Battle Blog 23 - 29 August 2004

The southern city of Najaf is finally quiet, as a peace deal went into effect that was brokered between Muqtada al—Sadr and the top Shia cleric of Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al—Sistani.  Rather than risk an assault by Iraqi forces, Sadr and the remaining members of his Mehdi militia vacated the Imam Ali mosque, and according to major press agency reports, they are turning in their weapons.  This is no guarantee that all caches of weapons and ammo have been either discovered in Najaf or turned in to Iraqi security forces, but it is a hopeful sign that some semblance of order can return to the city.

Not emphasized in the mainstream media, is that US forces remained fully in control of the Wadi al—Salam cemetery and are fully ensconced around the mosque.  Last week, the US 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit and two battalion—sized task forces from the 1st Cavalry Division were attacking to within a few hundred meters of the shrine, when the order was received to halt offensive operations in order to work out details of handing over the shrine to al—Sistani.  These forces have not moved, and they continue to back up Iraqi police and Iraqi National Guard troops.

However, the fight continues in Sadr City as other units of the 1st Cavalry Division continue operations in the Baghdad slum.  Many view the fight in Sadr City as more important than the just—resolved standoff in Najaf, since the Shia neighborhood is the center of Sadr's political power.  As is so often the case in this type of fight, amateur 'fighters' end up killing more innocents than US or Iraqi forces.  In a series of indiscriminate ambushes and mortar attacks, Sadr's thugs succeeded in killing two teenagers trying to make a living by washing cars, but there were no US casualties.

Last week's Battle Blog  had two excellent reports about the fighting in Sadr City, focusing on the operations of 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry of the 1st Cavalry Division.  The Army News service continues to cover 2—5 Cavalry in an excellent article entitled Dismounted infantry ensures success of 'Iron Fury'.  Despite having advanced fighting vehicles and main battle tanks, in an urban fight, it always comes down to the infantryman.  While the armored fighting vehicles control the streets, the infantrymen secure the buildings and rooftops where fighting becomes very personal.

After a night filled with mortars, sniper—fire and very little sleep, the Soldiers raided a nearby house, netting a slew of detainees and a variety of weapons, such as a Dragunov sniper rifle, an AK—47, an RPG launcher with several armor—piercing rocket—propelled grenades and a couple of mortars.  They even found a Mahdi Army uniform.

Regular readers of The American Thinker should take particular note of the photo and the caption:

A Soldier with "Comanche" Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, sights a Dragunov Sniper Rifle to provide counter—sniper fire for his unit against attacking insurgents in Sadr City. The rifle was confiscated from insurgent forces during a raid conducted by Soldiers of Comanche's White Platoon on a house occupied insurgents in mid—August.

This appears to confirm information in an article by Maj. Anthony Milavic, that US Marines and Soldiers are finding the standard issue M—16 series rifle and its 5.56mm ammunition inadequate in certain situations.  In this particular case, the soldier has opted for the Soviet—made Dragunov rifle that fires the more potent 7.62 x 54mm ammunition.  Since the Dragunov is designed as a sniper rifle, it is therefore ideal as a counter—sniper weapon in the urban environment of Sadr City.

US Marines in Najaf have found willing allies in the fight against Sadr's militia.  In 11th MEU, Coalition forces supply An Najaf police, we learn that even as the fight in Najaf was ongoing, the Marine 66th Military Police Company had been equipping the Iraqi police with protective vests, including small arms insert plates for additional protection.  The MP Company has also been training the Iraqi police, who, interestingly, have received an influx of personnel from the tribal areas outside of Najaf.  In fact, the latest shipment was to specifically equip the new arrivals.  Gen. Ghalib Hadi, Commanding General, An Najaf Police Force said,

"I've got some good guys from Karbala City who hate the militia.  This new force will help enforce security.  They are trained well and I'm going to give these volunteers good weapons and good trucks to use.  I learned from my experience in the Iraqi Army, do it well or don't do it at all."

Inquiring minds want to know, were these additional tribal forces a significant factor in the operation to surround and eliminate most of the Mehdi militia?  We anxiously await the after action reports on this engagement.

Information from an American Forces Press Service article, Iraqi Security Forces Proving More Capable, U.S. General Says, partially answers the question.  Air Force Brig. Gen. Erv Lessel states that Iraqi Security Force in Najaf will assume full law enforcement duties as Sadr's militia 'stack arms and depart the city's Imam Ali Shrine.'  He also noted that as the equipment continues to flow in, the Iraqis are taking a more independent role in the policing of the country.  Initially, US—Iraqi joint patrols were the norm, but as the Iraqis gained experience, they started to conduct patrols on their own.  Brig. Gen. Lessel noted that Iraqi patrols,

"are probably a more successful way of doing business," ... because "the Iraqi people will trust (and) interact more with Iraqi security forces, sometimes, than they will with the multinational forces."

And finally, another American Forces press release, Air Strike Near Fallujah Targets Foreign Terrorists  describes an air strike in near the city of Fallujah that 'destroyed a position occupied by numerous foreign terrorists, as well as a weapons cache.'  Just as Najaf was the 'end of the rat line' of terrorist support from Iran, so Fallujah is the end of the Syrian rat line into Iraq.  The press release also covers several other events, including a casualty from a non—combat related accident, and several other engagements against small numbers of anti—Iraqi forces.

