US, Iraqi Army clash with Mahdi Army in Sadr City

Gunstrike video from Sadr City on April 6, 2008. Nine Special Groups fighters were killed by US Air Weapons Teams flying Apache helicopters. The Special Groups fighters attacked Iraqi Army patrols and then attempted to flee.

Fighting between the Coalition and Mahdi Army fighters broke out today as operations against the Mahdi Army and the Special Groups continue despite Prime Minister Maliki’s call for a halt in operations. Early reports indicate between nine and 20 Iraqis were killed during clashes in Sadr City at the 55 intersection and Falah Street. Abdellatif Rayan, a media adviser to Multinational Forces Iraq said a US Army helicopter killed nine “criminals” in Sadr City. “We do have reports of an air weapons team engagement, a US helicopter, where nine criminals were killed at around 8:00 AM,” Rayan told Voices of Iraq.

The US military has confirmed several clashes today in Sadr City. “Today, while Iraqi Army Soldiers were moving through those areas they were engaged by armed criminals with [rocket propelled grenades] and [small arms fire],” Lieutenant Colonel Steve Stover, the Public Affairs Officer for Multinational Division Baghdad told The Long War Journal. “US troops moved in to assist and that did include Bradleys and Abrams Tanks as well as Strykers.” US and Iraqi Army forces kicked off operations to clear the southern sector of Sadr City in Jamilla and Thawra I on March 25.

US helicopters killed nine Special Groups “criminals” after they attacked the Iraqi soldiers at 8 AM local time. “An air weapons team [AWT] fired a Hellfire missile and killed three criminals after they were observed firing rocket-propelled grenades at the Iraqi Army soldiers,” Stover said. “The team identified four more criminals fleeing the scene and attempting to hide weapons in a vehicle. The AWT fired a missile and destroyed the vehicle and killed the six criminals.” No US or Iraqi Army casualties were reported.

Later that day, a Special Groups mortar team launched 107mm missiles at the Jamilla Market in Sadr City. No casualties were reported. “The market was packed with shoppers at the time of the attack, which is in the vicinity of Joint Security Station Tharwa II,” Stover said.

Today’s fighting in Sadr City follows a clash on Saturday after Mahdi Army fighters attacked an Iraqi Army unit conducting a humanitarian mission with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms. “Iraqi Army soldiers were handing out water and food to local residents when the attack from criminals occurred,” Multinational Forces Iraq reported. “Two innocent civilians were wounded in the attack.”

Muqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army is said to be preparing to fight US and Iraqi forces, according to a report in The Washington Times. Mahdi Army fighters are “positioning explosives to defend the major routes into Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood in anticipation of a major battle with U.S. and Iraqi government forces,” according to reports from Sadr City residents. “Iraqis also said families in Sadr City and other Shi’ite areas of Baghdad are stocking up on food, fearing new fighting that will leave them unable to get to the markets.”

Iraqi soldiers and police continue to conduct operations in Basrah. On March 5, a Coalition aircraft killed an “armed criminal” after Iraqi forces came under fire in the Haiyaniyah district in the southern city. On April 4, Iraqi soldiers distributed humanitarian aid in the Haiyaniyah district. US and British forces are preparing to reinforce the Iraqi units in Basrah. More than 150 British advisers have embedded with Iraqi Army units operating in the city.

The operations in Sadr City throughout central and southern Iraq occur even as Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has stated he was halting offensive actions against militias to allow them time to lay down their weapons. Today, the civilian spokesman said that operations would continue, but that no political bloc was being targeted. “Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has reiterated the need to continue military operations by government forces to impose law and order, and that this security campaign did not target any certain political bloc,” Sheikh Tahseen al Shikhli said in a press conference Sunday. “The government would fight all groups carrying arms and causing unrest and fomenting violence on the Iraqi streets.”

US and Iraqi troops patrol Sadr City on March 31, 2008. Footage courtesy of Multinational Forces Iraq.

For more information on the Basrah offensive, see A look at Operation Knights’ Assault. For more information on the Mahdi Army, see Sadr calls for Mahdi Army cease-fire and Dividing the Mahdi Army.

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



  • Michael says:

    LWJ rightside News link Iraq Parliament banning parties that operate militias :

    Such a bold move risks a violent backlash by al-Sadr’s Shiite militia. But if it succeeds it could cause a major realignment of Iraq’s political landscape.
    The first step will be adding language to a draft election bill banning parties that operate militias from fielding candidates in provincial balloting this fall, the officials and lawmakers said. The government intends to send the draft to parliament within days and hopes to win approval within weeks.

