Iraqi troops replace border guards. Local police forces are raised. Maliki gives deadline for Mahdi Army to disarm. Sadrists fear being targeted.
The Iraqi government and military continue to shape the battlefield for the confrontation with the Mahdi Army in Maysan province. Starting late last week, Iraqi security forces started the operation by sealing off the entrances and exits to the province, deploying additional forces from Baghdad and Basrah, warning the population, starting patrols in Amarah, and relieving the provincial chief of police.
Since then, Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has ordered all wanted Mahdi Army fighters to turn themselves in and ordered the militia to turn in their weapons. “Those who have heavy and medium weapons, explosives or sniper guns, must hand them over to the security forces over the next four days until June 18 in return for cash,” Maliki said.
Two centers have been opened in Amarah to collect weapons, Voices of Iraq reported. “A large amount of weapons and ammunitions were handed over and a number of wanted men gave themselves up in coordination with chieftains and political officials in the province,” said Brigadier General Abdul Karim Khalaf, a spokesman for the Iraqi police.
Military and police officials have said the operation will begin in full force on June 19. Iraqi Armored units, likely from the 9th Iraqi Army Division, have taken up positions on the major roadways leading into Amarah.
Defense Ministry spokesman Brigadier Mohammed Al Askari said the operation will encompass all of Maysan province, and will not focus exclusively on Amarah, the provincial capital.
The Iraqi security forces have moved elements of the 11th Iraqi Army Division to the border to replace the border guards. The move places the Iraqi Army directly on the border with Iran. There is no indication if the border enforcement teams have been relieved of their posts or are undergoing retraining, much as the Iraqi National Police have throughout 2006 to 2008.
The Iraqi security forces are also raising local forces to participate in the operation. Two “regiments” of local fighters have been recruited to work with the Army and police. “Each regiment will include 750 volunteers, who should be exclusively from local residents,” Colonel Mahdi Hussein told Voices of Iraq.
Sadrists fear being targeted
The Sadrist political movement, which operates the Mahdi Army, worries the operation is targeting the group exclusively. A statement from a leading spokesman highlights the setbacks the Mahdi Army experienced in Basrah. “We do not want Basrah events to be repeated in Amara,” said Sheikh Salih al Obaidi, the lead spokesman for the Sadrist movement. Obaidi instead called for “dialogue.”
The Sadrist movement closed down its office in central Amarah and “moved to another ‘good location.'” The Sadrists were occupying a building owned by the government.
Last week, Muqtada al Sadr, the leader of the Sadrist movement and the Mahdi Army, ordered the vast majority of the Mahdi Army to disband and withdrew the Sadrist party from the upcoming provincial elections.
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.
For background on the Maysan security operation, see:
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