Re: Some Good News From The NYTimes About Iraq
- From: Bill Steele <ws21@xxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Wed, 21 May 2008 15:31:41 -0400
In article <Xns9AA598CB5DFBagentsmithtwoblockso@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>,
Agent Smith <agent-smith@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
FDR <nospam@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote in
May 21, 2008
Operation in Sadr City Is an Iraqi Success, So Far
By MICHAEL R. GORDON and ALISSA J. RUBIN
BAGHDAD ? 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
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.
By late Tuesday, Iraqi troops had pushed deep into the district and
set up positions around hospitals and police stations, which the
Iraqi government was seeking to bring under its control.
The main military question now is whether Iraqi soldiers can solidify
their hold over Sadr City in the coming days. And the main political
one is whether the Maliki government will cement its gains by
carrying out its long-promised, multimillion-dollar program of
economic assistance and job creation to win over a still wary
population and erode the militias? base of support.
Sadr City has long been a simmering trouble spot, a haven for Shiite
militias and a conduit for what American commanders say are Iranian-
supplied arms, including explosively formed penetrators, a
particularly lethal type of roadside bomb.
In the past two months, it has also become a test of the government?s
ability to find its footing in the slippery terrain of Middle Eastern
Shiite politics and internal divisions among Iraq?s governing Shiite
The recent fighting flared up in late March after Mr. Maliki sent
troops to gain control of the port city of Basra. Shiite militants
responded by taking over Iraqi Army checkpoints on the outskirts of
Sadr City and using the neighborhood as a launching pad to fire
rockets at the Green Zone, the seat of the Iraqi government and site
of the United States Embassy.
American and Iraqi forces had little choice but to fight their way in
to suppress the rocket fire. They pushed their way to Al Quds Street,
which gave them a measure of control over the southern quarter of
Sadr City. A massive concrete wall was erected along the thoroughfare
to try to keep the militants out.
But that still left most of Sadr City in the hands of Shiite
militias, which continued to lob rockets at the Green Zone and attack
the Iraqi and American troops in the neighborhood?s southern tier.
Mr. Maliki had responded to a challenge from Shiite militias in Basra
by mounting a hasty operation. The military campaign caught American
officials by surprise and appeared to sputter at the start as the
Iraqi forces faced logistical problems and more than 1,000
But as the Basra operation proceeded and Iraqi troops began to pour
into the city, militia commanders drifted away. Mr. Maliki was
strengthened politically in his drive to shape an image as a strong
and decisive leader, the kind of leader many Iraqis, Sunni and
Shiite, think is needed to control the country.
Emboldened by the outcome in Basra, the prime minister wanted to act
quickly against the militias in Sadr City as well, according to
American and Iraqi officials. He was inclined to see the struggle as
a test of wills, which he could win by striking a decisive blow, the
Iraqi and Americans commanders, chastened by the stumbling first week
of the Basra operation, favored a more deliberate approach. Sadr City
is densely populated, with more than two million people, a bastion of
support for Moktada al-Sadr, the radical cleric, and a neighborhood
with a resilient collection of militia cells adept at hiding among
the populace. With operations in Basra, Mosul and other parts of
Iraq, the Iraqi military was stretched.
Additional forces were brought in, including the Third Brigade of the
First Iraqi Army Division, a quick reaction force from Anbar
Province. Lt. Gen. Abud Qanbar, the commander of Iraqi forces in
Baghdad, developed a plan to advance north into the heart of Sadr
The military preparations appeared to be serious, a fact that loomed
large for leaders of Mr. Sadr?s militia, the Mahdi Army, who told one
reporter last week that the militia was convinced that military
operations were imminent.
Maj. Gen. Mizher al-Azawi, the commander of the 11th Iraqi Army
Division, said that the operation would be carried out by Iraqi
ground forces with the support of American airpower.
