Sadr threatens new uprising; Iraqi and US forces press attack

Muqtada al Sadr. Click to view.

The battle between the Mahdi Army and Iraqi and US forces intensified over the weekend. As the Iraqi Army took control of a Mahdi Army stronghold in Basrah, Muqtada al Sadr, the leader of the Mahdi Army, threatened to end the self-imposed cease-fire. Iraqi security forces have also stepped up efforts against the Mahdi Army in the center-south region of Iraq, and captured more than 40 of the Iranian-backed Special Groups, a Mahdi Army splinter group.

Sadr threatened to end the cease-fire after Iraqi troops took over the Mahdi Army-dominated neighborhood of Hayaniyah in Basrah and ejected the Sadrist political party from government-owned offices in the city. He openly said he was prepared to revolt against the government.

“Do you want a third uprising?” Sadr said, referring to the two Mahdi Army uprisings in Baghdad, Najaf, and the South in April and August 2006. “So I direct my last warning and speech to the Iraqi government to refrain and to take the path of peace and abandon violence against its people. If the government does not refrain and leash the militias that have penetrated it, we will announce an open war until liberation.”

The Iraqi government brushed off Sadr’s comments and continued to maintain that the Mahdi Army must disarm while saying the Mahdi Army and the Sadrist movement was not a target. “The state can not withstand the existence of two armies,” government spokesman Ali al Dabbagh said. Dabbagh also noted the government is not negotiating with the Sadrist movement. “We don’t have direct negotiations or contacts with the Sadr’s movement because we have nothing to negotiate with them but also we don’t have problems with the political factions,” he said.

The US military and government responded forcefully to Sadr’s threat to end the ceasefire. “If Sadr and Jaish al-Mahdi (Mahdi Army) become very aggressive, we’ve got enough combat power to take the fight to the enemy,” Major General Rick Lynch, the commander of US forces in Karbala, Najaf, Babil, Wasit, and southern Baghdad provinces told the US media.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza, who is currently visiting Iraq, taunted Sadr by implying he was hiding in Iran while ordering his fighters to oppose their government. “I know he’s sitting in Iran,” Rice said. “I guess its all-out war for anybody but him. I guess that’s the message; his followers can go to their deaths and he’s in Iran.”

The cease-fire is all but over

The Mahdi Army cease-fire is all but dead, as the Mahdi Army has openly resisted the Iraqi government’s attempts to assert control in Sadrist strongholds in Baghdad, Basrah, and the South. Sadr admitted his political movement issued orders to attack both US and Iraqi troops and has called for Iraqi soldiers and police to desert their units.

Sadr’s forces have continued to attack Iraqi government forces despite a cease-fire. An incident on April 19 south of Nasariyah backfired on the Mahdi Army as 40 fighters were captured, including two leaders, after attempting to ambush Iraqi forces in Suq Ash Shuyukh. The Iraqi security forces responded by sending a joint force of soldiers, police, and special police to battle the Mahdi Army force.

The Mahdi Army forces “retreated to building that contained the local Sadr Trend office” after “facing a combination of armored vehicles and suppressive fire,” Multinational Forces Iraq reported in a press release. Iraqi forces cleared the building and discovered a large weapons cache that included “explosively formed penetrators, Katyusha rockets, rocket propelled grenade launchers and a large quantity of additional weapons and ammunition.” Iran has supplied explosively formed penetrators to the Mahdi Army and the Special Groups.

A local police chief said 39 Mahdi Army fighters were captured, while 22 people, including two policemen, were killed, while another 19 police were wounded during the fighting. Multinational Forces Iraq said 40 “criminals” were captured and 12 Iraqi soldiers were wounded.

US and Iraqi troops have been active in Baghdad and Sadr City as well. US soldiers killed 22 “criminals” and captured six during a series of engagements in Baghdad over the last 24 hours. On April 19, aerial weapons teams killed seven Mahdi Army fighters in Sadr City as they transported weapons and attacked US and Iraqi forces.

