Operation to clear the Mahdi Army in Baghdad’s Shula neighborhood on hold


Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 22nd Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division hand out humanitarian aid to residents in Shula on May 26. (US Army photo)

The Iraqi Army’s operational tempo has stretched the force’s manpower and put an operation in the Shula neighborhood in Baghdad on hold, a senior Iraqi general said last week.

“[Operations in the] Shula neighborhood … has not been completed yet because we do not have enough units,” said General Nasr Abadi, the Vice Chief of Staff of the Iraqi Armed Forces, in a press briefing on May 28. The current operations in Basrah, Mosul, and Sadr City have used up the Iraqi Army’s reserves and forced the Iraqi Army to temporarily halt the offensive. “The operation will restart again after we have enough units,” Abadi said.

Iraqi and US forces began operations in Shula in early May just as the fighting was winding down with the Mahdi Army in Sadr City. The 22nd Brigade of the 6th Iraqi Army Division moved into Shula in early May and took control of the headquarters of the Office of the Martyr Sadr.

Iraqi troops occupied the Sadrist office because it was being used by “Special Group extremists.” The Iraqi Army clashed with the Mahdi Army as it took over the Sadrist office, and the Sadrists claim 30 of its members were detained in the operation. US forces engaged in heavy fighting during a search operation in Shula on May 16.

Iraqi soldiers also detained 35 hospital workers in the Mohammed Bakr Hakim hospital in the Shula neighborhood on May 6. The hospital workers are suspected of treating wounded Mahdi Army fighters and providing assistance to the militia.


Map of Baghdad neighborhoods. Click to view.

The hospitals in Sadr City and in other Shia neighborhoods are known to be infiltrated with Mahdi Army and Sadrist bloc members who continue to use the hospitals for criminal activities. The Mahdi Army used hospitals as staging areas for sectarian attacks and weapons storage depots. The US military killed Arkan Hasnawi, a senior Mahdi Army Special Groups commander, during a guided rocket strike on a Mahdi Army command and control center situated next to the Sadr Hospital in Sadr City on May 3.

Iraqi Special Operations Force captured a senior Mahdi Army commander in charge of a unit consisting of about 300 fighters in Shula on May 25.

Senior Mahdi Army Special Groups financier captured

Coalition special forces teams captured a “key assistant to a senior Iranian-trained Special Groups leader who recently fled Sadr City under pressure from Iraqi Security Forces,” Multinational Forces Iraq reported. “The captured man is suspected of kidnapping, managing funds for Special Groups in Sadr City, and providing funds to various other elements within the Special Groups criminal organization.”

The US military stated Mahdi Army commanders are leaving Sadr City and surrounding neighborhoods, and abandoning their units to escape the Iraqi security forces. The Mahdi Army commander captured today was found in Rusafa, which borders Sadr City.

Iraqi and US forces continue operations against the Mahdi Army in Baghdad. Iraqi National Police and soldiers found three of the Iranian-made explosively formed projectiles along with several weapons caches in Sadr City on May 31. Iraqi Special Operations Forces captured nine Mahdi Army fighters during a raid in Baghdad. US soldiers killed two Mahdi Army fighters in New Baghdad on May 30. Iraqi and US forces detained five Mahdi Army fighters in the Baghdad districts of Mansour, Adhamiyah, and West Rashid on May 30. Iraqi Special Operations Forces captured a Special Groups cell leader and three operatives in western Baghdad.

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

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  • KaneKaizer says:

    Unfortunately we can’t send in US troops to do it or all of the Mahdis will open up simultaneously. We’ll just have to be patient and let the Iraqis take care of it unless the Mahdis revolt again anyway. As long as the Iraqis take charge, things are looking good for that country.

  • DJElliott says:

    In the same brief the 2nd ranking general of the Iraqi armed forces also said that orders had already been issued for the redeployment of the reinforcements to Basrah.
    That is a division’s worth of forces becoming available now that Basrah has transitioned from clear to hold…

  • DaMav says:

    It’s a little worrisome if it signals any kind of failure of resolve. On the other hand it is critical that Iraqi governmental forces hold on to gains, build confidence, and do not become overextended.

