Iraqi troops advance against Mahdi Army in Basrah

The Iraqi Army, backed by Coalition advisers and airpower, has launched an assault on the Mahdi Army-controlled neighborhood of Hayaniyah in the port city of Basrah, sparking heavy fighting. Multinational Forces Iraq described the action as “a new phase of operations” as part of the overall operation, called Knights’ Charge, which was launched on March 25.

The fighting in Basrah is said to be intense. The assault began at 6 AM local time when “British artillery and US aircraft released ordnance against known criminal rocket and mortar sites west of Hayaniyah,” the Multinational Forces Iraq press release stated.

“There were violent clashes with gunmen there,” Captain Chris Ford, a British military spokesman in Basrah, told The Los Angeles Times. An Iraqi witness said Coalition airstrikes blunted a Mahdi Army attack and allowed Iraqi forces to take control of the main streets in Hayaniyah.

Iraqi troops are now said to be in control of the neighborhood. “Our troops deployed in all the parts of the (Hayaniyah) district and controlled it without much resistance,” Major General Abdul Karim Khalaf, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior told Reuters. “Now we are working on house-to-house checking. We have made many arrests.”

Elements from at least two Iraqi Army divisions are involved in the Hayaniyah operation. The newly formed 14th Division is operating in conjunction with the 1st Division, one of the most seasoned divisions in the Iraqi Army. “This remains an Iraqi led, planned and executed mission,” said Major Tom Holloway, the British Army’s spokesman in southern Iraq. A brigade from the 1st Division was moved into Basrah to support the operation after the military met tougher than expected opposition at the onset of Knights’ Charge. The 1st Division is based out of Anbar province and has seen action in Fallujah, Ramadi, Baghdad, Baqubah, Mosul, and elsewhere.

Hayaniyah was one of three Mahdi Army-controlled neighborhoods that have been surrounded by the Iraqi Army since earlier this week. Iraqi forces also have surrounded the Khamsamile and Garma neighborhoods in an effort to isolate the Mahdi Army and control movement into and out of the areas. Iraqi troops pulled control of Taymiyyah and Qiblah away from the Mahdi Army over the past several weeks.

Ongoing pressure in Basrah

Today’s operation is the latest in a series of actions designed to wrest Basrah from the grip of the Mahdi Army. On April 18, the Iraqi security forces detained 35 “wanted men” in Basrah, Al Faw, and Al Qornah. One of those captured included an “accused suspected of being involved in the attempt on the life of one of top Shiite Cleric Ali al Sistani’s representatives in Basrah.” The Sistani representative was seriously wounded in the assassination attempt.

Also on April 18, Iraqi troops surrounded an office of the Sadrist movement in the heart of the city. The building complex is owned by the Iraqi Olympic Committee and was occupied by other political parties, all of whom left after receiving notice from the government. The Iraqi military has been ordered to eject political parties from state-owned buildings, but the Sadrist party is refusing to leave. A 48-hour deadline has been issued for the Sadrists to leave. The Sadrists have said they have begun to leave the premises and will be out of the buildings today.

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. Sadr later admitted he ordered his followers within the Army and police to abandon their posts and join the fighting against the government.

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 with militias from contesting provincial elections this year. The bill will now be sent to parliament for approval. Grand Ayatollah Sistani 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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22 Comments

  • pedestrian says:

    The last phase of the security opeartions have begun. I have been waiting this for months. There will be a need of clean up to eliminate the remaining Al Qaida and Mahdi Army elements afterward, but this surge will be the last large scale battle in Iraq for stabilization. Reconstruction will shift from military central to economy and diplomacy central. However, Muqtada Al Sadr must be put to justice to complete the last phase of the surge. There is no such victory without the icon falling from power and being put to justice. Pentagon officials asking Sadr back to the political proccess and letting him free without any punishments are nothing but traitors keeping a blind eye on the deaths of the American troops that have been a victim of Al Sadr’s terrorism. Such decision letting him go unpunished is no different from letting Adolf Hitler live unpunished after the WWII, if he was alive.

  • Neo says:

    The still too soon to judge how smoothly the takeover of the Hayaniyah District in Basra went. Right now it’s a little early. If things are going anywhere near as smoothly as this report than the Iraqi Army definitely has some momentum going for it. The IA needs to do whatever it can to quickly take as much of Basra while momentum is on their side.

  • bard207 says:

    The Sadrists keep searching for a better deal while getting bottled up into smaller and smaller areas in Sadr City and Basrah.
    The political & strategic dynamics have changed from what they were in the past and the Sadr camp has difficulty in recognizing and/or accepting that.
    Somewhat reminiscent of Japan in 1945 after VE Day.

