Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.
With the Iraqi government applying pressure to the Sadrist movement and Muqtada al Sadr to disband the Mahdi Army, Iraq’s senior Shia cleric has weighed in on the issue. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most revered Shia cleric in Iraq, backed the government’s position that the Mahdi Army should surrender its weapons and said he never consulted with Sadr on disbanding the Mahdi Army. Instead, the decision to disband the Mahdi Army is Sadr’s to make.
Sistani spoke through Jalal el Din al Saghier, a senior leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a rival political party to the Sadrist movement. Saghier was clear that Sistani did not sanction the Mahdi Army and called for it to disarm.
“Sistani has a clear opinion in this regard; the law is the only authority in the country,” Saghier told Voices of Iraq, indicating Sistani supports Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and the government in the effort to sideline the Mahdi Army. “Sistani asked the Mahdi army to give in weapons to the government.”
Sadr did not consult with Sistani on the issue of disbanding the Mahdi Army, disputing a claim from Sadrist spokesmen who intimated Iraqi’s top cleric told Sadr to maintain his militia. “The top Shiite cleric had not been consulted in establishing the Mahdi Army, so [he] could not interfere in dissolving it,” Saghier said. “Whosoever established the al-Mahdi army has to dissolve it; Sayyed Muqtada al-Sadr established this army and it is only him who has to dissolve it.”
Sistani’s statements are the latest in a series of moves to politically isolate the Sadrist movement and delegitimize the Mahdi Army. On March 25, the Iraqi security forces started an operation in Basrah designed to clear the city of the Mahdi Army. After meeting early resistance in Basrah and fighting broke out in Baghdad and the South, the Iraqi military rushed reinforcements to the southern city. Six days after the operation began, Sadr ordered his fighters off the street. The Mahdi Army took significant casualties while the Iraqi Army secured the southern cities of Hillah, Kut, Karbala, Najaf, Diwaniyah, Nasiriyah, and Amarah in days. Clashes are still ongoing in Sadr City.
On April 6, Iraq’s Political Council for National Security moved to bar the Sadrist movement from participating in upcoming provincial elections in October if it did not disband the Mahdi Army. The plan had the full backing of Sunni, Kurdish, and Shia political parties.
The move caused panic inside the Sadrist movement as their political isolation became apparent. “We, the Sadrists, are in a predicament,” Hassan al Rubaie, a Sadrist member of parliament said the day the Political Council for National Security announced the plan. “Our political isolation was very clear and real during the meeting.” he said, referring to the meeting of the Political Council for National Security, where the legislation was announced. “Even the blocs that had in the past supported us are now against us and we cannot stop them from taking action against us in parliament.”