Iraq Report: Sadr's denial
Muqtada al Sadr, the leader of the Mahdi Army militia, has been on the defensive over two recent reports in the media. Just one day after Britain's The Independent published excerpts of an interview with Sadr, his Najaf spokesman Sheikh Ahmed al-Shibani claimed the interview with the Independent never happened.
"The interview published by the paper was fabricated and groundless. His Eminence (Sadr) has never granted this paper any interviews," Shibani told Voices of Iraq, an independent news outlet, in a telephone interview. "We will sue any newspaper, TV station or web site that publishes fabricated news about His Eminence Muqtada al-Sadr or his office," Shibani said.
In the interview, Sadr admitted his close ties with Lebanese Hezbollah, to include military training and the sharing of tactics. Several members of the Mahdi Army also admitted to training with Hezbollah in Lebanon.
On the same day, Sadr's aides issued a statement denying the assassination of two southern governors. On August 20, a roadside bomb killed Mohammed Ali al-Hassani, the governor of Muthanna province, along with a bodyguard as they drove to the provincial capital of Samawa. Two other bodyguards were wounded. On August 12, Khalil Jalil Hamza, the governor of Qadisiyah province along with newly appointed provincial police chief Khalid Hassan and three security guards were killed in a bombing as they returned from a funeral in a nearby town. Governor Hamza was a member of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, while Police Chief Hassan "was considered a political independent."
Iraqi police said Sadr's Mahdi Army was behind the murder of the governor of Muthanna province, while suspicion has remained of the Mahdi Army's involvement in the murder of the governor of Qadisiyah province.
Sadr's Mahdi Army has fought pitched battles against Iraqi security forces and Multinational Forces Iraq elements in both provinces. Iraqi and Coalition forces have targeted Mahdi Army cells in Samawa and Diwaniyah, and elsewhere throughout the Shia South.
The murder of the two governors and the clashes between the government and Mahdi Army fighters highlighters the splits within the Shia community, which, like the Sunni community, is often portrayed as a single political entity. While Sadr portrays himself and his movement as nationalists, his involvement with Iran's Qods Force and Hezbollah, and the Mahdi Army attacks on government forces and Iraqi civilians have tarnished this image.
The Mahdi Army has split into factions described as the "noble Mahdi Army," which has cooperated with government and Multinational Forces Iraq security forces, and the "rogue Mahdi Army," which receive their support from Iran.