Iraq: Iranian Radicals Enraged and Surrounded

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May 19,2008: Eight weeks of fighting have caused the Mahdi Army over 4,000 casualties (dead, wounded, captured, deserted). For an outfit estimated to have a peak strength of 6,000, that's some pretty serious losses. The Mahdi Army can quickly recruit new gunmen. Nearly every family has at least one firearm. But the new recruits are green, and die easily in combat, if they don't run and hide when the shooting starts. So the Mahdi Army has a manpower shortage. More resilient are the pro-Iran factions, which are sometimes led by Iranian Special Forces (Quds Force) operatives. There are several of these running around (and pursued by Iraqi troops and American Special Forces).

The government has offered an amnesty deal to Mahdi Army members, including cash payments and help finding a job. Unemployment is still a problem in areas dominated by al Qaeda or Shia militias. Economic development is stunted in these areas, as the terrorists and pro-Iranian activists want to keep the population poor and angry at the government. Overall, the economy has been growing steadily since 2003, because most of the country has been free of the violence that grabs most media attention.

In the north, Turkish warplanes and artillery continued attacking PKK targets across the border in Iraq. This has been going on for at least two days, and appears to have hurt the PKK, which has not been as active in eastern Turkey as they were last year. In the last month, these air and artillery raids are believed to have killed or wounded several hundred PKK members, and caused even more to move. This disrupted organizing attacks in eastern Turkey. The Turks have also been sending teams of commandos into Iraq, to take prisoners and capture documents and other useful stuff.

May 18, 2008: Up north, al Qaeda is making a last stand in Mosul. This city has thousands of armed Sunni Arabs with no place to go. The Kurdish population up there hates the Sunni Arabs, and wants to drive them south. Mosul is the last major city with a chain of safe houses reaching back to Syria (still a source of recruits, cash and weapons.) Iraqi and American troops have begun another offensive to clean out al Qaeda, and the terrorists can't stop it. The al Qaeda men have nowhere to run, so they either stand and die, surrender, or desert. There is a higher concentration of key al Qaeda operatives in Mosul, and this can be seen by the higher proportion of those captured (about half) being leaders or technical experts already known (to the U.S. or Iraqi forces) by name and function. The loss of so many of these key people in the last year is why terrorist attacks are down by more than half, and those still occurring are less sophisticated and deadly.

Those who leave al Qaeda know they can make a living by joining a criminal gang. This is only a temporary solution, as U.S. forces have lots of information on the gangs, and will go after them big-time once al Qaeda has been reduced to remnants. The gangs are more hated than al Qaeda, because the criminals are in your face every day, in so many ways (kidnapping, extortion, rape and theft.)

May 15, 2008: A ceasefire with the Mahdi Army took effect, but some fighting continued with factions that, well, take orders from Iran. The Iranian factions are moving into western Baghdad, trying to draw troops away from eastern Baghdad, where the Mahdi Army is about to lose control of the last neighborhoods it occupies. Without these bases and safe houses, the Mahdi Army and Iranian backed factions will be much less effective. In effect, they will be armed fugitives, with many more cell-phone equipped Iraqis ready to call in where they are and what they are doing.

Muqtada al Sadr, the charismatic cleric who heads the Mahdi Army, is being urged to get out of the warlord business and stick to politics. Al Sadr runs a political coalition that controls ten percent of parliament. But Sadr, who is hiding out in Iran at the moment, has to worry about radical faction in Iran. These groups want more anti-American and anti-Sunni violence in Iraq. The Iranian radicals are a minority in Iran, but the majority there fears them. The Iranian radicals are quick to use violence, and most Iranians do not want to risk starting a civil war.

 

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