In the spring of 2008, American and Iraqi troops fought one of the largest, bloodiest and most influential battles of the Iraq war. The setting for this fight was right in the heart of Baghdad’s most feared district: the sprawling urban slum of Sadr City.
After five long years of violence, a ruthless crime syndicate known as the Ja’Ish Al-Mahdi had risen to power throughout the country. They were backed by a steady stream of supplies from the Iranian government, and led by the militant sermons of an extremist anti-American cleric named Muktada Al-Sadr. That far into the war, militia troops in Sadr City alone out-numbered the Coalition garrison in Baghdad by more than 13-to-1, in a city with roughly half the footprint and more than three times the population density of Manhattan.
For more than a year these two forces battled for control over the fate of Eastern Baghdad. It was only due to the effects of the iconic troop surge of 2007 that the American military could finally push across the Tigris in-force, and fight the Ja’Ish Al-Mahdi on their own terrain. By the spring of 2008 that struggle had come to a head and pushed the front line of the conflict up to the very border of Sadr City.
On the 23rd of March, the Ja’Ish Al-Mahdi began a relentless barrage of high-explosive, long-range rocket attacks on the allied “Green Zone” in Baghdad. In tandem with those attacks, tens of thousands of armed insurgents took to the streets to overthrow the Coalition occupation of the country. Their objective was to topple the newly formed government of Iraq with a single flood of violence, and in the first day of fighting alone, they had successfully over-run all but two of the outposts along the border of Sadr City.
By the 28th of March, American troops on the front-line of the conflict had been fighting non-stop for five whole days against incredible odds. Faced with the dire truth of the situation, a daring assault was put together. That morning, more than a thousand American soldiers moved in to re-establish the front-line of the conflict, just a few hundred meters into the border of Sadr City.
By sundown, they were in full-retreat.
A week into the battle it had finally become clear: a Coalition victory at the Siege of Sadr City was anything but assured.
Due to the relentless and ongoing indirect fire missions raining down hell on American and Iraqi troops along the border of Sadr City, it was virtually impossible for an allied advance to hold their ground without sustaining heavy casualties along the way. In addition to those attacks, however, every route into the city had been wired to the hilt with hundreds of roadside bombs. The Ja’Ish Al-Mahdi had spent nearly half a decade preparing for this attack, and they had long since proven to be a well-trained militia with superior numbers and a modern arsenal of weapons on every block in the city.
If an American advance was going to hold any weight, somebody would have go into the hornet’s nest ahead of the main force and put a stop to the endless rain of mortars, rockets, and improvised explosives on friendly positions throughout the town. To that end, the men of “Bull” Company were the clear choice. In the months leading up to the battle, they served as the only conventional task force running kill-or-capture missions into the heart of Sadr City, with an obective to hunt down the leaders of the Ja’Ish Al-Mahdi on their own terrain. As such, they were the only unit on the ground who knew what it takes to fight the militia in a head-to-head fight, beyond the limits of the Coalition advance.
Their orders were simple: venture forward behind enemy lines to assault and capture an enemy stronghold known as “Objective #608″ – a walled in compound overlooking the primary staging ground for the Ja’Ish Al-Mahdi’s rocket and ground attacks in the area – and hold that ground “for as long as it takes.”
Little did they know that would turn into a fight for their very lives.
On the morning of the 29th of March, the men of Bull Company loaded up into a convoy of twenty-five light-armored Strykers and ventured forward into oblivion. After a twelve-hour firefight, they had finally captured the objective, and settled in for the night to await the enemy counter-attack that was sure to come. Just a few hours into the following morning, they were fully engaged on all fronts – alone, outnumbered, and surrounded – caught in a precarious fight for their very lives.
This is the story of the Mahdi Army Uprising of 2008: a three month struggle that would leave thousands dead, a whole city in ruin, and pave the way for the end of the Iraq war.
…a story our media neglected to tell.