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January 18, 2007
Mahdi Army Under 'Siege'

The new operation to clean up Baghdad seems to have taken the Mahdi Army by surprise. Mahdi Army leaders tell the AP that even in their Sadr City base they have begun to feel under siege, hiding their uniforms and ending operations to avoid detection by the increasing American forces:

Mahdi Army fighters said Thursday they were under siege in their Sadr City stronghold as U.S. and Iraqi troops killed or seized key commanders in pinpoint nighttime raids. Two commanders of the Shiite militia said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has stopped protecting the group under pressure from Washington and threats from Sunni Muslim Arab governments.

The two commanders' account of a growing siege mentality inside the organization could represent a tactical and propaganda feint, but there was mounting evidence the militia was increasingly off balance and had ordered its gunmen to melt back into the population. To avoid capture, commanders report no longer using cell phones and fighters are removing their black uniforms and hiding their weapons during the day. ...

The midlevel Mahdi Army commanders, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the group operates in secret, said at least five top commanders of similar standing were captured or killed in recent months, including one snatched in a night raid from his Sadr City hide-out on Tuesday. They refused to name him.

Two other key officials at the top of the organization were killed in raids last month:

• Sahib al-Amiri, a senior al-Sadr military aide, was slain by American forces in the Shiite holy city of Najaf on Dec. 27. The U.S. military reported his death, calling him a criminal involved roadside bombings. Al-Sadr lives in Najaf.

• The other top commander, identified by a third Mahdi Army commander as Abu al-Sudour, was shot to death in a joint U.S.-Iraqi raid last month as well. He was hunted down in Sadr City.

The Mahdis also revealed that the Americans and Iraqi Army units have conducted massive sweeps through militia-held neighborhoods. One commander said that any males old enough to hold a weapon have been detained pending determination of their status. They have stopped using cell phones in fear of the American ability to track their command personnel, and their combat readiness has declined accordingly.

So what changed? The Bush administration made it clear to Nouri al-Maliki that he was not going to take 'no' for an answer this time when it came to breaking the Mahdis. Maliki agreed to the new strategy in Jordan a few weeks ago, and promised that he would not block the mission against Moqtada al-Sadr's forces. The Sadrites knew that this offense was coming -- after all, we could hardly have telegraphed this punch any more clearly -- but they did not count on losing their political cover. They also appear to have severely underestimated American intel capability, which has them reeling.

One other dynamic may be at play. Sadr himself, knowing what was about to happen, apparently conducted a purge of his leadership. This is destructive to unit cohesion under the best of circumstances; Stalin crippled his army in the years leading up to World War II after Hitler manipulated Stalin into believing his officer corps was significantly disloyal. Sadr conducted his purge at the same time he was shifting forces around Iraq, making the communications problems even worse than they would have been without the purge.

The insurgents and militias may run out of Baghdad in the coming days, but General Casey insists that the new security plan is "holistic" and designed to account for a sudden retreat. Once they have the Mahdis and the other terrorists on the run, it will make it that much easier to find them and pick them off. (via Memeorandum)

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 18, 2007 6:26 PM

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» Mahdi Army Under Siege (Updated and bumped) from Bill's Bites
Have the gloves really come of at last?Mahdi Army Leaders Arrested Ed Morrissey Over the last few weeks, the Iraqi government has quietly rounded up some of the senior leadership of the Mahdi Army in preparation for the tactical shift [Read More]

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» Good news from Baghdad: Muqtada al-Sadr aide is arrested from Sister Toldjah
The AP reports: BAGHDAD, Iraq - U.S. and Iraqi forces arrested one of Muqtada al-Sadr’s top aides Friday in Baghdad, his office said, as pressure increased on the radical Shiite cleric’s militia ahead of a planned security crackdown in the ... [Read More]

Tracked on January 19, 2007 8:09 AM


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