US Army Captain Will McNutt, the Military Transition Team chief assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 42nd Brigade, 11th Iraqi Army Division, provides security from a building rooftop as Iraqi army soldiers battle the Mahdi Army in the Sadr City district of Baghdad April 17. (US Air Force photo/Technical Sergeant Adrian Cadiz)
Less than one week after threatening to conduct an uprising against the Iraqi government and US forces, Muqtada al Sadr, the leader of the Mahdi Army, has called for his fighters to maintain the self-imposed cease-fire. The US and Iraqi military continue to strike at Sadr’s Mahdi Army in Baghdad. Fourteen “criminals” were killed in strikes in Sadr City, making 82 Mahdi fighters killed in the six days since Sadr threatened renewed violence.
In a statement read during the Friday prayers at the Al Hikma mosque in Sadr City, Sadr called for his militia to halt the fighting. “You have been patiently committed to the freeze decision and magnificently obeyed your leader,” Sadr statement read, according to Voices of Iraq. “I hope you retain your patience and faith.”
Sadr also said he did not threaten the Iraqi government with “open war” last weekend, but was directing his threat against Coalition forces. “The open war we threaten is meant against the occupiers,” Sadr said. “There is no war between us and our Iraqi brothers regardless of their sect or ethnicity.”
But Sadr then seemingly contradicted himself when he demanded the government “rein in the militias infiltrated” into the security forces. “I give the Iraqi government the last warning that we would wage an open war until liberation if it failed to rein in the militias infiltrated into it,” Sadr said.
Iraqi and US troops are not operating under any cease-fire in Baghdad. Iraqi and US soldiers killed 14 Mahdi Army fighters since last evening, upping the number to 86 Mahdi Army fighters killed in the Baghdad region since April 20. Ten Mahdi Army fighters were killed as they planted roadside bombs and fired mortars and rockets at US and Iraqi bases. Four more Mahdi Army fighters were killed after Iraqi National Police, backed by US soldiers, raided a psychiatric hospital. “We will not relent in our efforts to rid Baghdad of these criminal elements,” said Colonel Allen Batschelet, the chief of staff for Multinational Division Baghdad.
US and Iraqi troops killed 16 Mahdi Army fighters and captured five during recent clashes in Baghdad, Rashidiyah, and Hussaniyah.
Are you a dedicated reader of FDD's Long War Journal? Has our research benefitted you or your team over the years? Support our independent reporting and analysis today by considering a one-time or monthly donation. Thanks for reading! You can make a tax-deductible donation here.
Its seems that the Iraqi government and US forces are taking Iraq back from the radicals.
Thank you for the post Bill.
It amazes me how blind our media and politicians are at such a pivotal moment in Iraq. Thank god the Iraqis are waking up and embracing a free society in the name of Peace.
At least Sadr is consistently inconsistent. I can’t recall so many contradictory statements by a public figure, anywhere. I wonder how much of this actually filters down to his followers. It can’t help what cohesiveness there is to the Mahdi army.
You probably already know this. But maybe for benefit of some readers an expanded explanation is needed.
What appears inconsistent often is actually a pattern of terrorism by proxy and deceit at several levels in my opinion. A pattern thru the region. Though al Sadr may be more undisciplined than others, more apt to make mistakes, he is attempting to follow well known strategies.
Most of this is known about proxy wars, but it goes deep for reasons of accountability and deniability.
First there is Iran using Sadr and Shia proxies,
Sadr using his mosque and sheiks
mosque and sheiks using their member cells
member cells using more members cells buried deeply so as to remain in an ever evolving shell game so that local and international authorities cannot roll up any major leader(s).
This is a familar pattern thru Nasrallah in Lebanon and Hezbollah or Fatah – Hamas in Gaza. It is plausible deniability at arms length thru proxy, at arms length thru deeper proxies, finally at arms length down to single cells. Each commanding cell in the hierarchy enabled to deny responsibility if they so choose during a period of weakness, only to rachet up attacks during a time of strength and take responsibility when they are emboldened by weakness in their enemy.
Truth is Fatah will say wonderful things in English, but much like Hams say something totally different in Arabic to their loyal followers. Hamas may be at odds with Fatah publically, but they’re achieving the same goals privately.
After each rocket attack from Gaza, Fatah says it cannot control Hamas. Then Hamas will often times say they cannot control individuals or rogue cells. This is a lie of course. They control every single decision. And this occurs all the way back up the ladders thru Iran and Syria. Each level able to play political deceit and propaganda against their enemy through english speaking naive media outlets.
