Signs in Sadr City
Muqtada calls for residents to oppose the U.S. as the U.S. continues to work on his Mahdi Army
One month after the implementation of the Baghdad Security Plan and Muqtada al Sadr's subsequent retreat to Iran, Sadr has now spoken out against the U.S. and Iraqi government push into the slums of Baghdad's Sadr City. During Friday prayers, one of Sadr's clerics read a statement urging the people of Sadr City to oppose the U.S. presence inside the neighborhood. "I trust that you have taken them as your enemies, for the enemies of God are your enemies, inevitably... unity against your enemy and shout 'No, No, America! No, No Israel!, No, No Satan!'"
After prayers, a large crowd of Sadr's supporters, estimated at "more than a thousand," turned out into the streets, repeating Sadr's mantra of "No, no to America. No, no to Israel. No, no to Satan." Sadr City has an estimated 2,000,000 residents, so the turnout was relatively small.
The tensions in Sadr City come one day after an assassination attempt against Rahim al-Darraji, the mayor of Sadr City. Darraji has welcomed the Americans and supported the establishment of the Joint Security Center, where U.S. and Iraqi troops and police will maintain security and run patrols. The suspicion is "a group of disaffected militiamen who are angry about the deal" between the U.S. and Darraji carried out the attack. Sadr's backers are also believed to be responsible for the assassination attempt against Adel Abdul Mahdi, Iraq's Vice President and a political enemy, while addressing the Ministry of Public Works.
The U.S. has been working on discrediting Sadr and undercutting his power base in the Mahdi Army out from under him for almost a year. The U.S. and Iraqi Security Forces fought pitched battles against Sadr's forces in Amara, Diwaniya and elsewhere in souther Iraq. There have been numerous raids and arrests of Mahdi Army leaders and political lieutenants in Baghdad and throughout the south.
All the while, the U..S has refused to label the Mahdi Army as a whole and enemy organization. Instead, it called the killed and capture Mahdi fighters 'rogue elements,' 'criminals,' 'thugs' and 'gangs.' By taking this tact, the Coalition attacked the worst elements of the Mahdi Army and targeted his key lieutenants, while giving the other members of the group the opportunity to break away from Sadr when the timing was right.
Despite press reports to the contrary, Sadr maintained a tight grip on the command and control of the Mahdi Army, via cash and intimidation. Since his flight to Iran and the withdrawal of senior Sadr lieutenants, including his paymaster, according to Richard Miniter, Sadr's grip on the Mahdi Army has slipped.
The current negotiations are the culmination of the yearlong strategy to dismantle Sadr's militia. Multinational Force Iraq admitted at the end of February that serious negotiations are underway with elements of the Mahdi Army.
With Sadr out of country and unable to exercise command and control over his militia, these negotiations represent a serious threat to his power. Sadr is clearly worried about these negotiations. In his written speech during today's prayers, he stated "The occupiers want to do harm to this beloved (Sadr City) and want to distort its reputation now by spreading false rumors and allegations of negotiations and cooperation between you and them, but I trust that you have taken them as your enemies, for the enemies of God are your enemies, inevitably."
The signs that Sadr's Mahdi Army and Sadr himself conti nue to be targeted. Sadr's network in Basra took another blow. A "leading figure" in Sadr's Mahdi Army (or Jaysh al Mahdi) in Basra was murdered in a drive by shooting, according to Voices of Iraq.
Also, a long buried charge against Sadr has reappeared. The wife of Ayatollah Abdul Majid al-Khoei, the moderate, pro-U.S. Shia cleric who was executed just days after the liberation of Iraq, has openly accused Sadr of murdering her husband. Khoei was knifed to death by a mob on the steps of the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf. Khoei's wife claims Sadr ordered the execution. Sadr was charged with the murder of Khoei by an Iraqi court in 2003, but the government has never executed the arrest warrant.
The U.S. and Iraqi government are maintaining the pressure on the Mahdi Army while attempting to woo elements to cooperate with the security plan. Carrots and sticks. Keeping Sadr out of Iraq will be vital in making this work.