Mahdi Army decimated during recent fighting


Muqtada al Sadr.

The Mahdi Army suffered a significant blow during fighting against Iraqi and Coalition forces this year, according to an Iraq intelligence report. The heavy casualties suffered by the Mahdi Army have forced Muqtada al Sadr, the leader of the Mahdi Army and the Sadrist political movement, to change his tactics and disband the Mahdi Army in favor of a small, secretive fighting force.

“More than 2,000 cadres from the Mahdi Army leaders were killed recently,” an Iraqi intelligence official told Gulf News. “This led to the almost complete collapse of the army,” the official said. An estimated 1,300 Mahdi Army fighters “escaped to safe houses in Iran.” Muqtada al Sadr currently resides in Qom, Iran, under the protection of Iran’s Qods Force.

The Mahdi Army took heavy casualties while opposing the Iraqi security forces in Basrah and the South and against US and Iraqi forces in Sadr City during operations to secure the areas in March, April, and May. More than 1,000 Mahdi Army fighters were killed in Sadr City alone, according to a Mahdi Army commander in Baghdad. Another 415 were killed in Basrah. More than 400 were killed during fighting in the southern cities of Najaf, Karbala, Hillah, Diwaniyah, Amarah, Samawah, and Nasiriyah in late March and early April, according to numbers compiled by The Long War Journal. Thousands more have been wounded our captured.

The setbacks in Baghdad, Basrah, and the South have forced Sadr to turn the Mahdi Army into “a secret military organization,” the Iraqi report stated. “The number of members doesn’t exceed 150-200, hugely down from the total estimated number of 50,000 in the past two years.”

Iraqi intelligence believes the Mahdi Army, which is funded and supported by Iran, “will be somewhat [similar] to Al Qaida and some of the other Sunni armed groups and will have to carry out quality operations against US forces and assassinate some of the important Iraqi figures [to prove itself].”

The Iraqi report counters the current narrative on the Mahdi Army’s strategy. Analysts have stated the Mahdi Army cleverly melted away to avoid confrontation with the Iraqi military and wait out the US military until it withdraws. The intelligence report suggests Sadr was forced to change strategy and retreat in the face of heavy casualties and dwindling support from the Shia population.

Sadr ordered the Mahdi Army to disband and created the small cadre of secretive fighters on June 13. Two days later he ordered the Sadrist block to withdraw from the provincial elections, and instead said the movement would infiltrate candidates into independent blocs.

The US military began targeting the senior leadership of the Mahdi Army in late 2006, and targeted the Iranian-backed elements in earnest during “the surge” in the spring, summer, and fall of 2007.

Operations against the Mahdi Army continue

Iraqi and US forces have not rested after successful operations against the Mahdi Army in Baghdad, Basrah, and the wider South from March to June.

A large operation is under way in Maysan province, once a stronghold for the Mahdi Army and the Sadrist movement. Iraqi security forces have detained 174 “wanted persons” in and around Amarah, the provincial capital, since operations began two weeks ago. The mayor of Amarah, several provincial council members, and several Mahdi Army commanders have been arrested during the operation.

Iraqi and US forces have conducted multiple raids against the Mahdi Army in Baghdad and Hillah over the past week, detaining more than 100 Mahdi Army fighters and several senior leaders.

Iraqi and US forces detained three senior-level Mahdi Army commanders during raids in Baghdad and Hillah on June 20 and 21. One of the commanders was responsible for the southeastern district in Baghdad, another was assigned to promote Mahdi Army leaders in Baghdad and has close connection to the Sadrist movement in Najaf, and the third was a senior leader in Hillah.

In a June 22 raid in Baghdad, Iraqi soldiers captured “an Iranian surrogate, reportedly in charge of more than 100 individuals” behind improvised explosive device and explosively formed penetrator attacks and a “key financier.” Iraqi soldiers also captured a leader of a Mahdi Army “criminal network who is suspected of being a financier who directs, coordinates and funds operations in the surrounding cities, including trafficking weapons and providing safe havens for criminals” in Zubadiyah south of Baghdad. An IED cell leader was captured by US troops in Baghdad on June 24.

On June 21, Iraqi forces detained Sayyid Tahseen, a senior member of Muqtada al Sadr’s political movement, in Al Kut in Wasit province. Iraqi police described Tahseen as “one of the most important individual wanted by security forces” who is “wanted for more than 45 cases, including armed operations against security forces, in addition to killing and abduction of innocent people.”

