Combined US and Iraqi forces swept through Sadr City yesterday, arresting more than a dozen suspected militia members and making a statement about the lack of limitation on the new surge operation. The US characterized their targets as “rogue” elements of the Mahdi Army and the captured could include as many as ten Iraqi policemen:
American and Iraqi troops on Tuesday stormed several buildings in Sadr City, Baghdad’s main bastion of Shiite militancy, and detained at least 16 people suspected of participating in militia violence including killings, kidnappings and torture, the American military and local officials said.
The early morning raids appeared to be the largest military operation in Sadr City since the new American-led crackdown began this month, intended to wrest control of Baghdad, the capital, from sectarian militias.
American and Iraqi forces have conducted aggressive sweeps through neighborhoods abutting Sadr City, but Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has resisted a large-scale push into that teeming, working-class district itself for fear of antagonizing the Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr that is entrenched there.
Conflicting reports of attacks arose yesterday. News agencies reported that a bomb had exploded in a playground, killing at least eighteen, most of them children playing soccer. However, Centcom insisted that no attack had taken place at the location cited in the reports, which is adjacent to an American military position. The only explosion Centcom knew about on Tuesday was the one they caused themselves when they blew up an ammunition cache. They miscalculated the force of the blast, and it blew out nearby windows and created a scare for the neighborhood’s residents.
Even better news came from Ghamas, in the southern part of the Diwaniya province. Security forces arrested over a hundred followers of the Shi’ite splinter group that attempted an attack on the Shi’ites in Najaf. The aim of the Soldiers of Heaven cult group was to eliminate the traditional Shi’ite religious leadership there and take over the town. Instead, hundreds of them died fighting the Iraqi Army, supported by US forces.
The latest push shows that the Maliki government meant what it said when it gave the green light to the new rules of engagement in Baghdad and around the country. Shi’ite militias have been confronted and shut down, including “rogue” Mahdi elements. Sadr City is no longer a sanctuary for death squads. If the Mahdis continue to stand down, the pacification of Sadr City may come sooner than expected — and the surge will have proven itself successful.