Iraqi, US forces keep pressure on the Mahdi Army

Iraqi and US troops continue to press the offensive against the Iranian-backed Mahdi Army during a series of raids throughout Iraq. Since July 18, US and Iraqi forces have killed six Mahdi Army fighters and captured 18 during operations in central Iraq. Scores more have been captured, including senior leaders, weapons smugglers, financiers, trainers, and cell leaders.

The raids have been driven by intelligence, much of it gleaned from captive Mahdi Army fighters, according to information contained in Multinational Forces Iraq press releases. Captive Mahdi Army leaders and cell members are providing US and Iraqi forces information on leaders and cells throughout central and southern Iraq.

The leadership of the Mahdi Army, which the US refers to as the “Special Groups” in an effort to divide and conquer the militia and entice moderate elements into the political process, has been heavily targeted this year. The Mahdi Army has received funding, training, weapons, and support for Iran’s Qods Force.

Iraqi special operations capable forces are often at the forefront of these raids. On July 20, the Baghdad National Emergency Response Brigade killed six Mahdi Army fighters and captured two during a raid inside Baghdad. The main target was a distributor of “lethal weapons,” likely the deadly Iranian supplied explosively formed projectiles, which can penetrate heavy armor. The Iraqi troops called in support from an AC-130 gunship after taking ground fire.

Iraqi and US forces conducted a series of raids on July 18. Iraqi Special Operations Forces captured a Special Groups operative who used his position at the Ministry of Oil in Baghdad “to purchase weapons and vehicles.” Seven members of a Special Groups IED cell were detained in New Baghdad. In Basrah, two Mahdi fighters were detained, one of whom used his position as a police officer to obtain weapons and police vehicles for the Special Groups.

In Taji, US troops captured a Special Groups operative who was “supporting the insurgency in Iraq by supplying intelligence reports with the means to target US installations with rockets.”

Coalition special forces also captured five Special Groups fighters while targeting a financier just northeast of Sadr City. The financier supported Mahdi Army propaganda efforts by paying for successful attacks on Iraqi and US forces.

The Mahdi Army has by and large offered very little opposition to these raids. Most of the suspects surrender without a fight. The operations against the Mahdi Army have come at a relatively low cost to US troops. During the month of July, only three US troops have been killed in Baghdad, where most of the action against the Mahdi Army takes place.

Background on the fighting with the Mahdi Army

The Iraqi security forces have stepped up operations against the Iranian-backed 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, Qasadiyah, 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.

Raids against the Mahdi Army Special Groups, from July 2-15:

July 15: Iraqi forces arrested 21 Mahdi Army fighters in Dhi Qhar province.

July 13: US troops captured a high-ranking Special Groups officer who was facilitating the transfer of vehicles with improvised explosive devices from Hurriyah and Shula and distributing weapons in and around Kadamiyah. His cell was behind attacks against Coalition forces.

July 12-13: Iraqi forces captured a financier for the Special Groups in the Qadisiyah Province and four members of an extra-judicial killing, assassination, kidnapping, and extortion cell in the Baghdad area.

July 12: Iraqi Company Special Weapons and Tactics teams captured a smuggler who also led a cell that conducted IED, small arms, mortar and rocket attacks in Hillah, and a cell leader and smuggler behind IED and EFP attacks in Wasit province.

July 12: US troops captured a Special Groups officer in eastern Baghdad who was behind kidnapping, murder, extortion, “sectarian indirect fire attacks” (rocket and mortar attacks against Sunni neighborhoods) and IED attacks.

July 10: US troops detained a “key suspect” behind mortar and rocket attacks in New Baghdad.

July 9: Coalition forces captured two Special Groups operatives in the Al Shula district of Baghdad. One of the men was a “senior member” who “received weapons and intelligence training in Iran, and acts as an agent of Iran.”

July 8: US troops captured a high-ranking Special Groups officer in Zafaraniyah who led a death squad.

July 7-8: Iraqi special operations teams captured an IED cell leader in Al Kut; three members of an EFP, murder, kidnapping, torture, weapons smuggling and indirect fire cell; and a guard with the Facilities Protection Service who used his position to conduct assassinations, kidnapping, extortion and intimidation.

