The apparent respite in yesterday’s fighting was illusory as US forces killed an additional 27 Mahdi Army fighters and a senior Special Groups leader during a series of engagements in the afternoon and throughout the night in Sadr City. One of the larger clashes occurred as US forces were attacked while constructing the barrier that divides the southern portion of Sadr city where US and Iraqi troops have established a foothold.
The fighting began just before noon as Mahdi Army fighters attacked US troops with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire as they were building the concrete security barrier in Sadr City. US soldiers responded and killed three Mahdi fighters. Ten minutes later, US troops killed seven Mahdi Army fighters after they attacked the soldiers with mortars and machine guns. No US soldiers were reported killed in either incident.
US troops killed another 17 Mahdi Army fighters in a series of engagements throughout the day as they transported weapons, set up rockets for launching, planted roadside bombs, and attacked US troops in Sadr City.
Coalition Special Forces also conducted a daylight strike today inside Sadr City. A Coalition airstrike targeted a “known Iranian-sponsored senior Special Groups leader” inside Sadr City this afternoon Baghdad time. “According to our operational reports the ‘Special Groups leader’ … was killed,” Multinational Forces Iraq said in answer to an e-mail inquiry by The Long War Journal. The Special Groups are Iranian-trained, financed, and armed elements of the Mahdi Army.
The Mahdi Army has taken heavy casualties in Sadr City since the fighting broke out on March 25. According to US and Iraqi reports compiled by The Long War Journal, 463 Mahdi Army fighters have been killed in and around Sadr City. These numbers do not include Mahdi Army fighters who may have died hours after being wounded in the fighting.
A buildup in Sadr City
The US and Iraqi military have rapidly built up their forces in and around Sadr City over the past several weeks. Two Iraqi Army brigades and elements from an Iraqi armored brigade and an Iraqi National Police brigade, along with eight US Army battalions, have been reported in military press releases to be operating inside Sadr City over the past several weeks. In early April, only two US Army battalions, an Iraqi Army brigade, and elements from an Iraqi National Police brigade were known to be operating inside Sadr City.
A US Army brigade, three Iraqi National Police brigades, and an Iraqi Army brigade are also operating in the neighborhoods adjacent to Sadr City. This unprecedented buildup of forces indicates the Iraqi government and the US military are serious about advancing into Sadr City beyond the southern third of the district, which is being hemmed in by the security barriers under construction.
Units Operating inside Sadr City:
• 1st Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment
• 4th Battalion, 64th Armored Regiment, 4th Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division
• 1st Battalion, 64th Armored Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized)
• 1st Battalion, 66th Armored Regiment, 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division
• 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 68th Armored Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division
• 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade, 10th Mountain Division
• 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division
• 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division
• 42nd Brigade, 11th Iraqi Army Division
• 44th Brigade, 11th Iraqi Army Division
• Elements from the 35th Tank Brigade, 9th Iraqi Army Mechanized Division
• Elements from the 8th Brigade, 2nd National Police Division
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.