Summary: One of the great themes of US coverage of the Iraq War is the conflicting — often directly contradictory — news coverage. As a result, everyone gets to pick the facts they like. Today’s example: weapons seized by Iraq government forces in Sadr City. This post examines both stories and finds that one version appears more accurate than the other.
The LA Times paints a convincing picture of the situation in Sadr City. Iraq government forces dominate it, but the Mahdi Army has gone to ground — waiting, retaining their weapons.
I. “As soldiers fill Sadr City, militia fighters wait“, LA Times (25 May 2008) — “Iraqi forces are focused on humanitarian aid rather than capturing Mahdi Army fighters, many of whom remain in the shattered district.” Excerpt (bold emphasis added):
… For the first time since U.S.-led forces invaded the country in March 2003, Iraqi soldiers blanket Sadr City, the heavily populated Baghdad district that is the bastion of firebrand Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia. Tanks painted with the Iraqi flag are positioned at major intersections, and soldiers scan vehicles for weapons and fighters at newly erected checkpoints
… Iraqi officers say many senior militia leaders slipped away while the deal was being hammered out. But thousands of foot soldiers remain. Some are cooperating with the Iraqi troops, pointing out bombs and the occasional weapons cache. Others are watching and waiting.
… Iraqi commanders say they will request U.S. firepower only if they come under attack. Their troops have moved carefully to avoid provoking the wary residents, many of whom remain committed to Sadr, even if patience is running thin with some of his fighters.
A few weapons caches have been recovered, but officers say they are taking their time before launching raids to detain fighters on their wanted list. Their focus is on winning over the populace by fixing the district’s decrepit electricity and sanitation services and by providing humanitarian assistance.
We get a different picture from one of the top “war bloggers”.
II. “Iraqi Army dismantles Mahdi Army caches in Sadr City“, Bill Roggio, posted at the Long War Journal (24 May 2008) — Excerpt:
Less than one week after pushing into the northern two-thirds of Sadr City from the walled southern neighborhoods, the Iraqi Army is uncovering substantial weapons caches in the Mahdi Army stronghold. Iraqi and Coalition forces continue to press against the Mahdi Army in Baghdad as the New Baghdad district begins to heat up.
The Iraqi Army raided numerous Mahdi Army weapons caches in Sadr City May 22-23, Multinational Forces Iraq reported. The Mahdi Army has stockpiled weapons throughout the district. Eight of the armor-piercing, Iranian-made explosively formed projectiles have been found along with chlorine poison, eight roadside bombs, and large quantities of explosives, weapons, ammunition, and materials used to make bombs.
Who is right? We can test one point in which they disagree: is the Iraq Army seizing “few” or “nurerous” weapons caches in Sadr City? We cannot go to the tapes, as in a football game, but we can check offical news from the US government.
III. Press Releases from Multi-National Division – Baghdad PAO
21 May 2008
- “Iraqi Security Forces seize munitions during Sadr City“
- “MND-B Soldiers find separate caches in Rashid” — “Baghdad Soldiers discovered three caches in the Rashid district of southern Baghdad.”
- “Iraqi National Police discover large cache“
- “MND-B, Iraqi Army Soldiers find weapons cache, IEDs” — “Baghdad Soldiers discovered a munitions cache and several improvised-explosive devices in Baghdad.”
22 May 2008
- “iA Soldiers find weapons cache, munitions in Sadr City“
- “IA Soldiers find weapons caches, munitions in Sadr City“
23 May 2008
- “MND-B Soldiers find weapons cache“
- “IA Soldiers find weapons caches, munitions in Sadr City“
- “Iraqi Army seize weapons caches in separate operations“
- “IA Soldiers remove dangerous weapons from streets of Sadr City” — “Iraqi Army Soldiers found multiple weapons caches and improvised explosive devices in Sadr City as Operation Peace continued.”
