Sadr forms new unit to attack US forces

Click to view graphic of the demonstrations in Sadr City.

Muqtada al Sadr, the leader of the Mahdi Army and the Sadrist political movement, has ordered the formation of “cells to resist the occupation,” according to a statement read at Sadr’s mosques on Friday. The news comes as US forces continue to target the Mahdi Army command structure and Sadr’s planned demonstrations against the status of forces talks draw few protesters.

Sadr said a new organization, separate from the Mahdi Army, would be formed. The new organization will strike exclusively at US and Coalition forces in Iraq, and not target Iraqi security forces. The Mahdi Army would be transformed into an organization that focuses on “religious, social and cultural affairs” that will “fight the Western ideology and liberate the minds from domination and globalization,” according to a translation of Sadr’s statement obtained by CNN.

“The resistance will be exclusively conducted by only one group,” Sadr said. “This new group will be defined soon by me. The weapons will be held exclusively by this new group, and they should be pointed exclusively at the occupier. We will not stop resisting the occupation until liberation or martyrdom.”

Sadr’s political office confirmed the letter and said the statement is in line with the Sadrist political movement’s ideology. “The declaration by Sayyed Muqtada al Sadr to form cells to resist the occupation comes in full conformity with the approach of the Sadrists,” Sheikh Liwa Semaysam told Voices of Iraq. The newly create organization has “a written authorization by Sayyed Muqtada al Sadr to carry out their task, on the condition that arms will only be in their hands for use against the occupier and none else.”

Sadr’s open defiance may change the calculus on how the US military and the Iraqi government deal with the Sadrist movement and the Mahdi Army. The US military has long attempted to separate Muqtada al Sadr and the Mahdi Army from what it labels the “Special Groups” criminal elements supported by Iran’s Qods Force. This was done in an attempt to provide Sadr and the less radical elements of his followers and opportunity to join the political process while US and Iraqi troops target the extremist elements of the Mahdi Army.

The efforts to blur the lines between the Special Groups and Sadr and the Mahdi Army began to crumble after the Iraqi government launched an offensive in Basrah on March 25 to wrest the city from the Sadrist’s control. The fighting soon spread to Baghdad’s Sadr City and the wider South.

After six days of heavy fighting in Basrah, 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, 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. An operation is said to be in the works in Maysan province, where the Mahdi Army is said to have reorganized after defeats in Basrah and Baghdad.

Sadr’s protests draw few protesters

As Sadr calls for attacks against Coalition forces, his planned weekly protests against the current negotiations over the proposed status of forces have drawn fewer protesters each week, according to numbers compiled by the US military.

The US military released imagery of the demonstrations held in Sadr City that occurred the past three Fridays. The first week, the military estimated Sadr had 10,000 protesters in attendance on May 30, about 3,000 on June 6, and 1,500 today. Sadr City contains an estimated 2.5 million Shia. In 2006 Sadr’s protests drew hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

The military also noted that some Iraqis in Sadr city were “coerced” to join the demonstrations. “Clearly the number of participants is decreasing,” said Lieutenant Colonel Steve Stover, the spokesman for Multinational Forces Baghdad. “The steady drop might suggest increasing support for the GoI [government of Iraq] and less support for Muqtada al Sadr.”

Raids against the Mahdi Army continue

The Iraqi and US military continue to strike at the Mahdi Army leadership in Baghdad and the South. Coalition forces killed five Mahdi Army fighters and detained two others during a raid on a leader’s safe house in Hillah.

In Baghdad, Iraqi Special Operations Forces conducted two separate raids on June 12. In one raid, Iraqi troops captured the leader of a 250-man battalion behind roadside bomb attacks against Iraqi and Coalition forces as well as running a kidnapping ring. The second raid netted a Mahdi Army leader behind the “kidnapping, interrogating, torturing and murdering Iraqi citizens” as well as “conducting fake Iraqi Police checkpoints and ordering improvised explosive device attacks against Coalition forces.”

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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  • KW64 says:

    Old Whine, New Bottle
    A rather pathetic attempt to remain politically relevant.

  • bard207 says:

    Some of his rhetoric – dogma sounds similar to what bin Laden & Co espouse.
    That part of the Mehdi Army will not be involved in militancy but will “fight the Western ideology and liberate the minds from domination and globalization.”
    Rather than accept that parts of the Islamic world are behind the Western World and that serious efforts must be made to close the gap, they would rather drag their feet when faced with the opportunity for progress.

