Clashes between the Mahdi Army and US and Iraqi forces broke out in Sadr City in Baghdad late Friday after a senior aide to Muqtada al Sadr was murdered in the city of Najaf. US and Iraqi forces confirmed killing 13 Mahdi Army fighters in eastern Baghdad after a series of complex attacks.
The latest bout of fighting in the Mahdi Army strongholds in eastern Baghdad began after Riyad al Nouri was murdered by gunmen outside his home in Najaf. Nouri was in charge of Sadr’s office in Najaf and was also Sadr’s brother-in-law. Sadr immediately accused “the hands of the occupiers and their tails,” referring to the Iraqi government, of conducting the attack. Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki immediately condemned the killing.
Iraqi security forces immediately clamped a curfew on the cities of Najaf and Hillah in an attempt to prevent retaliatory strikes from the Mahdi Army. The Mahdi Army suffered a setback during the six days of fighting at the end of March, and its capacity was degraded in the south-central cities of Najaf, Karbala, and Hillah. But Sadr still maintains influence in the region.
A series of clashes broke out in Sadr City in the late evening after Mahdi Army forces conducted several complex attacks against joint US and Iraqi patrols. The Mahdi Army used roadside bombs, rocket-propelled grenades, and sniper and small-arms fire from housing complexes in the city. One of the US and Iraqi convoys was transporting material to be used in the construction of a checkpoint that would be manned by the Iraqi Army.
Thirteen Mahdi Army fighters were confirmed killed in three separate engagements and “multiple others” are believed to have been killed. US forces used M1A2 Abrams tanks and Predator unmanned aerial vehicles to strike at Mahdi Army positions.
The Iraqi government had planned on lifting the curfew in Sadr City on April 12, but the recent fighting and the murder of Sadr’s brother-in-law has put the plan on hold.
Mahdi Army forces rose up after the Iraqi government started the assault on Basrah on March 25 to clear the city of the Mahdi Army and other Iranian-backed Shia militias. Sadr called for his forces to leave the streets on March 30 just as Iraqi Army and police reinforcements began to arrive in Basrah.
US and Iraqi forces killed 173 Mahdi Army fighters in Baghdad alone during the six days of fighting from March 25-30. The fighting has not abated in Sadr City and other Mahdi Army dominated neighborhoods in northern and eastern Baghdad.
Sadr and his political movement have become increasingly isolated since the fighting began in Basrah, Baghdad, and the South. The Iraqi government, with the support of the political parties, said the Sadrist political movement would not be able to participate in upcoming provincial elections if it failed to disband the Mahdi Army. Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, the senior most Shia cleric in Iraq, said the Mahdi Army was not above the law and should be disarmed.
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al-Maliki is continuing follow-up operations in Basra.
Associated Press: 13 Killed in Sadr City Clashes
The Mahdi Army is not winning every heart and mind in Sadr City.
Reuters: Baghdad slum residents endure street battle hell
Grim (recently returned from Iraq as a civilian advisor) has a very interesting post up on the problems facing Iraq. I had never thought of the recent battles against the Mahdi Army in exactly this paradigm before.
Blackfive: Thoughts on Iraq
A couple other things should be thrown into the mix. First, there is an aggressive ongoing campaign to suppress rocket and mortar fire coming out of the South West corner of Sadr City nearest to downtown Baghdad and the green zone. These mortar attacks have long been a both a dangerous nuisance and a successful propaganda tool for JAM. Second, you might want to emphasize that the checkpoints being established are part of a larger ongoing attempt to establish at lest a nominal government security presence throughout Sadr city. The establishment of new checkpoints can be expected to be incremental and will increase as resources and troops become available for the effort. I’m guessing that security measures within Sadr City will come in stages. I don’t see where the IA could find troops for anything more aggressive than an incremental approach. I think they would also like to attempt to undercut the level of support that JAM has within Sadr City. If they can get significant portions of the resistance within Sadr City to just give up and go home, it would be far preferred over fighting it out with the entire neighborhood.
Quickly establishing a security presence in Basra and capitalizing on gains within that city will probably take up much of available resources in the short term. It’s a considerable undertaking as Basra is the second largest city in Iraq.
I really don’t understand how some people maintain the same level of gloom about the war effort as if there is no improvement and nothing new has happened. They look at metrics and see a slight rise in violence than say things are falling apart. Iraqi troops have within the last four months established security within Mosul the third largest city and are now quickly taking hold of Basra the second largest city. That doesn’t seem to have any significance though. Now the latest fear seems to be that the Iraqi government risks stability by pressuring JAM and attempting to undercut its strength and support. It should be pointed out that we have been pressuring JAM for the last two years with exactly the opposite effect. During that time JAM has been losing ground not gaining.
Sam Dagher makes the point that the recent Basra initiative also included a significant component about oil and smuggling.
Christian Science Monitor: Basra strike against Shiite militias also about oil
I’m a little unsure where the Qibla District is within Basra since it is unmarked on either of the maps I am using. There is a suburban district in the far southwest of Basra that has it’s streets off-set at a different angle as it would make the houses face Mecca. Perhaps this is the Qibla District. Maybe someone can enlighten me on this?