US troops killed 20 Mahdi Army fighters today during a series of engagements in the Adhamiyah, East Rashid, and Kadamiyah districts in Baghdad. Coalition special forces captured a “suspected Iranian-trained Special Groups commander” and three lieutenants and killed three others during a targeted raid in Kadamiyah. US soldiers killed 12 Mahdi Army fighters as they planted roadside bombs and attacked US forces in Adhamiyah and East Rashid. Another five Mahdi fighters were killed and two wounded by air weapons teams late in the afternoon on Sunday.

In Basrah, Iraqi troops conducted a cordon-and-search operation in the Al Kaziza region north of the city. Iraqi troops ” captured a number of wanted men” and seized heavy and medium weapons during the operation.

In Karbala, Iraqi troops also found a weapons factory with a large weapons cache containing “80 IEDs, 130 detonation devices and 60 kg of TNT.” Karbala police also captured an eight-man cell, including the cell leader. Police “confiscated their documents that include names of politicians and religious clergies’ representatives in Karbala, aiming at eliminating and assassinating them.”

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 Ali al Sistani, the top Shiite 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.



  • KaneKaizer says:

    If General Lynch is confident we can crush the Mahdi Army, so am I. Let’s make good use of our Apaches and F-16s.

  • tbrosz says:

    The real problem may be an al Qaeda barrage in the near future.

  • Tom says:

    The link suggesting Grand Ayatolah Sistani supports disbanding the Mahdi army says that one of the senior members of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq told the English-language Voices of Iraq that Sadr didn’t consult with ISCI on the issue of the Mahdi army, and by implication is acting without Sistani’s support. Given the Mahdi Army’s continued strength in Najaf, I would venture a guess that this Sistani himself is staying out this, and senior politicians are using his name while speaking to Westerners.
    This smells a lot like Lebannon, only here both sides are backed by Iran, and probably different groups of Iranians.

  • Hamidreza says:

    It may be that the Mahdi Army in Basrah was more Sadrists and less Special Groups. But in Baghdad and parts of the south, its more Special Groups than Sadrists. This may explain the Iranian Ambassador’s comment welcoming the fall of Basra to the government.
    Iran has a problem. Its agents which it nourished for 5 years, and decades before that as exiles, are either abandoning the radicals in Iran, or are being picked up by US forces and the Iraqi Army. I don’t think Iran was counting on this to happen so quickly and forcefully.
    Its time for the US to shoot a few rockets into the EFP factories inside Iran – to put a stop to the notion within the Iranian ruling elite that US does not dare to engage Iran because of international backlash. From LA Times:
    “We see this as a positive improvement. . . . The people want the government to control the streets and the law to be enforced. No other groups,” he said, sitting in his study, furnished with cushions, a laptop and a clock bearing his father’s portrait (Grand Ay. Najafi).
    Their stance is a gamble. An influential cleric who is knowledgeable about talks between the Sadr movement and the grand ayatollahs described the situation in bleak terms: The government is weak, and Sadr aides now acknowledge privately that they have lost control of members who are receiving support from Iran.
    “There are groups in the Mahdi Army who are kidnapping, killing and stealing. They don’t listen to Muqtada. They are openly operating with Iranian interests,” he said.
    The cleric asked that his name not be used because he feared assassination. Everywhere, he saw Iran’s influence. “In the beginning, it was Arab countries playing a negative role. Now after Qaeda has fallen, it is Iran. Iran wants to control Iraq, and change the hawza from Najaf to Qom.”,1,3800254.story?

  • Tom W. says:

    “This smells a lot like Lebannon, only here both sides are backed by Iran, and probably different groups of Iranians.”
    Don’t worry. The Iraqis–despite appearances–are much more unified than Lebanon. Iraqis are much more nationalistic.
    Now that Iraq has an army that protects the citizens’ freedoms and kicks terrorist booty, expect support for the government to skyrocket.