Each attack or non-attack, call for peace or jihad goes thru official channels for their followers and “infidel” channels for their enemy – all of us in a nutshell including the reporters. What may seem madness and inconsistency to us is probably very logical for the leadership and followers who understand specific tennants of Sharia law and the Quranic teachings versus “infidels” such as our military or civilian organizations. We “infidels” all live according to these radicals in Dar al Harb – House of War. There is not true peace ever for “infidels” living in Dar al Harb. According to extremist, there is only continuous struggle until all “infidels” succumb, convert or genuflect unto Islam.
On one hand it is easy to lie to english papers that are run by “infidels” in Dar al Harb. Lying to “infidel” media very boldly and over the top so that one false version penetrates the viewing or reading public that all they want is “peace” and they are truly the victims. They stage phony photo ops and phony reports thru stringers. They are using significant propaganda tactics and most of our media refuses to acknowledge it, or are clueless to it. Thus the faulty reports continuously floating thru MSM.
Whilst another true version for their followers are distributed thru their holy Sharia networks via Mosque and other meeting places. Radicals understand and teach this thru their educational networks. It is perfectly fine to lie to any “infidel,” especially if it pushes for the cause of jihad in the world of “infidels” where there is always war, either spiritually, politically or physical.
The pattern of lies, propaganda and covert operations is well established. Thankfully, LWJ exposes this along with others that carefully look deeper into what is being stated thru their radical networks on one hand and in lies to our public “infidel” media on the other.
I realize there are many experts with vast knowledge and more experience than me that post or read here daily. If I’ve made any mistakes, please update with corrections.
It really is an ingenious bit of work by the Jihadists.
They understand, fundamentally (no pun intended), that the West (and the U.S. in particular) is highly susceptible to media-driven perceptions.
They understand, for example, that democracies are unbeatable adversaries when roused and rallied in response to a clear provocation or evil (for ex. WWII), but, at the same time, have a tendency to fragment and atrophy in the face of less dramatic challenges. So the Jihadists are very careful to inflict only the amount and type of damage that will discourage and demoralize. And they have done a superb job, generally, of knowing where that line is and not crossing it.
Iran is the master of this tactic. As Michael points out, the Iranian terror-masters have figured out that the use of proxies allows them deniability. Notice that the plausibility of this is extremely thin. Anyone with any objectivity knows that Iran funds and directs terror attacks in Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, Europe and, in the past, as far away as Argentina. They are building a proxy presence in Venezuela and, now, Nicaragua. But they have discovered that there is a certain segment of U.S. media and leadership that, for whatever reason, will not confront Iran over its proxy-wars nor even publicize it. So they manage to bombard civilian targets in Israel on a daily basis without consequence. (In fact, somehow Israel is blamed when it dares to go after the proxies). Iran has managed (so far) to target U.S. troops in Iraq by its Shia and Sunni proxies without real consequecne (so far) simply because U.S. media and opinion leaders refuse to accept the evidence.
In this regard it will be interesting to see Iran’s next move. Clearly Iran’s proxies in Iraq are getting systematically ground to dust. If the experiment with stabilizing southern Sadr City pays off, we may well see a Shia population that is as unreceptive to Iran as the Sunnis are to Al Qaeda now. How will Iran prevent this catastrophe without greatly escalating its level of direct involvement and level of violence? The risks of crossing that magical “line” are ever present. They would not be the first to miscalculate the American public. Bin Laden surely did not anticipate the kind of retribution from the 9/11 attacks. It could well be that the Iranians will go too far and provoke a major response from the U.S. No wonder they are working feverishly to obtain nuclear weapons as soon as possible: they see their window of opportunity in Iraq closing quickly and, without the nuclear shield, they cannot risk a larger confrontation.
Iran seems to be getting called out. Front page article in the Wall Street Journal that says the US Military has captured arms with Iranian manufacturing dates as recent as 2 months old. My guess is they came from that big haul in Basrah, but some may have come from Sadr City as well. The rhetoric is being ratcheted up against them. The line, as you say, is glowing red.
So, after losing control of Basra and the port of Umm Qasr to the Iraqi Army, after having his fighters beaten in central Iraq, and after seeing his stronghold of Sadr City in Baghdad gradually reduced by the Iraqi and
I have to disagree Michael. I see signs that Sadr’s own people are a bit perplexed and exasperated by the contradictory rhetoric and confused leadership within his organization. Some of this seems to be coming from the rather nebulous group of advisors (both Iranian and Iraqi) and backers (from Qom and the Republican guard). There seems to be no definite hierarchy for who advises and speaks for the organization. Action seems to come from multiple players. I can’t help but to lay much of the confusion at Sadr’s feet though. From the very beginning Sadr’s statements to his own people have been contradictory and in many cases unintelligible. I’m pretty sure it’s not problems with translation or cultural nuances either.
