Mahdi Army at War with Iraqi Military

Rick Moran
Basra is the flashpoint for an effort by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to get control of the vital southern city and clean out the militias who have infested it.

The fact that he appears to be targeting Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Militia is significant. Maliki has finally decided to confront his political rival militarily which has caused Sadr to issue a call for negotiations and tell his fighters that the cease fire he renewed last month
should be respected:

Witnesses said the streets were empty aside from the security forces, emergency vehicles and people in cars fleeing the fighting. Shops and markets were closed.

Police confirmed the start of the operation, dubbed Saulat al-Fursan (Charge of the Knights) which came after a night-time curfew was slapped on the entire Basra province late Monday.

"We began operations at 5:00 am. There is fighting between security forces and the Mahdi Army," said police spokesman Major Karim al-Zubaidi. A spokesman for Sadr's office in Basra, Harith al-Athari, told AFP that the Sadrists wanted to end the stand-off.

"The situation is bad and we regret the fighting. We are ready for negotiations and want to calm things," he said. Liwa Sumaysim, head of Sadr's political bureau in the central city of Najaf, denounced the bloodletting. "We do not want the situation as it is in Basra. We are against bloodshed, especially in this critical period of time," Sumaysim told AFP.
The Iraqi Army - supported by American air power - is proving to be too much for the militia. Sadr wants to back down but should Maliki let him?

The Mahdi Army has been involved in a low intensity conflict in the south with the Badr Organization - the military arm of the largest political party in Iraq, the SIIC. Maliki's Dawa party is allied with the SIIC in Parliament which puts Sadr on the wrong side of history. Maliki's attacks on Sadr's militia may mean that the Prime Minister has finally decided to assert his authority and make the writ of Baghdad law run through the formerly independent areas in the south.

He won't destroy the Mahdi Militia or kill Sadr. But he will perhaps teach Mookie a valuable lesson. With the Iraqi army apparently performing more than adequately, Sadr will now have to factor that into his political calculations.

There has been a reaction in the Mahdi stronghold of Sadr City in Baghdad with the Shia militia forcing shops and schools to close while setting up checkpoints throughout
the neighborhoods:

Sadr City, the Baghdad neighborhood that is the center of the Mahdi Army’s power, was sealed off by a cordon of Iraqi troops and what appeared to be several American units.

A New York Times photographer who was able to get through the cordon found more layers of checkpoints, each one run by about two dozen heavily armed Mahdi Army fighters clad in tracksuits and T-shirts. Tires burned in the city center, gunfire echoed against shuttered stores, and teams of fighters in pickup trucks moved about brandishing machine guns, sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

“We are doing this in reaction to the unprovoked military operations against the Mahdi Army,” said a Mahdi commander who identified himself as Abu Mortada. “The U.S., the Iraqi government and Sciri are against us,” he said, referring to a rival Shiite group whose name has changed several times, and is now known as the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which has an armed wing called the Badr Organization.

“They are trying to finish us,” the commander said. “They want power for the Iraqi government and Sciri.”
That's actuallly a pretty accurate assessment. Maliki, who just two years ago feared the power of Sadr and his militia, now seems eager to severely weaken him while marginalizing him politically.

Expect a couple of more days of military action in Basra followed by a negotiated settlement that will probably severely curtail the power of the militias (except the Badr Organization) in Basra.
Basra is the flashpoint for an effort by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to get control of the vital southern city and clean out the militias who have infested it.

The fact that he appears to be targeting Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Militia is significant. Maliki has finally decided to confront his political rival militarily which has caused Sadr to issue a call for negotiations and tell his fighters that the cease fire he renewed last month
should be respected:

Witnesses said the streets were empty aside from the security forces, emergency vehicles and people in cars fleeing the fighting. Shops and markets were closed.

Police confirmed the start of the operation, dubbed Saulat al-Fursan (Charge of the Knights) which came after a night-time curfew was slapped on the entire Basra province late Monday.

"We began operations at 5:00 am. There is fighting between security forces and the Mahdi Army," said police spokesman Major Karim al-Zubaidi. A spokesman for Sadr's office in Basra, Harith al-Athari, told AFP that the Sadrists wanted to end the stand-off.

"The situation is bad and we regret the fighting. We are ready for negotiations and want to calm things," he said. Liwa Sumaysim, head of Sadr's political bureau in the central city of Najaf, denounced the bloodletting. "We do not want the situation as it is in Basra. We are against bloodshed, especially in this critical period of time," Sumaysim told AFP.
The Iraqi Army - supported by American air power - is proving to be too much for the militia. Sadr wants to back down but should Maliki let him?

The Mahdi Army has been involved in a low intensity conflict in the south with the Badr Organization - the military arm of the largest political party in Iraq, the SIIC. Maliki's Dawa party is allied with the SIIC in Parliament which puts Sadr on the wrong side of history. Maliki's attacks on Sadr's militia may mean that the Prime Minister has finally decided to assert his authority and make the writ of Baghdad law run through the formerly independent areas in the south.

He won't destroy the Mahdi Militia or kill Sadr. But he will perhaps teach Mookie a valuable lesson. With the Iraqi army apparently performing more than adequately, Sadr will now have to factor that into his political calculations.

There has been a reaction in the Mahdi stronghold of Sadr City in Baghdad with the Shia militia forcing shops and schools to close while setting up checkpoints throughout
the neighborhoods:

Sadr City, the Baghdad neighborhood that is the center of the Mahdi Army’s power, was sealed off by a cordon of Iraqi troops and what appeared to be several American units.

A New York Times photographer who was able to get through the cordon found more layers of checkpoints, each one run by about two dozen heavily armed Mahdi Army fighters clad in tracksuits and T-shirts. Tires burned in the city center, gunfire echoed against shuttered stores, and teams of fighters in pickup trucks moved about brandishing machine guns, sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

“We are doing this in reaction to the unprovoked military operations against the Mahdi Army,” said a Mahdi commander who identified himself as Abu Mortada. “The U.S., the Iraqi government and Sciri are against us,” he said, referring to a rival Shiite group whose name has changed several times, and is now known as the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which has an armed wing called the Badr Organization.

“They are trying to finish us,” the commander said. “They want power for the Iraqi government and Sciri.”
That's actuallly a pretty accurate assessment. Maliki, who just two years ago feared the power of Sadr and his militia, now seems eager to severely weaken him while marginalizing him politically.

Expect a couple of more days of military action in Basra followed by a negotiated settlement that will probably severely curtail the power of the militias (except the Badr Organization) in Basra.