December 15, 2006

Battle for Sadr City? No Hue.

Several days ago, Allahpundit caught a potentially important L.A. Times article which purports to outline "the way forward" in Iraq (my bold):

As President Bush weighs new policy options for Iraq, strong support has coalesced in the Pentagon behind a military plan to "double down" in the country with a substantial buildup in American troops, an increase in industrial aid and a major combat offensive against Muqtada Sadr, the radical Shiite leader impeding development of the Iraqi government.

Allah keyed in on the same phrase I did in the lede, and notes:

They want as many as 40,000 more troops and, to make sure no one’s going to call off the dogs once they’re unleashed, a shuffle within the Iraqi government, which is almost certainly what Bush’s meeting with Iraq’s Sunni vice president was about yesterday. Some experts are knocking the plan on grounds that you can’t kill your way to victory here. You can’t not kill your way to victory either, though — we tried that by turning al-Sadr onto politics and look where it got us. Gen. Chiarelli wants to split the difference by introducing an aggressive jobs program alongside the military maneuvers to give would-be jihadists an alternative to fighting.

Greg Tini hits similar point at the new blog, and Charles Krauthammer concludes in a column at

…the president has one last chance to come forward with a new strategy.

He must do two things. First, as I've been agitating, establish a new governing coalition in Baghdad that excludes Moqtada al-Sadr, a cancer that undermines the Maliki government's ability to work with us. It is encouraging that the president has already begun such a maneuver by meeting with rival Shiite and Sunni parliamentary leaders. If we help produce a cross-sectarian government that would be an ally rather than a paralyzed semi-adversary of coalition forces, we should then undertake part two: "double down" our military effort. This means a surge in American troops with a specific mission: to secure Baghdad and (together with the support of the Baghdad government -- a sine qua non) suppress Sadr's Mahdi Army.

It is our last chance for success. Bush can thank the ISG and its instant irrelevance for making it possible.

For the very few of you needing a refresher, Muqtada al-Sadr is the 33-year-old fourth son of a famous Iraqi Shiite Grand Ayatollah, and the grandson of another (Wiki yourself silly if you want his life story). He lacks the education to claim any sort of formal religious authority, and has built a following based on his family's name. In that regard, he's like a sober Ted Kennedy, and roughly as loyal.

While al-Sadr's family has traditionally drawn support in Najaf and Basra, Muqtada draws must of his support from the Baghdad slum of Sadr City (formally Saddam City), and this is likely where al-Sadr's forces, the Mahdi Army, will make their stand.

This is Sadr City.

click to enlarge

Sadr City is a dense slum of some 2 million mostly Shiite souls crammed into 8 square miles of dilapidated public housing, where electricity is sporadic, sewage runs in the streets, and death squads routinely dump the bodies of their victims.

A description of Sadr City from GlobalSecurity.Org:

Sadr City is subdivided into six sections. The district is one of the poorest in Baghdad. Unemployment is rampant. Homes are in disrepair. The population consists mostly of Shiite Moslems. It is also a haven for criminals released from Iraqi prisons by Saddam shortly before the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Sadr City, built by Saddam Hussein, was the scene of numerous confrontations between coalition forces and residents in 2003. Infrastructure problems still plague portions of the district. Electrical services are intermittent. Parts of some streets in some neighborhoods are flooded with sewage from long-neglected pipes. Trash pickup stopped during the war, and residents started dumping their trash on the medians in the potholed streets.

To get an idea of the "lay of the land" in Sadr City, look at the series of 17 photos provided by the Christian Peacemaker Teams from 2005.

This is a map view of Sadr City.


A larger view (source) of the map from which this was drawn shows Baghdad's Green Zone in the bottom left corner of the picture, on the east bank of the Tigris River. Sadr City is bordered to the northeast by a substantial canal, the Ishbiliyah neighborhood and the Army Canal to the southwest, and mostly undeveloped areas in the northwest and southeast.

* * *

Any attempt by U.S. and Iraqi Army forces to enter Sadr City and hunt down the Madhi Army militia is going to draw immediate comparisons to the 2004 Battle of Fallujah. Having just read an excellent detailed account of a Marine perspective of that battle in We Were One, I think I can honestly say, without any sense of humor or irony, that any battle in Sadr City will be exactly like Fallujah's Operation Phantam Fury, but completely different. That statement is not as Berra-ish as it may sound.

Sadr City is far more compact than Fallujah. Thanks to geography, it is theoretically easier to cordon off (and the last time they did, sectarian violence dropped sharply), and once segregated into quadrants, set up for combat or search operations.

Whether Sadr City becomes another urban moonscape, or is instead something far less intense, is very much up to al Sadr and the loose affiliates of the Madhi Army.

If they opt for a showdown, we could see extremely intense urban fighting. It would not be out of the realm of possibility to see significant U.S. casualties in this kind of close-quarters fighting, but the toll on the Madhi Army would likely be catastrophic. The Army and Marines have had two years to study the lessons learned from the assault on Fallujah, and adapt tactics, techniques, and rules of engagement. Estimates vary wildly on the number of terrorist casualties in Phantom Fury, but 1,200-1,600 killed and roughly half that number captured are the numbers from a force in the mid-thousands is most often cited.

The Madhi Army is estimated to be between 10,000-40,000 strong. Extrapolating out similar casualty rates for a similar urban combat, and the Madhi Army could suffer between 2,500-10,000 killed, with thousands wounded and captured.

If the bulk of the Madhi Army instead decides that martyrdom is best left for another time and decides to melt away, casualties could be considerably lower, and the operation could morph into a deadly Easter egg hunt. Coalition forces dodging booby-traps, IEDs, and the occasional sniper or small unit ambush could capture and destroy some or most of the Madhi army’s military capability.

In any even, this is likely the next large-scale battleground in Iraq, and a battle that increasing appears must be fought if Iraq hopes to suceed.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at December 15, 2006 04:25 PM | TrackBack

...a battle that increasing appears must be fought if Iraq hopes to suceed.

Then sign up and go fight it.

Posted by: elmo at December 15, 2006 05:57 PM

So elmo..what's your plan?

Posted by: Specter at December 15, 2006 06:28 PM

Apparently, elmo will be tickled only if we "lose" the war in Iraq.

Posted by: cfbleachers at December 15, 2006 07:08 PM

Elmo's plan is to have splodydopes at the local mall.

Posted by: Purple Avenger at December 16, 2006 12:05 AM

Hey cool man, we’re finally going after Sadr. I wonder if it’ll be the NYSlimes or WaPo that publishes the battle orders, operational ROE’s, daily codes, supply route’s, etc., etc., etc…along with the names and addresses of the troops families here at home?

Anybody know what colors the Mullah’s would prefer to have Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Jordan wrapped in?

Christmas, after all, is just around the corner.

Posted by: Eg at December 16, 2006 04:50 AM

Of course the US can kill its way to victory.....look at WW2.
The only issue is will.....if the politicians have the will, US military technology can do the job.

The other side has no reticence about the application of force nor should we.......collateral damage is a passing fad. The only way we can lose is to choose to.

Posted by: George Dixon at December 16, 2006 07:25 AM

You can't kill yourself to victory. You have about as much chance of that as talking your enemies to death.

Posted by: BohicaTwentyTwo at December 16, 2006 01:34 PM

Interesting pics. For a people who avoid swine they sure live like pigs...

Posted by: Charlie h. at December 16, 2006 07:18 PM

So in other words, Sadr City is like East St. Louis or South Central LA?

Posted by: PoliticalCritic at December 19, 2006 11:58 AM