    “We, the Sadrists, are in a predicament,” lawmaker Hassan al-Rubaie said Sunday. “Even the blocs that had in the past supported us are now against us and we cannot stop them from taking action against us in parliament.”

    Al-Sadr controls 30 of the 275 parliament seats, a substantial figure but not enough to block legislation.
    Interesting. So, a functioning government appears on the horizon as IA/IP becomes stable. Not perfect, but it appears all sides are coming together against the Iranian threat. And they’re doing it thru a legal process of legislative action. This is really an even bigger win for Iraq if this pushes thru.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    I discussed this briefly at the Weekly Standard’s blog:
    Iraqi Government Moves to Ban Sadrists
    DJ, Chris, Murdoc, Soldier’s Dad, and I have been discussing this in the background a little bit, we’ve been wondering if this was the next step. It seemed to make sense.
    The government has three hurdles: passing the law, determining the target militias, and enforcing the law. None of these hurdles seems insurmountable given all parties agree on what militia is illegal. As long as the Peshmerga, Badr, and if the Sons of Iraq/Sawaha are integrating they are safe. My guess is that gets defined before passing (if it passes…) Al Qaeda in Iraq overplayed its hand in 2006-2007. If this goes through and the government executes, Sadr/Mahdi/Iran may have overplayed as well. Lots of ifs but this is encouraging.

  • AQI Losses says:

    Yes, the political developments since the Basra operation are promising.
    Also, I found this to be encouraging as well:
    “In a rare public signal of dissent in Sadrist ranks, al-Rubaie complained that “those close” to al-Sadr “are radicals and that poses problems,” suggesting that some of the cleric’s confidants may be urging him toward a showdown.”
    Maliki for sure will exploit any split that may occur in the Sadrists’ ranks.
    Sadr is not only facing political isolation by the other parties, but a possible growing dissension within his own ranks.
    Finally, this all can help bring positive steps toward broader national reconciliation as another article on the LWJ’s side bar notes (Analysis: Iraqi PM Wins Rare Support)
    “The emergence of a common cause could help bridge Iraq’s political rifts.
    The head of the Kurdish self-ruled region, Massoud Barzani, has offered Kurdish troops to help fight anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia.
    More significantly, Sunni Arab Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi signed off on a statement by President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and the Shiite vice president, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, expressing support for the crackdown in the oil-rich southern city of Basra.
    Al-Hashemi is one of al-Maliki’s most bitter critics and the two have been locked in an acrimonious public quarrel for a year. Al-Hashemi has accused the prime minister of sectarian favoritism and al-Maliki has complained that the Sunni vice president is blocking key legislation.
    On Thursday, however, al-Maliki paid al-Hashemi a rare visit. A statement by al-Hashemi’s office said the vice president told al-Maliki that “we can bite the bullet and put aside our political differences.”
    “The main aim at this critical juncture is to ensure that our political choices are made in Iraq’s interest,” al-Hashemi said.
    Shiite militias were responsible for the deaths of thousands of Sunni Arabs in the sectarian bloodletting of 2006 and 2007. The Mahdi Army is blamed for much of the killing.
    “I think the government is now enjoying the support of most political groups because it has adopted a correct approach to the militia problem,” said Hussein al-Falluji, a lawmaker from parliament’s largest Sunni Arab bloc, the three-party Iraqi Accordance Front. Al-Hashemi heads one of the three, the Iraqi Islamic Party.
    The Accordance Front pulled out of al-Maliki’s Cabinet in August to protest his policies. The newfound support over militias could help al-Maliki persuade the five Sunni ministers who quit their posts to return.
    If he succeeds, that would constitute a big step toward national reconciliation, something the U.S. has long demanded.”

  • Del Wasso says:

    By what right, or law, does Iraq have to outlaw Iraqi political parties, or ban Iraqi citizens from voting? By the right and authority of a DICTATOR.
    And THAT is what Americans are now dying for.
    It was EXACTLY this type of ”legislation” that enabled the rise of Adolph Hitler.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Invoking Godwin’s Law on the first posting here…
    If you took the time to read the full article, the full political spectrum seems to be in full support of this. So to say this comes from a narrow segment of the political sphere is incorrect. Your comparison to Nazi Germany is hyperbole at its best. Sadr runs a militia that opposes the government via violence, and the militia has the full support of his political party. Are you really saying a state doesn’t have the right to ban an organization that uses violence outside the law to achieve a political end?

