Sadr City is experiencing a relative lull after several days of intense battles between the Mahdi Army and US and Iraqi forces. US troops killed six Mahdi Army fighters in a series of engagements, while the Iraqi government reported over 900 have been killed since fighting broke out in Sadr City at the end of March. Iraqi’s prime minister has vowed to continue the operation in Baghdad and Basrah.
US troops killed six Mahdi Army fighters during separate engagements in Sadr City last evening and this morning. US Abrams tanks and unmanned aerial vehicles targeted Mahdi Army fighters as they planted roadside bombs and set up rocket launchers. One Mahdi Army fighter was wounded in the attacks. Three others were captured in northwestern Baghdad near the blast site of a roadside bomb that killed a US soldier.
Fighting in Sadr City has been heavy over the past four days. The largest engagements occurred on April 29 when a large force of Mahdi Army fighters ambushed a US patrol on the border area where the wall is being built. US forces responded and killed 28 Mahdi Army fighters while suffering six wounded. On April 27, 22 Mahdi Army fighters were killed as they massed to strike at a checkpoint in Sadr City. Sixteen more were killed in separate engagements that same day.
The Iraqi government reported 925 people have been killed during the past five weeks since fighting in Sadr City broke out after the government took on the Mahdi Army in Basrah, Baghdad, and the South. But the government did not break down the casualties between civilian and combatants.
According to US and Iraqi reports compiled by The Long War Journal, 435 Mahdi Army fighters have been killed in and around Sadr City since the fighting broke out on March 25. These numbers do not include Mahdi Army fighters who may have died after receiving wounds during the fighting.
US and Iraqi troops killed 173 Mahdi fighters from the period between March 25 and March 30, when the Basrah offensive began up until Muqtada al Sadr issued a unilateral ceasefire. During a relative lull in the fighting from March 31 to April 19, 71 Mahdi Army fighters were killed. Between April 20 and April 30 — the period starting after Muqtada al Sadr threatened a third uprising and as US and Iraqi forces took control of the bottom third of Sadr City — 191 Mahdi fighters were killed.
The casualties have not deterred Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki. In an interview with Al Iraqia satellite television, Maliki said he would pursue the offensive against “militias” but the door remains open to those who would assist the government.
“Those who want to join the political process have to help the state in handing over gunmen or information about the hideout of the criminals and wanted men,” Maliki said. “We are not talking about one militia, but several militias, al-Qaeda and other armed groups, and security forces must be informed about the places of these outlaws … and no one has the right to prevent us from tracking them down.” Maliki also denounced the Mahdi Army’s use of “human shields” and deplored the militia’s use of mosques as weapons storage facilities.
Sadr has refused Maliki’s past conditions for ending the fighting, and threatened to conduct a third uprising against the government if the attacks on his militia did not cease. Sadr later backtracked and claimed he would attack US “occupation” forces if the offensive against his Mahdi Army were not halted. US and Iraqi forces have continued the assault in Sadr City and Iraqi forces have cleared several Mahdi Army-dominated neighborhoods in Basrah.
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