This will be based on the Iraqi Forces Order of Battle as seen at Long War Journal's posting of 25 FEB 2008 by DJ Elliot. He has also posted material at the Wikipedia site, and some of that will come into play, too. As one cannot analyze the situation without the background, I will take a look at the background and offer some free-form, back of the envelope ideas. I am no expert, just an interested individual in affairs military.
Read at your own risk.
I will start with the immediate sector(s) involved and work outwards and upwards.
As Basra is where things are starting off, that is where the analysis starts and here we find the 10th Infantry Division (IA 10ID) and the 14th (Mustafa) Motorized Division (IA 14ID) there. Using the ID moniker for the 14th, even as it is motorized, it does not have the Mech designation for heavier combat transport, thus indicating a highly mobile Infantry Group, but more on the delivery to combat than within combat.
The obvious thing to look at is the actual disposition of the IA 10ID is stretched from the southern neighborhoods of Baghdad (Doura and Bayaa) all the way down to Nasiriyah. A Division is typically made up of smaller functional units broken down first into Brigades (Bde) and then into Battalions (Btn) beneath the Brigade level. Regiments are also included in Divisions as separate operational groups that often act at the Brigade level while being Battalion strength. Typically these are 'special purpose' groups whose tasks are important enough to require the higher level designation for the lower strength level. And yes that is an Army view, not a Marine Corps one. Divisions, then, are in a state of flux due to sizing with variations on types of tasks to perform, logistics groups to support those tasks, and interior unit types and the need for personnel for things like manning vehicles separate from combat.
Historically Divisions represent a total of 10,000 to 20,000 individuals, with a percentage of those being actual direct combatants. Note that in organizations like the US Marine Corps the concept is 'every soldier is a Rifleman' means that there is an expectation that the support duties are secondary to combat, and as the USMC tends to go places where everything is in flux, everyone is expected to fight. Similarly in the modern 'frontless war' the US Army has increased its combat training at all levels. The Iraqi Army must do something similar as there is no 'front' to man and insurgent/terror attacks can happen to anyone at any time.
Thus the IA 10ID has two Special Troops and one Recon Battalion, plus the 3-10 Motorize Bde and two support Regiments at Nasariyah and is the DhiQar Operations Command. This is for airbase defense of the upgraded airbase there (Tallil) and for the construction of the training/base Camp Mittica. As Nasariyah is to be one of the major Iraqi bases and logistics points for their armed forces, getting that put in shape is a major task.
The 10ID 4-10 Motorized Bde has been placed near the Iraq/Iran border area in Al Amarah, not only to keep things quiet there, but to keep an eye on border activity and insurgent supply routes that may be heading through the area.
The 1-10 Motorized Bde has been split up from the southern Baghdad neighborhoods (2-1-10 Btn, 3-1-10 Btn) to Kut (1-1-10 Btn) with the 1-10 Special Troops Btn co-located with the 4-10 Bde at Al Amarah.
Augmenting the 1-10 in Baghdad is the 2-10 Infantry Bde 1-2-10 Btn. The rest of the 2-10 Bde is in between Nasariyah and Baghdad at Samawah as reinforcement for the Provincial government there and to supply COIN capability between Nasariyah and Baghdad.
Missing from IA 10ID are 9 Btns which would represent artillery and Brigade level support units, which puts the entire Division at an 80% strength and requiring aerial support and other logistics support from other forces, presumably US and MNF.
The IA 14ID (Mustafa) is based in the Basrah area and is the Basrah Operations Command. At Basrah, itself, are two Motorized Brigades (1-14, 2-14), one support Regiment, and the Division level command Battalion. One Motorized Brigade (3-14) is cited in transition from Besmaya to Az Zubayr about 15 miles South of Basrah. One Motorized Brigade remains 'unassigned' (4-14) presumably as a reserve or reaction force.
As with the 10ID, the 14ID is at 80% strength for the same reasons: units have not formed up or are in planning stages only.
For the immediate Basrah Sector, then, there are two IA Infantry Divisions that are Motorized, but understrength for logistics and artillery support which is spread across all the Brigades in each Division. These are not, perhaps, optimal conditions to send Divisions into an offensive operation and there can be some questions about the wisdom of doing so. But Basrah is not the entire operation and looking further north may reveal an operational concept to explain why starting off with two understrength Divisions in this way may be of benefit to the Iraqis. Even if one pre-disposes a sectarian reason to go after the militias (which many do) the battle plan has been drafted by the Army which must represent all of Iraq and is an integrated system both ethnically, in sectarian views and culturally.