  • Soylent Red says:

    If I didn’t think it would turn him into a martyr, I would advocate someone giving Sadr a fatal case of lead poisoning.
    Oh well, irrelevance is probably worse.

  • Neo says:

    “Extra Special Groups” I can’t wait!
    Actually, this announcement confuses me more than usual, but maybe that’s because I think pronouncements should have a point. Sadr’s pronouncements are often somewhat challenging in that respect. Maybe they just spice their baloney differently in this part of the world.
    Does this mean the 60,000 strong Mahdi Militia is officially out of play. More realistically, it may signal that JAM can no longer mount cohesive resistance. After the Sadr City truce, there is some indication that JAM wished to raise a little trouble throughout the Baghdad area. Instead, they were on the receiving end of an effective intelligence driven campaign to root out remaining troublemakers. A slight rise in MNF & IA casualties during the last few weeks marks that battle. At least, that is my interpretation of what has been happening during the last weeks.
    I did notice a big uptick in successful targeted raids recently. It looks like this Maysan campaign is the next big step in shutting down the enemies RAT lines at the boarder. Others have indicated that rooting out the enemy around Amarah may be violent. There is historical precedent for that, but I wonder if conditions are different this time around. What is left of the Mahdi army appears to be in collapse. In the past the Swamp Arabs have pretty much faced extermination from Saddam. This time around there isn’t as much at stake. The groups in the area can pretty much lay down their arms or sit this one out. No one is going to try to exterminate fighters and their families. At this stage, I don’t think there is a need to go out into the swamps and hunt people down. They need to take control of the city, hunt down high value targets, and cut into the major arms smuggling from Iran. They need to start up efforts to bring the locals onboard. That may be slow at first, the locals in the Amarah area have taken a lot of abuse in the past and are deeply suspicious.

  • cjr says:

    And where exactly will Mullah Atari get this new force in the universe….I mean in Iraq. Did he pay a visit to Planet Kamino and place his order for a secret clone army?

  • KnightHawk says:

    “My Mehdi Army is getting it’s ass handed to it so now I’ll claim they are all peaceful and I will start some other new group composed of exactly the same people to attack those that are helping my government help my fellow citizens.”
    Just brilliant mookie. Not.

  • Neo says:

    To be fair General Muhammad Ali Jaafari should take much of the blame for the failures of the Mahdi army. We shouldn’t lay all of this incompetence at the hands of Sadr. After all, Sadr doesn’t run the military end of things.

  • Dan R. says:

    “A rather pathetic attempt to remain politically relevant.”
    Well-stated, KW64. I think that pretty much sums it up.
    But I have a serious question for Bill, DJ, Neo or anyone else here who’s “plugged in” to what’s going on in Iraq:
    1) How tough would it be for us to kill Sadr if we wanted to do so, and
    2) How smart would it be to do it? Would it be preferable to leave him alone out there by himself to progressively wither away?

  • Matthew says:

    From the news and comments, I just couldn’t resist…
    Sadr reformed his units because NOW he wants to create his own Iranian Capital One Credit Card with images of rats and lines.

  • SoldiersDad says:

    Mommy..Mommy…my whole terrorist group has disintegrated……please…please…help me…no one fears me anymore…

  • Neo says:

    Dan R,
    First of all political assassinations tend to have unforeseen and often drastic consequences. Case in point, the last thing the assassins of Benazir Bhutto would have wanted was to make her a Martyr and in doing so create an outpouring of public support that would give the secular PPP party the largest parliamentary block. A strong argument can be made that Bhutto was damaged goods and had as much opposition to her candidacy as support.
    Getting back to Iraq. There are a number of problems with doing away with Sadr. Such a thing would only be considered if it were thought to be absolutely necessary, and it hardly seems the case at this point. The assassination of a political leader by either the US or Iraqi government would set a unacceptable precedent which if repeated could undermine any chance that a fair political system could come into being in Iraq. Where do you stop getting rid of problem politicians once you start killing them. Other politicians in Iraq would be very wary of such action. The next elimination may just as well be them. Then there is the whole matter of killing Shiite religious figures, which doesn’t seem to bother JAM too much, but the religious hierarchy wouldn’t appreciate the government getting in the business of shooting religious figures either. They had enough of that sort of problem with the former regime.
    If you want to directly get rid of Sadr, you had better contemplate it early in the game when more is on the line. Than again, eliminating Sadr early on may have alienated the rest of the Shiite religious parties.