  • Richard1 says:

    Anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr gave a “final warning” to the government Saturday to halt a U.S.-Iraqi crackdown against his followers or he would declare “open war until liberation.”
    A full-blown uprising by al-Sadr, who led two rebellions against U.S.-led forces in 2004, could lead to a dramatic increase in violence in Iraq at a time when the Sunni extremist group al-Qaida in Iraq appears poised for new attacks after suffering severe blows last year.
    Al-Sadr’s warning appeared on his Web site as Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government claimed success in a new push against Shiite militants in the southern city of Basra. Fighting claimed 14 more lives in Sadr City, the Baghdad stronghold of al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.
    //news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080419/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq

  • Tom W. says:

    “Anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr gave a ‘final warning’ to the government Saturday to halt a U.S.-Iraqi crackdown against his followers or he would declare ‘open war until liberation.'”
    Which would allow the government to declare open war on Sadr and wipe him out.
    Bluster, thy name is al-Sadr.

  • Hamidreza says:

    The concept of Islamic Taqqiya means one can lie and steal and swindle as long as it will help Islam.
    Sadr has practiced Taqqiya for ages now in trying to get Western journalists to buy into his “Al-Mahdi Ceasefire – ready to be unleashed” bluster.
    Sadr is now a shell of his former self. Under house arrest in Iran because the “Reformist” faction of the mollas, who have ties to Hakim and Maliki, are at odds with the radical faction of mollas/IRGC who are in actual control of Mahdi, or whatever remains of it.
    Sadr is being marginalized at a feaverish pace.
    Maybe he should not be eliminated as he is a useful tool – boogey man against Hakim and Maliki.
    Divisions among the Shiites should be encouraged as that will lead to independence by the political parties. There is a chance that a coalition between secular and nationalist Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds can actually arrive at power in the next general elections.

  • Marlin says:

    A little more detail on the move into Hayaniya.

    The oil city awoke yesterday to heavy artillery and air strikes directed at Mahdi rocket launchers. The Iraqis then moved in with relative ease.
    Witnesses said huge quantities of weapons, including hundreds of rockets and mortars, had been found abandoned. Some had been left in the street by fleeing militiamen.

    The Times: British guns pound Basra

  • KnightHawk says:

    Most interesting news and links thanks guys.
    Not to make light of the situation but Sadr is starting to remind me a little of the infamous Baghdad Bob in his press releases.
    “We butchered the force present at the airport. We have retaken the airport! There are no Americans there!”

  • Tom W. says:

    Looks like the poor Brits are trying to deflect attention away from their own failings:
    ” Battle to retake Basra was ‘complete disaster'”
    //tinyurl.com/5srxem
    The British-trained Iraqi Army’s attempt to retake Basra from militiamen was an “unmitigated disaster at every level”, British commanders have disclosed.
    Senior sources have said that the mission was undermined by incompetent officers and untrained troops who were sent into battle with inadequate supplies of food, water and ammunition.
    They said the failure had delayed the British withdrawal by “many months”.
    [I’m assuming these are the same commanders who allowed Iranian agents to infiltrate the Basran police, thus forcing the residents to live under a mullah-style dictatorship for four years. I’ll take this British assessment with a huge grain of salt. Bill, what say you?]

  • Nic Vasilchek says:

    Following Iraq from the start of the invasion, the recent news about al-sadr’s demise, is awesome!

  • Neo says:

    Here is the latest headline from the New York Times
    Iraqi Army Takes Last Basra Areas From Sadr Force
    //www.nytimes.com/2008/04/20/world/middleeast/20iraq.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin
    That was fast! Interesting developments, to say the least.

  • Neo says:

    More news from Sadr City
    //news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080420/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq
    Hmm  No mention of US, IA, or civilian casualties on this one.

  • Richard1 says:

    Baghdad, Apr 20, (VOI) – A U.S. army admiral said on Sunday that his forces control the southern part of Sadr city, which was isolated from its northern part, while Tahseen al-Sheikhli, the civilian spokesperson for Fardh al-Qanoon (Law Imposing) plan, repeated the Iraqi government’s insistence on providing services in areas that witness military operations, especially Sadr city.
    Admiral Patrick Driscoll explained in a press conference with al-Sheikhli in Baghdad that U.S. forces were able to control Sadr city’s southern part by separating it from its northern part, using a temporary concrete wall, and conducing security and military operations against armed groups that randomly open fire on residential neighborhoods and the Green Zone.
    //66.111.34.180/look/english/article.tpl?IdLanguage=1&IdPublication=4&NrArticle=76964&NrIssue=2&NrSection=1

  • Tom W. says:

    “Force of arms against the poor, unemployed populations of the, at this point mostly Shiia, cities of Baghdad and Basra, only front loads the coming revolution.”
    Strangely, the poor, unemployed populations of Baghdad seem to understand that the “force of arms” is not being directed against them, but against a criminal enterprise that is involved in kidnappings, extortion, protection rackets, torture, murder, and the brutal, hypocritical enforcement of a medieval religious code.
    The Basrans are overjoyed at their liberation. The Baghdadis will be, too.

