Clashes continue in Baghdad, Basrah

Multinational Forces Iraq targeted Mahdi Army and Special Groups mortar and rocket teams in Sadr City on April 8, 2008. Twelve Mahdi Army fighters were killed in the strikes.

Iraqi and Coalition forces are conducting strikes against the Mahdi Army and other Iranian-backed Shia terror groups in Baghdad and Basrah. As these raids are occurring, the Sadrist movement cancels a scheduled protest in Baghdad and issues conflicting reports about Muqtada al Sadr’s consultations with Shia clerics to disband the Mahdi Army.

Clashes in Baghdad

Today’s clashes in the Shia neighborhood in northeastern Baghdad began after Mahdi Army fighters attacked a police and US Army patrol and fired mortars and rockets at the International Zone in central Baghdad. Five policemen and four civilians were wounded in an improvised explosive device attack in eastern Baghdad, and one US soldier was killed in an IED attack in northeastern Baghdad. Two civilians were killed and five were wounded after mortars fell short in Sadr City. Four mortars and a Kaytusha rocket landed inside the International Zone, but no casualties were reported. Iraqi families are reported to be leaving Sadr City or stocking up on supplies, fearing renewed fighting.

Multinational Forces Iraq responded by putting up aerial hunter-killer teams over the neighborhoods where the rocket and mortars are launched. The US military killed 12 Mahdi Army fighters during three strikes against mortar and rocket teams operating from Sadr City. The first attack, from a US soldiers in a helicopter aerial weapons team, targeted a mortar team in northeast Baghdad. Two “criminals” were killed and the mortar tube was destroyed. The second attack, from a Predator, destroyed four rocket launch rails in an open field in northeast Baghdad. The third strike, also in northeast Baghdad, killed 10 “criminals” carrying rocket-propelled grenades and a mortar tube.

Clashes in Basrah

A senior Iraqi general has vowed to continue to target “criminals” operating in Basrah. On April 8, the military warned that the end of the amnesty period to turn in heavy and medium weapons has expired. “Security forces will target gunmen who did not exploit the opportunity to hand over their weapons, and they will be punished according to law,” said Major General Abdul Kareem Khalaf, the chief of the Basrah Operational Command. “Iraqi security forces have intelligence information regarding the location of weapons and gunmen in Basrah.”

As the deadline was set to expire, Iraqi and Coalition forces conducted multiple raids in the city. Over the past week the Iraqi Special Operations Forces killed 14 “terrorists and Special Group members” and captured twelve during a series of raids. The Iraqi forces also found and destroyed several roadside bombs and weapons caches. On April 8, an Iraqi Army brigade commander and the brigade’s intelligence officer were wounded in a roadside bomb attack on their convoy in northern Basrah.

Sadrist camp issues conflicting messages

As the Iraqi military and Multinational Forces Iraq apply pressure to the Mahdi Army in Basrah and Baghdad, the Sadrist movement has issued conflicting statements on disbanding the Mahdi Army and consulting with senior clerics, has canceled a scheduled protest, and threatened to end the unilateral cease-fire initiated by Sadr in August 2007.

Just one day after a Sadr aide said Sadr would seek advice from senior Shia clerics in Najaf and Qom in Iran over the government’s threat to bar the Sadrist movement from elections if it did not dissolve the Mahdi Army, another aide denied this. “Shiite Cleric Muqtada al Sadr did not think of dissolving the Mahdi Army,” Sheikh Salah al Ubaidi, a spokesman from Sadr’s office told Voices of Iraq. “We have no right to interfere in freezing or dissolving the Mahdi Army because it is an exclusive right of Muqtada al Sadr.”

On April 7, Hassan Zargani, an aide to Sadr said he was seeking advice from senior Shia clerics. “Muqtada al Sadr has ordered his offices in Najaf and Qom to form a delegation to visit [Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani] in Najaf and (other leaders) in Qom to discuss disbanding the Mahdi Army,” Zargani said. “If they order the Mahdi Army to disband, Muqtada al Sadr and the Sadr movement will obey the orders of the religious leaders.”

Then, in a second release, Ubaidi said Sadr did consider disbanding the Mahdi Army and consulted with senior Shia clerics on the issue, but they recommended Sadr keep his militia intact. Sadr had “recently consulted the clergy about dissolving the Mahdi Army, but the major clergies rejected this issue,” Ubaidi said at a press conference.

