A member of the Iraqi National Police creates an inventory of illegal weapons confiscated in the Sadr City, as he turns them over to members of the 42nd Brigade, 11th Iraqi Army Division, at Combat Patrol Base Comanche on April 19. (US Air Force photo/Technical Sergeant Adrian Cadiz)
US and Iraqi forces continue to target the Mahdi Army as an Iraqi delegation visited Iran to confront the country over its support of Shia militias battling the government. The US military conducted a guided rocket attack on a Special Groups headquarters adjacent to a hospital in Sadr City, while 14 Mahdi Army fighters have been killed during clashes over the past 24 hours.
The US Army targeted and destroyed a Special Groups command and control center in a Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System strike in Sadr City at 10 AM local time Saturday morning, Multinational Forces Iraq reported. “There were six GMLRS rocket strikes on these Special Groups criminal command and control nodes,” Lieutenant Colonel Steven Stover, the chief Public Affairs Officer for Multinational Division Baghdad, told The Long War Journal while refuting claims that the US used aircraft to attack. “We conducted a precision strike, hopefully got a few leaders, and sent a very strong message.”
The Special Groups have been using the location near the hospital for an extended period of time and US intelligence has followed the activities at this site. “We had been tracking it for some time,” Stover said. “Operations made the call to hit it. There may have been damages to the hospital – broken glass. There was likely ambulances damaged; however, it was the Special Groups criminal leadership that purposely put their command and control node there.”
The Special Groups are a subset of the Mahdi Army that receives backing from Iran’s Qods Force, the foreign clandestine operations wing that has supported Shia terror groups in Iraq. The Mahdi Army and the Special Groups have intentionally fought amongst the civilian population and use civilians as human shields in an attempt to inflate civilian casualties and create a media backlash against Iraqi and US operations.
The Rusafa health department media director claimed 28 Iraqi were wounded in the strike, and nine ambulances and 40 civilian vehicles were damaged. The Sadrist bloc ran the Health Ministry prior to withdrawing from the government in 2007, and the hospitals in Sadr City are known to be infiltrated with Mahdi Army and Sadrist bloc members. The Mahdi Army used hospitals as staging areas for sectarian attacks and weapons storage depots.
Construction on the Al Qods barrier continues
US and Iraqi forces killed 14 Mahdi Army fighters in Sadr City and northern and eastern Baghdad over the past 24 hours and the construction the wall continues. The US military described the barrier as a “magnet” for Mahdi Army attacks as they seek to stop the construction effort.
The US military killed 10 Mahdi fighters on May 2 as they attempted to stop the construction of the concrete barrier on Qods Street that is separating the southern third of Sadr City. Four more fighters were killed in the early morning today as they planted roadside bombs and the deadly explosively formed projectile mines supplied by Iran.
Iraqi government confronts Iran on arming Shia terrorists
As the fighting against the Iranian-backed militias continues in Baghdad, the Iraqi government’s delegation to Iran has returned after conducting talks on May 1. The delegation was sent to Iran to confront the country’s involvement in recruiting, arming, and training Shia militias that have attacked the Iraqi government and security forces and Coalition forces.
“[The delegation] presented a list of names, training camps and cells linked to Iran,” Haidar al Ibadi, a member of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s Dawa party, told Reuters. “The delegation also carried evidence of the smuggling of weapons and training of individuals in Iran to enter later into Iraq.”
The Iranians denied any involvement in Iraq, as they have in the past. “The Iranians did not confess or admit anything,” Ibadi told Reuters. “They claim they are not intervening in Iraq and they feel they are being unfairly blamed for everything going on Iraq,” he said of Tursday’s talks.
The Iraqi government changed its view of Iran’s involvement after evidence of Iranian weaponry manufactured in Iran was confiscated during operation in Basrah. “Basra changed it for the Iraqis,” an anonymous US military officer told Reuters. “I’m not sure they believed it before. But they went to Basra and saw it first hand.”
Iran claimed that talks with the US on Iraq’s security crisis were canceled due to Iranian objections of “US savage attacks against the Iraqi people.”
“Under the current circumstances and given the US widespread attacks against Iraqi people in different cities, Iran does not feel these negotiations are necessary,” an unnamed Iranian official told Fars, an Iranian government-supported news outlet.
But the Iraqi government, led by Prime Minister Maliki, has said operations would continue against “criminals” and illegal militias. The Iraqi government has ignored the Sadrist bloc’s request for a negotiated settlement to the fighting in Baghdad, Voices of Iraq reported. “The government has not responded on the initiative to start talk to end the crisis and the Sadrist bloc did not receive an official response from the government on the initiative,” Salah al Ubeidi, a spokesman for the Sadrist bloc said on May 2. Maliki has said the government would end the operations once the Mahdi Army puts down its weapons and disbands.
Background on the recent fighting in with the Mahdi Army
Mahdi Army forces openly took up arms against the government 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.
In Baghdad alone, US and Iraqi forces killed 173 Mahdi Army fighters during the six days of fighting from March 25 up until Sadr declared a cease-fire. The fighting has not abated in Sadr City and other Mahdi Army-dominated neighborhoods in northern and eastern Baghdad. A total of 465 Mahdi Army fighters have been confirmed killed in and around Sadr City since March 25.
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. Sadr has refused to disband the Mahdi Army.
On April 20, Sadr threatened to conduct a third uprising, but later backed down from his threat, claiming it was directed only at US forces. The Maliki government has stood firm and said operations would continue until the Mahdi Army and other militias disarm and disband.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.