  • Hamidreza says:

    From the NYT, it appears that the Sadr City fighters are shooting and killing Shia residents and firing mortars on to parts of Sadr City under contention, causing a lot of destruction, fire, and civilian deaths. Nobody really knows where these mortars are coming from.
    Seven children had been struck by a burst of gunfire from militia fighters who have been roaming through the streets near the American positions, his distraught father said.
    But Ayman, 11, was one of the lucky ones. Four of the children, his father said, were dead.
    With no functioning police force and the streets a battle zone, it could not be determined if the children had been caught in cross-fire or had been deliberately shot at by militia fighters, as Ayman’s father suggested.
    But why would the militia fire on civilians? Aren’t they supposed to be from these people and be protecting and fighting for their rights, according to the dominant Leftist constructed narrative? The only explanation is that these are Special Groups that have been ordered by the Iranians to cause civilian deaths, so that it may be blamed on the US or on the Iraqis (for MSM consumption) – and to force the population to support them, as an intimidation tactic.
    Such evidence gives credence to the theory that the IRGC Iranians wish to bring havoc to Iraq at any cost. After all, it was the IRGC that fought an 8 year war against Iraq, in order to capture Basra and the oil fields (1980 – 1988), and in that process killed 500K to 1 million Iraqis, most of them Shiites.
    In light of this, one needs to examine the anti-Shiite al-Qaeda campaign, the bombing of the Samarra mosque, and the car bomb murder of Baqir Hakim, among many other events, as works by the Iranians, hell bent to destabilize Iraq and implant sectarianism and sedition.
    It is interesting in this vein that the “Citizen of Mosul” blog written by a Sunni Baathist al-Qaeda sympathizer tries to blame the death squad killing of Sunnis by the Mahdi Army on the Americans, instead of the Iranians. Why would an Al-Qaeda sympathizer defend the Iranians?
    The tragedy is that to this day, NYT and other MSM still deny that Iranians are supplying EFPs and arms to militants in Iraq. Now that the schism between Sadr and Iranians is completed, and the Left has to decide between Sadr and Iran, I think it would be a lot easier for the Iran deniers of NYT and McClatchy to come to terms with the facts and stop denying Iran’s role in Iraq. So it will be interesting to see who the Left will side with: Sadr or the Iranians. However, I am pretty sure that the Left will drop Sadr as a sellout and incompetent, and side with Ahmadinejad.

  • Michael says:

    All I can say is Godspeed Major General Lynch, to our troops and great job on training IA, IP, ISF.
    All the hard work, the sacrifices, the losses. The belief to stand firm for victory has been crucial, including everyone here at LWJ that provides crucial information to so many that shines light on what is truly going on from a perspective only the military can understand. You’ve managed to get a message out that was so sorely needed.
    This is a good move going forward now before July. The Petraeus call for 45 day review period is now well understood.
    I cannot say it enough times on here. Thank you all for your efforts thru thick and thin despite weakness by our civilian leaders at time. I am so impressed with our military to execute orders and not become “bitter” against those who exercise free speech. I am so impressed by the character and leadership by so many in our military. Yes, mistakes were made. But reading thru history what war is without them?
    I kept waiting to see if IA was being disciplined in character and ethics, to see if they could bring Rule of Law to all areas of IRaq. And it appears, despite some infiltrations by Iran/Syria, old Baathist, Special Groups, this latests wave of IA recruits if fully vetted and performing well.
    It appears this will not be another Lebanon or Gaza.
    I know this is not over yet. But well done all and thank you for your service to our country.

  • TS Alfabet says:

    “This smells a lot like Lebannon, only here both sides are backed by Iran, and probably different groups of Iranians.”
    Tom, do you mean to suggest that the Iranians are actually divided amongst themselves in any, significant manner? Is there any evidence to support the theory of real fissures amongst the mullahs (as opposed to calculated statements by various clerics and IRGC leaders to mislead the West into thinking that there is actual disagreement within Iran) ?
    I concede that it is possible that there is disagreement within Iranian leadership as to the precise methods and tactics to pursue at any given time, but I have not seen any evidence anywhere that the Iranian mullahcracy is not united in their ultimate aims, i.e., domination of Iraq and the the Middle East. Michael Ledeen and others have made a very persuasive case on this score for years.

