherman, cautioned that the conflict could easily lead to a situation similar to that in Lebanon in 2006, when Hezbollah claimed victory in a war of perceptions against Israel even after a bombing campaign had weakened it militarily. “The Sadrists will likely view their survival as victory,”

  • bc says:

    He fought the law, and the law won. That’s a good thing for all Iraqis to see.

  • Mark Buehner says:

    What does Maliki gain? Everything. The ligitimate state has established its ability and authority to base troops in Basra and anywhere else, and to challange and defeat Sadrists or any other militia group.
    Look, short of a complete civil war against Sadr and his hundreds of thousands of followers, this is the best way to end this. It defeats not only Sadr as a military force, but also his argument that the entire operation was an attempt to end his political movement. Sadrists are simply shown that they cannot take up arms against the government, they can maintain their political movement. Thats huge, it maintains the central governments credibility, which is everything. The government has prevailed militarilly and morally.

  • Dan R. says:

    Looks as if, yet again, the biased western media’s reports of impending doom n Iraq are greatly exaggerated. Score another one for the NY Times.
    I only hope that Maliki is smart enough not to call off the dogs until government control over southern Iraq is absolute. I don’t want these Sadrist thugs to be able to claim “a great victory” because they weren’t totally crushed like the Palestinians do every time Israel boxes their ears.
    On the other hand, this should be a real boost to the prestige of the Iraqi Army and should give Al-Maliki some political legitimacy in the eyes of the Sunnis and Kurds, since it shows he’s willing to aggressively go after the shiite thugs in the Mahdi Army as aggressivley as the sunni thugs in Al-Qaeda.

  • Neo says:

    First Item:
    “No doubt some people will be gloating about the “huge losses” inflicted upon him. (JAM)”

  • KW64 says:

    Sadr is isolated from the other groups in Iraq and Sadr knows it. The Sadrists wanted an end to the arresting of Special Groups members. As I interpret this, an end to “random” arrests does not mean an end to arresting Special Groups. What it should mean is that the Iraqi army can operate freely in Basra and Sadr City and can waste anyone who opens fire on them or plants ied’s or operates mortars. Sadr can claim that anyone who does these things did so without his permission and thus any defeat they suffer is not his defeat.
    So be it. Lets get the Special Groups and openly reckless thugs now and with time, the Iraqi army will get stronger while the Mahdi Militia gets weaker.

  • Neo says:

    The glass his half full crowd VS. The glass is half empty crowd. Choose your side.
    Oh well, at least the sky isn’t falling!
    Plenty of good points made by everyone by the way. I think this is pretty much how the debate will go this week.

  • dougf says:

    I think if Sadr was actually ‘winning’ he would have continued. I think if there were actually large scale ‘defections’ from the security forces, he would have wanted to apply more pressure on them to see if they might crack further.
    The goons were always going to ‘keep their weapons’ short of a complete campaign to kill them off completely. And I mean KILL THEM OFF in a very literal sense. That would have been very difficult and very costly. And maybe not possible at this moment in time.
    Now the anti-Sadr forces can weed out at will more Sadrists from the official security system, and can continue to pressure him into a smaller and smaller area.
    The Maliki Government did not get everything but it got quite a bit. The Iraqi Army held together and even the police did not fracture in any substantial manner.
    I count this as a Sadr loss. Another cut in the death by 1000 cut strategy that is the only way to put him into a box and keep him there. As others have said he has a constituency among the stupid, the poor, and the hopeless. Until he doesn’t , it is impossible to deal with him permanently by the use of force.
    This is not a bad result all things considered.

  • Neo says:

    “Will Maliki keep the extra troops there and try to impose his own plan on the city, or will they be pulled back to their original provinces and the local chiefs go back to their original plans?”
    I doubt that they will go back to square one no matter how anyone felt about the initial plan. If the fighting in Basra ceases at all, which is still an open question, both sides will try to consolidate their positions. Anyone know any British soldiers who know the lay of the land in Basra. From piecing together reports the government has control over significant portions of the north and downtown extending along the river. The British are at the international airport. I believe that the government controls the small airbase at the far north of the city, the electric and water plants, oil terminal, the northern portion of the docks, and much of the main commercial area.
    Sadr firmly controls the poor areas and shanty towns in the west and central portions of Basra. The south is a patchwork, some of it controlled by the Fadhila party some of it by Sadr’s people. I don’t think the government has much in southern Basra. Take that information with a grain of salt because some of it is probably wrong. We still don’t have a good account on things in Basra.

  • Dan R. says:

    Hey motown67, you might want to check this out:
    I think you might get a better picture here of what’s really going on that you get from the superficial, biased reporting of the western media.

  • Marlin says:

    Going to Iran to work out the negotiating points with al-Sadr makes me a little uneasy, but perhaps it shouldn’t given how things seem to work in Iraq.

