Iraqi government: “We will continue until we secure Sadr City”

The Iraqi government has committed to wresting Sadr City from the control of Shia militias, an Iraqi government spokesman and a US military spokesman said in a press briefing today in Baghdad.

“We will continue until we secure Sadr City. We will not come out, we will not give up until the people of Sadr City have a normal life,” Ali al Dabbagh, the spokesman for the government of Iraq, told AFP. “(Security forces) will do what they have to do to secure the area. I can’t tell you how many days or how many months but they will not come out until they have secured Sadr City.”

The US military has stated it will support the Iraqi government in its plan to secure Sadr City. Rear Admiral Patrick Driscoll, a spokesman for Multinational Forces Iraq, said the operations have intensified over the past week and US forces are backing the Iraqi military. “Under the direction of the Prime Minister, the Iraqi security forces have redoubled their efforts in recent days in certain parts of Baghdad, including Sadr City,” Driscoll said. “Coalition Forces continue to support the Iraqi security forces in these operations, focused on securing districts that have suffered from the abuse and neglect of criminal groups and outlaws.”

The Long War Journal has been able to identify nine US combat battalions operating in and around the Sadr City region, along with three Iraqi Army brigades and a National Police brigade. US Stryker units are engaged with Mahdi Army forces in and around Sadr City. Multinational Forces Iraq has traditionally used the Strykers as the lead assault elements during past operations. The US has also stepped up air weapons teams and unmanned Predator strikes against Mahdi Army cells operating in the open in Sadr City.

Humanitarian and reconstruction aid to Sadr City and other Shia neighborhoods have been committed in the wake of operations. “Without improved security it is difficult to provide essential services so that people can live their lives peacefully and freely,” Driscoll said. “The Iraqi Government, with the support of the Coalition, will continue to focus efforts to establish local security, and are committed to following security with the delivery of essential services, such as health, electricity, water, sewage, and trash disposal.” On April 12, Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki ordered additional humanitarian supplies be sent to Sadr City.

The Iraqi government and US military have made an effort to disassociate the current fighting with the Sadrist movement and the Mahdi Army. “The government doesn’t send its forces after any political bloc,” Dabbagh said. “Anyone who is carrying a weapon illegally will be prosecuted. It is not dependent on their political persuasion, whether they be in the Sadrist trend or any other bloc.” Driscoll continued to call the targets of the raids “criminals.”

But the Sadrist movement and the Mahdi Army have been clear they are conducting attacks against US and Iraqi forces. The Sadrist have been advertising the results of their operations against US forces in Sadr City. The Sadrists have also said they have received operational orders from senior leaders based out of Najaf to hold off major attacks unless US and Iraqi forces enter the heart of Sadr City.

Sadr himself has said the Mahdi Army would continue to oppose the US presence in Iraq. “You have always been my enemy,” Sadr said in a statement received by Al Alam. “And you will always be my enemy till the last drop of my blood.” Sadr said his Mahdi Army and political movement would continue to oppose the US presence in Iraq in a “way that we consider suitable.”

Background on the fighting between the Mahdi Army and the Iraqi government

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. On April 13, the cabinet approved legislation that prevents political parties that have militias from contesting provincial elections this year. The bill will now be sent to parliament for approval. 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.

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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15 Comments

  • KnightHawk says:

    Thanks again Bill, TLWJ’s reporting on recent events has been nothing short of phenomenal, once again putting the MSM (in general) to shame.

  • Bulldog says:

    Thanks Bill.I read your site daily along with a lot of other Dads to find out what is going on and what to expect. Your site has been a lifeline for numerous Dads around the country. Bulldog Out!

  • Marlin says:

    The effort to secure Sadr City includes some impressive logistical feats. Bill’s right. The Coalition Forces are serious about assuming control of that area.

    It had been only a few hours since the Soldiers of 769th Engineer Battalion, 35th Engineer Brigade, Multi-National Division – Baghdad, returned from the monumental task of installing approximately 130,000-square feet of rocket-propelled grenade fencing and sniper-screen material over a 1,200 foot distance, with heights measuring up to 40 feet, at Joint Security Station Ur in the Sadr City district of Baghdad to veil the aerostat and its docking station.
    […]
    “The mission took 13 days to complete despite several setbacks caused by high winds, indirect fire or enemy small-arms fire directed at crews as they worked suspended at heights up to 40 feet in the air,”

  • Marlin says:

    The Iraqi government continues to make moves that make it harder on the Mahdi Army.

    And in a new move to stem the flow of money to armed groups, the government ordered a crackdown on militiamen controlling state-run and private gas stations, refineries and oil distribution centers.
    It is believed that gas stations and distribution centers, especially in eastern Baghdad and some southern provinces, are covertly controlled by Shiite militiamen dominated by the Mahdi Army.
    […]
    Khalaf also said 28 criminals from Basra who were tried and been found guilty of multiple murders and abductions were executed in Baghdad on Sunday. They had been arrested before the upsurge in fighting in March and moved to the capital.

    Associated Press: 1,300 Iraqi Troops, Police Dismissed

  • Alex says:

    So I’ve been thinking…is this it? What happens next after Basra and Sadr City are secured? What’s the status on Mosul?
    Job well done for the US and Iraqi troops.

