Looking ahead at the Shi'ite militias
The recent Brookings trip report to Iraq believed abuses by Shi'ite militias were turning the population against them and pushing communities into the arms of the Coalition. The fighting that just ended between Shi'ite militias in Karbalah, and which forced not only the curtailment of the lucrative pilgrimage but the declaration of a curfew is a perfect example of how not to make friends and influence people.
Fighting among rival Shi'ite militias and police in the Iraqi city of Karbala has killed some 50 people, forcing authorities to curtail a major pilgrimage and order a curfew. Reports say the clashes involved gunmen loyal to cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and those connected to the Badr Brigades of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC).
Clashes between powerful Shi'ite militias in Iraq may mark the beginning of a new phase of fighting in the southern part of the country. ... It is not only about armed militias. Criminal gangs with no political affiliation are especially strong in the city. Local officials say that about 5,000 assassinations have occurred in the city in the past two years.
Shortly afterward Moqtada al-Sadr announced his intention to deactivate the Mahdhi Army for six months, and the Associated Press cited concerns over internal disunity as the primary reason for its hibernation to regroup.
Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered a six-month suspension of activities by his Mahdi Army militia in order to reorganize the force, and it will no longer attack U.S. and coalition troops, aides said Wednesday.
The aide, Sheik Hazim al-Araji, said on Iraqi state television that the goal was to "rehabilitate" the organization, which has reportedly broken into factions, some of which the U.S. maintains are trained and supplied by Iran.
"We declare the freezing of the Mahdi Army without exception in order to rehabilitate it in a way that will safeguard its ideological image within a maximum period of six months starting from the day this statement is issued," al-Araji said, reading from a statement by al-Sadr.
In Najaf, al-Sadr's spokesman said the order also means the Mahdi Army will no longer launch attacks against U.S. and other coalition forces. "It also includes suspending the taking up of arms against occupiers as well as others," Ahmed al-Shaibani told reporters. ...
The order was issued after two days of bloody clashes in the Shiite holy city of Karbala that claimed at least 52 lives. Iraqi security officials blamed Mahdi militiamen for attacking mosque guards, some of whom are linked to the rival Badr Brigade militia.
Without any hard information on exactly why Sadr publicly "froze" his forces close upon the heels of the Karbalah clashes, speculation by the Moon of Alabama -- which is speculation only -- is as good as any. Moon doesn't know why Sadr announced the hibernation, but believes that whatever the reason, he is probably up to no good.
1. An attempt by Sadr or one group working under his name to take over the shrine of Karbala has failed. This failure damaged the reputation of the movement. Now Sadr has to rebuild his forces and street cred to make sure he can win when the next round starts.
2. Sadr is planing for a Tet style offensive and this move is intended to take away some of the pressure the U.S. forces and the rival Shia forces are putting on him. Time to relax and prepare for the big one.
3. Sadr really lost control over most of his forces and needs to implement a new command structure.
Fair enough. But how does the Coalition read the situation? Is it possible to look past the cautious, almost politically correct statements of intention vis a vis the Shi'ite militias to discern their long range intentions? One way to guess is by studying DJ Elliott's projection (at Bill Roggio's site) of the possible order of battle of Iraqi Security Forces Order in five year's time. Elliott says:
What follows is heavy on speculation, estimation, and extrapolations. If sixty percent proves accurate, I will consider it good. It is based on already formed and planned ISF elements, US standard organization, and extrapolation of the planned Table of Organization and Equipment (TO/E). What I have done is take the apparent framework inferred by the current organization and filled in the missing pieces in a standard TO/E. All hard data is in italics.
Elliott's estimate for the Basra area is given below.
- IGFC Basrah Sector (Basrah Operational Command) - III Corps. Threat focus is the southern Iranian border.13th Mechanized Division - Basrah 10th Motorized Division - Maysan ?? Infantry Division - DhiQar/Muthanna (planned to become motorized) One to two reserve infantry divisions.
From Elliott's tables and the accompanying map, the ISF Basra package follows the pattern of a three division force per "sector" in common with most others. It is nothing special. A national strategic reserve of 6 divisions, based in the Baghdad area, is envisioned and will probably be available to reinforce any part of the country. But if you look at the way the packages are oriented, the IGFC Kirkuk-Baqubah Sector, IGFC Basrah Sector, IGFC Mosul Sector and IGFC Mid-Euphrates Sector are all meant to watch the length of the Iranian border. Only one -- IGFC Ramadi Sector -- is explicitly cited as tasked with watching the Syrian frontier. Bearing in mind Elliot's disclaimer that many of his estimates are soft, the ISF "end state" he describes is fundamentally defensive, but one in which the weight of the defense is oriented towards the Iranian border.
I wouldn't make too much of the data, given its soft nature, but it will be interesting to see how the Coalition and the Shi'te militias play their cards. While the Coalition is currently occupied with smashing al-Qaeda's civil war gambit there are indications that long-range plans exist to address the general Shi'ite militia and Iranian threat. But they are just that: indications.