Douglas Hanson is our military affairs correspondent

The southern city of Najaf is finally quiet, as a peace deal went into effect that was brokered between Muqtada al—Sadr and the top Shia cleric of Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al—Sistani.  Rather than risk an assault by Iraqi forces, Sadr and the remaining members of his Mehdi militia vacated the Imam Ali mosque, and according to major press agency reports, they are turning in their weapons.  This is no guarantee that all caches of weapons and ammo have been either discovered in Najaf or turned in to Iraqi security forces, but it is a hopeful sign that some semblance of order can return to the city.

Not emphasized in the mainstream media, is that US forces remained fully in control of the Wadi al—Salam cemetery and are fully ensconced around the mosque.  Last week, the US 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit and two battalion—sized task forces from the 1st Cavalry Division were attacking to within a few hundred meters of the shrine, when the order was received to halt offensive operations in order to work out details of handing over the shrine to al—Sistani.  These forces have not moved, and they continue to back up Iraqi police and Iraqi National Guard troops.

However, the fight continues in Sadr City as other units of the 1st Cavalry Division continue operations in the Baghdad slum.  Many view the fight in Sadr City as more important than the just—resolved standoff in Najaf, since the Shia neighborhood is the center of Sadr's political power.  As is so often the case in this type of fight, amateur 'fighters' end up killing more innocents than US or Iraqi forces.  In a series of indiscriminate ambushes and mortar attacks, Sadr's thugs succeeded in killing two teenagers trying to make a living by washing cars, but there were no US casualties.

Last week's Battle Blog  had two excellent reports about the fighting in Sadr City, focusing on the operations of 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry of the 1st Cavalry Division.  The Army News service continues to cover 2—5 Cavalry in an excellent article entitled Dismounted infantry ensures success of 'Iron Fury'.  Despite having advanced fighting vehicles and main battle tanks, in an urban fight, it always comes down to the infantryman.  While the armored fighting vehicles control the streets, the infantrymen secure the buildings and rooftops where fighting becomes very personal.

After a night filled with mortars, sniper—fire and very little sleep, the Soldiers raided a nearby house, netting a slew of detainees and a variety of weapons, such as a Dragunov sniper rifle, an AK—47, an RPG launcher with several armor—piercing rocket—propelled grenades and a couple of mortars.  They even found a Mahdi Army uniform.

Regular readers of The American Thinker should take particular note of the photo and the caption:

A Soldier with "Comanche" Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, sights a Dragunov Sniper Rifle to provide counter—sniper fire for his unit against attacking insurgents in Sadr City. The rifle was confiscated from insurgent forces during a raid conducted by Soldiers of Comanche's White Platoon on a house occupied insurgents in mid—August.

This appears to confirm information in an article by Maj. Anthony Milavic, that US Marines and Soldiers are finding the standard issue M—16 series rifle and its 5.56mm ammunition inadequate in certain situations.  In this particular case, the soldier has opted for the Soviet—made Dragunov rifle that fires the more potent 7.62 x 54mm ammunition.  Since the Dragunov is designed as a sniper rifle, it is therefore ideal as a counter—sniper weapon in the urban environment of Sadr City.

US Marines in Najaf have found willing allies in the fight against Sadr's militia.  In 11th MEU, Coalition forces supply An Najaf police, we learn that even as the fight in Najaf was ongoing, the Marine 66th Military Police Company had been equipping the Iraqi police with protective vests, including small arms insert plates for additional protection.  The MP Company has also been training the Iraqi police, who, interestingly, have received an influx of personnel from the tribal areas outside of Najaf.  In fact, the latest shipment was to specifically equip the new arrivals.  Gen. Ghalib Hadi, Commanding General, An Najaf Police Force said,

"I've got some good guys from Karbala City who hate the militia.  This new force will help enforce security.  They are trained well and I'm going to give these volunteers good weapons and good trucks to use.  I learned from my experience in the Iraqi Army, do it well or don't do it at all."

Inquiring minds want to know, were these additional tribal forces a significant factor in the operation to surround and eliminate most of the Mehdi militia?  We anxiously await the after action reports on this engagement.

Information from an American Forces Press Service article, Iraqi Security Forces Proving More Capable, U.S. General Says, partially answers the question.  Air Force Brig. Gen. Erv Lessel states that Iraqi Security Force in Najaf will assume full law enforcement duties as Sadr's militia 'stack arms and depart the city's Imam Ali Shrine.'  He also noted that as the equipment continues to flow in, the Iraqis are taking a more independent role in the policing of the country.  Initially, US—Iraqi joint patrols were the norm, but as the Iraqis gained experience, they started to conduct patrols on their own.  Brig. Gen. Lessel noted that Iraqi patrols,

"are probably a more successful way of doing business," ... because "the Iraqi people will trust (and) interact more with Iraqi security forces, sometimes, than they will with the multinational forces."

And finally, another American Forces press release, Air Strike Near Fallujah Targets Foreign Terrorists  describes an air strike in near the city of Fallujah that 'destroyed a position occupied by numerous foreign terrorists, as well as a weapons cache.'  Just as Najaf was the 'end of the rat line' of terrorist support from Iran, so Fallujah is the end of the Syrian rat line into Iraq.  The press release also covers several other events, including a casualty from a non—combat related accident, and several other engagements against small numbers of anti—Iraqi forces.

Douglas Hanson is our military affairs correspondent