We have the usual stream of confident but contradictory reports about the current wave of fighting in Iraq. It is the confidence I find most interesting. My guess is that the confidence is more deserved in the second of the two articles shown below. The precise detail given in the first seems somewhat excessive. Note the first reporter uses body counts as a metric of success, the second speaks of the area controlled by each side — perhaps a small indicator of reliability.
Mahdi Army taking significant casualties in Baghdad, South, Bill Roggio, The Long War Journal (29 March 2008) — Excerpt:
With the fifth day of fighting in Baghdad, Basrah and the South completed, the Mahdi Army has suffered major losses over the past 36 hours. The Mahdi Army has not fared well over the past five days of fighting, losing an estimated two percent of its combat power, using the best case estimate for the size of the militia.
A look at the open source press reports from the US and Iraqi military and the established newspapers indicates 145 Mahdi Army fighters were killed, 81 were wounded, 98 were captured, and 30 surrendered during the past 36 hours.
Since the fighting began on Tuesday 358 Mahdi Army fighters were killed, 531 were wounded, 343 were captured, and 30 surrendered. The US and Iraqi security forces have killed 125 Mahdi Army fighters in Baghdad alone, while Iraqi security forces have killed 140 Mahdi fighters in Basra.
While the size of the Mahdi Army is a constant source of debate, media accounts often put the Mahdi Army at anywhere from 40,000 to 60,000 fighters. With an estimated 1,000 Mahdi fighters killed, captured, wounded and surrendered, the Mahdi Army has taken an attrition rate of 1.5 to 2.5 percent over the past five days.
… The intensity in fighting is reflected in the number of press releases issued by Multinational Forces Iraq over the past 24 hours. The US military has issued six separate press releases on fighting in Baghdad over the past 36 hours, and an additional release from Suwayrah, just south of Baghdad.
… US and British warplanes have begun to conduct strikes against Mahdi Army positions inside Basrah, while the British forces have conducted counter-battery fire against Mahdi Army mortar teams.
Roggio has an update, substantially similar in tone (more body counts): Sadr orders followers to end fighting (30 March 2008).
Firsthand Look at Basra Shows Value of White Flag, Qais Mizher, New York Times (31 March 2008) — Excerpt:
BASRA, Iraq – I walked, ran and crawled into central Basra on Thursday, constantly dropping to the ground because of gun battles between Mahdi Army militiamen and the Iraqi Army and the police.
… Iraqi forces started their assault on the Shiite militias in Basra on Tuesday. Whatever the initial goal of the operation, by the time I arrived in Basra it was a patchwork of neighborhoods that were either deserted or overrun by Mahdi fighters. There were scattered Iraqi Army and police checkpoints, but no place seemed to be truly under government control.
Early last week, when the assault started, I happened to be in Diwaniya, another southern city, as part of my work as a reporter and translator for The New York Times. Calling on my experience as a captain in the Iraqi Army before the 2003 invasion and essentially a war correspondent since then, I headed to Basra to see if I could make my way into the city and see what was happening there.
… The next day I moved around as much as I could. The common observation was this: There was nowhere the Mahdi either did not control or could not strike at will.
Update: Joshua Foust comments on Roggio’s article
His description of militia mortar teams is misleading. According to the soldiers I work with, their usual practice is to cut holes in the roofs of their cars, drive up kind of near a FOB, fire off a few rounds, then drive away. Or they carry small, portable tubes and do the same thing, then running off to hide. Good luck getting an F-18 to accurately target those guys. Makes one wonder what we are bombing.
The body count data is absurd. This implies that we have reliable numbers of how many Iraqis have died in the war; even the DoD admits we do not. It is of a piece with LWJ’s reporting on the missile strikes in Pakistan, where they don’t know how many people actually died in the attack — just that it was only bad guys and there were no women or children.
Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).
For more information on this topic
- Different voices discussing about the events in Basra (27 March 2008)
- More views of the events at Basra (1) – experts (28 March 2008)
- More views of the events at Basra (2) — bloggers and war-bloggers (28 March 2008)
- More views of the events at Basra (3) — background information (28 March 2008)
- Archive of links to articles about the Iraq War — my articles, and links to several by Niall Ferguson.
- Our Goals and Benchmarks for the Expedition to Iraq