The Fight for Diwaniyah
Even as U.S. operations to co-opt large elements of the Sunni insurgency and target irreconciliable al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters resulted in lower levels of violence during the summer, U.S. forces have simultaneously pursued rogue elements of Muqtada as-Sadr’s Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM). These operations, often in collaboration with Iraqi Security Forces friendly to Sadr’s main Shi’a rival, the Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq (ISCI), took place within the broader context of a violent struggle between ISCI and the Sadrist Trend for supremacy within the Shi’a community, the lucrative income from control of the Shi’a shrines, and control of southern oil fields. This struggle has increasingly centered on the city of Diwaniyah, located in southern Iraq, approximately halfway between the capital of Baghdad and the southern port city of Basrah.
The city sits along Highway Eight, running from Basrah to Baghdad and Main Supply Route (MSR) Tampa, the chief link between U.S. facilities in Kuwait and U.S. forces deployed in central and northern Iraq. Furthermore, it sits at the road junction linking Highway Eight to the city of Najaf, the home of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the senior Shi’a cleric in Iraq and an ally of ISCI. Since April, it has been the scene of persistent violence between the forces of the Sadrist Trend, Shi’a extremists, and ISCI and its allies in the Iraqi government. This violence recently culminated in the ongoing Operation Lion Pounce, an Iraqi-led effort to clear the city of extremists.