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The 2008 Battle of Sadr City

The 2008 Battle of Sadr City: Reimagining Urban Combat

David E. Johnson
M. Wade Markel
Brian Shannon
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: RAND Corporation
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  • Book Info
    The 2008 Battle of Sadr City
    Book Description:

    In 2008, U.S. and Iraqi forces defeated an uprising in Sadr City, a district of Baghdad with ~2.4 million residents. Coalition forces’ success in this battle helped consolidate the Government of Iraq’s authority, contributing significantly to the attainment of contemporary U.S. operational objectives in Iraq. U.S. forces’ conduct of the battle illustrates a new paradigm for urban combat and indicates capabilities the Army will need in the future.

    eISBN: 978-0-8330-8031-8
    Subjects: Technology, History

Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-6)

    RAND Arroyo Center was asked by the Department of the Army to analyze the 2008 Battle of Sadr City. The purpose was to provide a more complete description of the battle, to assess its outcome, and to derive lessons learned that can inform a broader understanding of urban operations. The ultimate purpose of the analysis is to help the U.S. Army understand what capabilities it may need in the future to contend with the challenges posed by combat in large cities.

    On March 23, 2008, Moqtada al-Sadr’s Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM) militia precipitated what became known as the Battle of Sadr...

  2. (pp. 7-16)

    MND-B and 3-4 BCT drew heavily on concepts of operation developed during the “surge” during the 2008 Battle of Sadr City. This chapter describes how those concepts emerged and evolved. U.S. forces had evolved a new concept of operation for controlling an urban insurgency. Isolating particular areas of operation with concrete T-walls was central to that concept. Doing so denied insurgents the ability to strike at will, thereby giving coalition forces the initiative. Coalition forces would then methodically dismantle insurgent networks fixed within these walls with intelligence-driven raids. By the end of 2007, U.S. forces were employing these concepts against...

  3. (pp. 17-38)

    The battle took place in a particular strategic and operational context that shaped the outcome. As described in the last chapter, the implementation of the Baghdad Security Plan largely neutralized the Sunni insurgency in Baghdad, allowing the government of Iraq and the coalition to turn their attention to the Shia militias, especially Moqtada al-Sadr’s Jaish al-Mahdi. Indeed, the al-Maliki government’s impending offensive in Basra probably provoked the Battle of Sadr City. Geographically, Sadr City’s sheer size and population limited U.S. options for neutralizing JAM. From the outset, it was clear that MND-B lacked the forces to clear Sadr City block...

  4. (pp. 39-70)

    On March 23, JAM launched a coordinated offensive against government positions and the Green Zone. It seems likely, however, that JAM was trying to forestall the government’s offensive in Basra. The Sadr City attacks preceded the government’s offensive in Basra by two days, government officials having declared that they would launch their Basra offensive very soon. Preparations clearly indicated that they were not bluffing. JAM apparently believed that attacks in the capital would force the government to return its focus and forces to Baghdad, thus discrediting the al-Maliki government. Besides the apparent logic of the situation, militia members toldWashington...

  5. (pp. 71-82)

    U.S. commanders decided to control JAM infiltration using the same tactic that had contained the Sunni insurgency: building walls. They decided to build a wall along Route Gold because it was the major terrain feature nearest the outer range from which 107mm rockets could strike the Green Zone. It was also the furthest limit of advance for U.S. forces, as the al-Maliki government never relented on its ban of U.S. forces north of Route Gold. The wall succeeded in limiting infiltration, but it also drew JAM elements remaining in Sadr City into a decisive battle. Their motivation for accepting combat...

  6. (pp. 83-96)

    It is a time-honored maxim of the military art that commanders should exploit tactical success to achieve decisive results. For example, a commander might initiate a pursuit after a battle to capture or destroy disorganized enemy forces in retreat.¹ In this case, U.S. forces exploited their defeat of JAM on the Gold Wall by increasing the intensity of their attacks on JAM’s networks, and by launching an ambitious program of reconstruction to transfer the loyalties of Sadr City’s population to the government of Iraq. The purpose of this chapter is to describe the kind and degree of efforts to exploit...

  7. (pp. 97-104)

    In this chapter we explain how the circumstances and events described in Chapters Two through Six shaped the battle’s outcome. We identify the five factors that were most important in achieving this result, listed below:

    The U.S. Army’s ability to gather and exploit real-time data in the fight against the rocket teams.

    Building the wall along Route Gold, thereby forcing the enemy to fight at a disadvantage.

    The U.S. reconstruction effort, which further eased JAM’s hold on the population.

    The Iraqi Army’s newly acquired ability to operate independently.

    JAM’s mistakes and vulnerabilities.

    This analysis informs the insights to be enumerated...

  8. (pp. 105-114)

    The urban environment supposedly conveys marked advantages to the defender. Buildings and streets canalize maneuver, provide cover, conceal forces and maneuver, and constitute ready-made fortifications. For the insurgent, these advantages can compensate for the superior numbers and technology available to government forces and their international allies. Moreover, the collateral damage attendant to urban assaults can erode the government’s legitimacy and even mobilize further opposition to it.

    The Battle of Sadr City illustrates another way to think about urban combat in the context of irregular warfare. In this battle, U.S. forces did not allow themselves to get tied down in intense...

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