Ultimatum issued to Mahdi Army in Basrah; 15 Mahdi fighters killed in Sadr City

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.

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



  • Iraqi Army gaining confidence

    According to The Long War Journal, the Iraqi general in charge of operations to wrest the southern city of Basra from the control of the Iranian-backed Mahdi Army has given the Mahdists 24 hours to surrender: The senior-most Iraqi general

  • Dark Helmet says:

    Cut the head off the snake andit will die. That goes for all the religious leaders who call for, in any way shape or form, harm to Americans. GO USA!!!

  • MattR says:

    How is this similar or different from the March battle where things seemed to be rushed? The generals made ultimatums but is the IA and US military in a better position to follow through than in March? Assuming some bits of the Mahdi Army are going to fight back, this would be a great time to finish these guys off. Are we getting close to the end game with the Mahdi army?

  • ST333 says:

    The IA is doing what they need to. The Mahdi Army can disband and agree to every condition the government have set or they can continue to fight, die or be arrested. It’s just that simple. The Government has to show they are in control and I like that the US is targeting “special group” leaders as well. Enough is enough with this guy and his goons. Backing the IA and bringing Basra under control and then turning your efforts to Mosul is the quickest way to resume the draw down. Crush the militias and crush AQI.

  • More rat killin’

    From the Long war Journal:
    Ultimatum issued to Mahdi Army in Basrah.
    U.S. troops killed 15 Mahdi Army fighters in Baghdad yesterday and have killed 56 fighters since Sadr issued his threat of continued violence last weekend.

  • bard207 says:

    The events in late March might have been a bit rushed and premature, but once it became evident that the “Tree” (Sadr movement & Jam) wasn’t as strong & sturdy as expected, the timetables got pushed forward to take it down now. Also, the initiative and determination by the Iraqi government to do this are positives that needed to be followed up on.
    The Sadr bloc has lost their cash flow from the Basra area and their patron (Iran) is creating distance from them. The only remaining population bloc of size that they have is in Sadr City which isn’t going to be able to support them for very long.
    In regards to some U.S. and British forces still being in an embedded role with the IA in Basra, it still is much better than the U.S. and British forces having to carry the brunt of the action. Probably some Quality Control and Intelligence gathering was also part of their placement in that role.
    Once the IA starting rolling through and pushed JAM out of Basra, the MSM lost interest and decided to write about the municipal service issues in Sadr city.
    Why the Sadr movement keeps thinking that they can get a “Better Deal” next week than what was offered two weeks ago is a mystery to me.

  • Michael says:

    “Why the Sadr movement keeps thinking that they can get a “Better Deal” next week than what was offered two weeks ago is a mystery to me”
    Because Sadr is one head of the beast in Iran who operates 2 other proxy wars against Israel. They might mistakenly believe this is a similar situation. But it is different for several reasons.
    1) they are killing Muslims and Arabs
    2) America is fully invested in victory, not appeasement
    3) Iragi governement is fully invested in victory not appeasement

  • Dan R. says:

    Matt, what you’re seeing now in Basrah and elsewhere is merely a continuation of what began in March. I think it’s safe to say that Al-Maliki didn’t expect the kind of resistance that he initially encountered, leading western commentators to conclude that the entire operation had been “rushed”. However, this move against the Mahdi Army was always intended to be a long-term continuous application of both political and military pressure, not a quick and decisive single battle.
    I may be wrong and this is only my opinion, but I think we may truly have reached a “tipping point” in Iraq. The importance of the fact that the Iraqi Army stood up and has largely neutralized the Mahdi Army on its own cannot easily be overstated.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    One thing to keep in mind about the south, it was (and in some parts is) undermanned by ISF compared to the hot zones of Baghdad and the north. It should have twice the div count that it has but the fight in the north has skewed the placement of ISF.
    – Basrah a year ago gained its second IA Bde and had no INP. There was one IA Division for the four southern provinces.
    – Basrah six months ago gained its own understrength IA Division, understrength INP Brigade, and a battalion of ISOF. This put the southern four provinces up to 1.5 Divisions.
    – Basrah a month ago got a second IA Division and has a second INP Bde.
    When the “Calvary Charge” began, the ISF had:
    – 50th, 51st, and (green) 52nd Bdes of 14th Div
    – 36th Armor Bde(-)
    – ISOF Cdo Bn
    – BPPF (2 INP Bns)
    When they realized they had a bigger problem than they had forces to deal with, they added within five days, on no-notice:
    – 1st Div HQ from Anbar
    – 1st Bde(-) from Anbar
    – 3rd Bde from Diyala (homebase Anbar)
    – 14th Bde from Salahadin
    – The IP Emergency Response Brigade from Karbala
    – Hillah IP SWAT from Babil
    – INP ERU Bn from DhiQar (homebase Baghdad)
    Since then they have added the following (probably to replace the IP elements):
    – 1st INP Mech Bde from Baghdad
    – 1-39 IA Bn from Mosul (homebase Muthanna)
    Basrah now has the second largest concentration of experienced ISF in the country, it had a green division a month ago. There has been a consistent progression of force there since the 14th was accelerated in standup last fall.
    In Baghdad, it is a very different story. Baghdad is the single biggest concentration of ISF in Iraq. If they need to shift forces, the response time is hours instead of days…

