June 20, 2008 | FDD’s Long War Journal

Maysan operation continues to target Sadrist leaders

 The Iraqi security forces have detained five senior Sadrist leaders and a department director in Maysan province during Operation Promise of Peace. The Mahdi Army, the armed wing of the Sadrist movement, has not put up any opposition to the government's efforts to secure Maysan, a Sadrist stronghold on the Iranian border.

Iraqi forces are conducting a series of raids in Amarah and throughout the southern province, “capturing key targets including government officials wanted by the authorities in a number of cases,” said Brigadier General Abdul Karim Khalaf, a spokesman for Iraq's Ministry of the Interior.

“Five officials from the provincial council who represent the Sadr movement have been arrested for aiding the militia,” Mahdi al Asadi, the spokesman for the Maysan police told AFP. Iraqi forces detained the mayor of Amarah and the deputy governor yesterday.

Iraqi forces also detained Engineer Mohammed Nouri, the provincial director of the irrigation projects department after discovering “amounts of weapons and ammunitions hidden in one of the department's stores,” an anonymous source told Voices of Iraq.

Thirty-one “wanted men” have been detained since the operation was kicked off in Amarah yesterday. Five Mahdi Army fighters surrendered to the security forces. More than 60 “militiamen” surrendered during the amnesty period.

Several large weapons caches and a command and control center have also been uncovered in the province. “A militia headquarters was seized by Iraqi Security Forces after a weapons cache was discovered containing 676 mines, 249 mortar rounds, 241 rocket-propelled grenades and four homemade-rocket launchers,” Multinational Forces Iraq reported. “In operations surrounding Amarah, a total of 273 mortar rounds were discovered, along with numerous other accelerants.”

Sadrists are on the run

The Mahdi Army has not fought back as Sadrist leaders and Mahdi Army commanders and fighters are rounded up in Amarah, Khalaf said.

The Mahdi Army took heavy casualties while opposing the Iraqi security forces in Basrah and the South and against US and Iraqi forces in Sadr City during operations to secure the areas in March, April, and May. More than 1,000 Mahdi Army fighters were killed in Sadr City alone, and another 415 were killed in Basrah. Several hundred were killed during fighting in the southern cities of Najaf, Karbala, Hillah, Diwaniyah, Amarah, Samawah, and Nasiriyah.

The Mahdi Army and the Sadrist movement have been reduced to complaining about the actions of the security forces.

“The Sadrist bloc supported the operation but it turned from a military operation against gunmen into a political process targeting Sadrists,” Ahmed al Massoudi, a Sadrist member of parliament told Voices of Iraq. He pleaded for the release of Sadrist members.

The Sadrist leader in Amarah is currently moving between safe houses in an effort to evade Iraqi sweeps.

“All over Iraq — Basra, and Sadr city in Baghdad — the government has said the same thing: that Sadr and his Mahdi Army are not targets,” the unnamed Sadrist leader told AFP via phone after canceling the face to face interview with the news agency. “But after those operations started they changed the color of their feathers and started going after followers of Sadr and his Mahdi Army.”

“Right now I don't know if I will be able to save my own life,” the Amarah leader said.

Moving to the Marshes

The Iraqi security forces will expand their operations right along the Iranian border in an attempt to disrupt the Mahdi Army supply lines from Iran. “The operations would include a drive into Marshes area where important targets are hiding.”

The push into the Marshes comes as the Iraqi security forces have ramped up operations in neighboring Basrah, Wasit and Dhi Qhar provinces.

Amarah is a strategic hub for Iranian operations in southern Iraq

Maysan province is a strategic link for the Ramazan Corps, the Iranian military command set up by Qods Force to direct operations inside Iraq. Amarah serves as the Qods Force-Ramazan Corps forward command and control center inside Iraq as well as one of the major distribution points for weapons in southern Iraq.

The Iraqi security forces have stepped up operations against the Ramazan Corps and the Mahdi Army in the southern provinces over the past several months. Operation Knights' Assault was launched against the Mahdi Army in Basrah on March 25. After six days of heavy fighting, the Mahdi Army pushed for a cease-fire. The Iraqi security forces also dealt the Mahdi Army a heavy blow in the southern provinces of Najaf, Karbala, Qassadiyah, Maysan, and Wasit.

The Iraqi security forces and the US military also confronted the Mahdi Army in Sadr City in Baghdad. After six weeks of heavy fighting, the Mahdi Army and the Iraqi government signed a cease-fire that allowed the military to enter Sadr City uncontested.

During the month of May, the Iraqi security forces expanded operations throughout Basrah province in Az Zubayr, Al Qurnah, and Abu Al Khasib along the Iranian border. This week, an operation kicked off in Dhi Qhar province, which borders Maysan to the southeast.