  • TS Alfabet says:

    Kudos to Petraeus and Lynch for so quickly reacting to and adapting strategies to what certainly seemed like a premature move by Maliki into Basra in March.
    In particular, the move by the U.S. to seize only a portion of Sadr City and turn it into an enclave that will receive expedited security, public works and economic aid is nothing short of brilliant. How can Sadr or Iran respond to such a thing? They can hardly start lobbing mortars and rockets into the neighborhoods of their own people. But if they allow the U.S. to proceed it will quickly become apparent to the rest of Sadr City that their neighbors in this enclave are living much better lives thanks to the Americans and they will soon start demanding similar benefits from their Iranian-backed jailers. Suddenly the anti-American rhetoric will sound very hollow indeed. Brilliant strategy.
    What do the Special Groups have to show the people? It seems that the Special Groups/Iran are not all that different from Al Qaeda afterall. Al Qaeda could not keep from killing and alienating the Sunni population and the Special Groups seem bent on the same kind of self-defeating violence against their own people.
    Clearly their only, possible hope of victory is to create as much havoc as they can to influence public opinion in America and hope that U.S. troops are pulled out precipitously in 2009.

  • Marlin says:

    I wonder if this was intentional or just bad aim?

    A missile struck the central Baghdad headquarters of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council on Monday, said an official for the party, which is the main rival of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr for control of Shi’ite areas.
    The official, whose party is the biggest Shi’ite group in the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, was unable to give any details on possible casualties.
    Many of those missiles and mortar bombs have struck the Green Zone fortified government and diplomatic compound on the west bank of the Tigris river.
    The Council’s office is in the Karrada neighbourhood in the centre on the opposite bank.

    Reuters: Missile hits headquarters of Iraq Shi’ite party

  • Neo says:

    I guess we can now dispose of the latest media themes of failure, confusion, and desertion reigning over Iraqi Army during the Basra offensive. It might be pointed out that the actual period of chaos lasted about two days. JAM’s performance at any engagement lasting more than a few hours is rather pathetic. Such is the nature of gorilla armies. Gorilla armies have difficulty standing up to protracted engagements and also can’t hold ground. Reports of the imminent desertion of the Iraqi army were also greatly exaggerated. It’s been a while since I have heard anyone use the 60,000 number for active JAM militia members either. Can someone offer a revised estimate? While we are at it, we can throw out all those glowing assessments of JAM militia’s fighting ability as well.
    I must admit that the Basra fell a lot faster than even I anticipated. Do we have a lull now with the IA completing it’s takeover in Basra and JAM making an attempt to regroup. I think the Iranian trained “special groups”

  • Neo says:

    While rampant desertions are not a problem for the Iraqi Army, someone should point out that it seems JAM is deserting in massive numbers and has serious problems maintaining a cohesive force. The more pressure the Iraqi army brings to bear the quicker JAM falls apart. The only thing that keeps me from predicting the imminent collapse of JAM is the shortage of IA troops.

  • Larry says:

    I think its funny that the more Al Sadr’s forces are defeated, the more he threatens to end the ceasefire.
    Its almost like a mouse telling a cat “one more step and your gonna get it!”

  • the nailgun says:

    what a sheer unadulterated pleasure reading the Long War Journal has been these last few weeks.
    Clearly we have passed another crucial tipping point with the GoI and IA and likewise JAM is on the inverse of that.

  • Richard1 says:

    Muqtada Al- Sadr’s Family Turns On Him– Disowns “Rogue Son”

  • Marlin says:

    Haider Ajina translates an Arabic newspaper article which quotes a senior al-Sadr family member as being very unhappy with Muqtada and that they will take corrective actions.

    Iraq’s Josef Al-Sadr says that Muqtada Al- Sadr has tainted Our Family Reputation;
    –We will deal with him internally.
    Alseyed Josef Alsadar a member of the honored Sadar family wrote a letter to Alrafedain news (Nida’a al Rafidain News) which said: “Muqtada al-Sadr has tainted the reputation of this respected family, and the family disowns Muqtada. We are as innocent of him as the wolf is of the blood of Josef (Biblical (Old Testament I believe) and Koranic reference). The family is working on ways to discipline him with in the family. Consultations for this are held at the highest level to come up with punishments for its rogue son.

    Gateway Pundit: Muqtada Al- Sadr’s Family Turns On Him– Disowns “Rogue Son”


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