Maliki vows to pursue militias

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.

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



  • C. Jordan says:

    Go Maliki !
    “The new Iraqi citizen is now free and no one has the right to limit this freedom and we will not accept using the citizen as a human shield,”

  • Neo says:

    If we weren’t arguing about armed clashes at checkpoints and patrols inside Sadr City we would be arguing about mortars landing on the Green Zone, clashes at checkpoints outside Sadr City, and patrols getting ambushed throughout eastern Baghdad.
    The difference is the pressure is on, and JAM is fighting harder for an ever-decreasing battle space. DJ has the key to why this will take a while. There just aren’t enough troops to take Sadr City.
    I realize I am in the minority but I am of the opinion that JAM will collapse before fall. I think that is more than wishful thinking. JAM came out of this March’s fighting in much worse shape than even I dared anticipate. I don’t buy the speculation that Iran sold Basra out. I’m convinced they anticipated a tactical stalemate with JAM retaining control over most of the city and getting a bit of a breath before reengaging. In Basra JAM’s hold on people was so brittle that they didn’t survive the cease-fire. They didn’t anticipate all the troops that flooded into Basra either. Iran and JAM have spent the better part of a month floundering indecisively because they didn’t anticipate any of this.
    The only thing JAM retains in strength is it’s operations from Amarah through Al Kut into Sadr City. There have never been enough troops to go after Sadr City or properly reinforce Wasit province. One other thing they need to worry about is Sadr going to Najaf with hardcore followers and playing Martyr.

  • Michael says:

    Ok to the don’t get drawn in,
    Re: Shia Insurgents or terrorist by proxy.
    Sadr city is a small version of totaltarian rule in places like Iran, with religious Shia law. And much financed by Iran. Sadr’s goons rule the streets, health care, and governing bodies. They rule distribution points for food, water, and entry points. They’re like al Qaeda forcing their version of Islam on everyone, without exception.
    In the past, when the legitimate government of Iraq tried to distribution food for the poor, they were not allowed to do so directly to the people. Sadr controlled the distribution. This keeps the face of Sadr in front of the people he oppresses. Like any thieves they skim off the top. The city residents are given leftovers and told their government does not care. Sadr’s militia blames the government for lack of services to their people, yet they keep legitimate Iraqi forces outside their city from helping the poor.
    They are playing both sides trying to influence power in the legal Iraqi government, but maintaining all the power locally thru Sadr’s corrupt militias. They rule Sadr city thru Sharia courts that are not constitutional and do not answer to the legitimate Iraqi government.
    This follows the insurgency or proxy pattern of Hezbollah in Lebanon. They create a geographic area of self-rule. This happens with weak governments. PM Maliki is aware he cannot allow Iraq to become another Lebanon with Iran supporting a proxy war inside Iraq.
    Sadr city has strings pulled by Sadr in Iran and Iranian Quds forces fund, train and controls many of the militias and criminals that fire rockets onto civilian areas, killing and wounding civilians.
    They initiate the murder of innocents. And the government responds to stop them. This is a never ending cycle unless the PM takes steps remove the illegitimate Sadr militias. He has made the right decision.
    Lebanon even today still has no go areas where the legitimate Lebanese army cannot enter due to Hezbollah control. Due to Iran and Syria meddling in Lebanon, the UN has to keep a peace force on the border at all times.
    To put this battle it in perspective. If the mafia or, lets say militias in New Jersey started firing rockets into NYC, the New York Governor would immediately request the President to take action, work with the New Jersey governor and tell the militias to stop rocket firing, give a warning and negotiate a surrender. If the militia does not surrender and keeps firing rockets into NYC, our military, SWAT, SF, etc., would go in at the order of our Commander in Chief.
    As Americans we would consider it irresponsible of our President to allow New Jersey militia to keep firing rockets on NYC. We would demand our government stop it. We would be outraged if it lasted more than a week, if not a few days without an assault by our legitimate forces against the New Jersey militia to defend innocents in NYC.
    We would see operations similar to what PM has ordered to defend Baghdad by falling rockets.
    This is what Iraqis are demanding today. That their government take action against rogue militias funded by Iran in Sadr City who are firing rockets into Baghdad, killing innocents. This action though welcomed by Coalition Forces, is an Iraqi made decision by PM Maliki.
    It is a good decision. They’ve warned Sadr and Iranian backed thugs repeatedly to put their weapons down for good. They attempted to negotiate peace mulitple times in Basrah and Sadr city since Maliki became PM. He has been more than patient.
    No one in a civilized nation would allow this to continue. PM Maliki is doing the will of the majority of his people and majority political parties.
    Once Sadr thugs and the illegal governing apparatus set up is removed, people can recover and begin living again. Up to this point they have had no contact outside or very limited contact. They are only told what Sadr wants them to hear.
    This is a great step by PM Maliki. He is taking control, not showing favoritism and moving forward to help all Iraqis. This is a good sign for the future of Iraq. And it is a clear message to Iran that Iraq will not be another Lebanon.

  • Michael says:

    What are the estimation for the sounthern portions of Sadr city being turned? That should give us some idea for the northern portion.
    What is the actual size of this area in comparison to the north?
    Is the north portion sealed tight now?

  • Michael says:

    “Actually, one argument for Maliki moving into Basra early (and as a result of the JAM response into Sadr City) was to liberate the area from a militia that might intimidate voters either to compel support or at least discourage votes against Sadr’s block. An early clearing would allow political parties to develop and organize and thus let the people’s true feelings be reflected in the election result.”
    You make a very salient point, one that observers from a distance may not comprehend in the fog of war and little good reporting. Sadr’s rule is by intimidation, skimming off the top from legitimate government free resources. Leaving little behind for the people. Yet his propaganda machine blames the government and repeats lies to the people he controls. The people have nowhere to turn except to him as he controls the city.
    Removing the militias will remove intimidation and allow legitimate people to form good representative government for their city. And allow them to interact with the ruling and legitimate Iraqi government.

  • Michael says:

    Thanks, how fast they can clear this area and get a normal flow of pedestrian traffic back with businesses operating is crucial so that other Sadr city residents see a real difference.
    It will be interesting to see any reports that may come out from the area once the IA and CF can deliver more goods and services as violence is reduced. And how fast PRTs and Iraqi government can work together in getting a functional governing body stood up.

  • Michael says:

    Good questions. They are working off successful COIN operations from the past. The difference being usually these walls were setup to fend off sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia.
    The walls certainly worked in curtailing terrorist from slipping thru and provided protection for citizens.
    I suspect certain leaders will step up once they feel protected.

  • Colin says:

    One additional reason for the JAM to be going away fairly soon: Apparently they have lost most of their sources of income and soon may have problems meeting their payroll.

  • Neo says:

    Reading through the reports gives me the impression that much of this violence has been along Quds street, the dividing line between government controlled territory and JAM held territory. That is where the checkpoints have been set up and the wall is being built. Of course mortar teams are libel to pop up just about anywhere in JAM controlled territory. In some of the last engagements fire was reported to be coming from north of Quds street onto patrols in the southern portion. The reason I state this is some seem to have the impression that they are fighting throughout the area.
    I am also interest in seeing how this plays out as the wall is completed, but that will only be one stage in an ongoing effort.
    Reddog is on track about one thing. The taking of Sadr City is likely to be the bloodiest part of the fighting. There’s no denying that.


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