Maysan operation continues to target Sadrist leaders

Map of Iraq. Click to view.

The Iraqi security forces have detained five senior Sadrist leaders and a department director in Maysan province during Operation Promise of Peace. The Mahdi Army, the armed wing of the Sadrist movement, has not put up any opposition to the government’s efforts to secure Maysan, a Sadrist stronghold on the Iranian border.

Iraqi forces are conducting a series of raids in Amarah and throughout the southern province, “capturing key targets including government officials wanted by the authorities in a number of cases,” said Brigadier General Abdul Karim Khalaf, a spokesman for Iraq’s Ministry of the Interior.

“Five officials from the provincial council who represent the Sadr movement have been arrested for aiding the militia,” Mahdi al Asadi, the spokesman for the Maysan police told AFP. Iraqi forces detained the mayor of Amarah and the deputy governor yesterday.

Iraqi forces also detained Engineer Mohammed Nouri, the provincial director of the irrigation projects department after discovering “amounts of weapons and ammunitions hidden in one of the department’s stores,” an anonymous source told Voices of Iraq.

Thirty-one “wanted men” have been detained since the operation was kicked off in Amarah yesterday. Five Mahdi Army fighters surrendered to the security forces. More than 60 “militiamen” surrendered during the amnesty period.

Several large weapons caches and a command and control center have also been uncovered in the province. “A militia headquarters was seized by Iraqi Security Forces after a weapons cache was discovered containing 676 mines, 249 mortar rounds, 241 rocket-propelled grenades and four homemade-rocket launchers,” Multinational Forces Iraq reported. “In operations surrounding Amarah, a total of 273 mortar rounds were discovered, along with numerous other accelerants.”

Sadrists are on the run

The Mahdi Army has not fought back as Sadrist leaders and Mahdi Army commanders and fighters are rounded up in Amarah, Khalaf said.

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, and another 415 were killed in Basrah. Several hundred were killed during fighting in the southern cities of Najaf, Karbala, Hillah, Diwaniyah, Amarah, Samawah, and Nasiriyah.

The Mahdi Army and the Sadrist movement have been reduced to complaining about the actions of the security forces.

“The Sadrist bloc supported the operation but it turned from a military operation against gunmen into a political process targeting Sadrists,” Ahmed al Massoudi, a Sadrist member of parliament told Voices of Iraq. He pleaded for the release of Sadrist members.

The Sadrist leader in Amarah is currently moving between safe houses in an effort to evade Iraqi sweeps.

“All over Iraq — Basra, and Sadr city in Baghdad — the government has said the same thing: that Sadr and his Mahdi Army are not targets,” the unnamed Sadrist leader told AFP via phone after canceling the face to face interview with the news agency. “But after those operations started they changed the color of their feathers and started going after followers of Sadr and his Mahdi Army.”

“Right now I don’t know if I will be able to save my own life,” the Amarah leader said.

Moving to the Marshes

The Iraqi security forces will expand their operations right along the Iranian border in an attempt to disrupt the Mahdi Army supply lines from Iran. “The operations would include a drive into Marshes area where important targets are hiding.”

The push into the Marshes comes as the Iraqi security forces have ramped up operations in neighboring Basrah, Wasit and Dhi Qhar provinces.

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:

Report: Iraqi security forces preparing operation against Mahdi Army in Maysan

Iraqi offensive underway against the Mahdi Army in Maysan

Iraqi security forces ramp up for Maysan operation

Iraqi security forces detain senior Sadrist during Maysan operation

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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  • ST333 says:

    Another great article Bill. I have an RSS feed to this site and I’m here at least once a day reading all the article and listen to Covert Radio. It seems to me in the last month +, MNF and the IA have been really handling business in Iraq. I’d never count my chickens before they hatch, but in the back of my mind, I’m thinking we will have major draw downs by the end of this year they way things are going. Am I right? Any “unofficial” word from the brass there along those lines?

  • Sadr’s Shrinking Protests

    Anti-American Shiite Cleric Moqtada Sadr’s political movement is running out of gas. Every friday he has called for protests against a long term alliance between Iraq and America (the details of which are being negotiated – as is expected in pea…

  • Dan R. says:

    Wow. Around 2,000 Mahdi Army fighters killed in all? No wonder they decided to stop fighting. When one takes into account the fact that, despite the oft-repeated 60,000 number who were willing to march in the streets for Sadr, maybe only 5,000-7,000 were actually willing to go out into the street and risk taking a bullet for him, this casualty count must be staggering to them.
    The Sadrists are finished … and with them Iran’s ambitions for control of southern Iraq.
    Way to go, Maliki!!! Way to go, IA!!!