Sadr was probably at his best in 2005 and early 2006 when he characterized his organization in mystical terms of the coming of Mahdi as savior and broadly nationalist themes. This capitalized on religious undercurrents among the poor population and a desire to assert their interests. Once Sadr’s organization became completely engaged people in were subject to manipulation, uncontrolled violence, coercion, rampant corruption, and blatant support for criminal enterprises. It became apparent that the main purpose behind the organization was to cause chaos and to make much of the country ungovernable.
Sadr has made pronouncements along the way directed toward the western news media, but there has really be no methodical campaign to give two separate messages to Western and Arab audiences. The approach has been rather disorganized when compared to the methodical deceptions that characterize the Palestinian conflict, both sides of the Palestinian conflict.
Sadr’s threat of a third uprising was obviously a bluff all along; he well understands just how weak a hand he is holding. That his associates tried to back up his threat by reciting a list of all the advanced weapons they had recently received from Iran underscores this bluff. Given Iran’s repeated public denials of providing weapons to the Mahdi Army, anyone in their right mind would not wish to publicly embarrass their patron with such a statement and jeopardize further weapons shipments. Indeed, that Sadr’s associates made such a statement explicitly naming Iran as their weapons supplier suggests that Iran has now suspended such aid. This development may reflect the Iraqis’ improved ability to interdict shipments, thanks their greatly improved control of Basra and other southern cities, as much as any Iranian change of heart.
Although the media claims the Mahdi Army numbers 60,000 men including 5,000 Iranian-trained Special Groups forces, its effective size is probably closer to the latter figure. The others are largely fair-weather supporters on Sadr’s payroll who prefer parading to fighting. If Coalition and Iraqi forces continue to kill or capture over 200 of Sadr’s hardcore troops each week and have indeed cut them off from new funds and supplies, the Mahdi Army will effectively cease to exist in three months time. Combined with the substitution of MRAPs for Humvees, this suggests that American KIAs will fall to under 15 per month by August. At that level, the Iraq war will fade as an issue in the November U.S. elections. Whether al Qaeda and Sadr/Iran will try to lay low until then to stage their own October surprise and help elect Obama remains to be seen.
The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 04/25/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front lines.
Proxy War Heating Up?
Factory Fresh Iranian Arms Caches Found in Iraq (again) Al Sadr & Mahdi Army Fighting Escalates The U.S. military says it has found caches of newly made Iranian weapons in Iraq, leading senior officials to conclude Tehran is continuing to funnel…
“Sadr’s threat of a third uprising was obviously a bluff all along; he well understands just how weak a hand he is holding. That his associates tried to back up his threat by reciting a list of all the advanced weapons they had recently received from Iran underscores this bluff. Given Iran’s repeated public denials of providing weapons to the Mahdi Army, anyone in their right mind would not wish to publicly embarrass their patron with such a statement and jeopardize further weapons shipments. Indeed, that Sadr’s associates made such a statement explicitly naming Iran as their weapons supplier suggests that Iran has now suspended such aid.”
To his credit, al-Maliki is still playing hardball with al-Sadr’s representatives.
Aswat al-Iraq: Security forces prevent Sadrist delegation from entering Basra
I hope this report of al-Maliki moving against the Fadhila Party in Basra is true.
Talisman Gate: One month after the launch of Operation Cavalry Charge…
I like it that al-Maliki keeps talking to the Iraqi people about his expectations for the Mahdi Army. I believe it really helps solidify his position as a leader.
Associated Press: Iraq PM sets conditions to end crackdown
Sadr is rapidly becoming a joke. One day he’s bellicose, threatening “total war”. The next day he’s conciliatory. The bottom line is that he’s becoming an increasingly irrelevant player in Iraqi politics. Look for some of the more reconcilable elements within the Sadrist Front to break away soon and align themselves with the government. They can read the writing on the wall. This is exactly the stragegy that Gen. Patraeus used against the sunni insurgency: separate the reconcilable elements from the dead-enders and then crush the dead-enders.
Excellent discussion by the readers.
Not only do I stay informed, when reading LWJ, at times it is educational as well.
Sadr grows weaker by the day and a strategic shift has occured in favor of the GoI. Much work remains though.
