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Sunday, March 30, 2008

al-Sadr Tries To Save Face In Basra

Quite a few reports have come out since the start of the offensive in Basra. It has been spun in every direction in the media and the latest news is that al-Sadr has ordered his fighters to stand down.

Al-Sadr’s statement was issued by his headquarters in Najaf and broadcast through loudspeakers on Shiite mosques.

“Because of the religious responsibility, and to stop Iraqi blood being shed ... we call for an end to armed appearances in Basra and all other provinces, anyone carrying a weapon and targeting government institutions will not be one of us.”

He has his list of "demands" yet he is in full retreat and those demands are his was of trying to save face.

Different people declare different reasons for Sadr's actions, some claiming he was doing it from a position of strength and others assert it is because he was losing and needed to limit his losses as best he could.

So which is it?

Bill Roggio explains it by using the numbers, which do not look good for Sadr....not good at all.

With the fifth day of fighting in Baghdad, Basrah and the South completed, the Mahdi Army has suffered major losses over the past 36 hours. The Mahdi Army has not faired well over the past five days of fighting, losing an estimated two percent of its combat power, using the best case estimate for the size of the militia.

A look at the open source press reports from the US and Iraqi military and the established newspapers indicates 145 Mahdi Army fighters were killed, 81 were wounded, 98 were captured, and 30 surrendered during the past 36 hours.

Since the fighting began on Tuesday 358 Mahdi Army fighters were killed, 531 were wounded, 343 were captured, and 30 surrendered. The US and Iraqi security forces have killed 125 Mahdi Army fighters in Baghdad alone, while Iraqi security forces have killed 140 Mahdi fighters in Basra.

When the Brits withdrew from Basra, everyone knew there would come a time where that area had to be dealt with, one of the last strongholds for insurgent forces and this five day offensive against the Mahdi Army, undertaken by al-Maliki and Iraqi security forces, with support from the US Military and coalition forces was a good example of what has been maintained since we started training their security forces.

They showed an incredible ability, with our help, to take on the toughest of fights and force Sadr and his Mahdi Army to stand down.

Recent reports blasted headlines that some Iraqi security forces were taking off their uniforms and joining the Mahdi Army, and Roggio addresses that by the numbers as well.

The Sadrist movement claimed numerous Iraqi policemen and soldiers are defecting. "Groups of Iraqi troops came to us to lay down their arms," said Sheikh Salam al Afraiji, the leader of the Sadrist movement in eastern Baghdad.

But the spokesman of Baghdad Operations Command denied Iraqi security forces are defecting en masse. "The registered number that we have [defecting to the Sadrists] is that 15 soldiers were able to escape," said Major General Qassim Atta in a briefing today in Baghdad. Atta stressed that there are over 50,000 Iraqi security forces operating in Baghdad, and some level of defections should be expected. Atta also said Maliki has "ordered [the military] to prosecute those soldiers according to the Military Punishments Law."

It seems in some areas, Iraqi's are happy to see al-Maliki and the Iraqi security forces uprooting the Mahdi Army, and are actually taking to the street for a rally to show al-Maliki support.

While there has been few press reports from Diwaniyah, several hundred residents felt the security situation was good enough to hold a rally in the center of the city. More than 200 demonstrators marched in support for Maliki's operation to uproot the Mahdi Army in Basra. Police and tribal militias were also seen patrolling the streets.

Read Roggio's entire piece.

The most telling about all of this is where al-Sadr is now.

Hiding in Iran.

Where is al-Maliki?

In Basra.

Game. Set. Match.

The fighting will continue on a lesser scale, 5 days of offensive by al-Maliki is but a drop in the bucket in Basra, which has been under the control of the Mahdi Army since 2005 and al-Maliki had to wait until his army was strong enough to be a force in this battle.

They will continue to weed out the insurgents from the Mahdi Army, but the main offensive will be quieter now.

More from Iraq The Model, an Iraqi that reports from Iraq.

[Update] As a side note- In Sadr's statement he also denied his fighters had any heavy weaponry. This makes us wonder what he calls the 25 missile launchers, 60 rifles, five mortars and a large amounts of ammunition that police seized from two large Mahdi Army networks the police uprooted in Karbala and in Babil province.