An Iraqi tank is stationed on the main road leading into Amarah. AFP photo.
Iraqi security forces, backed by the US military, have started an operation against the Mahdi Army in the southern border province of Maysan. Amarah, the provincial capital of Maysan, is thought to be one of the locations senior Mahdi Army leader retreated to after Iraqi forces moved into Sadr City last month. Amarah is also a forward command and control hub for Iranian operations in southern Iraq.
Iraqi security forces established checkpoints along the entrances to the province, and have closed down the border crossing to Iran at Al Sheeb, Voices of Iraq reported. Iraqi forces are also patrolling inside Amarah. “Joint patrol vehicles have also been deployed in downtown Amarah city, particularly in the areas of Hitteen, Al Urouba, Maghraba and Al Batira Street,” a security source told Voices of Iraq.
The final preparations for operation started late last week as Iraqi forces began amassing at the airport north of Amarah, and set up positions along the major roads leading into the province. Units from Basrah and Baghdad were moved into Maysan to conduct the operation.
The operation began early Saturday after helicopters dropped leaflets in Amarah warning the residents to stay indoors, cooperate with security forces, and provide information on wanted suspects. Leaflets with photographs of wanted Mahdi Army leaders and “wanted persons who have been charged with murder, kidnap and robbery.”
There have been no reports of major clashes or the detention of high-value targets. Some of the Mahdi Army leaders in Amarah are believed to have fled into Iran, where Muqtada al Sadr, the leader of the Mahdi Army, resides.
Amarah is a strategic hub for Iranian operations in southern Iraq
Maysan province is a strategic link for the Ramazan Corps, the Iranian military command set up by Qods Force to direct operations inside Iraq. Amarah serves as the Qods Force-Ramazan Corps forward command and control center inside Iraq as well as one of the major distribution points for weapons in southern Iraq.
The Iraqi security forces have stepped up operations against the Ramazan Corps and the Mahdi Army in the southern provinces over the past several months. Operation Knights’ Assault was launched against the Mahdi Army in Basrah on March 25. After six days of heavy fighting, the Mahdi Army pushed for a cease-fire. The Iraqi security forces also dealt the Mahdi Army a heavy blow in the southern provinces of Najaf, Karbala, Qassadiyah, Maysan, and Wasit.
The Iraqi security forces and the US military also confronted the Mahdi Army in Sadr City in Baghdad. After six weeks of heavy fighting, the Mahdi Army and the Iraqi government signed a cease-fire that allowed the military to enter Sadr City uncontested.
During the month of May, the Iraqi security forces expanded operations throughout Basrah province in Az Zubayr, Al Qurnah, and Abu Al Khasib along the Iranian border. This week, an operation kicked off in Dhi Qhar province, which borders Maysan to the southeast.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.