Sadr returns from Iran

Sadr returns to Iraq, delivers sermon in Kufa. [AP Photo] Click to view.

Muqtada al Sadr surfaces in Kufa after a four month stay in Iran; Mahdi Army commander in Basra killed

Muqtada al Sadr, the leader of the Sadrist movement and commander of the Mahdi Army, has reappeared in Kufa, the twin city of Najaf, and delivered a sermon after a four month self imposed exile in Iran. Sadr is believed to have slipped back into Iraq one week ago. While Sadr’s spokesmen have long claimed Sadr never left Iraq, the pretense has now been dropped.

Sadr spoke to over 6,000 followers at a in mosque Kufa, and he railed against the U.S. presence in Iraq. “No, no for Satan. No, no for America. No, no for the occupation. No, no for Israel,” Sadr chanted at the opening of his sermon. “We demand the withdrawal of the occupation forces, or the creation of a timetable for such a withdrawal… I call upon the Iraqi government not to extend the occupation even for a single day.”

Sadr fled Iraq on January 14, after General Petraeus assumed command of Multinational Forces Iraq and announced the Baghdad Security Plan would be taking effect. Sadr immediately left Iraq and sheltered in Iran, and was guarded by Iran’s Qods Force, according to reports.

Questions remain on what the impact Sadr’s return will have on the ongoing Baghdad Security Plan, the status of the Mahdi Army and efforts to quell the sectarian violence.

It is unclear who returned with Sadr. A large convoy of up to 60 vehicles accompanied him into Iraq. The Mahdi Army fragmented upon Sadr’s departure, as senior commanders and paymasters abandoned the rank and file. Abu Deraa, the “Shia Zarqawi” was aid to have fled to Iran in January. Sadr may seek to reestablish command and control over the Mahdi Army, but it remains to be seen if this will be possible. This process will certainly take time.

As the Mahdi Army fragmented last winter, a force of about 3,000 Mahdi fighters were said to have sided with Iran (Sadr has long been considered an Iranian vassal) and are training in Iranian camps. The U.S. and Iraq government courted the more moderate elements of the Mahdi Army in an effort to break the organization apart. The American military was able to enter Sadr city and establish a Joint Security Station with the support of the district’s mayor.

Sadr may also be attempting to exploit the current political situation in Iraq. Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the powerful Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), is under observation overseas for cancerous tumors in his lungs. The SIIC recently changed its name from Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) – dropping the “revolution” from the name in a clear rejection of Iran – and turned away from following Iran’s Supreme Leader for religious guidance. With the loss of SIIC/SCIRI, Sadr is now the de facto Iranian proxy in Iraq. The Sadrist political bloc, with its 30 seats in Iraq’s parliament, withdrew from the existing government, and lost six ministerial positions.

Coalition forces responded to Sadr’s return by killing a senior leader of the Mahdi Army in the southern city of Basra. “Wissam al-Waili, 23, also known as Abu Qader, was shot and killed along with his brother and two aides during the battle Friday afternoon,” the Associated Press reported.British troops killed Qader after he resisted arrest. “He was suspected of involvement in planting roadside bombs, weapons trafficking, assassinations and planning and participating in attacks against British troops,” Reuters noted. Basra has seen an increase in violence since the British announced they would be drawing down forces in the region.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Dave says:

    Ok, so what is the strategic reason for not killing Sadr? What are they afraid of?

  • Tony says:

    Dave, on what basis have you concluded they have not tried?

  • Terry Gain says:

    I’ve read that Sistani forbade it.

  • Steve-o says:

    I have long suspected that Sistani made some deal for Sadr’s life. Perhaps the thinking is that killing a leader with 30 seats in Parliement would be seen as too heavyhanded, and might cause more violence.
    If memory serves, there was an arrest warrant issued for Sadr at one point (for murder) which was later withdrawen.

  • Tony says:

    Was the arrest warrant withdrawn or was it never fully enforced. I was unaware it was withdrawn.

  • Tr3Man says:

    The retaliation would destabilize too much. Better to just let him be a mouth piece and have others realize that he is Iran’s pawn, rather then looking out for Iraqis. Some have already said there is an Occupier and its Iran. Point is there is just too much going on already to start more violence.
    No need to take him out if there is the possibility if a Rival group ends up getting him down the road!
    Here is a good article about why Mookie is back and what’s next.
    I think from recent moves like forging ties with the Anbar Salvation Council, it seems He’ll help get rid of Al Queda, or atleast be seen as part of it. He’s set to meet with the head of the ASC to unite with Sunnis however, I think he’s only doing this as the ASC gets stronger, so as to forge ties with them, try to be seen as a uniter, when he is actually just ride the coat tails of the Anbar Salvation Council who has started the fight against AQ. That’s why he’s putting down his own militia for fighting with the US…saying be peaceful. The ASC was smart and will become a strong political force because they helped from the beginning and work with the US, and Mookie sees this, so he knows he has to at least shed his image of a killer and a trouble maker, and become a voice of peace. At the same time keeping his following by ranting against the occupation.
    He’s a little “bugger” no doubt, but the fighting within will take him out in the end.

  • Anti-Herman says:

    Bill/ DJ
    Why do you think Mookie is back?
    I am not sure what “gains” he is back to consolidate.

  • D. Ensley says:

    Are there any good reasons not to arrest (or kill) al-Sadr as soon as possible? I would think that Maliki would strenghten himself considerably by removing Sadr quickly.

  • ECH says:

    There are a thousand reasons why killing Sadr might cause X or cause X or cause X.
    The Pentagon has for several years in Iraq been so afraid of making mistakes that they haven’t been willing to take real risks. You have to be willing to take risks in war. And, no one wants to take this particular risk.

  • anand says:

    Sadr is one of the four post popular political Shia leaders in Iraq (along with Maliki, Hakim and Jaffari). Often the same Iraqis back Maliki, Hakim, Jaffari and Sadr. Muktada also has 32 members in Iraq’s parliament. That he might be slightly less popular than Maliki doesn’t change this point.
    He “CAN’T” be sacked militarily unless he messes up and provokes it to openly., which he is too smart to do. The other major Iraqi political parties and we have to deal with his political block . . . whether we like it or not . . . and since the Jan 05 elections all of us have been.
    If his reaching out to the ASC results in him taking aggressive action against Shia extremists targeting Sunni arabs, and genuinely seek reconciliation with Iraq’s sunni arabs . . . that would be good for Iraq, Sadr and us. Let’s hope the ASC and other Sunni Arab political parties in Iraq can persuade him to do so, and that Sadr makes a major effort to stick to his side of the bargain. Part of the “bargain”

  • Dan says:

    I agree. Killing Sadr right now would probably only serve to make him a martyr and would inflame passions throughout the Shiite south. Better to keep up the pressure on his militia, take out his senior command structure, and continue to isolate him politically. The movement last week of the SCIRI away from Iran and towards Ayatollah Al-Sistani and the central government in Baghdad is significant. The extremists on both sides are being increasingly isolated as more and more Iraqis move towards a political consensus in the middle. This is how an insurgency is ultimately defeated.
    But while I wouldn’t advocate killing Sadr (as satisfying as it might be to do so), I would definitely arrest him for his part in the murder of Imam Al-Khoei back in 2003, provided that the warrant is still outstanding, which it may not be. If he should happen to resist arrest …..


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