  • amagi says:

    I am eager to hear more from the marshes. It’s been my understanding that they have been a sort of no-man’s-land since time immemorial. Generations of pirates and smugglers and adventurers and ne’er-do-wells have passed through… and when someone had to hide from the Hussein regime, the marshes is usually where they would go to do it.
    I don’t suppose anyone knows of anybody reporting from that area? Clearly it’s a lot to ask. Just getting a reporter in Al Amarah is pretty miraculous.

  • mjr007 says:

    It is deeply and profoundly encouraging for the ultimate success of the IA in tracking the events of the last four months. We’ve gone from the alleged debacle in Basrah to the ultimate control of Amarah the strategic command and control center.
    Sadr City, East Baghdad, Basrah, al-Hillah, Dimaniyah, Badrah, al-Kut, Qurnah, Hasiriyah, al-Fajr, Samawah, and now finally, Amarah.
    That’s about it, I think. Al Sadr is finished. The south is pacified. Bring on the elections.

  • Richard says:

    Off topic but worthy of debate. The news section to the right of the website has a link to the Sons of Iraq being phased out. I do not think this is a wise decision. These men are out in the open providing eyes and ears on the streets. Secondly, what will these men do for income to feed their families. If they are going to disband the Sons of Iraq in the north I sure hope they have a jobs program to transfer their time to learning basic skills. I think ensuring these men can become productive members of society then just for policing the streets or returning to an insurgency role.

  • bard207 says:

    Even though the Sadrists and the Mahdi army have been fading, they still seem to have some nostalgia for the past and aren’t coming to grips with what the future will likely hold.
    [I]”All over Iraq — Basra, and Sadr city in Baghdad — the government has said the same thing: that Sadr and his Mahdi Army are not targets,” the unnamed Sadrist leader told AFP via phone after canceling the face to face interview with the news agency.[/I]
    The concept of having a [I]Mahdi Army[/I] doesn’t fit with a democratic society for Iraq. Until the Sadrists can relinquish that idea, they won’t fit in the Iraqi government.

  • Alex says:

    I mean no disrespect to out allies by any means when I say this, but it needs to be re-iterated: the Iraqi Army has done in about 3 months what the British Army did not do in 5 years.

  • me says:

    The British Army may never have been able to do what the Iraqi Army did given there smaller numbers and the fact that they are outsiders not attuned to the local culture. The trick had been holding Iraq together through the rough times and training the locals who will have to secure their own nation far into the future.

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 06/20/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front lines.

  • RD says:

    I’d like to know whether all of the IA’s offensive actions are coming from the same division, the old 1st Division, now renamed the Quick Reaction Force. This unit seems fully competent. From press reports, they were in the Basra operation, then the Sadr City operation, now are they in Maysan?
    In other words, is there any more depth in the IA than just the old 1st division?

  • KW64 says:

    RE ST333:
    These successes certainly make more troop withdrawls look more tempting but it has been my understanding that the 45 day pause in force reductions would encompass the lead up to the local elections so that we could make sure they were well secured. While the elections may not happen as early as hoped and progress on eliminating militias and Al Queda are well ahead of schedule, I would think this concern of election security still applies. There may also be concern about Tet style attacks to influence our elections as well.
    I would rather have more forces than needed than risk too few. We can have larger withdrawls after the elections and the new officials take office. (I bet if we withdraw a lot of troops in October screams of politics will fill the air.)

  • Neo says:

    As for the “Sons of Iraq”

  • Freedom Now says:

    I am glad that the British stood by our side in this conflict, but it must be pointed out that they violated the number one rule of COIN.
    We must protect our allies among the civilian population. They were not willing to do much more than protect themselves.
    Regardless, I say God bless our British allies, they are great fighters. I hope their leadership recognizes this and develops COIN strategies that utilizes British troops to their full potential.

  • That is a lot of landmines, rockets, et cetera to have on hand and to not employ. For all of that stuff to be kept in a cache, rather than being littered all over the most likely AoA’s into Maysan may say something about the morale/effectiveness/C2 within the Atari militia. HOWEVER, this almost seems too easy.
    What is the devil’s advocate explanation for why the video game enthusiast’s militia is folding like a $2 suitcase? I don’t mean the Juan Cole explanation or the MSNBC explanation. I mean the rational, informed, alternative explanation for why these goons are not resisting. Surely some G2/S2-minded individual must have a MDCOA for the lack of resistance from the militia.