July 6: Iraqi Company Special Weapons and Tactics teams captured four members of Special Groups cell in Al Kut and a weapons smuggler and Special Groups criminal financier in Hillah.

July 6: Coalition special operations forces captured a senior member of the Iranian-trained Special Groups leadership in the Baghdad area who has conducted rocket attacks on Coalition and Iraqi bases, facilitated weapons from Iran, and sent cell members to Iran for training.

July 6: Iraqi soldiers detained Abbas Abdul Aal, a senior Sadrist leader, during a raid in Sadr City.

July 5: Iraqi soldiers closed the Sadrist office in the Baghdad neighborhood of Shula.

July 3: Iraqi Special Operations Forces captured a “mid-level” Special Groups leader commands a 250-man unit in Baghdad.

July 4: Iraqi troops captured seven Special Groups fighters in Amarah, including two “Iranian surrogates”.

July 2: Coalition special operations forces captured two Special Groups operatives in the Adhamiyah district of Baghdad, including a weapons facilitator and trainer wanted in connection with high-profile attacks on Coalition and Iraqi Security 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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  • Alex says:

    It’s amazing how fast the Mahdi Army has fallen into disrepair. Just a few months ago in March they still had Basra and Sadr City.
    Now if we hadn’t deployed 5 more brigades and started the “Petraeus doctrine”, Sadr probably had a shot at becoming the Iraqi version of Hassan Nasrallah. Security conditions would have continued to deteriorate until US forces would be pulled out due to political reasons. The Iraqi Army would have splintered, much like the Lebanese Army in 1982, and what moderates were left probably would have left the country. Maybe even an Iranian or Syrian “peacekeeping” force would have been deployed to occupy Baghdad.
    Instead, we’ve seen al-Qaeda wholly lose in Anbar and losing in Mosul and Diyala. The Sadrists have lost their grip on Basra and Sadr City (also making the Green Zone safer), and the Iraqi Army is now feared. I think we’re past the tipping point now. Let’s get ’em some of those Greek M-60s and some more cargo planes.

  • masayo says:

    As I’ve noted before it seems odd that most of these guys just surrender rather than fight or flee. I suspect they know that Maliki will pardon them in a year or so, why risk your life? I wonder if the latest demands by Maliki for withdrawal within 16 months are tied to some type of deal with Iran and Sadr

  • Liberterian says:

    It seems to me that there are 3 stages in achieving a durable and transforming victory.
    STAGE1 : provide the common person in Iraq enough personal and property security so that hope and ,therefore,optimism prevail(as they do in the North among the Kurds). Can Iraq get there by the end of year? what tasks still remain to be accomplished?
    STAGE2: invest massively in bringing water and electricity to a great majority of the people, and institutionalize free markets, otherwise hope and optimism will fade and the enemy will have a basis for regeneration. There is, at most, a 3yr window to get this done. The US will have to maintain a significant military and technical assistance presence in Iraq all thru Stage2.Do the people in our country understand this and do they have the will to persist?
    STAGE3: double oil and gas production in 5 yrs. Iraq has the reserves to become, easily, the second largest oil producer and exporter in the Middle East. It does not have the tecnology, skills or money to do this but with sensible laws it can attract all three from across the world, including from India and China.
    Assuming Iraq can get to stage3, it will become the most important power in the Middle East(WHAT will it do with this power?) with an economy growing at 7% to 10% per year and the capacity to maintain the largest (and well trained and equipped) standing army in the Middle East and a credible airforce and navy. I suspect Iran knows all this and realzes that its own window to achieve domination is quite small; therefore Iran is Iraq’s greatest threat and rival

  • Prvate Finch says:

    It seems that the corner has been turned in this war. Sadr seems to be badly damaged by the recent changes. Hopefully we can continue to roll-up the loose ends and get better water and electric service connected. I don’t see Iran giving up easily, because they have invested so much in a US defeat.
    Iran and Iraq fought to a stand still for eight years. Both sides used Russian advisors and equipment, so they were evently matched. Iran wanted to be the Middle Eastern power broker. We did what Iran could not do, we beat Hussein. Iran thought all they had to do was help the insurgents cause enough US casualties that the public would demand a US pullout, like Vietnam. Iran seems to have lost this round.

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 07/21/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.


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