There does seem to be a direct effort to clamp down on illegal activities south and west of Basra related to oil and arms smuggling. If the Qibla district is where I think it is, on the southwest corner of Basra, taking over that district may be directly related to clamping down on oil smuggling. I believe that the primary oil line that goes out to Al Faw skirts past the southwest edge of this district passing within a few hundred yards of the neighborhood.
It is possible to follow the main oil pipeline back toward Basra from Al Faw using Google Earth. Start at the tank farm just north of Al Faw and follow the line. There is a ridge of dirt with a crude dirt road running along it and runoff ditches of either side. Every so often, you can see a place where the line has been compromised and oil has run into the runoff ditches. The line heads straight toward Basra and veers northwest as it passes the western edge of Basra. It connects to a large oil storage facility west of Basra.
Does anybody have any idea who killed Nouri? I don’t see it as a US or Iraqi government operation.
Is there a power struggle going on within the JAM?
sadr has been sitting on a three legged stool:
1. oil smuggling to fund his ops
2. iranian weapons and support
3. the threat of ‘50,000’ armed followers
i don’t think that the iranian’s are the paymaster for all his followers. would be a pretty expensive payroll so oil smuggling (cars and consumer electronics too from what i read somewhere) keeps bread on his followers tables.
i think it’s fairly obvious that most of his material and logistical support are iranian.
i think it’s also fairly obvious there were not 50,000 AK’s on the street during the recent tussle with the GoI forces.
without money to keep his guys on the payroll he can’t call them out to the streets. if he can’t get them on the streets he’s not a lot of use to the iranians.
the stool looks wobbly at the moment. he’s going to have to do something in the near term, either militarily or politically or risk being sidelined by developments.
ummm… btw… i intentionally left out the possible 4th leg i’ve heard some argue, religious. i think it’s a charade and i believe most iraqis have known that since he had that rival guy whacked back in 2003(?). his authority in the spiritual realm is something oft repeated by his own people and dutifully parroted by msm. it’s tenuous at best and totally dependent upon his father’s name AND the three real yardsticks of his strength mentioned above. i can’t remember that guys name for anything though…
just my own musings based on what i read though.
“i intentionally left out the possible 4th leg i’ve heard some argue, religious. i think it’s a charade and i believe most Iraqis have known that since he had that rival guy whacked back in 2003”
Don’t know whether the transition of the IA from AK’s to M-16’s has even started, but I don’t think the genius behind the move is widely enough appreciated.
The symbolism aside, when only the bad guys carry AK-47’s, it will be a lot easier to tell the bad guys from the good guys won’t it? Beyond that, anybody that picks up an M-16 is making a big statement, a you-bet-your-life statement, and when you can’t blend into the background and run away anymore, I’m thinking you fight alongside your allies a little harder.
“Don’t underestimate the religious part of the equation.”
“In Basra the signs of the feared militia are slowly receding. For the first time in years alcohol vendors are selling beer close to army checkpoints”
Don’t overestimate the religious angle either.
Average Omar likes his beer and cigarettes just as much as Average Joe.
1st, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th Divisions plus ISOF and the Presidential Brigade have US M4/M16s.
Those are the ones confirmed. Last month’s FMS notice included another buy of 100,000 M16s and 100,000 M4s more…
However, MoI’s police are sticking with AKs…
The cleric whom Al Sadr’s men killed was the pro liberation Majid al -Khoie.
The first thing that popped into my mind when Sadr’s thug got whacked in Najaf was that ISCI is protecting its turf. They want their cut of the shrine money, which means guarding it against JAM’s greasy mitts.
I believe this news article says Qibla is 8km west of downtown Basra.
Aswat al-Iraq: 14 wanted arrested, weapons and ammunitions seized in Basra
I agree that the Shia’s as a group value their individual identification as Shia. It’s been pretty well ingrained on them by the persecution they faced a group during Saddam’s rule. I don’t think Sadr himself has a deep seated religious base among the Shia though.
The Iranian’s sent him over to whack al-Khoie (thanks Terry Gain!) to gain influence in Iraq. It was a pretty blatant power grab, the senior cleric being murdered (at the mosque even!) by the junior cleric, and the Shia as a people know that. OK, it may have been Saddamists, but it’s always been my feeling that the Iranians had him whacked so their man, Sadr, wouldn’t have to contend with al_Khoei’s greater authority.
His power base has always been guns and money. His father’s name provides a cheap veneer of religious authority. He is a strongman, not a religious man.
Sounded like an internal hit.
perhaps. al-Nuri (Sadr’s bro-in-law) got whacked a few days ago and i’d wager that was a revenge hit by al-Khoei’s people.
i still think whacking al-Khoei was to advance Sadr which in turn advanced the Iranian’s influence.
i’m overusing the term ‘whack’. i gotta quit watching the Sopranos so much!
Therapist1: Sounded like an internal hit.
I think so too. I think it’s eye-for-an-eye for the murder of Majid al-Khoie. Maybe Sadr threw him to the wolves. All his subsequent blather is pure bluster to cover it up.
Hey bubarooni man, are you telepathic? We wrote the same thought at the same time!
i’m channeling you!