A tip led soldiers from the 39th Iraqi Army Brigade to a large cache of munitions and weapons that included 217 rocket-propelled grenades, 354 blocks of C-4, and more than 40 explosively formed projectiles in the Al Husayn district of Amarah, June 29. (US Army photo)
Iraqi forces detained four senior Sadrists members of the Maysan provincial council on Wednesday in the latest series of aids targeting senior Sadrist leaders in the former Mahdi Army bastion of Maysan province. Meanwhile, Iraqi special forces uncovered a Mahdi Army headquarters and several large weapons caches in the provincial capital.
Police and Army units arrested Adel Muhoder al Maliki, the governor of Maysan province; Abdul Jabar Wahied al Ukeli, the chief of the provincial council; Fadel Neaama, the deputy chief of the security committee; and Abdul Latief Jawad, the head of the health committee. The men were arrested for their involvement with the Mahdi Army.
The four men are senior leaders in the Sadrist movement, the political party run by Muqtada al Sadr. The Sadrist ran Maysan province prior to the security operation launched in mid-June.
Iraqi security forces have detained several senior Sadrist leaders over the past two weeks. Police arrested Rafeaa Jabar, the head of the Sadrist office in Maysan province. He served as the mayor of Amarah as well as the deputy governor of the province. Two other provincial council members were also detained.
The Iraqi military continues to dismantle the Mahdi Army’s leadership and infrastructure in Amarah. Police and Army units have “more than 20 individuals on warrants” over the past several days. The US military often refers to members of the Mahdi Army as criminals or members of the Iranian-backed Special Groups.
Among those detained were “an Iraqi Police chief who is suspected of being a Special Groups criminal leader, facilitator and financier who has great influence over the IP in the area,” “the leader of a criminal cell specializing in sectarian killings and a financier for the organization,” and “a police officer wanted for his involvement with sectarian killings.”
US and Iraqi military officers believe most of the senior leaders of the Mahdi Army fled the region prior to the operation in Maysan. More than 1,300 Mahdi Army leaders and fighters fled to Iran, according to an Iraqi intelligence report.
The military has deployed three specialized units to Amarah to hunt the remnants of the Mahdi Army cadres. The Iraqi Special Operations Forces, the Hillah Special Weapons and Tactics team, and the Baghdad National Emergency Response Unit are currently operating in Amarah in conjunction with Iraqi infantry and armored formations.
Amarah, a strategic hub of Iranian activity
Iraqi forces have uncovered massive amounts of weapons in several caches throughout Amarah, according to a US military press release. The Baghdad National Emergency Response Unit also found what is thought to be “the headquarters for Special Groups” in Amarah.
The headquarters contained a “torture room containing what were identified as interrogation tools and a large number of anti-Coalition propaganda” as well as “a large weapons cache consisting of explosively formed projectiles, more than 100 rounds of assorted ammunition, home-made bombs, wire and anti-tank rounds.” Documentation “on methods of attacking Coalition forces’ convoys” was also found at the site.
Seven large weapons caches were found in Amarah during the past several days. “Estimated finds by ISOF, SWAT, and ERU include roughly 180 lbs. of explosive compounds, 600 anti-tank mines, 280 rocket propelled grenades, 200 various EFP-making materials, more than 1,000 assorted rounds of ammunition, 320 mortar rounds, explosive-making materials and various weapons including more than 80 pieces of sniper equipment,” the US military reported.
A local sheikh told the Iraqi and US forces that Amarah serves as a “shipment point for all of the provinces in Iraq and a ‘warehouse’ for weapons and wanted criminals traveling back and forth from Iraq and Iran,” a local sheikh told Iraqi and US forces.
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.
In 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.
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 to change his tactics and disband the Mahdi Army in favor of a small, secretive fighting force.