On June 26, Coalition forces captured a senior “Special Groups” leader and three associates late during an operation in Ash Shumali near Hillah. The Mahdi Army leader has “ties to some of the highest levels of the Iranian-sponsored organization.”

Scores of lower-level Mahdi Army fighters have been captured over the past week. Iraqi Special Operations Forces captured three Mahdi Army fighters in the Shula neighborhood in Baghdad on June 20. US troops captured a Mahdi Army fighter in the Rashid district of southern Baghdad on June 21 and killed six Mahdi Army fighters as they planted IEDs in New Baghdad on June 22. Over the weekend, Iraqi security forces detained 65 Mahdi Army fighters and seized weapons caches during operations north of the city of Nasiriyah in Dhi Qhar province.

Iraqi security forces detained 37 Mahdi Army fighters during separate raids in Hillah on June 23. US troops also found a vehicle with nine of the Mahdi Army-built improvised rocket-assisted mortars, otherwise know as “flying IEDs,” in the Kadamiyah district in Baghdad.

The Mahdi Army has fought back, killing three US soldiers and two US civilians in Baghdad. Two US soldiers, two US civilians, and six Iraqis were killed June 24 in a bombing at a government center in Sadr City. The US military said a Special Groups operative was behind the attack. On June 25, a US soldier was killed in an EFP attack in 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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  • Private Finch says:

    This is more good news, but I don’t expect to hear about it on the MSN coverage. They only hope for bad news from Iraq. It must be grim in the newsrooms now. Iran must be worried sick that their toady Mookie is getting his army trashed. Russia will be worried that Iran might have their nuke program set back by Israel. Russia hopes to see Iran have the Middle East pot boiling to keep the oil prices high. The Russian economy is fueled by high oil and gas prices. Keep up the good work and keep the Mahdi army melting away.

  • Hamidreza says:

    “… have forced Muqtada al Sadr, the leader of the Mahdi Army and the Sadrist political movement, to change his tactics and disband the Mahdi Army in favor of a small, secretive fighting force.”
    In other words an assassination squad and a death squad is what al-Sadr has created.
    And the simplistic and clueless narrative by the left of center major media is that Sadr is a freedom loving “nationalist” guerilla leader and a democrat. Must be quite a stretch of the meaning of nationalist when the guy resides under the protection of a foreign enemy, and receiving help from Iran to blow up Iraqis.

  • Batman says:

    To what extent does defeat of Mahdi Army free up troops to go back to fighting AQ in order to stomp down this uptick in bombings? How long before there are enough ISF to press all fronts?

  • Neo says:

    The media watches the Big operations and notices Sadr’s people going to ground. What the media keeps missing is the day-to-day grind against Sadr’s organization that has disrupted Sadr’s organization. The day-to-day stuff isn’t big enough for the reporters and columnists to make much out of, it does add up though. The leadership of Sadr’s armed wing has been targeted and broken.
    The fact that JAM members are running to Iran suggests a few things too. Mahdi army members are not safe in Iraq. They can’t hide out amongst the population. People are turning them in. Also JAM can no longer locally support and organize their organization without being targeted.
    It is good to see official confirmation on this. Officials need to be a little more forthright about dispelling the notion that the real Mahdi army awaits in the wings for the right moment to attack. They might want to be guarded about stating any sort of victory over JAM, but some of the media remain convinced that JAM is able to somehow magically sidestep large-scale operations.

  • Neo says:

    “To what extent does defeat of Mahdi Army free up troops to go back to fighting AQ in order to stomp down this uptick in bombings? How long before there are enough ISF to press all fronts?”

  • Alex says:

    I imagine this can’t be too good for JAM’s morale. I was watching a documentary on the Military Channel about the Battle of Fallujah. Remember when there once was a time when terrorists would run freely in the streets in front of TV cameras as if they had nothing to fear? I guess a few things have changed since then…

  • EzE says:

    “Muqtada al Sadr currently resides in Qom, Iran, under the protection of Iraq’s Qods Force.”
    Iran’s Qods Force?