  • DJ Elliott says:

    You do realize that an appropriate comparison to Hitler applies here.
    JAM = Sadr’s Brownshirts.
    A minority trying for power by force.
    The difference is that this government is not surrendering to the brownshirts…

  • Marlin says:

    al-Sadr is now saying he is willing to disband the Mahdi army if senior religious leaders, including al-Sistani, instruct him to do so.

    Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr will consult senior religious leaders and disband his Mehdi Army militia if they instruct him to, a senior aide said on Monday.
    The surprise announcement came on the day Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, in a television interview, ordered the Mehdi Army to disband or Sadr’s followers would be excluded from Iraqi political life.
    Senior aide Hassan Zargani said Sadr would seek rulings from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most senior Shi’ite cleric, as well as senior Shi’ite clergy based in Iran, on whether to dissolve the Mehdi Army, and would obey their orders.
    That effectively puts the militia’s fate in the hands of the reclusive Sistani, 77, a cleric revered by all of Iraq’s Shi’ite factions and whose edicts carry the force of Islamic law, but who almost never intervenes in politics.

    Reuters: Iraq’s Sadr to disband Mehdi Army if clerics order

  • Marlin says:

    I’m no fan of al-Sadr, but the MP from his bloc makes a good point in this statement. For the good of Iraq I would hope that if this proposed law is implemented that it is applied equally against all militias.

    There are 28 militias in Iraq that have to respect the decision of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to disband, said an MP from the Sadrist bloc, or Iraqis loyal to Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, on Monday.
    “There are 28 militias in Iraq that belong to different blocs and parties including (Maliki’s) Dawa Party, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), Hezbollah and Badr Organization. Some of these militias have merged into security agencies while others are still active. These militias should start observing Maliki’s decision to disband,” Bahaa al-Aaraji said in a press conference he held in Baghdad.
    Aaraji said the elections commission is independent and the prime minister has no right to interfere in its work, noting the decision adopted by the Political Council on National Security to disband the militias “is not binding”.

    Aswat al-Iraq: All 28 militias in Iraq should respect PM’s decision – Sadrist MP

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Most of the “militias” are already being folded into the ISF in accordance with a law passed last fall. JAM was specifically excluded because it refused to quit shooting at allied (coallition) forces…

  • David m says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the – Web Reconnaissance for 04/07/2008 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day…so check back often.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    1 AK and two mags.
    What they are talking turning in and confiscating is the machine guns, RPGs, mortars, rockets, mines, etc…

  • Michael says:

    Calm down. The PM is not banning political parties by himself. He does not have that authority. Instead he is working with his cabinet, top leaders of all parties and parliament to create and pass new legislation. This new law is needed to ban militias, not political parties. All sides have come against one criminal-puppet supported by Iranian Qods forces. The same forces that create, train and supply terrorist who have blown up innocents around the world, including Hezbollah and Hamas as well. This is good news for Iraq. They’re doing this by lawful and legal means. They sent a huge warning to Sadr. Now they’re giving even more notice to Sadr and Iran through legal steps in a constitutional law to be voted on by all parties and members. This is Iraqi elected leaders coming together for all Iraqis to deliver protection and return all Iraq to Rule of Law.
    Read the article linked above at Yahoo and Bill’s article, April 6 @ Worldwide Standard. They clarify these issues.
    Here is another clip from Reuters…

    “The new election law will prevent any party that has weapons or runs a militia from contesting elections.”
    Broad outlines of the strategy to combat the militias were made public late Saturday in a statement by the Political Council for National Security, a top leadership body including the national president, prime minister and leaders of major parties in parliament.
    The statement called on parties to disband their militias or face a political ban. Although the statement did not mention the Sadrists, the intent was clear.
    President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, said Sunday that the statement was adopted after “heated, cordial, frank and transparent discussion,” Al-Rubaie and another Sadrist lawmaker who attended objected to the call for militias to disband, he said.
    Al-Rubaie confirmed Talabani’s account and said “our political isolation was very clear and real during the meeting.”
    Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman said the Sadrists must either disband the militia “or face the Americans.” He was alluding to the possibility of full-scale U.S. military involvement if al-Sadr refuses to disband his militia and the government decides to disarm it by force.”

    end blockquote…
    Note that the law they’re discussing to introduce is clear that all militias disarm and any party will be banned that refuses to lay down weapons and become part of Iraq governing system in all areas.
    This is good news. The Iraqi government is functioning now as it should and is addressing difficult issues on all sides, both Sunni and Shia, treating each side fairly and ruling on Rule of Law versus sectarian rule.