  • Dan R. says:

    DaMav, I don’t think this pause is indicative of any lack of resolve on the part of the Iraqi political and military leadership. I believe it was Neo who posted here about three weeks ago …. before the Sadrists decided to yield control of Sadr City to the Iraqi Army but after the lower 1/4 of Sadr City had been secured … that operations to clear and hold the remaining 3/4 of Sadr City would have to wait a few weeks until new Iraqi units became available. Given that it soon became necessary for the IA to occupy the remaining 3/4 of Sadr City (thankfully without bloodshed), it’s certainly understandable that Iraqi forces would be maxed out for the short term. But as was pointed out by KaneKaizer, the most important thing is that it’s now the Iraqis who are taking care of business.

  • ECH says:

    Maliki a week or two ago allowed by 5,000 former Iraqi Army members from Mosul to return to the Army.
    The Iraqi Army could use 2 or 3 more Divisions worth of troops to occupy the capital and the South. Awakening forces can be raised and combined with the Iraqi Army and police can deal with Mosul.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    The ISF is well aware that they need more forces. The Senior Deputy Minister of Interior stated in that same brief that they were expanding the INP to a minimum one brigade per province.
    The current basic training pipeline for ISF is:
    – 108k growing to 130k per year MoD.
    – 73k growing to 117k per year MoI.
    By comparison, the US Army runs 89k per year thru basic to maintain a 500k force.
    They are also in the process of absorbing the KRG into the ISF.

  • anand says:

    I would read the press conference Bill linked to:
    Some new details:
    -8 out of 13 BSUs operational or almost operational. That is ever IAD between 1 and 9 except for one. (Probably 7th IAD, maybe 2nd IAD.) All 13 BSUs still planned to be operational by the end of this year.
    -225 sorties a week by the Iraqi Air Force versus 30 a week a year ago. Added 21 new aircraft over the past year.
    -3 Operational INP divisions in the fight. Suggests that the 3rd INP division HQs is C3 in the fight.
    -At least 11 INP brigades C3 or better in the fight. (Original 9 + Basrah Palace Force + Sammara.) 12th and 13th INP brigades are C4. This excludes the INP ERU (which is being expanded to brigade.)
    -Sustainment and life support for the MoI now managed by the department.
    -67,000 Army soldiers and 57,000 police forces being added to the ranks of the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior this year.
    -From last June until now, the Iraqi Army has increased by 52,000 soldiers.
    -The Iraqi special operations forces up by 1,400 personnel over the past year
    -a year ago Iraqi Army had 2,500 up-armored humvees, versus 3,200 now and 6,200 by the end of 2008.
    -27 different training sites used by the MoI and MoD.
    -MoI up by 46,000 over the last year, of which 13,000 are in the INP.
    JOC Vice Chief of Staff Gen Abadi said that the IA are returning to “Amara.” I think he meant the 14th Bde (old IA 1-4) from Samarra. Suspect the 14th Bde will upgrade to tracked mechanize upon its return north.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    You missed a major one:
    One INP Brigade for each province is planned…

  • RE: IA standing up while we take a step back:
    Incredible what good leadership can do. A year ago I wouldn’t have believed the IA could mount a coherent op above PLT level (only if they were all from the same village even so).
    Now we are talking BDE’s and Divisions.

  • Matthew says:

    Patton’s tanks were moving so fast in August 1944 against the Germans that they were stretching their resupply lines. When the resupply moved north to support Operation Market Garden, Patton’s 3rd Army stalled and the Germans couldn’t believe their good fortune and was able to reform their lines. The result was the Battle of the Bulge a few months later which Patton’s 3rd Army smashed through and recaptured 100 miles of territory all the way to Bastogne.
    Here’s to a swift resupply and redeployment to continue the missions. Things might get worse before it gets even more better.

  • mjr007 says:

    anand said:
    “JOC Vice Chief of Staff Gen Abadi said that the IA are returning to “Amara.” I think he meant the 14th Bde (old IA 1-4) from Samarra. Suspect the 14th Bde will upgrade to tracked mechanize upon its return north”
    Working their way north. We’ve heard over the last two months of prgress in al-Basrah, then north to al-Qurnah and now as far north as Amarah. As noted on the Ramazan Corps ratline flash presentation, Amarah lies to the northern-most of the three Fajr Southern Command along with al_Kut.
    The south has been set free. Looks to me like a convergence of forces headed north out of Amarah/al-Kut and those headed east out of Sadr City meeting up at al-Badrah.
    Got to keep squeezing them and drying up their Iranian supply routes, personnel and funding.
    These things take time but I am deeply amazed at and indebted to the fine work of both the MNF and IA forces in their systematic approach to defeating the Ramazan Corps.
    Thank you General Petraeus and the fine men and women of the armed forces.


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