    The substance of the nine-point statement, released by Mr. Sadr on Sunday afternoon, was hammered out in elaborate negotiations over the past few days with senior Iraqi officials, some of whom traveled to Iran to meet with Mr. Sadr, according to several officials involved in the negotiations.

    However this subsequent conclusion by the ‘Paper of Record’ strikes me as a little over-the-top.

    Many Iraqi politicians say that Mr. Maliki’s political capital has been severely depleted by the campaign and that he is now in the curious position of having to turn to Mr. Sadr, a longtime rival and now his opponent in battle, for a solution to the crisis.

    New York Times: Sadr Offers Deal for Truce as Fighting Persists in Iraq

  • Frozen Al says:

    If we go back to the original stated goals of “Knight’s Charge”, this looks like a win for Al-Maliki. The purpose was to go after criminal gangs in Basra that were connected to the JAM. These groups had gotten too greedy in their smuggling/hijacking operations.
    The goal was not a battle to the death with JAM. If Sadr lets the government cut down on the amount of stealing at the port, this will strengthen the government and still leave JAM alive for another day.
    This is the difference between the Western and Middle Eastern way of fighting: The west goes for decisive battles and the ME goes for skirmishes.

  • Marcello says:

    “Wasn’t he “worse than Al Qaeda”? ”
    That was referred to his militants. But still…

  • Marlin says:

    al-Sadr’s foot soldiers don’t seem so enthused about the developments.

    Suspicion of the Maliki government among fighters runs deep.
    “This is like a trap from the government. They used Moqtada al-Sadr to publish this truce order so they could enter difficult areas which Iraqi forces could not otherwise control in Basra,” said Abu Haidar. “They are bluffing and cheating us.”

    Reuters: Sadr followers caught off guard by truce

  • SoldiersDad says:

    The Iraqi Army placed an order for 200,000 rifles last week. Moqtada can fight them now…or later or never…his choice. Personally, I would want to fight someone prior to their order for 200,000 rifles arrived.

  • Marlin says:

    If this is even close to true, why did al-Sadr sign a truce order?

    Iraqi forces started their assault on the Shiite militias in Basra on Tuesday. Whatever the initial goal of the operation, by the time I arrived in Basra it was a patchwork of neighborhoods that were either deserted or overrun by Mahdi fighters. There were scattered Iraqi Army and police checkpoints, but no place seemed to be truly under government control.
    The next day I moved around as much as I could. The common observation was this: There was nowhere the Mahdi either did not control or could not strike at will.

    International Herald Tribune: Firsthand look at Basra shows value of white flag

  • the nailgun says:

    From what I can see determing the “winner” comes down to what happens next. If Al Maliki takes the pressure off then I think Sadr can chalk it up. If Al MAliki applies serious pressure from here picking off significant numbers of “rogue” elements it will be seen as step 1 in a longer hopefully successful campaign.
    I think MAliki will have to get some sort of serious dividend from this or he will have expended a fair bit of political capital. He has ende dup so very closely associated with it. He has no wriggle room on the issue of responsibility
    I wonder how different it might have been with more US/UK involvement. Was trying to make it so much of an ISF show at this point an error?
    Marlin I think only a few possiblities to IHT article
    1) the article is incorrect
    2) Sadr’s lines of communication maybe not good and didn’t realise he had a strong hand
    3) He took the long view that ISF and Maliki would re-group and ratchet up US/UK assistance and better to go out on top?

  • the nailgun says:

    Marlin -other interesting point is the IHT article doesn’t gel with the casualty count. It sounds like wherever ISF tackled JAM, ISF really swatted JAM but IHT says JAM in control. Odd!

  • DJ Elliott says:

    One factor being missed here.
    The announcement of the ceasefire was unalateral and from Sadr’s spokesmen. Nothing from the GoI.
    What if the GoI just continues?
    Wait a couple more days to see if this engagement is over…

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told FOX News that the decision is “positive and responsive.”
    Al-Dabbagh said the move would “help the government confront those who are violating the law” and that it would help to “isolate those who are trying to destroy the government effort”.
    He said Iraqi security operations in Basra would not end until the “criminal elements” operating there are removed.,2933,343231,00.html
    Do not assume it is over just because one side claims it is over…

  • AQI Losses says:

    I agree with Neo that neither side hit a home run and that it is difficult to determine an accurate status of conditions in Basra.
    We will have to see how this eventually plays itself out. As a whole, I believe it was more of a win for Maliki than Sadr, who blinked first. Sadr realized as the conflict raged on, he would slowly lose more ground.

  • Kirk Sowell says:

    Sadr did a nearly hour-long interview with al-Jazeera this weekend, and while I’m not sure my perceptions are the same as his target audience, nevertheless it did not come off well. He seemed nervous and unsettled, his rhetoric was pretty normal – occupation, occupation, etc. – as he tried to present himself as the Iraqi nationalist champion and reach out to Sunnis, but it is hard to do that when you are in Iran, and it is pretty obvious that your militia is getting weapons from Iran.
    Beating the Mahdi Army is important, but it won’t do anything in the long-run if the final result is dominance by the Supreme Council’s Badr group. This I think should be viewed not as a finite action but as a continuation of a long-term struggle for Basra.

