The battle for Saydia: an ongoing case study in militia based insurgency


New Member
Feb 16, 2009
Shi'a militias fought for, and in many cases, won significant territory in Baghdad's southwestern districts of West Rasheed by seizing neighborhoods of mixed sectarian composition, cleansing them of "undesirables," consolidating their gains to fund future expansion, and utilizing explosively formed penetrators (EFP) (1) to target U.S. forces. Being able to effectively identify this type of activity before it has progressed too far is essential. In these contested areas, the primary militia in question is the notorious Jaesh al'Mahdi (JAM), a Shi'a paramilitary organization affiliated with the junior cleric Moqtada al'Sadr. There are, how-ever, several other militias operating in Baghdad; two noteworthy examples are the Shi'a Badr Corps and the Sunni dominated Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Over the course of Iraq's regime change transformation since 2003, Shi'a militias have been continuously working to capture the prize of Iraq: control of Baghdad.

This paper seeks to focus on a handful of West Rasheed's districts creating a microcosm case study that emphasizes how a militia operates in an insurgency. Through the benefit of hindsight, extensive open source reporting and a variety of personal experiences, these militia activities will be highlighted and ex-amined. (2) The resulting militia tactics, techniques, and procedures, (TTPs) once identified and removed from the clutter of a complex insurgent environment, will assist future combat leaders and intelligence of-ficers to better identify and then defeat a militia throughout its development. The case study focuses spe-cifically on Saydia and its neighbors to the north, Jihad, al'Amel and Baya'a. (3)

The TTPs identified indicate the following actions will occur in a rough chronological order. First, militias first undermine basic services, conduct terrorism and utilize extensive inflammatory propaganda to drive away the unwanted demographic. Secondly, the militia will facilitate the repopulation of the contested area with a demographic sympathetic to its goals. This "desired" population will enjoy a restoration of basic ser-vices, for a fee, to finance future operations. Meanwhile, the militia will utilize a deadly weapon system in an attempt to limit U.S. combat power and demonstrate military potency to the local population. Thirdly, the militia will infiltrate any local national security force to facilitate and legitimize their actions. Finally, throughout the duration of these activities the militia will offer or impose its own brand of physical security on its base of support. Additionally, we will see how events far from the battalion's traditional area of interest (AI) affect the fight. As this case study shows, activity occurs in fits and spurts and can easily be lost in the 'noise' of insurgent warfare, especially as the events progress over a long timeline, making their early recognition all the more important. When dealing with these difficult issues, consider General Petraeus' statement to U.S. troops upon assuming command in early 2007: "Hard is not impossible."

When approaching a complex problem so closely related to insurgency, a prudent first approach utilizes the framework provided in the U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Field Manual, where a simple definition is stated: "an insurgency is an organized, protracted politico-military struggle designed to weaken control and legitimacy of an established government, occupying power, or other political authority while increasing insurgent control." (4) Within this broad definition there are five essential approaches that an insurgent group will likely adopt; the Conspiratorial, Military Focused, Urban, Protracted Popular War, and Identity focused.

Throughout the manual, however, little mention is made of militias and their specific modus operandi. The student of insurgency warfare is left to extrapolate from the broader insurgent approaches what evidence can be observed throughout the duration of combat operations. Using this method a clear picture of JAM comes into focus as a composite of the Protracted Popular War, Urban and Identity Focused approaches. Conspiratorial and Military Focused approaches to insurgent warfare do not suit militias. This overlapping of approaches gives JAM a significantly different flavor than AQI's more Conspiratorial and Urban approach, or the other purely Islamist insurgent movements. This distinction is essential to effectively combat and defeat this type of insurgency, leaders and intelligence officers must learn to 'taste' the difference in order to discover which groups are operating within their respective areas of operation. This ability to differentiate various combatant groups is very difficult when confronted with a multitude of insurgent flavors in one area, especially one as complex as the following Baghdad neighborhoods. (5)

Saydiya Neighborhood Demographics

Sandwiched between Baghdad International Airport to the west and the governmental district now known as the Green Zone to the northeast, are the neighborhoods of Jihad, al'Amel, Baya'a, and Saydia. (6) These neighborhoods housed most of Saddam's party functionaries, generals, and other Ba'ath party apparatchiks prior to the 2003 regime change. The population is estimated to be roughly one fifth of Baghdad with around 800,000 inhabitants. These neighborhoods were wealthy, affluent, and predominantly Sunni in sectarian makeup, although Saydia was importantly a mixed neighborhood. (7) In addition to Saddam's most loyal followers, Saydia housed many successful Iraqi entrepreneurs, academics, and military officers during the Ba'ath regimes tenure. Perhaps due to Saddam's secularized tyranny, "demographic distribution [was] more dependent on economic status or profession than on religion and ethnicity. This is particularly true of neighborhoods built after 1958 to house members of specific professions, such as teachers, army officers, and others."


Regular Member
Mar 29, 2011
Here's something worth watching on the subject:

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