Following up the raids in Sadr City; Maliki did approve of the raids
The primary target of the joint Iraqi and U.S. raid inside Sadr city on October 25 was directed as Mahdi Army commander Abu Dura (or Abu Deraa), a death squad leader believed to be responsible for some of the worst sectarian killing in and around Baghdad. The initial raid led to a follow on operation in Sadr City, after “credible intelligence indicating that criminals involved in the kidnapping of a US Soldier were located in a Sadr City mosque” was although it is unclear if this intelligence was obtained during the initial raid. Note the Coalition now believes the Mahdi Army may be complicit in the kidnapping of an American soldier – an incident that will only increase the pressure on Sadr.
At the initial target – a Sadr City residence believed to be hiding Abu Dura – 10 Mahdi Army fighters were killed, 2 were wounded and 10 captured, In the follow on raid at the mosque, three Mahdi Army fighters were killed. No Iraqi troops or Coalition forces casualties were taken during the fights.
The raid was lead by the 1st Iraqi Special Operations Forces, and supported by U.S. embedded trainers and air assets. The 1st Iraqi SOF reports directly to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who initially protested the raid and claimed he wasn’t aware of it. Maliki has since backtracked from this statement, and now claims “the raid had his backing but argued that it was conducted in a heavy handed way that could wreck a political deal he had worked on with Muqtada al-Sadr,” according to Reuters.
Maliki has to walk the line as a politician, and as an Iraqi politician has his Iraqi constituents to consider at times. He must not always be seen as being in lockstep with the Americans/Coalition, particularly when Iraqis are killed. Richard Fernandez sums up Maliki’s dilemma nicely:
Legally Iraq is a sovereign country, which the US must treat it as any other country from the perspective of US national interest. Theoretically Maliki is under no obligation to obey Washington, which is correspondingly under no compulsion to support Maliki. While America would prefer to see a stable government in Iraq that is ultimately a task that cannot be delegated to Americans indefinitely. So expect some hardball to be played as this is the way of relations between nations. That said, Maliki’s statements imply he values American support less necessary than the goodwill of his Shi’ite base. Or that he perceives Shi’ite support as so important that he’s willing to risk American goodwill. How solid that Shi’ite base will prove is open to question.
He also must be concerned with the very real threat that Sadr’s Mahdi Army possesses to his and his family’s safety. Sadr is not above the art of assassination. An Iraqi judge issued an arrest warrant for Sadr for his role in the murder of Abdul Majid al-Khoei, the influential, pro-American Shiite Cleric, at the steps of the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf. This warrant is still outstanding. Sadr has evaded this charge, as well as responsibility for the uprising in Najaf and southern Iraq and Baghdad during the spring and summer of 2004.