  • DJ Elliott says:

    “Maliki has hinted at some sort of disruption campaign in Diyala province.”
    Not just Diyala. They set a deadline in Salahadin for turning in gunmen and weapons.
    Maysan is the current center of ops but, they are also doing concurent ops in the adjacent provinces. Wassit, Babil, DhiQar…
    As that wraps up, they are moving north. That is also the planned pattern for provinces going PIC according to the General’s Apr Senate testimony:
    – Anbar JUN08 (happening 28th)
    – Qadisiyah JUL08 (happening early-July)
    – Wasit NOV08
    – Babil NOV08
    – Diyala DEC08
    – Baghdad DEC08
    – Salah Ad Din JAN09
    – Ninewa JAN09
    – Ta’mim TBD

  • DJ Elliott says:

    “The PIC ceremony has been delayed due to forecasts of high winds and dust storms for Anbar tomorrow. A new date will be announced as soon as it is made available.”

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 06/27/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front lines.

  • Richard1 says:

    It isn’t just sandstorms. Now there is a morning period to consider. But the handover is now inevitable, al-Qaeda must know that.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    I know that, you know that, and it even dawned on them after they had issued the notice of the postponment.
    The quote was cut and pasted right out of the advance press notice. Only the weather was mentioned at that point.
    It was five hours later before it was mentioned that it was just as well, since it would be inappropriate to hold a celibration during a mourning period…

  • Alex says:

    So, in essence, all but perhaps three provinces will be PIC by the next inauguration? Not to get political, but this seems like good planning in case Washington gets tenuous.
    I’ll be honest. I didn’t think that we’d make it this far. I thought with all the talk in June and July of 2007 that there would have been some kind of mandated withdraw, and I hoped that enough damage to AQI would have been done in Diyala and Basra in the remaining 120 days that we would have been allowed to operate at full force, so that complete chaos might be avoided. It looks like instead, the center holding together just might be possible.
    It depends a lot on what cards Iran decides to play. For a few reasons, I think that an air and armored Iranian push is unlikely, although I fully expect Iran to continue causing trouble.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Previous PIC schedules have slid. So far this one looks to be 2 down 7 to go.
    So long as the CINC stays firm, the rest of the politicians are not in the chain-of-command. Per the constitution.
    “For a few reasons, I think that an air and armored Iranian push is unlikely, although I fully expect Iran to continue causing trouble.”
    You prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.
    Days prior to 25 Jun 1950 and 2 Aug 1990, almost everybody wrote the activities off as “sabre rattling”.
    Predicting Iran and its politicians is a dice role since you never know which faction is in assendance day-to-day.
    That is the problem with predicting intentions, they can change in minutes. Which is why military intelligence concentrates on capabilities.
    “If you wish for peace, prepare for war” remains the best policy, as it has been repeatedly proven for two millenium. Aggressors normally pick on targets perceived as easy prey. Which is why arguing for unilateral demilitarization as a method of buying peace is one of the biggest oxymoronic concepts ever invented. The only peace you gain with that policy is the peace of the dead victim…

  • Michael says:

    “Is “infiltrate” the right word. I didn’t take the Sadrist statements like that at all. They said they would back independents and technocrats, and then said they would run Sadrist candidates, just not as part of a Sadrist party but as independents.”
    Do you truly trust the Sadrist word? Trust Sadr? He and his followers say one thing, do another. The lie, steal from Iraqis, and helped Iranian agents “infiltrate” Iraq daily. How else did the majority of Iranian weapons get into Iraq the last two years? They infiltrated Iraq mostly thru Sadrist loyalist. They did this both politically and with weapons and training.
    Here is a critics words…
    “Critics of Sadr say he is pulling out of the elections to avoid embarrassing losses and keeping most of the Mahdi Army from fighting so that it will not face defeat by U.S. and Iraqi troops.”
    So, if he is pulling out of the elections, but supporting “independents and technocrats” for the elections. Then my very first question is, Who are the independents and technocrats that Sadr would support? Badr followers? Sistani followers? Old Saddam followers?
    It is obvious he is not only weak in militia abilities to take on IA and CF, but he is now weak politically. So what else can he do but withdraw his name? And then support so-called “independents and technocrats” that would in turn support Sadr?
    Infiltration has been going on for years at all levels. This just means it is moving even more below ground than in the past. They have no choice after the severe losses and public loss of support.
    As to your and Finches Media discussions. Ralph Peters of New York Post summed it up much better than I could in a few short sentences…
    Ralph Peters sums up Media Coverage

  • Michael says:

    I forgot to add, the Critics of Sadr quote was from WaPo, originally linked by Bill.


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