But for all the talk by Iraqi government officials about breaking the
back of the militias, and the militants? bluster about defending
their turf, it was clear that the two sides had much to lose if they
were unable to reach an accommodation, however temporary or
Had it come to an urban battle in the Shiite enclave, the Iraqi
government, backed by American force, would probably have prevailed.
But Iraqi troops would have suffered casualties. Shiite civilians
would have been caught in the cross-fire and further alienated from
the government. And eventually the Shiite militias, which had already
suffered considerable losses, would have been further depleted.
Certainly, a military offensive would not have been a simple
operation. The militias had been significantly weakened over the
previous two months of fighting. Col. John Hort, the commander of the
Third Brigade Combat Team, Fourth Infantry Division, estimated that
some 700 militia fighters had been killed by air and ground fire
since fighting erupted in late March.
?It is pretty safe to say that we have killed the equivalent of a
U.S. battalion,? he said in a recent interview.
Some Mahdi Army leaders put the death toll slightly higher. When a
truce was first announced, they threatened to refuse Mr. Sadr?s order
to stand down. ?What about the martyrs?? a Mahdi battalion leader
recently told a reporter. ?A thousand martyrs, what did they die
Still, the area directly north of Al Quds Street was believed to have
had a heavy concentration of roadside bombs, presenting a substantial
challenge for an Iraqi force. Combat engineers and explosive ordnance
disposal teams are in short supply in the Iraqi military, which
relies heavily on using sappers to cut the wires rigged to
A Sadr City battle would also have sent Iraqi forces into one of the
most heavily populated sections of Baghdad, where there were ample
opportunities for ambushes. Militia snipers have already taken a toll
on Iraqi troops with powerful .50-caliber rifles.
There were other threats, as well. In one instance not previously
disclosed, an American M1 tank was damaged by an RPG-29, an advanced
anti-tank weapon. Even less powerful types of rocket-propelled
grenades could pose a threat to some Iraqi vehicles, which are
generally less heavily armored than those employed by the Americans.
While the planning continued, American military officials cited
reports that Mahdi Army and Iranian-backed commanders were sneaking
out of Sadr City and perhaps even Iraq. People close to Mahdi leaders
in Sadr City said they knew some who were leaving for Lebanon by way
?We have seen a lot of indications that some of the senior leaders
within JAM and the special groups are preparing to leave or have
already left Sadr City,? Colonel Hort said last week, referring to
Jaysh al Mahdi, as the Mahdi Army is known, and the Iranian-backed
militias the military refers to as special groups.
Iran, according to some Western analysts, was also focusing on
developments in Lebanon, where it has been supporting the militant
group Hezbollah, and seemed interested in an arrangement in which the
groups it backed in Sadr City would withdraw to fight another day.
With the emergence of a political accord, the Iraqi military began to
develop a new plan, which American officers learned about late last
week. It assumed that Iraqi troops would be welcomed, or at least
tolerated, by the residents. Instead of an assault through the
roadside bombs, six battalions would drive in on parallel streets and
set up checkpoints and search for weapons.
That plan was carried out on Tuesday and was uncontested.
So far, the Iraqi Army has been a winner. Iraqi commanders received,
and sometimes rejected, advice from the American military. But in the
end they were able to execute a plan that was very much their own.
Only two dozen or so roadside bombs were reported found, however,
raising a question of whether others had been hidden by the militias
for another day. Nor is it clear how energetic Iraqi soldiers will be
in carrying out searches in a Mahdi Army stronghold.
Brig. Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, the chief of staff for the Multinational
Corps in Iraq, said the Iraqi government had considered various
?When you exert lethal actions against Sadr City, you are de facto
going against a fairly poor sector of the Shia populace,? he said.
?So that is a dynamic that the government of Iraq has to keep in
their analysis about what is the right way to deal with this, and we
believe a measured approach is appropriate.?
So our troops can go home now right? Or do we still have 95 more
years left under the McCain plan?
Last week, he revised that down to five years. :]
By that time *all* the Iraquis will hate us.
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