24 May 2008
- “ISF, 1st BCT, 4th Inf. Div. Soldiers seize multiple munitions caches in southern Baghdad“
- “Iraqi Security Forces seize weapons cache” — “Iraqi Army and Multi-National Division – Baghdad Soldiers discovered multiple weapons caches and killed five criminals”
- “National Police seize weapons cache“
- “IA seize weapons cache at schoolhouse in Sadr City“
25 May 2008
- IA Soldiers seize caches in Sadr City” — “Iraqi Army Soldiers discovered a number of caches in Baghdad’s northeastern district of Sadr City”
- ISF, MND-B Soldiers continue to take weapons off streets in Baghdad” — “Baghdad Soldiers confiscated a number of weapons and munitions throughout Baghdad”
- “IA Soldiers seize weapons caches during Sadr City operation” — “Iraqi Army Soldiers conducting operations in the Sadr City district of Baghdad during Operation Peace uncovered several weapons caches May 24 as they continue to secure the area to protect the local population.”
- “MND-B Soldiers seize weapons caches, detain two criminals“
Looks to me like a clear win for Bill Roggio. The LA Times says “few”; that might be technically correct but seems misleading imo. Neither report provides sufficient context to determine the significance of these seizures. Have these actinos substantially reduced the Mahdi Army’s firepower?
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 about the different versions we see of the Iraq War
- Three blind men examine the Iraq Elephant (6 February 2008)
- The oddity of reports about the Iraq War (13 March 2008) — Some theories why after 5 years we still debate basic things about the Iraq War.
- War porn (25 March 2008) – Discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the war-bloggers’ reporting in Iraq.
- More views of the events at Basra (2) — bloggers and war-bloggers (28 March 2008) – Contrast the war bloggers’ reports with those of some experts.
- A rebuttal to “War Porn” (it takes 2 sides to have a discussion)(29 March 2008) — Someone writes a defense of the war bloggers, and my reply.
- A look at the writings of “war blogger” Michael J. Totten (31 March 2008) – extracts of his posts from 2003 – 2005.
- An email discussion with Michael Totten (31 March 2008)
- Evidence of the war bloggers’ growing influence (2 April 2008)
- Basra, a test case: war blogger’s vs. experts (2 April 2008)
- Experts’ views about the recent fighting in Basra (2 April 2008)
- Sources of the Instapundit’s knowledge — analysis or cartoons? (3 April 2008)
- Some comments by Bill Roggio, Editor of the Long War Journal (3 April 2008)
- Two views of Fallujah – which tells us more about the future? (23 April 2008)
- Who was right about Basra — experts or war bloggers? (25 April 2008)
- Scoring Basra: War bloggers 2, area experts 0 (14 May 2008)
- Archive of links to articles about the Iraq War
- Our Goals and Benchmarks for the Expedition to Iraq
2 thoughts on “Iraq Army success in Sadr City: true or false?”
Aren’t weapons replaceable? To disarm with the expectation that they will eventually re-arm buys time, no more. The really interesting question is – as always – whether the Vietnamization works.
Fabius Maximus replies: (1) Given time and money, everything is replaceable. The military art buys time in a specific places at a specific time. If the Iraq government uses this time wisely, they could diminish the Mahdi Army’s long-term military strength in two ways. First, decrease the tolerence of Sadr City’s people for local militia. Second, encourage the Mahdi Army’s leadership to become politiical leaders — not militia leaders.
(2) This suggests that the Iraq government is in the second stage of Vietnamization, which the South Vietnam government never reached. They have created a fuctioning military force. Now, can it gain control of its territory?
Not a lot of heavy weapons among the weapons caches mentioned by Bill Roggio. Unless one includes the canon ball. A few road side bombs and some bomb building material. LA Times is ahead on points.
Fabius Maximus replies: There are two dimensions to this. First, the factual details. EFPs and mortars and rockets are considered heavy weapons by the US Army.
Second, the narrative. The LAT story implies the Iraq Army is passive in Sadr City, not seeking out and seizing weapons caches and Mahdi Army leaders. The USG data shows that they are actively doing these things, establishing order.