That first paragraph was so dry, it reached dessicated heights of drollery.
If it was not intended, well then, so much the better.
It sends some hope that the new iraqi army has grown that strong that it can oppose the strongest militias in the country.
Hopefully the US can help Iraq to rebuild both an Air Force and some tank divisions.
That would really present some unwellcome news to the iranian neighbour.
The notion that Muky is devilishly clever in his incoherant statements, and is fooling the media, is misguided. Sadr, like his followers, is a homicidal lunatic mass-murderer with a room temp IQ.
The dirty little secret is that the MSM (media), on its own, describes US & IA victories as defeats and Muky’s defeats as victories; and this is merely due to treasonous wishful thinking on their part.
good points, but we need to distinguish between influence and control.
Does Iran have influence in Iraq? Of course. The economic ties are certainly there, no doubt. But the degree of influence is debateable. Trade itself is an act of mutual, self-interest: Iraq has a growing consumer market for certain goods and Iran happens to make some of those goods. Iran gets desperately needed cash for its failing economy and Iraq gets the goods it wants. The existence of ongoing trade does not, in itself, give Iran influence in Iraq (unless there were goods Iran supplies which only Iran can supply and are vital to Iraq’s proper functioning). The Iranians are taking advantage of their proximity to Iraq, but it will not be long (if security continues to improve) that other countries will start cutting into Iran’s market share or Iraq will begin to produce goods itself.
This applies to the Kurds as well. The Kurds are not stupid: they have no reason to needlessly antagonize the Iranians right across the border, but that does not in any way make them pro-Iranian. The Kurds are solidly in the U.S. camp and they have deep, historic ties to the Kurds living in Iran that have long been oppressed by the Persians. There is no love lost between the Kurds and the Iranians, Talibani’s prior connection with Iran notwithstanding.
As to the flood of Iranian pilgrims into Iraq and the large payments to Sistani for his sermons, it is a question of who is influencing who? It is far more likely that Iranian pilgrims come to Iraq and see an increasingly democratic, free society and take those strong impressions back with them to Iran where it ferments under the mullahs’ heavy rule. And Sistani is no friend of the mullahs: his interpretation of the shia branch of Islam does not countenance involvement of clergy in politics– exactly the opposite of what the Iranians want their people hearing.
You make good points about the SIIC. Hard to know, isn’t it? There is no denying the connections with Iran. But on the other hand, the SIIC has done what Sadr has so far refused to do by integrating their militia, the Badr Brigades, into the GoI security forces. Perhaps this is a clever strategy to take over the IA and IP from within, but it is certainly more difficult to control a group when they are covert members of a larger, increasingly multi-ethnic group than when they were at your beck and call and on every street corner. So maybe not so clever. Also, for some strange reason, the SIIC has been distancing itself from Iran over the last couple years. Why would it do that if Iran still retains significant control over them? In fact, one of the most striking things about the Iraqi shia is what you do not hear: loud calls of support for Iran and demonstrations in favor of Iranian involvement etc… Compare this to parts of Lebanon and Gaza where Iran works through its proxies very effectively. In Iraq, even the shia, who could be expected to support Iran overwhelmingly, do not like Iran. Note the palpable relief of the Basrans when the IA cleared the city of not only Sadrists but also the Iranian Qods and special groups.
In sum, Iran is not nearly as well-positioned as things might seem. That is why the loss of the Sadrists IS a big blow to the Iranians. Iran has so far had to rely on the very same tactics that Al Qaeda has been using. Whereas AQI used the Sunni areas for basing and resourcing, Iran has largely used Sadrist areas in Baghdad and the South. You can be sure that if Iran was supremely confident in its ability to control Iraq in the absence of the Sadrists/Special Groups, they would not be pouring in increasing amounts of sophisticated weaponry and trainers and, apparently, even actual IRGC advisers. The Iranians are desperate to keep Iraq weak and under siege for the very reason that they know they have little influence in a stable and strong Iraq.
May I also add a post-script that the Iranians have been trying to replicate in Basra their success with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Looked at from this angle, it is pretty apparent that the Iranians have fallen flat on their faces.