I will put off looking at the Police units in this force, for a bit, to look at the military capacity in and around Baghdad itself and then see what the more specialized forces for the Police add to the overall plan. I will be leaving out analysis of Mosul and Baqubah as things there, while still 'hot' are in the expected category of COIN against al Qaeda groups. Short of al Qaeda showing up with WMDs, there is not much strategic effectiveness left to it and even its tactical capabilities have been drained as witness al Qaeda leadership leaving Iraq.
Baghdad has three Division level elements present: IA 6ID, 11ID and 9th Armored Division (AD). Looking at the Divisions, as a whole, they are understrength, but much heavier units, particularly 9AD. Thus while these units may have the same set of lacks in artillery and support Battalions, they do not suffer from lack of mobility nor firepower.
IA 6ID looks to be holding the western to southern portion of Baghdad, overlapping in Arab Jabour with the 10ID elements. Similarly the 11ID holding the eastern to southern portion of Baghdad supports the 6ID in Bayaa and then has significant deployment in and around Sadr City. The 9AD has been split up with 2-9 Armored Brigade and 4-9 Cavalry Brigade headed northwards to Mosul. Out of the 9AD four Battalions from the 3-9Bde are in Basrah (3-9, 1-3-9, 3-3-9 and 4-3-9). Additionally, outside of defense of Taji airbase, the 9AD has shifted the 1-9 Mech Bde around Baghdad, most likely as fire support for infantry groups.
At Division level there are mixed IA/NP/IP units integrated for COIN work. Thus the better part of two Infantry Divisions with significant fire-support from the 1-9 Mech Bde are the regular IA support of this operation, with overlaps between other commands to allow for better comms and responses across commands. The Mid-Euphrates 8ID operating out of Karbala ranges to the west of Baghdad and out as far as Kut to the east and Diwaniyah to the south, overlapping the Baghdad and Dhi Qar Commands. This is relatively understrength as the 15ID is only in basic planning and implementation, which explains why the other Commands have lent units to overlap it.
That leaves the Iraqi National Command. While its Counter-Terrorism Bureau (CTB) and Iraqi Special Operations Force (ISOF) are mainly in and around Baghdad, with the 2nd ISOF Brigade planned for a dispersal north to south from Mosul to Basrah, with the 1ISOF in Baghdad. The ISOF are the equivalent of US Special Forces and have been working with them and other Special Ops groups for a couple of years and have gained great respect for their capability. Their presence in Baghdad along with the Baghdad Command units seem to be a good initial set-up for a spectrum force to clear out Sadr City.
The Iraqi Air Force (IZAF) is still standing up, but its initial Recon Wings are properly situated in Kirkuk and Basrah with its Helicopter wing in Taji situated between Baghdad, Baqubah and Balad (about 30 miles equidistant).
The Iraqi Navy (IZN) is stationed at Umm Qasr and has a Tactical Operation Center on an oil platform. The two squadrons assigned to them (1st Patrol Boat and 2nd Assault Boat) plus the Marine Commando Battalion are tied up in mostly local duties, although the possibility of a small riverine raid or interdiction is not beyond the realm of the possible.
The Iraqi National Police can be considered to be more SWAT style units than FBI sorts of units. Running down the listing, the 1 INP Mech Brigade is stationed to the south west of Baghdad in Karbala, Al-Askarian INP Motorized Bde is in Samarra north of Baghdad and a bit far for immediate support and looking more to support COIN ops in north-central Iraq. The 1st INP Division (Motorized) is situated in and around Iraq with its four full strength Brigades. The 2INP Division (Motorized) generally covers the south of Baghdad and all the way up to Sadr City.
Then there is the Iraqi Border Police which one wouldn't expect to have a large role to play in direct combat, but more on surveillance and interdiction. Trimming down the list those of interest are 2/III Wasit Bde and the 3/III Brigade out of Kut, and the IV Border Police region's 1/IV Maysan Bde and 2/IV Basrah Bde covering the tri-border area. The V Border Police Region to the west and north operate from Samawah and Najaf, with a Brigade each.
And as DJ Elliot was so good as to map it all out, you can get to see how this looks when someone who knows what they are doing gets at this sort of info:
So time for the analysis, some of which I went through as I went along.
Staging into Basra is a difficult affair with only a single understrength but highly mobile infantry division to do the work along with an armored battalion. As this was a pre-planned attack, it is unlikely that the planners would do this without very good rationale behind it. As a battle plan, then, what are the comparative strengths of this arrangement and their weaknesses?
The major combat and COIN strength is in Baghdad, not only as a result of the forces needed there in late 2007 to start putting the insurgency to rest, but also to do sustainment operations. From the Iraqi point of view, any expected move by militias and insurgents would be directed first at the point of assault and, second, at the government itself. This has to be a major worry given how the forces are deployed, and the security of Baghdad is strongly reinforced. For a relatively young force (by and large excluding the long serving divisions further north) this is a paramount need, especially after the hard won gains there.