  • Marlin says:

    The back-tracking begins.

    The official spokesman for al-Sadr’s office on Monday denied that Shiite Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr had referred the dissolution of al-Mahdi army to Shiite clerics, describing reports in this regard as un accurate.
    “Shiite Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr did not think of dissolving al-Mahdi army,”

  • bard207 says:

    Is there a tipping point for Iran in regards to supporting (or not) Sadr’s militia?
    Will Sadr quickly capitulate if Iran tells him this particular game is over or will he stubbornly try to remain on the outside without their support?

  • Michael says:

    Some thoughts…
    Not aware of anyone thinking Maliki is perfect or even a “good guy” in all areas. Nor does any informed reader, much less writers here think Badr and others are altruistic in their goals. But, these political and procedural movements are good for the new, free Iraqi nation as a whole if each side jockeys for position thru political rather than military confrontations. This is exactly what everyone is asking for. Diplomacy over war. All Iraqis are now coming together.
    Sadr/Iran has a choice. To continue to fight ALL of Iraq, or give up weapons and come back to the table in legitimate participation, not theo-thugocracy. And not thru entitlements and bribes.
    Cutting out criminal aspects of society must be a top priority for a government and a nation to thrive. Even the small things matter as proven in NYC in cleaning up corruption, vice and intimidating gangs.
    The law does not single out Sadr. It does not say Sadr’s followers cannot join IA or INP. But, and this is the most important part of moving forward for all Iraqis. This new law states all people, regardless of tribe, sect, religion, ethnicity, will work for Iraq, not as individual militias instructed by Militia leaders who threaten and intimidate civilians or government leaders based on the above classifications. It is another step in the move to Rule of Law for a province that has largely been left behind.
    None of the parties are blameless. The main difference here is Iraq & CF vs Iran. This is the fight. Just as the fight against Sunni was Iraq & CF against outside Al Qaeda and Syrian influence.
    This is a start. IA is rounding up fairly strong now, which is expected thru military discipline. We all are very aware of INP and local police issues. And they have been addressing this issue for sometime now thru revetting and retraining efforts in social, ethical training as well. There is even oversight and review procedures that maintain seperate auditory and command function recommendations.
    They desire willing militia members who put down their weapons, to eventually be rolled up into police, IA or other government offices once vetted. Or, go into private sector. However, no one can be allowed to remain as militias outside the law, that answer to differeing political views or worse; clerical rule.
    Sistani has been a voice of moderation. I’ve been waiting to see if his name would resurface as usual on queue when Sadr’s in trouble.
    To allow Sadr to keep his militias would enable the same proxy war as Nasrallah in Lebanon under foot to Syria/Iran axis. Maliki at least understands this and so do Kurds and Sunni. As well as other Shia parties. They do not want a puppet of Iran stirring trouble with weapons building up for each new war or battle after each hudna – fake ceasefire arrangements expire – only to have a renewed battle of destruction each time Sadr is unhappy or Iran instigates it.
    All Iraqis must eventually assimilate into Iraqi governing bodies and structures for the good of the country, not the good of Sadr, Badr, Iran, Syria, Al Qaeda, etc. That seems rather straight forward.
    This will be an undoubtedly long process. Thus the appropriately named Long War Journal for COIN and battles across multiple nations in failed conditions such as Iraq and Afghanistan after so many decades of oppression and despair, confusion and dysfunction or outside manipulation from Iran, Syria, Pakistan, etc.
    Yes, this is about defeating a certain power in Iraq. A power influenced by Iran for no good against the current government of Iraq. It is good to see the legitimate govt. flexing its authority as needed, yet still far, far more fair than Saddam or Khomeinist in Iran and Syrian tyrants.
    This is a huge tidal wave of change flowing thru the region now and its important, crucial that CF be on the legitimate side of all included, acting as fair arbiters. Under Petraeus, I’ve seen nothing in press that shows otherwise. They have repeatedly bent over backwards to allow him to buy into the legitimate government of IRaq.