  • Michael says:

    40 criminals killed, 40 captured…
    More good news from MNF-I on IA, IP, ISWAT, ISF capabilities southeast of Nasiriyah…
    //www.mnf-iraq.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=18621&Itemid=21

    Facing a combination of armored vehicles and suppressive fire, the criminals retreated to building that contained the local Sadr Trend office.
    With ISWAT providing support, additional security forces launched a counter attack, overrunning the remaining enemy defenses. The ISF entered the building and cleared it of the remaining criminals.
    During the sweep of the building, ISF found a large weapons cache containing explosively formed penetrators, Katyusha rockets, rocket propelled grenade launchers and a large quantity of additional weapons and ammunition. An explosive ordnance disposal team also found several improvised explosive devices rigged to explode inside the building. All weapons were destroyed on site.
    Many local Iraqis witnessed the fighting and thanked the ISF for their bravery and willingness to defend their town.

    Sadr forces caught red handed with EFPs. Not that this is news. But how is MSM reporting this? The katyusha rockets also favorites of Iranian proxy fighter groups Hezbollah and Hamas.

  • crosspatch says:

    I would guess that we are at a key point in time. The events of the next couple of weeks are going to be extremely important. I would be looking for some mechanism where Sadr is allowed to “save face” without precipitating a major confrontation yet it is clear to everyone that the conditions have fundamentally changed. Otherwise there is going to be a major upheaval that will demonstrate in a more destructive way that conditions have fundamentally changed. At this point it would seem to me that events in the near future rest upon the egos of the players involved. The recent words of the Iranian ambassador to Iraq would seem to indicate that Iran is not going to fight over Basra. It’s up to Sadr now to play the next card.

  • Richard1 says:

    The recent words of the Iranian ambassador to Iraq would seem to indicate that Iran is not going to fight over Basra.

    But they are making very agressive noises about action in Sadr City against the special groups. This may indicate some kind of compromise being proposed on their side.

    Another interesting thing is that the 4 ayatollahs in Iraq seem to be siding with the government and against Sadr in all of this:

    //strata-sphere.com/blog/index.php/archives/5340
    I found Sec. Rice’s comment today very interesting. Maybe she is trying to get Sadr to negotiate in person instead of hiding behind serrogates. This latest threat via a web page seeems especially cowardly.

    //www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,351885,00.html

  • DJ Elliott says:

    crosspatch
    You do not have a woman (SecState) call Sadr a coward publically if you are planning to leave him an out.
    //www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,351885,00.html
    The verbage from all millitary and govt (USG/GoI) is “game on”. Not reconciliation… The oportunity for Sadr to come in from the cold is over…
    “Facing a combination of armored vehicles and suppressive fire, the criminals retreated to building that contained the local Sadr Trend office.”
    //www.mnf-iraq.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=18621&Itemid=128
    First rule of CT. Criminalize the Terrorist, do not legitimize them by using their terms for themselves.
    To review:
    The official honorific now used for Sadr is “coward”.
    The official term for JAM is “criminals”.
    There is no ceasefire and the powers that be (USG/GoI) are not seeking one.

  • Hamidreza says:

    Thanks Neo for the links. Sadr is all bluff, and it should be called. The irony is that Sadr runs his own private torture dungeons and assassination squads. Now that he is on the losing end, he is crying for international NGOs to come and investigate the human rights conditions of his faction! And of course the clueless cum criminal post-colonial leftists and NYTs and McClatchys are totally oblivious to this irony.
    Does anyone know what the status of concrete barrier on Quds street is? Has it been completed?
    What about the 3 other sides of Sadr city. How porous is the cordon on Sadr city?
    There is no way Mahdi can withstand the precision attacks by Predators and GMLRS. These two weapons have given “counter insurgency” another name and have significantly shifted the balance.
    Question is why is the Air Force dragging its foot on Predators? How many more Army troops need to get killed before that AF general on his golf course in Nevada decides to allow more Predators?
    BTW, the “Remember me?” box does not work on this comment board. One has to enter the info over and over again.

  • Richard1 says:

    The verbage from all millitary and govt (USG/GoI) is “game on”. Not reconciliation… The oportunity for Sadr to come in from the cold is over…

    DJ,
    Iran is treating it like there are two games going. One in Basra and one is Sadr City. Any noise that anyone else is thinking in those terms?

  • Hamidreza says:

    Michael: Sadr forces caught red handed with EFPs. Not that this is news. But how is MSM reporting this? The katyusha rockets also favorites of Iranian proxy fighter groups Hezbollah and Hamas.
    Prof. Juan Cole, the pro-terrorist and Farsi-handicapped don of US leftism, who keeps track of each US death and setback with fanfare, mentions nothing about the liberation of Basra or the Nasiriya Iranian-backed Sadrist debacle – both earth-shaking and historic events for Iraq. Instead, he devotes his daily misinformed column to bashing McCain.
    I guess they still are in the denial stage. Shows their respect for facts and critical analysis.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Richard1
    None. Just two different battle fronts of the same fight.
    Note: I have ID’d another INP Bde in Basrah that was in west Baghdad. The ISF is reinforcing. Can you guess who?
    //news.yahoo.com/nphotos/Iraq/ss/events/ts/082701iraqplane/im:/080420/photos_ts/2008_04_20t082739_416x450_us_iraq

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis