Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sadrist Control Of Iraq’s Maysan Province Complicates Work For Americans There

When the followers of Moqtada al-Sadr did surprisingly well in the 2010 parliamentary elections, some feared that their return to national politics would usher in a new wave of violence, and anti-Americanism. That’s only been partially true. Iraq’s southern province of Maysan has seen some of the most negative affects of the Sadrists. At the end of 2010, they were given back control of the governorate in return for supporting Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s second term in office. Since then, the local government has refused to work with American troops and civilians, and has stood idly by as the number of attacks upon them has increased.

As part of a political deal after the 2010 elections, Premier Maliki agreed to cede Maysan over to the Sadrists in return for their backing. On December 28, the provincial council voted to elect Ali Dway of the Sadrist Trend the new governor, as the old one was appointed Human Rights Minister. From 2005-2009 the Sadrists had controlled Maysan, and then suffered a huge setback in the 2009 provincial elections, winning only seven out of 27 seats. Maliki made a backroom deal with them to give them back the governorate if they supported his drive for another term as premier.

This change in rule has greatly complicated the work of the Americans there. The former governor, who was from Maliki’s State of Law, was close to the American Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). The new Governor Dway refused to meet with U.S. personnel, and told local agencies and non-government organizations not to cooperate with them either. The Americans responded in turn, by cutting their training of local forces there.

The security situation in southern Iraq has also deteriorated as of late. As the December 31, 2011 deadline for United States troops to withdraw approaches, the number of attacks against them in southern and central Iraq has increased as Shiite militants want to take responsibility for them leaving. A U.S. military spokesman said that the number of incidents against U.S. forces went from 93 in February, to 128 in March, to 162 by April. Most of these attacks consist of rocket and mortar fire upon bases, and bombings against convoys bringing supplies or ferrying soldiers and civilians around for reconstruction and training missions. Few if any of these are ever reported on, and are only known to the perpetrators and their targets.

(New York Times)
Maysan has proven to be no different. The New York Times recently noted one night when rocket fire came down on an American base in Maysan for several hours. U.S. forces also reported an increase of IEDs used against their vehicles. A few incidents did make it into the Iraqi press. On January 2, just after the Sadrists had assumed control of Maysan, the police defused IEDs placed along a road used by Iraqi and U.S. forces north of the provincial capital Amarah. On March 23, a militant died of his burns after a Katusha rocket he tried to fire at al-Buteira Military Airport north of Amarah prematurely detonated. On April 1, a U.S. patrol in the central section of Amarah was hit by a bomb. No casualties were reported, but the device went off right next to the Maysan police department. That could point to either incompetence or collusion by the local security officers. Finally, on May 14, another U.S. patrol in Amarah was attacked by an IED, but again no one was hurt. That was only a small sample of probably what are many more strikes against American troops in the province. Iranian-backed Special Groups such as the Hezbollah Brigades and the League of the Righteous are probably responsible for most of these, but Sadr’s Promised Day Brigades may be involved as well.

The local government has been uncooperative when it comes to these breaches of security, and is becoming more and more antagonistic towards the U.S. Governor Dway was quoted as saying that he had no responsibility to stop these incidents in his governorate. His spokesman even denied that there were any attacks upon Americans in Maysan. Dway even attended the funeral of the militant who accidentally killed himself with the Katusha in March.  Then at the end of May, a joint U.S.-Iraqi force conducted a helicopter raid upon a village and arrested five people. The head of the provincial council claimed they were not informed of the operation, and said that it was a violation of the country’s sovereignty. The head of the security committee on the council claimed that Iraqi forces could handle local security without the help of the U.S., and then denounced the Americans. On May 30, the council voted to ban U.S. troops from operating in Maysan, and threatened to suspend their work if the U.S. committed a similar operation again. The antagonistic relationship between the new Sadrist led administration and the Americans is unlikely to thaw any time soon. This fits in with the narrative Sadr has sown since the 2003 invasion as an Iraqi nationalist, and one of the most staunchest opponents of the American occupation of the country. Now that his followers have regained control of Maysan, they want to make it clear that they will have nothing to do with the U.S.