  • Michael says:

    I wonder what American history looks like after defeating the British, how militias disbanded and each state formed as national goals for a federalized system grew.
    From my weak recollection, it took 5-8 years to get thru this same process that Iraq is going thru right now in sharing power and formalizing procedures of law, legistlature, etc.
    Ahhh… 1791 from 1776…,

  • Michael says:

    cut-n-paste seems fine.
    I wrote the following…

    None of the parties are blameless. The main difference here is Iraq & CF vs Iran. This is the fight. Just as the fight against Sunni was Iraq & CF against outside Al Qaeda and Syrian influence.

    I’m aware Iran has its hands in Shia parties from Erbil to Basrah, even in subterfuge with some Sunni. But that does not prove anything with regards to the current CF&IA battle against Iranian puppet Sadr.
    Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egyptians, Sudanese… everyone is at this war from varying political and religious affiliations.
    But the Kurds are the most pro-American group. Will they work with some Iranians? Sure to leverage their power and hedge their bets. Sunni’s align out of fear, but many have lately realized we’re not their enemy either and that a long term relationship is good for their future, just like the Kurds.
    But none are as in deep with Quds forces and Iranian Masters as is Sadr. There may be some loose elements in bed with Iran, but not under such a level of Iranian support and control. I think my comparison of Sadr to Nasrallah stands on solid evidence of Hezbollah infiltrators working with Sadrist as well. What worked in Lebanon for so long with Iranian/Syrian puppet masters is now being floated into Iraq. They know this is the only path they have to fight. A proxy war thru a religious zealot that lies, confuses his people and preaches hated of the “great satan” each day.
    Most Shia naturally have a history with Iran. But many fought against Iran. Many fled there during Iraqi/Iran war. But not all of them trust Iran and many fear their influence and power. Most Shia in Iraq are Arabs, not Persians. Plus the majority do not listen to Sadr, they listen to Sistani or other Imams. Or many are secular Marxist, or simply non-believers.
    I’ll continue to emphasize Sadr is a puppet of Iran. Whatever Maliki, Dawa, Badr, Fadhila, etc., are, they are not so fully compromised and controlled as Sadr is. Nor do they want an Islamic Republic formed after Iran. That much is especially clear out of many Fadhil party members who want democracy.
    If you can find within the last 6-12mos where Petraeus, other informed sources state Iran is supporting these other parties, like Badr as prolifically as Sadr’s militias, please provide links. I do want to know the truth.
    There is no doubt that Shia of all stripes relied early on Iran. But how many now rely on Iran as much as Sadr? How many have their militias trained in Iran? And why did thousands sign up to join IA in Basrah when they were protected finally from Sadr thugs?
    Family relationships, political connections, business are a necessary truth between Iraq/Iran. But Iran is supplying weapons and training to Sadr militias now for years. This is the official stance of MNF-I, our State and Executive departments.
    Therefore I simplified the current battle taking place. Iraqis(less Sadr) and Coalition Forces(mainly America) versus Sadr and Iran(Quds forces).
    Outside forces, mainly Syria, Iran are the main funders, weaponizers, trainers and providers of ratlines into Iraq for suicide and trained terrorist to enter. They provide protection, coverage, shelter and planning. They work hand in hand as it is against their future interest and possibly survival as tyrants for a free Iraq to succeed. Qaeda provides the largest amount of rats along with Egyptian, Sudan, Libya. But Syria and Iran funnel everything else, just like they do in Lebanon.
    Unless you can show recent evidence to the contrary. It appears quite clear. Iran/Sadr are now the biggest threat of violence and continued terrorist warfare, insurgency or proxy fighting in Iraq. Call it what you like.
    Whatever the political machinations, Iran picked Sadr, or Sadr picked them, or both. Other parties became more independent over time as this war progressed and have shifted into Iraqi Government positions, mostly happy if not reconciled to a new beginning of representative governing. Sadr has never liked this. He wants an Iranian style Islamic Cleric ruled Ummah.
    It does not surprise me all the other parties at the table do not wish to share their oil revenues with Iranian puppets or to rule as Iran. It is a failed disaster and they know it. They’ve seen the results of American power, of Kurdish success and places like UAE.
    This is indeed an awakening for all of Iraqis. Especially those who can watch something on TV besides Iranian TV or propaganda shows.


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