  • DJ Elliott says:

    The US Army trains 89,000 per year to maintain a half-million man active army. And we have an experienced cadre.
    The IA was up to 125,000 at end 2006.
    200,000 at end 2007.
    Bootcamp thruput is growing to 130,000 per year this year from the current 118,000 per year.
    The problem is that you cannot just hand people a uniform and a rifle and call them an army. It has never worked. That is especially true of leadership. It takes four years just to build a good Captain or mid-range NCO in the US military. We have been building the IA for that long. This is part of the reason they are not building new divisions for a while, they do not have the leadership cadre…
    Quit being impatient. This takes time.

  • Glenmore says:

    “I swear it’s like ant piles.”
    Take a shovel full of ants from one pile and dump it on another pile. Enjoy the excitement.

  • Matthew says:

    What a perfect analogy of what happens when helicopters dump Task Force SF troops on the hills belonging to “Special Group” leadership.
    By the way, I hear from a trooper sharing on Protein Wisdom website, that the IA – performing beyond expectations – captured so many JAM personnel and weapons in Basra that the American military advisers are working to help the IA figure out what to do with all of them.
    Reminds me of the part of the movie, “Sargent York,” where York and his soldiers have their German prisoners but wanders around because they can’t find a place to take them.

  • The Foxhole says:

    Al-Sadr’s Mahdis Pick Another Fight, get Asses Kicked

    More great stuff from Bill Roggio:
    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 Muqt…

  • Marlin says:

    I would advise Muqtada to think carefully before he reaches this decision.

    Muqtada al-Sadr is considering setting aside his political ambitions and restarting a full-scale fight against U.S.-led forces – a worrisome shift that may reflect Iranian influence on the young cleric and could open the way for a shadow state protected by his powerful Mahdi Army.
    A possible breakaway path – described to The Associated Press by Shiite lawmakers and politicians – would represent the ultimate backlash to the Iraqi government’s pressure on al-Sadr to renounce and disband his Shiite militia.
    By snubbing the give-and-take of politics, al-Sadr would have a freer hand to carve out a kind of parallel state with its own militia and social services along the lines of Hezbollah in Lebanon, a Shiite group founded with Iran’s help in the 1980s.

    Associated Press: Al-Sadr shift: away from politics and favoring fight

  • stickety says:

    I wonder if somebody more knowledgable than I could respond to this: At what point does the security progress made by the American military and the IA become intractable?
    I mean, will there be a clear, recognizable point when Odierno can declare that the IA is fully capable of maintaining internal security?
    I understand that we will need large numbers of troops in country for several years in order to build/train an Iraqi army capable of defending itself from invasion, but is it conceivable that the U.S. could be largely out of the internal security business within 18-24 months?

  • Hamidreza says:

    Marlin, the link does not work.
    On the face of it, it appears the option by Sadr to declare a breakaway fiefdom a la Hezbollah, is a concoction of the mind of the AP reporter.
    You know, the same kind of reporter that when Sadr City is surrounded and a battle of historic proportions is taking place – the reporter wants to complain about a malfunctioning sewer system in Sadr City and how come this oh so colonial comprador government is not repairing the sewer pipe in the midst of the raging battle.
    You know, the reporter is sitting in a suburban office park in Europe somewhere and is trying to be, lets say, oh so “compassionate for the righteous poor”.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    In some areas we already have. In Anbar the marines are bored.
    Nine provinces out of 18 are PIC and that is exactly the status you are referring to. Overwatch.
    Anbar is expected to transition this summer, as is Qadisayah and Wassit…

  • Hamidreza says:

    AP Shiite Reporters: Senior Mahdi Army commanders, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss strategy with media, said they have taken delivery of new Iranian weapons, including sophisticated roadside bombs, Grad rockets and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles.
    This is serious. If in fact the Special Group is receiving anti-aircraft missiles and Grad rockets, then that should be the end for the IRGC playing peek-a-boo with the West.
    IRGC infrastructure should be annihilated inside of Iran.
    This may cause a temporary backlash against the US by some vocal Iranians, their media backers and the usual anti-democratic Left suspect -, but I do not think at all that it would be serious. If the attacks inside Iran is limited to precision air strikes, it may even result in support by Iranians for this action as very few Iranians generally support the IRGC hardliners.

  • ricksamerican says:

    Whoever is writing for the AP is talking only to Sadrist sources. Pretty clear from the story your outtakes come from. He’s either a useful idiot or a purposeful idiot, but an idiot all the same. The AP has consistently misrepresented the reality on the ground where al-Sadr is concerned.


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