The overall situation for the U.S. soldiers and civilians working in Maysan has worsened since the Sadrists regained control of the governorate. They have had to cut their operations and training missions, and are coming under increasing fire from Shiite militants. The governor and provincial council have refused to work with them, and are now ordering them out. They have no authority over the U.S. presence however, as that lays with the central government, but it is a symbolic message sent by the Sadrists letting the Americans know that they are not wanted there anymore. The PRTs are due to drawdown this summer, and the soldiers will leave with them. When they do, Maysan may revert to a militia haven, and a smuggling route for weapons from Iran into Iraq as it was before. It’s up to the Sadrists to decide whether they want to return to their old ways or try to actually govern Maysan this time as it is one of the poorest regions in the country.


Aswat al-Iraq, “2 IEDs defused on road used by Iraqi, U.S. forces in Amara,” 1/2/11
- “Armed man killed when firing Katusha rocket on Amara Military Airport,” 3/23/11
- “Bomb explodes near U.S. patrol in Amara,” 4/1/11
- “Explosive charge blows off against U.S. patrol in Amara,” 5/14/11
- “Protest against US-Iraqi Force operation in Missan,” 5/29/11
- “Voting to prevent U.S. forces from entering Missan,” 5/30/11

Al-Kaabi, Ahmed, “Maysan provincial council deplores the airdrops,” Radio Free Iraq, 5/29/11

Lando, Ben, “Iraq Militants Ratchet Up Attacks on U.S.,” Wall Street Journal, 5/24/11

Schmidt, Michael, and Healy, Jack, “Iraqi Shiite Militias Again Post a Threat as U.S. Forces Leave,” New York Times, 5/26/11


amagi said...

> but it is a symbolic message sent by the Sadists

A telling slip, lol.

All this is good information; any indication how the citizens of Maysan feel? Are they united with the Sadrists or do they fear for their freedoms?

Joel Wing said...

I have no idea. Reporting on events in Iraq's provinces outside of Baghdad is really bad.

Since the Sadrists only got 7 seats in the 2009 elections, and the province is one of the poorest in Iraq, and didn't do any better under Sadrist rule from 05-09, I wouldn't think they have that much support.

And thanks for pointing out the typo. Now fixed.

Anonymous said...

What I can tell you from sources inside Maysan (friends and old staff working with me) is that there are killings of citizens (police and civilians) that not fit with the radical mindset of the sadrist and other pro-Iranian groups there. Alot of killings not reported or some time reported in the news as "tribal infighting...".

Anonymous said...

I forgot to thank you for your posts I usually read. I'm surprise how American seems to forget that Maysan has the potential to became the second oil producer in Iraq. But Maysan lost 3 years under British and now American are leaving...(?). Also we have Allawi followers and others citizens en Maysan tired of Bader and Sadrist government from 2003 to date. Some should try to report about the Iranian hand behind many local NGOs in Amara and the Iranian companies taking contracts under cover behind local "companies"...

Joel Wing said...


Like I said in the previous comment, a lot of events in Iraq are just not reported on. That's especially true outside of Baghdad.

And yes, Iran has a large number of businesses operating in Iraq. From what I've heard, there are a bunch of them that are also run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which are largely driven by profit.

Steve Donnelly, AICP said...

Anon's point: This is one of the poorest, most desperate provinces in Iraq (with huge potential resources underground).

This will, perhaps, be one of the sadder of places because, unlike the big cities, and power regions, the remaining people will, as in the past, be forgotten in the course of bigger games by "outsiders" of all types (Iraqi, British, US, whatever....).

Anonymous said...

Really I dont understand americans. If you control Maysan you could have and upper hand in Sadder City (tribal bounds). Keep in mind that isn't just oil there, you have drugs smugglers from Iran to Kuwait and Saudi A., and with Maysan increasing oil producttion you can hurt Iran (oil prizes will get down) since Maysan has the potential to add almost 2000000 oilbarrels-daily to the market (as Lybia before). You have Al Buteira Airport in Amara and you can reach Basra in 2 hours by road. So why Americans dont care of Maysan?

Joel Wing said...

Unfortunately, Maysan has always been one of the neglected provinces of Iraq. Whether that was under Saddam, the British, the Americans, Jaafari, Maliki, etc.

As for the Americans they have a Provincial Reconstruction Team and a military unit there, which are due to be out this summer.

Even with its oil, Maysan has just not been one of the areas where people have focused their attention, as opposed to places like Baghdad, Basra, or Kirkuk.

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