  • nailgun says:

    Sorry to be a wee bit OT – Bill/DJ you might remember on a previous post I speculated that Iran had cut Sadr loose after Ahminjead’s visit.
    the below leads some credence to this
    //aawsat.com/english/news.asp?section=1&id=12412
    about half way down they are telling him to pack his bags
    He’s getting cut off everywhere.
    Ohh now I see you guys have it up in the news bar too. Got to get up pretty early in the day to beat you guys

  • Marlin says:

    Stories like this only add to my conviction that the Mahdi Army finds itself in a spot from which it is impossible to recover. To the average person a steady job is very important. When it is lost, you don’t forget who is at fault.

    Shop and hotel owners as well as small businesses have suffered heavily due to a drastic slump in the number of foreign tourists visiting the holy city of Karbala, according to Abed al-Furati, head of the city’s tourist department.
    Furati said the latest upsurge in violence has driven almost all foreign tourists away, “aggravating economic and living conditions for hundreds of thousands of families in the country particularly those in religious cities.”

  • Marlin says:

    Stories like this certainly back up al-Maliki’s claim that he is going after whoever is breaking the law, even if it is Shiites.

    Over the past five years, most Iraqi and US forces’ detainees were Sunni Arabs, but today most of those who are held are Shiites, Iraqi sources added.
    “More than 80 per cent of detention operations are against Shiite activists and this reflects the fact that most security operations are against Shiite extremists”, Taha Al Hayani, an employee at the information and investigations agency of the Iraqi Interior Ministry, added.

    Gulf News: Shiite neighbourhoods ‘most troubled in Baghdad’

  • Iraq since the Sadrist uprising and the Sadrists’ attempts to abort same

    The violence in Iraq is a lot better than 2005, or even 2006 thanks to the Surge (see also this movie), but worse than two months ago. This highly detailed map shows Al Qaeda’s Iraq branch’s declining fortunes, which go hand in hand with …

  • mjr007 says:

    Seems the MSM accounts of al-Sadr’s power were greatly over-exagerated. No shocker there, of course. The battle for Sadr City will be yet another drubbing of JAM at the hands of the IA and IP with key suppport from the US brave men and women. This development there coupled with the humanitarian assistance will “win the hearts and minds.”
    Petraeus and Maliki appear to be working well in tandum. The IA etal drive out the “criminals” and the vacuum is immediately filled with humanitarian aid. These two are working together. Seem Maliki has finally gotten the message that he needs to stop looking after his own self-interests and that by providing for the well-being of the people he, ipso facto, is enhancing his own future.
    I ascribe much of Maliki’s transformation to Gen. Patraeus’ bottom-up approach beginning with the Awakening circa CLC, circa SOI. It’s heartening to see Iraq being transformed before our very eyes. With the movement and progress of the SOI, it’s a wonderful development to see the possible spread of this type of movement into the predominantly Shia areas of Sadr City, Basra and the South of Iraq.
    Wonderful reporting Bill and DJ. You are providing an invaluable service to those of us who want the “real” story.
    I cannot thank you enough.

  • TS Alfabet says:

    Question: with all of the units being moved toward Basra and Sadr City, are we leaving other parts of Iraq vulnerable? My impression is that, notwithstanding the additional “surge” brigades in Iraq, U.S. forces are still pretty thin in most areas, particularly when we are trying to deal a knock-out blow to AQI in Mosul.
    Does anyone have any knowledge of whether we are risking security gains in other areas by going after JAM in Basra and Baghdad?

  • SoldiersDad says:

    “Question: with all of the units being moved toward Basra and Sadr City, are we leaving other parts of Iraq vulnerable?”
    I know DJ has covered it a million times…the Iraqi Army stands up a ‘brigade equivalent” every month.
    Clearing pretty much doesn’t occur until the “holding troops” are ready.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Most of the IA is coming from quiet areas and areas where they have added new brigades recently. They have been forming a new combat brigade every five weeks since December.
    Those units may not be up to heavy combat but they can replace experienced units in quiet areas.
    Augments from ISF to Basrah confirmed so far are:
    – 1st Div HQ from Anbar
    – 3rd Bde/1st Div was in Diyala but based in Anbar (replaced by new 21st Bde)
    – 14th Bde/4th Div from Salahadin (replaced by retrained former SIB Bde)
    – Karbala Emergency Response Brigade (33rd IA Bde gained three more bns last month)
    – Hillah SWAT Bn (South Baghdad and north Babil gained the 34th IA Mech Brigade reinforced last month.)
    – INP ERU Bn was in Nasariyah but Baghdad based. (this force goes where needed)
    Unit movements in Baghdad are not as clear and appear to be more of shifting bns around that are already there. The ISF has two divisions of IA and a division of INP plus an ISOF Bde in Baghdad proper. With another division’s worth of elements in the province…

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 04/14/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front lines.

  • DWMF says:

    Thanks for the link, Nailgun. Very interesting!
    Quote from link: “Al-Nuri led exactly five years ago an armed attack on the moderate Shiite cleric Abdul-Majid al-Khoei … inside Al-Haydariyah shrine.”
    This was Shi’ite-on-Shi’ite. It wasn’t political, but it was family business, akin to a Mafia vendetta. Al-Khoei’s relatives and friends have finally got their pound of flesh, when al-Nuri lost his Iranian protection.
    It reminds me somewhat of the attempted assassination of Uday Hussein, after he had murdered his brothers in law, after they returned to Iraq, following their defections to Jordan. They petitioned Saddam for vengeance, and he had to grant it. Sadly, they couldn’t complete the job, and Saddam said that was enough.
    I believe that Muqtada had to throw his brother-in-law to the wolves for much the same reasons. Hence the unconvincing, lack-lustre briefing of asking the Iraqi govt “to carry out a fair investigation”.

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