Monday, July 18, 2011

A False Offensive In Iraq Against Special Groups, May Have Served A Political Purpose

At the end of June 2011, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced that a military offensive would be launched in southern Iraq against Special Groups. In the last couple months, the number of attacks upon U.S. forces throughout Iraq had dramatically increased, and the number of casualties along with it. The Americans were constantly pressuring Baghdad to do something about it. The Premier finally agreed to conduct an operation, but it appeared to be more for show than anything else, and might have been a warning to Moqtada al-Sadr who Maliki is increasingly having problems with.

Maysan province (Wikipedia)
On June 30, the Iraqi government said that it would begin a crackdown on Iranian-supported Special Groups in southern Iraq. 2,000 soldiers and police would be deployed to Maysan province, wanted persons would be rounded up, weapons caches would be searched for, and patrols around U.S. bases would be stepped up to prevent attacks by militants. Maysan has historically been a center for arms smuggling and infiltration by Shiites-supported by Tehran. In 2008, Maliki conducted the last of his military operations of the year there to break up the Sadrists who controlled the provincial government. 

By mid-July, the U.S. military complained to the New York Times that nothing had come of Baghdad’s effort. The top U.S. army spokesman in Iraq said that nothing substantive came of the campaign, with only a few low-level fighters detained. He told the Times that the Iraqi government could be doing more.

Since nothing of military value came of the campaign, its real purpose might have been a warning to Moqtada al-Sadr from Maliki. Sadr’s bloc in parliament was the main reason why Maliki was able to return to the premiership. As part of that deal, the Sadrists regained controlled of Maysan where the operation was announced. Since then, the Sadr movement has begun to be a thorn in the side of the prime minister. They have increased their attacks upon American forces, and are constantly bragging about it. On July 14 for example, they claimed that have carried out nine attacks upon U.S. military bases in a week in Baghdad, Maysan, Qadisiyah, and Diyala governorates. The stepped up violence, while aimed at foreigners, damages Maliki’s claim to have improved security in the country. Sadrists in parliament are also the main opponents of American troops staying in the country. They’ve called for Americans to be banned from entering parliament, condemned the opening of a U.S. consulate in Basra, and have pushed provincial councils to bar American forces from operating there. None of these actions are legal or binding, but they show how the Trend is attempting to win over public opinion to its side. That appears to be partially working as more and more parliamentarians from a variety of parties have recently said they would oppose any extended stay for the Americans. This too annoys Maliki as he appears to want to give them an extension. Finally, Sadrists on the integrity committee in parliament are constantly threatening to expose corrupt officials including members of the premier’s Dawa party, (1) which of course Maliki would not like either. While the two parties are part of the National Coalition, that is an alliance in name only. Both agreed to work together so that they could take power, but now the cracks are becoming more and more apparent. Sadr, especially needs to be wary of any threats from Maliki as he has used military force against him before.

Maliki’s move appeared to have had its intended affect. Sadr recently announced that he would not mobilize his Mahdi Army militia again, even if the U.S. army stayed in the country. This was a major reversal for Sadr who had been threatening to bring his men back on the street for months. His followers told the press that Moqtada made the decision partially because he angered political parties, meaning the prime minister’s State of Law. That still leaves differences over a troop extension and in parliament, but for now the prime minister looks like he has gotten the upper hand.


1. Alsumaria News, “The issuance of arrest warrants for two of the leaders of the Dawa Party, on charges of corruption,” 6/30/11


Alsumaria, “Sadr Front launches campaign to prevent Americans from entering Parliament,” 7/14/11

Alsumaria News, “The issuance of arrest warrants for two of the leaders of the Dawa Party, on charges of corruption,” 6/30/11

Arango, Tim, “In Shadow of Death, Iraq and U.S. tiptoe Around a Deadline,” New York Times, 7/14/11

Mohammed, Muhanad, “Iraq military cracks down on militias and arms smuggling,” Reuters, 7/3/11

National Iraqi News Agency, “Muqtada Al Sadr denounces the opening of U.S. Consulate in Basra,” 7/6/11

Al-Rayy, “Islamic Resistance confirms implementation 9 operations against U.S. occupation forces in a week,” 7/14/11

Reuters, “Iraq cleric pursues U.S. troop ban in strongholds,” 6/30/11

Schmidt, Michael, “Iraq Begins Cracks Down on Shiite Militias,” New York Times, 7/1/11


Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi said...

Hi Joel,

Good post, but I disagree with this remark you make:

'Sadr’s bloc in parliament was the main reason why Maliki was able to return to the premiership'

Sadr's bloc was one of the reasons why Maliki retained his position as Premier, but not necessarily the main one. He also needed the support of the Kurdish Alliance, and in the end it was Massoud Barazani who devised the compromise last December, whereby, as part of a plan for 'national partnership' or 'power sharing', political positions were awarded on a strictly personal basis, such that Maliki became PM for a second term and Talabani became president for a second term.

Joel Wing said...

Aymenn remember that the first thing that Maliki had to do to return to office was forge a new alliance so that he could be counted as having the largest bloc and out maneuver Allawi. That was accomplished when he convinced Sadr to back him, which led to the rest of the National Alliance to follow suit. The Irbil agreement just cemented what was a done deal, which is why I say Sadr was the Main reason why Maliki has a 2nd term.

Anonymous said...

Maysan is also the hub of drug towards Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and South Iraq - Sadder City. Kareem Mahood, former warlord of Maysan and close to Iraqiya was almost killed some months ago. Like him many others Iraqis in Maysan have been killed or have left Amarah to Baghdad or outside Iraq afraid of being killed by Moqtada and Iranian gangs...!!! Yes the current Governor in Maysan belong Al Sadder and has close relatives involved in killings of Iraqis in Maysan. Drugs, weapons and about all funds (between 10% to 20%, common bribes here in Iraq) are diverted from projects in (Water office, Sanitation Office, Health and other infraestructure projects aproved by Maysan Council)to Sadder Office. All people know it in Amarah. If yu want to finish with the militia yu must cut the source of funding (locally) and clean the Maysan Provincial Council of Sadrist and other Iranian gangs.

Joel Wing said...

Yes Maysan is a hub for all kinds of illegal activity not just arms smuggling. Oil smuggling as well. As long as Malik and Sadr have their own power sharing deal nothing is likely to be done about it however.

Anonymous said...

This crack down is a warning to Sadr about opposition to extension of the stay of US troops, this is not about special groups or anything similar. US pressure on Maleki is not because of attacks on US troops, they want to get rid of one of the main groups that would oppose any extension. All of this will become clear when Maleki under US pressure agrees to extend the US troop stay and as a reaction Sadrist bring their arms out.

Anonymous said...

Well today news is that American attacked by planes AbuRumanna area in Amarah. Brits has suffered attack by militia before in the same area. Unfortunately today attacks will not bring peace there. With some investments in Abu Rumanna to create jobs Americans could get rid of the militias there. I visited many times the area, poor families, open sewage channels and garbage...I complained many times before about how a PRT can operate in Amarah when its base was in Nassiriya! Sure today fuel and other operations costs were more expensive that sit down with locals, Sewage and Water Offices and develop some projects there