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Wednesday, August 18, 2004

More on Sadr City

A Chicago Tribune piece on the Sadr City offensive offers greater perspective on just what sort of battle this may turn out to be.

Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but a battalion is roughly 900 soldiers, is it not?:

A U.S. Army battalion moved into the district of at least 2.5 million people late in the afternoon to fight Sadr's al-Mahdi Army in its stronghold.

Capt. Brian O'Malley, a military spokesman, said the objective is "to flush out enemy forces" but declined to give further details.

A densely populated and long-neglected neighborhood where sewage floods many streets, Sadr City is full of the poor and disaffected Shiite young men who form the core of the cleric's following. The district is named for Sadr's father, a prominent ayatollah killed by assassins from Saddam Hussein's regime.

Sadr has a more devoted following in the slum than in Najaf, and experts believe the number of Sadr supporters is far greater in the capital.

"Sadr has never been a Najaf-based politician. His institutional power is strongest in Sadr City, where there's a mini-civil war going on. There, his forces are much more disciplined," said Toby Dodge, an Iraq expert at The International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

U.S. soldiers say hidden explosives line virtually every major street of Sadr City, and fighters pop out from alleys to fire rocket-propelled grenades whenever U.S. forces enter....

...Amid threats against them and their families, about half the members of an Iraqi National Guard battalion in Sadr City have not shown up for work since renewed fighting began. One Iraqi captain who tried to come in was captured at a checkpoint operated by al-Mahdi militia members, although he was released a day later, said Capt. Darrell Gayle, the Army liaison with the battalion.

Militants hit a U.S. helicopter on the edge of Sadr City last week, forcing the helicopter to crash-land on a fence of a mosque.

As they frantically searched for the crew members, who fled the wreckage, U.S. soldiers fought off waves of attackers firing rocket-propelled grenades, automatic weapons and mortars. The crew members were found unharmed.

Commanders said they believe Sadr's al-Mahdi Army has used the cease-fire since late June to plan and fortify its defenses in Sadr City.

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