Attacking first in Basra may seem foolhardy with understrength forces, but there is a UK Mechanized Brigade there and the more static IZN and Border Patrol units to the south. If one considers that south to be secured (and not knowing the disposition of MNF forces in Kuwait), then attacking in Basra with the British unit there comes a bit clearer. Although there is a relatively heavy motorized 14ID there and *if* it can get logistical support either via port or through secured transport, then the question must be asked: what is the size of the militias (total or in-detail) that they are facing?
That comes as the main question then, with an assortment of Sadrist JaM (both those he can control and those he can't) and what Iranian/Hezbollah Qods/IRGC forces have been infiltrated in. Even more pertinent is the question of what will happen with the bridges and transport across the Shatt Al Arab waterway? If it can be reliably sealed on either side, then the ability of insurgents to get resupply must come from the south and via the waterway (either in crossing to those in support of the insurgents or some direct crossing going upstream to Basra). The IZN and IBP both play a role there if the Iraqi government is serious about cutting off the insurgency as only Iran has anything equivalent to counter such forces.
Most popular estimates of the Sadr Militia range as high as 60,000, but his support is not what it was in 2003-04 and has declined markedly since the poor turnout for a speech given in 2007. His estimate for that rally was to be 300,000 and only about 100,000 showed up, showing that his high water mark in support had not only been reached but was now quite distant. If that 60,000 represents a 1 out of 5 ratio for his support base, the expected remainder of JaM can be expected to be 20,000. The others have either splintered off, quit the militia game or shifted to a new allegiance (most likely directly with Iran and the Qods forces). Further, that support is divided between Sadr City and Basra, although not evenly but with a preponderance in Sadr City. He has had time to move forces south over the last year or so, to stage an undermining of Basra and get his own militias put into power there. So a rough estimate may be as low as 8,000 and as high as 15,000, if he has almost completely stripped out Sadr City of everything except thuggish enforcer types.
Those are not his only worries, however, as the dwindling in support also puts his ability to supply those insurgents into question. The preliminary, pre-'surge' work to take out the criminal Kazali network and other related organized crime networks has put a serious crimp in the JaM resupply capability. By being unable to protect the Kazali brothers and their followers, he has lost 'cred' in that community and may no longer have a ready supply system and depends on secondary sources for such things. As Sadr has not operated JaM as a typical terrorist organization of the 'predator taking anything to kill' but more along the Hezbollah lines of 'prepare before you attack' he must then devote some portion of his armed followers to protecting supply lines. Perhaps as high as 10%, which further erodes his easily available end-strength from 20,000 to 18,000, and the possible shifting from Sadr City to Basra in proportion (6,400 to 12,000).
So, counting the the IA 14ID and the full strength UK Bde one starts to see an equivalence in force sizes.
Insurgents always have the benefit of being on the defensive when attacked on their own territory. The vicious mining of roads and complete houses by al Qaeda elsewhere has shown just how effective and difficult it can be to go after an entrenched enemy. What the attackers have on their side, however, is speed and direct firepower, which had proven a trump card in Baqubah catching AQI that had thought they could escape as Baqubah fell. Also there is air power in the form of the MNF and anything that happens to be off-shore or pre-positioned elsewhere. This leads to the description of what is going on: house to house combat.
In history there has been no nastier type of combat, save for the sniper zones of Stalingrad, and fighting this way usually takes a high toll on the attacker. The UK Bde should acquit itself well when it is needed for that, but the question is on the experience of the 14ID which is a huge unknown. That being said, any organized combat training usually trumps *none* and those defending in house to house work have to have a good network of pre-dug tunnels, weapons and ammo caches, and sufficient booby-traps to stop up an enemy. AQI did this very well, and still lost time and again to extremely experienced US and MNF troops, along with the IA units they were associated with. It is possible that Basra has been made into something like Baqubah, but unlikely due to the working nature of the city and its necessary imperative on trade and transport. Baqubah had been, basically, shut down with its flour mills and people tended not to hang around too long as things went downhill. So a systemic mining of the city is extremely unlikely because folks normally don't like to live with pre-rigged high explosives in their homes.
To date this has been a 'feeling out' exercise to determine type, quantity and skill level of the insurgents.
That *is* the point of Basra: to get a final first-hand knowledge of the disposition of JaM and other Shia militias and Iranian Qods 'secret cells'.
After Baghdad comes Nasiriyah in force size, and while it is mostly base support and building units, there are a number of combat elements available there. They are too far from Basra to offer readily available support, but a few hours would get them there. Of course that same travel time gets them to the Iranian border throughout Maysan to the north and even up to Kut. So while they are not primarily aimed at combat, the 10ID elements there are a form of 'ready reserve', although a slim one. The forces at Samawah are likewise positioned for that and the entirety of 10ID is well positioned for any interdiction of supplies or fighters that appear in their area. If things went horribly wrong in Basra, there would be support there and the Polish motorized infantry would then be suited to move into base protection/support.
