The senior-most Iraqi general in charge of the security operation in Basrah has issued an ultimatum for wanted Mahdi Army leaders and fighters to surrender in the next 24 hours as the Iraqi and US military ignore Muqtada al Sadr’s threat to conduct a third uprising. US troops killed 15 Mahdi Army fighters in Baghdad yesterday and have killed 56 fighters since Sadr issued his threat last weekend.
In Basrah, General Mohan al Freiji, the chief of the Basrah Operational Commander and leader of the security operation in the province, has issued warrants “for 81 people, including senior leaders of the Mahdi militia, and they have 24 hours to give up,” The Associated Press reported.
Iraqi troops continue to clear Basrah, although the fighting has been sparse since security forces cleared the Mahdi Army-controlled Hayaniyah neighborhood in Basrah last weekend. Iraqi forces “seized a cache containing huge amounts of weapons and ammunition” in the Al Tanuma neighborhood in eastern Basrah, Voices of Iraq reported. “The cache contains more than (1000) mortar rounds of different calibers, explosive equipment, and improvised explosive devices,” a source told the Iraqi newspaper.
Mahdi Army targeted in Baghdad
Iraqi and US forces have not stopped their operations against the Mahdi Army in Baghdad and the South despite Sadr’s threat to conduct a third uprising. US forces in Baghdad alone have reported 56 “criminals” killed since Sadr issued his warning. The US military refers to the Mahdi Army as criminals in an effort to marginalize and delegitimize the group.
Twenty-seven Mahdi Army fighters were killed during clashes in Sadr City and Baghdad on April 20. US troops killed five Mahdi Army fighters in Sadr City and another seven fighters in New Baghdad on April 21. US soldiers killed another fifteen Mahdi Army fighters inside Sadr City on April 22.
South of Baghdad in the city of Karbala, Iraqi police detained seven members of the Mahdi Army on April 22.
Pressure within Sadr’s political movement
The Iraqi government’s political pressure on the Mahdi Army to disband combined with the Coalition and Iraqi military offensive against the Mahdi Army appears to have caused some deep rifts within the Sadrist ranks. Sadrist politicians have complained about being politically isolated, and some appear to be working to disband the Mahdi Army and conduct negotiations with the US to end the fighting.
The assassination of Riyad al Nouri, Sadr’s brother-in-law and a senior aide in Najaf, continues to spark reports that his death was carried out from within the Sadrist movement. On April 17, The Long War Journal reported that Nouri was pushing for the Sadrist movement to disband the Mahdi Army lest the party be shut out from the political process, and US military officers believe he was killed because of this.
The Iraqi press has also reported Nouri was killed after he suggested disarming the Mahdi Army. Nouri “was assassinated after he wrote Muqtada a letter asking him to dissolve the Mahdi Army,” Al Rafidain reported.
There are also divisions over potential negotiations with the US military. The Sadrists have asked former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi to mediate a cease-fire with the US military, Voices of Iraq reported on April 21. “Sadrist bloc lawmakers called on [me] two days ago to mediate with U.S. troops to cease military operations and to stop the concrete walls siege imposed on Sadr city for over a month,” Allawi said at a press conference in Baghdad, referring to the barriers being put up to partition the city to allow Iraqi and U.S. forces to stabilize the neighborhoods.
The Sadrist movement has since denied the report, stating talks with the US are a “red line.” Allawi lied to the media, Salih al Igaili, a Sadrist member of parliament told Voices of Iraq. “If he really wants to solve the crisis, Dr. Allawi was expected to submit a peace initiative that satisfies the disputing sides, rather than using the media to make false statements,” Igaili said. “We say that the movement totally rejects any negotiations with the Americans, and we consider this a red line that should not be crossed. We did not contact anyone, and we did not ask anyone to mediate with the Americans or the government.” Sadrist representatives have made contradictory statements since the Iraqi government openly confronted the Mahdi Army in Basrah.