  • Neo says:

    Freedom Now and Me,
    The British strategy in Basra was never based on COIN. It was a strategy based on presence and facilitating an environment of reconciliation. It is a UN type mission that is only appropriate for suppressing flair ups in conflicts that have long ago run their course. It’s only positive effect in this case was to slow things down. In the long term though the insurgents managed to more effectively mold British behavior than the other way around. The British gradually withdrew from actively overseeing the area until they finally were restricted to fixed defensive locations and became target practice for mortar teams.
    It doesn’t reflect on quality of British forces. British overall strategy was never a response to the situation on the ground. British politics totally dominated strategy. It was unacceptable to acctually occupy a city. Also unacceptable was methodically coerce elements within the population, even recalcitrant elements within the population. COIN assumes that you are going to secure, separate and protect the local populous from the insurgency. To many back home, the very thought of securing a foreign populous, smacks of imperialism. The British approach was an attempt at politically correct warfare.
    It’s not that British commanders didn’t try to do practical things within the context of overall strategy. When things were going out of control they did go out many times an meet the enemy, but then they would cut off contact with the local population and go back to their static positions.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    The 1st IA Div does not have forces in Maysan.
    1st has three Bdes in Rusafa/Sadr City Districts of Baghdad and one in Taji getting motorized ATT (2/1).
    The only tenatively ID’d forces in Maysan (other than normal garrison of 41/10 IA Bde and DBE Bde) are:
    – 36/9 IA Armored Bde with probably a bn of 37/9 Cav attached.
    – 1st INP Mechanized Bde
    – The Skorpion Police Bde (Hillah SWAT)
    Unlocated and possibly there are:
    – 14/7 IA Infantry Bde
    – 3/1 INP Bde (corrected)

  • Freedom Now says:

    Another lesson from the Basra debacle can be seen in effect that politically influenced troop reduction policies can have when such troop levels are not determined according to the needs on the ground.
    Of course, the British withdrawal led to further instability as well. The militias took over the economic gold mine that was left vulnerable and they began to fight over the spoils.
    You would have thought that by reading media reports at the time, that the withdrawal was beneficial because it reduced fighting between the British and the militias. That is the price we have to pay for the misinformation and poor journalism that plagues the media today.
    There are many lessons to be learned here. Many of them will be very relevant in the next couple of years.
    Thank you to those British troops who hung in there while their politically correct superiors held them back.

  • Neo says:

    Lets not get too far ahead of ourselves here. Remember that the Maysan campaign is just entering the major stages of the “seize”

  • Private Finch says:

    This is the best of news, to see the Mahdi army being ground into the dust. For years they have claimed to have 60,000 under arms and now they are nearly gone. It can’t help morale to have al Sadr hunkering down in Tehran where he is safe.

  • Freedom Now says:

    There is a huge difference between now and 2004. Back then the Interim Iraqi government took a reconciliatory tone towards the Sadrists in an effort to get them involved in the political process and give them another outlet besides violence.
    The Iraqi government has pretty much acknowledged that this effort has failed and now they are no longer turning a blind eye towards Sadrist aggression and criminal activity.
    Al-Maliki has earned a great deal of respect for dealing with the Sadrists. In combination with amnesty and the rollback of deBaathification; the Iraqi government has made some very competent strides towards the establishment of a viable democracy for the first time in Iraqi history. The Sadrists represent the last major obstacle that wasn’t being addressed in the struggle to achieve this goal.
    This time it was the Iraqis, not the Americans, who have taken the lead in against the Sadrists. Sure the Americans were behind their Iraqi allies, but the effort was primarily an Iraqi one with the exception of the construction of the wall protecting the Green Zone from Sadr City. But even when the Sadrists capitulated there, it was Iraqi troops that marched into the unsecured areas of Sadr City.
    Operations by the Iraqi government against the Sadrists were widespread. The Iraqi government also conducted anti-Sadrist operations in cities like Amarah, Diwaniyah, Hillah, Hussaniyah, Kut, Karbala, Najaf, Nasiriyah and Rashidiyah. In Basra the deadly efficient 1st Iraqi Army Quick Reaction Force took over the lead in dealing with the Sadrists and made short work of them.
    Today for the first time Al-Sadr does not control his own home base, Sadr City and the oil wealth of Basra is out of reach. In the upcoming elections the Sadrists wont be able to intimidate at the polls. Things look pretty bleak for Al Sadr from his self-imposed exile in Iran.
    There is nothing wrong with celebrating these Sadrist defeats, just as there is nothing wrong with not underestimating our enemies. Major victories like Midway and D-Day did not immediately end the war, but they were very worthy of celebration.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    RD (Update)
    1st IA Div HQ is in Maysan. Those are the only elements of the 1st reported there. The rest of the division is still operating in Baghdad.
    The only ID’d forces in Maysan (other than normal garrison of 41/10 IA Bde and DBE Bde which might have been removed) are:
    – 36/9 IA Armored Bde with probably a bn of 37/9 Cav attached.
    – 39/10 IA Infantry Bde
    – 1st INP Mechanized Bde
    – The Skorpion Police Bde (Hillah SWAT)
    Unlocated and possibly there are:
    – 14/7 IA Infantry Bde
    – 3/1 INP Bde


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