Moving up we are back to the question of the preponderance of forces in Baghdad and what will happen to Sadr City? JaM has slowly seen neighborhood after neighborhood around it shift from insurgency to government control, and with that goes easy resupply and followers. If Sadr has left a thin force of JaM to screen Sadr City so he can try and keep Basra, then the fighting in Basra will show that with limited militia size. If he has left a thin force in Basra, then the rest of it must be elsewhere and without an indication of even slow movement of JaM forces to Iran that places them as most likely in Sadr City. There are lots of 'ifs' in the analysis, but this puts the equivalent force size as roughly the inverse of the overall remainder from Basra: 8,000 to 11,600. Even taking out half the available Iraqi forces to hold the gains in Baghdad, that leaves those JaM forces outnumbered by 2:1 at best and almost 5:1 at worse. As no visible mountains are seen in Sadr City and it is not a rubble pile like Stalingrad, this puts Sadr's JaM in a very poor place to stage any kind of fight.
Politically there is not much that Sadr can do- if he fights in Basra and even succeeds to a limited extent, then Sadr City may well disappear from his support column in short order.
If he concentrated his most skilled forces in Basra and joined them with the Qods/Hezbollah organized forces, then that will show him in league with Iran directly and willing to give control over Iraqi territory to Iranians, which will make him very unpopular across Iraq, which will encourage the government to take out Sadr City.
If it is light forces (but highly skilled) in Basra, the bulk of his forces are in Sadr City and on the wrong side of a 2:1 ratio, not counting MNF forces.
Shifting to the political sphere, Sadr's leaving Parliament and going to Iran has not helped his overall stature. Even going on the 'fast track' to 'elder cleric' by taking the 'two year track' instead of the ten or so years usually necessary to get such status, puts the place he is getting it from into light: Iran. For a 'nationalist' who has always portrayed himself as such, doing that is not only a snub at one's own country but to the native traditions in Iraq. He went that route in a grab for legitimacy, but his absence with those who had supported him made his cause erode into disarray. Having Qods/Hezbollah groups going after various parts of JaM didn't help things much, either, but that was probably out of his control... which wouldn't have been the case if he stayed in Iraq.
For those pointing to Maliki as seeking political gain: what of it? If you see him as a 'puppet of Iran' then you also have to see the IA taking down large Iranian backed Qods 'secret cells' as not endearing him to his supposed paymasters.
If you see him aligned with the Badr Brigades, do realize that they were getting weeded out of the IA in 2005-06 by US COINTEL. Their haven has been the INP and IP, but even there they have been facing problems continuing support and still getting their jobs done... and if they don't get their jobs done and actually cause problems they face the IA. The Badrists may have danced with glee over the taking down of AQI, but the removal of the Qods 'secret cells', the criminal networks beyond the Kazali and the erosion of JaM is sobering as these are both Shia organizations. And if you turn on the IA in combat you get known as a 'traitor' and can be taken down very quickly to anyone who wants to do so, such has been the problems of turncoats throughout history. Plus one of their 'own' is directing that, if you believe in this line of thought. And most folks forget that the Badr Brigades were fully funded by Iran for years and all the way up to the invasion and for a bit afterwards, too.
Of course Maliki could just be doing the obvious: ridding his country of killers and getting the place stable. I know, a dangerous thought that someone might actually do something for stated reasons. I tend to shy away from conspiracies as they tend to be: too complex, too untrustworth, too leaky past two people, and liable have falling outs way before they achieve much of anything. Consortiums and oligarchies are one thing, conspiracies quite another: if OPEC is a conspiracy it is poorly hidden, and the Red Mafia oligarchies were only able to survive by making their trails so complex that no one could piece them all together. The former never tried to be a secret and the second one operated as a trust network that would fall apart gracefully, to allow sections of it to remain intact while the rest fell. So for demonstrable proof of a conspiracy, one needs to demonstrate that the activities are going far and away beyond stated goals... which I haven't heard from anyone to-date.
Thus preferring simple complexity to complex simplicity, looking at the actions arrives one at a multi-week to 3-4 month operation to feel-out the militias, probe for responses, and then once those are seen and traced, to start pulling them out. Sort of like the pre-prep to Baqubah, but done on a larger scale. That would wind things up by mid-JUL 2008 at worse and by early MAY 2008 if everything goes as planned. Wildcards remain Iranian responses, quality of personnel and logistics, not necessarily in that order.
Basra is the end of the beginning and not a deal-breaker for Maliki by any stretch of the imagination.