Ubaidi also issued a statement that Sadr’s “million-man march” in Baghdad planned for April 9 has been canceled. The government had blocked the use of vehicles for the protestors and Sadr feared for their safety, Ubaidi said. The protest was originally planned to be held in Najaf, but Sadr changed the location to Baghdad earlier this week, citing issues with travel.

Recent calls for demonstrations have resulted in poor turnouts among the Sadr supporters. Several years ago Sadr could amass hundreds of thousands of protestors, but over the last year protests have only drawn upwards of 10,000 people.

Sadr’s spokesman also threatened to end the unilateral cease-fire instituted by Sadr in August 2007 and extended in February 2008. “Until now we see no interest in ending the freeze,” Ubaidi said. “If the freeze becomes an obstacle, and other sides wrongly used the freeze against us, this will give us the opportunity to serve our society’s people by lifting the freeze.” Ubaidi claimed the Iraqi military and government was taking advantage of the cease-fire to attack the Mahdi Army.

Sadr imposed the cease-fire in August 2007 after clashes with the police and Army in Karbala. The Mahdi Army suffered a major defeat in the battle. Sadr maintains the cease-fire is still intact even after Mahdi Army forces attacked the military in Baghdad and Basrah.

For more information on the recent fighting in Basrah and Sadr City, see US, Iraqi Army clash with Mahdi Army in Sadr City and A look at Operation Knights’ Assault. For more information on the Iraqi government’s move to barring the Sadrist movement from participating in elections if it fails to disband the Mahdi Army, see Iraqi government moves to sideline Sadrists, Mahdi Army.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.



  • Alex says:

    Why I am hopeful:
    Each day, the ISF gets a little bit stronger. Each day, the JAM and other trouble makers get a little bit weaker. It looks like we are way past the tipping point nowl

  • mjr007 says:

    Hopefully Bill or DJ can shed some light on Sadr’s political prospects. It seems his support has dwindled significantly reflected in his inability to rally a “million-man” march.
    With elections around the corner I’m reading varying accounts as to Shia support for Sadr in the ranges from 1:1 upwards to 2:1 (the one being Badr/Hakim factions etal.)
    Any thoughts on what the real support in the south for al-Sadr “the politician” is?
    Thanks for your great work. I value it highly as one of the only reliable journalistic sources in Iraq.

  • TS Alfabet says:

    I am wondering in this regard whether the IA in Basra is employing any of the COIN techniques used by U.S. forces in other parts of Iraq or whether the IA is using only kinetic approaches at this point (i.e., they are not yet at the point where they can establish COP’s in Basra)?

  • SoldiersDad says:

    “Hopefully Bill or DJ can shed some light on Sadr’s political prospects.”
    Politics everywhere is heavily influenced by peoples perspective of “Who can get me a job”. In Saddams Iraq “friends” got preferential hiring treatment. There are plenty of examples of political favortism in US politics as well. There isn’t a single US politician who doesn’t talk about what he/she is going to do to improve the ‘economy’…I.E. help you get a job.
    The Facilities Protection Service was probably the biggest source of “Political Jobs”. Previously, the FPS guards were hired by the various ministries that had facilities. Hospitals and clinics in Iraq compose a significant portion of the “Facilities”…Moqtada’s pals controlled the Ministry of Health.
    Some months ago..the FPS was moved from the various ministries to the Ministry of Interior. While some loyalists to Moqtada certainly remain in the FPS..there continued employment doesn’t rely on loyalty to Moqtada.
    Another point the MSM is missing is that the Ports in Basra are a major employer. The MSM is viewing the IA’s control of the ports in Basra from a military persective rather then it’s political pespective. Controlling the port is about controlling a major source of jobs. Again….as long as the IA controls the ports..peoples employment in the ports is not dependent on loyalty to Moqtada’s party.
    The big protests in the Middle East have always been the Government/Ministry implying to its workers that if they didn’t partake in the protest their job would disappear.
    The MSM has never been able to distinguish between actual loyalty and coerced loyalty in their Middle East reporting.
    Prime Minister Malliki has been systematically removing the tools of ‘coerced loyalty’ from Moqtada’s hands for quite some time. Only time will tell how much ‘actual’ loyalty Moqtada commands.

  • Marlin says:

    This is an interesting development this morning, if true.

    Meanwhile, one of Iraq’s eminent clerics, Ayatollah al-Sistani, has offered his support to the government of prime minister Nouri al-Maliki in its bid to control the Mahdi Army.
    A spokesman for the cleric from the city of Najaf said al-Sistani supported disarming the militias and removing them from Iraq.