  • AQI Losses says:

    DJ Elliott,
    I agree. That was one reason I believe this to be more of a win for Maliki than Sadr because operations against the special groups can continue and if the those in the Mahdi Army don’t like it and fight back, the IA in turn can go after them as well.

  • Neo says:

    I don’t know about easily disregarding the IHT article, guys. I also don’t see anything particularly out of place or untruthful in the IHT article. It does seem to mesh with several other reports coming from downtown Basra. It almost sounds as if the IA has manned former British strongpoints and major buildings but has no control over any one area. If true, they’re too spread out. They need to decide which areas are most strategic and start isolating them. They also probably need to get out of some areas were they can’t sustain their efforts. Basra needs a COIN strategy. Let’s face it, Britain’s post-colonial strategy for positively influencing local politics basically amounted to little more than using good soldiers as target practice for Sadr’s barbarians. Nothing against the British, we hardly did better for the longest time either.
    It really does look as if the IA has rushed in to take up positions vacated by the British and local police. Sorry, but I have to disagree with opinions voiced here every once in a while. The situation is Basra doesn’t look too good. I’m not sure that IA soldiers are in real danger of being overwhelmed, but I don’t think they have the sort of well trained discipline to take being targets for weeks on end either.
    I revise my assessment that the IA controls areas in northern and central Basra. They control isolated points throughout northern and central Basra. Not good!!!
    Please understand, I’m not saying they are going to lose. They are going to need some major revisions to their current posture.

  • cjr says:

    The important thing to keep in mind is that “initial reports are always wrong”.
    IMHO, today is WAY TO EARLY to be deciding who has won or who has lost. It will be at least 1-2 weeks before things being to sort itself out and the real result start becoming clear.

  • Dan R. says:

    Neo, according to today, the situation in Basra is calm, markets are open for business as usual, the Iraqi Army is in control of most of the city, and they are going house-to-house confiscating weapons and looking for criminal elements. Sure sounds like the IA is in control.

  • Neo says:

    Dan R.
    The temporary truce may indeed be in effect. If so, than good news. Wars in the third world can be counterintuitive that way. The place can be total mayhem for days or weeks than everyone decides to sleep, toilet, and take lunch. It’s still mayhem, but everyone has decided to take a lunch break. I do hope the Iraqi army is making the most of the opportunity.
    There’s still a long road ahead for Basra. I think what I said still applies, although the situation may have stabilized a bit.
    I do hope the Army is tracking down a couple hundred miles of concertina wire to stretch alongside some of Basra’s many canals and drainage ditches that separate the neighborhoods. Walled neighborhoods take too long to build, use the cities pre-existing features.

  • Marlin says:

    George Friedman at Stratfor is a little too Iran obsessed for my individual taste, but usually he provides an interesting, if different, take on events. At this point he believes that Iran has acquiesced to work with America to achieve stability in Iraq because we have recently started to build our own contacts with al-Sadr and are no longer dependent on going through Tehran to influence him.

    Two key Shiite parliament members – Hadi al-Amri from the Badr Organization (affiliated with the movement led by Iraq’s most powerful and most pro-Iranian politician Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim) and Ali al-Adeeb (deputy leader of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawah party) – traveled to Tehran to get the Iranians to pressure al-Sadr. It is quite interesting that al-Sadr’s announcement comes a little over a month after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadineajd’s trip to Baghdad. There are reports that during that trip, in a secret meeting with U.S. officials, Ahmadinejad offered to finally help Washington stabilize Iraq in exchange for security guarantees for Tehran. It is unclear to what extent the Iranians and Americans agreed to cooperate on Iraqi security, but the Basra security operation did not emerge in a vacuum.
    The Iranians have realized that they no longer can use the Shiite militia threat against the United States to force Washington’s hand on Iraq without jeopardizing their own interests. Thus far, Tehran had allowed intra-Shiite conflicts to persist in the hopes of using violence perpetrated by Shiite militants to pressure the United States into accepting Iranian terms for stabilizing Iraq. More recently, though, Iran had a rude awakening when the U.S. military began cultivating its own direct relations with members of al-Sadr’s movement. This demonstrated that Washington was not beholden to Iranian goodwill to stabilize Iraq and that all roads to Baghdad did not go through Tehran.
    Tigerhawk: The battle in the south of Iraq

  • Sgt Sanchez says:

    Bottom Line: Sadr took too many losses that is why they retreated. IA did a great job and they learned new lessons. Score one to the coalition.

  • Lorin says:

    Absolutely every Sadr headline should read “Sadr, hiding safely in Iran”… orders followers to end fighting”.


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