Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sadr City - Sadr's Last Major Stronghold - Falls With Nary A Whimper

On May 9, facing high casualties and an imminent offensive, Sadr capitulated and agreed to turn over control of Sadr City to the Iraqi government pursuant to terms largely dictated by the government. Yesterday, at 5 a.m., Iraqi forces took control of Sadr City. For the first time since 2003, all of Sadr City is now in the control of the Iraqi government.


This from the Long War Journal:

The Iraqi security forces have entered the northern regions of Sadr City on Tuesday. Dubbed Operation Salam, or Peace, thousands of Iraqi troops moved into the Mahdi Army stronghold just before dawn and took up positions at strategic points throughout Sadr City.

"Operation Salam is going in accordance with well-planned and organized steps," Major General Qassem Atta told Voices of Iraq. Iraqi troops are tasked with securing the neighborhoods, arresting wanted individuals, and searching and seizing unlicensed weapons.

"The forces aim at maintaining security and stability to implement the remaining three stages" of the ceasefire agreement with the Sadrist movement," Atta said. The agreement states there will be no use of "illegal weapons," the Iraqi Army would dismantle roadside bombs set up by the Mahdi Army, and security forces can arrest wanted individuals if a warrant has been issued. Security forces may also target anyone attacking them. The Iraqi Army has found and destroyed more than 100 roadside bombs since the operation began.

The Iraqi Army said three of its brigades were involved in the operation, and moved into Sadr City in seven convoys. Six of the nine available battalions from the three brigades were pushed into Sadr City. Between 4,000 and 5,000 Iraqi troops are now operating inside Sadr City.

The US military, including the advisory teams, has not entered the northern areas of Sadr City. "No U.S. troops have gone beyond Quds Street," said Lieutenant Colonel Steven Stover, the chief Public Affairs Officer for Multinational Division Baghdad, in an e-mail to The Long War Journal. "This is an Iraqi planned, led, and executed operation. US soldiers are providing advice, intelligence and enabling support."

The Iraqi soldiers massed behind the walled segment of southern Sadr City, where US and Iraqi troops established a security zone. US engineers opened sections of the concrete barrier late at night, and Iraqi troops poured through the openings at 5 AM local time, The New York Times reported.

The Army met little resistance in moving through Sadr City. "By midday in Baghdad, Iraqi forces had driven to a key thoroughfare that bisects Sadr City and taken up positions near hospitals, police stations and the political headquarters" of the Sadrist movement, The New York Times reported. . . .

Read the entire article. The Washington Post adds:

. . . "The situation is very calm," said Abu Zaineb, an official at the cleric's office in Sadr City. "There is a great response from the people toward the troops, and there is no tension or resentment."

There were no reports of clashes during the first day of the operation, which began just over a week after political leaders of Sadr's party reached a cease-fire with lawmakers of Maliki's political bloc.

During the negotiations, Sadr leaders asked that U.S. forces be kept at bay and promised to take steps to prevent rocket attacks into the Green Zone and residential areas.

Iraqi officials say the first phase of the operation will seek to restore security along the district's main roads. Iraqi soldiers are then expected to search homes for banned weapons and detain wanted militiamen.

Iraqi officials and Sadr City leaders said the push is unlikely to be seen as provocation by Sadr because it is occurring during dialogue between Shiite political factions.

"When there's an agreement with the government, people welcome these forces," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish lawmaker. "The people are feeling almost liberated. They don't want fighting. They want services. They want to live. They want security." . . .

Read the entire article. The most interesting change in tone, even if still qualified, came from the NYT, who two weeks ago was doing all it could to spin this in a negative light. This from the NYT:

Iraqi forces rolled unopposed through the huge Shiite enclave of Sadr City on Tuesday, a dramatic turnaround from the bitter fighting that has plagued the Baghdad neighborhood for two months, and a qualified success for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

As it did in the southern city of Basra last month, the Iraqi government advanced its goal of establishing sovereignty and curtailing the powers of the militias.

This was a hopeful accomplishment, but one that came with caveats: In both cities, the militias eventually melted away in the face of Iraqi troops backed by American firepower. Thus nobody can say just where the militias might re-emerge or when Iraqi and American forces might need to fight them again. . . .

Read the entire article. The caveat has some validity, though far less than the NYT gives it. If the militia does not control the streets, its ability to regroup and mount any sort of major uprising under the eyes of Iraqi forces will be severly limited. Moreover, the Sadrists ability to impose its will on the populace will be severely restricted, leading to intelligence that will further weaken the Sadrists. This is a major victory for the Iraqi government and a major blow to the Sadrists and their proxy leaders in Iran.

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