  • Neo says:

    The government of Iraq may still want to politically move against Sadr though. There is the mater of his political block and their continued participation in the political process. Based on their open and continued armed rebellion the government is justified in disqualifying their current participation in parliment. Their future participation should be made contingent on peaceful participation and laying down arms.
    Such action could also serve as future warning that armed resistance eventually results in the forfeiture of political rights. Likewise the Sunni’s should be given every opportunity to form their own political block but those who resume open conflict forfeit the right to participate in the political process.

  • coldoc says:

    Could this be the preliminary step in Mookie & the Mullahs inserting an elite, dedicated, “foreign” force of fighters made up from Hezbollah, Hammas or even Iranian “volunteers”? I see this as a possible response to the beating they have been taking recently. It would parallel the Chinese “volunteers” entering the Korean War when the North Koreans were getting their butts kicked. I would suspect that such foreign forces would meet with the same resistance that Al Qaeda did,
    Otherwise, maybe this marks a change of strategy from direct confrontation to one of guerrilla warfare. I don’t see this as a winning strategy… I doubt they can “target” coalition forces any better than Al Qaeda could.

  • Neo says:

    Eventually, it could constitute an attempt by Iran to establish an outside resistance party. Something along the lines of the original Badr corps. Wouldn’t that be ironic. Maybe they could take over Badr’s old neighborhood in Tehran.

  • Joakim Ekström says:

    I think that to understand what Sadr is doing, one needs to study Gerry Adams’ strategy to disarm the IRA.

  • Despite the specific target cited, the pronouncement is otherwise very vague. This seems like more of a trial balloon by Mullah Atari than the actual formation of something that will exist outside of the fanciful imagination of the video game enthusiast.

  • patrick says:

    “I think that to understand what Sadr is doing, one needs to study Gerry Adams’ strategy to disarm the IRA.

    Gerry Adams was very skilful in bringing the hardline elements and the realistic political elements of his Irish republican movement to a peaceful conclusion ,where they now are in a power sharing government .

    Al Sadr is more like a nitwit tilting at windmills.

    While Americans are around his ideal of
    a theocratic state like Iran is unattainable.

    I think there is general support in Iraq for a secular democratic state and Al Sadr will have to accept that eventually.

    In fact the Iranians will have to accept that too. All they can do is hope to make an American exit look like a defeat.

  • David Gilleran says:

    To the question about killing Al-Sadr; we had him dead to right in August 2004 in Najaf. However other considerations let him go free. But even if we had killed him, others would have would have come forward to take his place.

  • Joakim Ekström says:

    I have no sympathy for Muqtada what so ever, but I think that he is actually trying to reign in extremist elements of his “movement gone totally crazy” trend. Its not easy to pacify the military wing of a political party, we know that from Northern Ireland. Muqtada cannot order the extremist elements to disarm, because if he does then the extremists will feel that Muqtada betrays them and they go out of control. So its a delicate balance. I think this fight against the occupation rethoric is in part just the old “unite against a common enemy”-trick. Hopefully it will work becuase otherwise there will be more violence.
    Think about it.

  • Joel says:

    Super Double Secret Special Groups

  • Edward says:

    That part of the Mehdi Army will not be involved in militancy but will “fight the Western ideology and liberate the minds from domination and globalization.”
    Paging Thomas Barnett? (I’m reminded of the time that he told the PRC leaders more or less that if they surpassed the U.S., AQ would mark THEM as the new Great Satan — face of globalization, that is.)

  • Neo says:

    Sadr is officially calling them “the special companies” – via the Washington Post

  • Achillea says:

    There are a number of problems with doing away with Sadr.
    In addition to those listed, there’s the fact he’s presently cowering in Iran, which presents some logistical difficulties to reaching out and capping him.

  • Rhyno327/lrsd says:

    Just think, we could have had his bullet ridden, bloated carcass on a slab years ago…but let him go, even after he murdered the cleric Khoie. There is no going back, no negotiations, just hunt him down if he dares come back to Iraq. Maybe the best way to shut him up would be to find a way to get to him in Iran. If he’s close to the border, its possible. Down side is we may turn him into a martyr. This move pretty much seals the deal-DEAD or ALIVE-WANTED. Happy Hunting!!!


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