They assumed that the Shia in Basra would form a natural constituency for them against the Coalition (particularly the Americans) and against the Iraqi government. The Iranians poured enormous resources into Basra since 2003 to create, if possible, a separate, autonomous region in the South that would be, in effect, a province of Iran for all intents and purposes. To that end they sent in humanitarian assistance, trade, advisers and other support just as they did in Lebanon. And they tried to re-create a Hezbollah-like security force that would not only provide security (which was what the people wanted) but also enforce the strict Islamic law. Somehow they found it difficult to find one group or militia that would be totally subservient to them, so they seem to have supported several: Sadrists, Badr, Fadhila. Perhaps a way to hedge their bets. Like AQI, however, the Iranians believed their own propaganda– that the Basrans would enjoy living under strict Islamic law and embrace Iranian rule. As the people chafed under this oppression, Iran found it had to apply more force with kidnappings and assassinations. (This is where the British made the critical mistake of not applying the COIN strategy to Basra but instead relied on local militias to keep law and order and then eventually pulled out of Basra altogether. This gave the militias a free hand). For a time, the GoI could not intervene in Basra because it was dealing with the AQI threat in the rest of Iraq. When the GoI finally had sufficient breathing room to commit forces to Basra, the outcome has been astonishing. And Iran is reeling from it. Iran surely must have thought that the IA would not be able to regain control of Basra so quickly and with so few casualties. To add salt in the wound, the people of Basra have greeted the IA (some of whom are Sunni units!) as liberators. To make matters worse for Iran, for the first time, Washington seems to be making a case for direct retaliation against Iran for its interference in Iraq. My personal inference is that up until Maliki felt strong enough to take on the Sadrists, he did not want Washington making any moves against Iran. Now that he is feeling more confident against Iranian proxies, perhaps, he is giving the U.S. a green light to turn up the heat on Iran.
Lot of good points made…
You make good observations which I do not disagree with. Sadr is no Nasrallah. And Iran has multiple ties, not just Sadr. Sadr is inexperienced relying on his fathers name.
I think there are some distinctions to be made which contribute to the mess that Sadr is in.
1) Iraq is not Israel, it is a Muslim land with Sunni and Shia being killed. Attempts to make it a war agasint America or occupation forces has failed because Iraq forces were given the South provinces and Iraqi forces took it back after it spun out of control. This has an Iraqi face on it.
2) America is on the ground, invested in Sadr’s demise with other Sunni and Shia power groups working with us. This allows quick responses, rebuttals and an opposing propaganda campaign.
3) A free Iraq is now an ally against the usual government controlled TV programs and print publications. I’ve seen more Iraqi pro-American statements from Iraqis than you’ll obviously ever find in favor of Israel. In this case we help Iraqis. In Israel, Nasrallah, Hamas, etc., paint America as the bad guy in support of Israel. Sadr is not able to pull the same propaganda stunt as our forces come in and protect Iraqis, provide RoL and humanitarian services. Even if America gives free services and resources to people in Lebanon, it all goes thru Shia controllers. In Iraq our troops are there while it is distributed.
4) With America focused in Iraq, every single statement of Sadr is stripped down and analyzed. We do not see the same level of intense interest with dissecting of Nasrallah or Hamas statements. But they do follow the similar propaganda. They do send out different messages to the english speaking public and then thru their arabic media or mosque. This is an undeniable fact. The MSM is worse at exposing this technique by the Nasrallah propaganda machine. If the MSM were to do a better job reporting on this ruse, we would see as much confusion and frustration by english speaking people. But the MSM does not report it as often or as well since American lives are not at stake in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
//memri.org is one good place to track the propaganda and lies put forth.
5) Like any you and others point out, Sadr is a dope. He is hamstrung in Iran. And incompetent in many ways in getting a consistent message out to the enlish public. But I think this is due to the American presence in Iraq. The investment we have there and the ability to take the fight to his Mahdi army. I think it is quite possible we would see many confused statements from Nasrallah if America was in the battle against his terrorist cells. There was some evidence of this when Israel fought him. And Hamas has been all over the place as well in their propaganda when light is shined on them fully for any length of time. Any time their arabic articles are translated and viewed at large for the public, many are surprised at the duplicity of our enemy.
In the end, Sadr is a weak leader, rushed in to fast simply because of his fathers name in their proxy war against America, to young and inexperienced. Iran does whatever it wants in supporting other groups not under his control. Whereas in Lebanon the structure has been well built for at least 2 decades and Nasrallah is on the ground in Lebanon.
As a result, the Shia in Lebanon are much more efficient with their message and have developed a power structure where all cells and communication is run thru a well fortified structure. They’re actually not as bad of thugs as that of Sadr’s militia either. They perform better humanitarian services for the people to keep them happy.
In the end I agree with you Sadr has been quite disorganized and confused. But I do think Iran is trying to implement a similar plan. Maybe they too are flumexed with his mismanagement?