    AKI: Iraq: Fatal attacks in Baghdad despite curfew

  • LDG says:

    Encountered what I can only describe as “a puzzler” while checking into an unrelated matter. The folks at DEBKAfile are running this article:
    …and are asserting IRGC-coordinated activities *supporting both sides* in the recent fighting.
    You thoughts, gentlemen, if you please.

  • Tony says:

    Why can’t buildings in the International Zone be equipped with something like the Iron Fist APS to at least reduce the threat of RPG/missile/mortar attack?
    It seems that every day we hear about insurgents or militias attacking embassies in both Baghdad and Basra. Obviously Coalition forces are going on offense against the groups behind the attacks so they can’t launch future attacks. But as we can see in this report, some attacks still persist. Why not do something to neutralize these missile attacks that do get launched?

  • crosspatch says:

    Marlin: I noted that same report from AKI and see that as a very promising sign not only for the current situation on the ground but in going forward and seeing the Iraqi Shiite theological schools being independent from Iran.
    LDG: In my own personal experience, Debka turns out to be right less often than a stopped clock. When I read anything there, I am fairly certain that it isn’t true. The reason the stuff from Debka doesn’t match with the other stuff you are reading is because the author probably made it up as it was being written.

  • Marlin says:

    Some more details on what happened with the British in Basra during the initial fighting.

    The Times has learnt, however, that when Britain’s most senior officer in Basra, Brigadier Julian Free, commander of 4 Mechanised Brigade, flew into the city to find out what was going on, Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, who was orchestrating the attacks on militia strongholds, declined to see him.
    A source told
    The Times that US forces were in Basra, eating and sleeping alongside their Iraqi counterparts, “basically doing the work that we were supposed to do. It was a catastrophic failure of diplomacy.”

  • Neo says:

    I wouldn’t make too much of the snub against the British in Basra. First, building the Iraqi government and Army has been an American project. There is an long established relationship and Maliki knows who he has to ask to get things done. The British effort has been more like a UN oversight mission. They never had the level of involvement with the Iraqi government that the Americans have.
    The other factor is that the British for all purposes are on the way out of Iraq. The present situation allows the Americans to fully support and embed with Iraqi forces. It also allows the British a way back into support of the operation. It also gives the whole operation a level of legitimacy as an Iraqi operation that it would not have had if the US army was in front of the operation. The whole affair has a level of sloppiness that no professional army would accept but in the end it did result in taking far more of Basra than any methodical plan could have dreamed of doing. The audacity of the whole thing seemed to have taken JAM and their Iranian backers off guard.

  • LDG says:

    @crosspatch — it certainly appears your experience is applicable in this case. Nearly a full day of searching about, and no sign of any other source making the same claim as DEBKA did. Thanks!

  • Scott Case says:

    A tipping point again? Interesting. The press is playing the Iraqi assault on Basra as a complete failure and as a Sadr victory. I was suprised and somewhat impressed myself. Here is why:
    1. The Iraqi’s actually mobilised a military force of division + size and actually launched an attack on a well defended city. They failed to clear the city, but they did make in roads into it. Some Iraqi troops deserted, but there is nothing new there for anyone who has ever read up on Iraqi military history. Those numbers were fairly low and really involved a very green unit.
    2. Maliki’s words arn’t worth a flip- watch his actions. He backed off with words, but is still moving against Sadr’s men in the field by bringing in additional forces to reinforce the few gains he has made.
    3. Maliki is having sucess in politically isolating Sadr. I was suprised with the Iraqi passage of the law banning militias from being involved in politics. It passed with support from all three Iraqi factions! It appears to be aimed at Sadr, but it can easily be twisted against any group.
    4. Sistani is slowly, quietly turning to support the government. I wish he would say the words himself, but the news reports are spreading that he is giving support to Maliki’s government.
    It’s looking like Maliki is gaining traction in both the field and on the political tables and that Sadr is taking a beating in both. I’m heartened to see the Iraqi’s take care of their own business! This could really be a tipping point.

  • Mike L says:

    I’ve followed Debka for several years and have wondered why its more striking claims are often uncorroborated by other sources. They would have one believe it’s because they get “exclusives,” but it seems more likely that much of it is just made up.
    The reporting and analysis at this site is more responsible and balanced. It actually does the sort of thing that Debka only claims to do. However, I’d like to see more here about those aspects of the “long war” that directly involve Israel, especially given that many of the same actors are involved.


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