Sadr confirms extension of Mahdi Army cease-fire

Muqtada al Sadr. Click to view.

Muqtada al Sadr, the leader of the radical Mahdi Army and the Sadrist movement, has officially extended the self-imposed unilateral cease-fire. Sadr has “decided to renew the freeze on activities of the Mahdi Army for another period” of six months, spokesman Hazim al Aaraji told AFP. “The decision was disseminated yesterday in letters that were distributed to all of Sadr’s offices in Iraq.” Sadr’s official statement confirms yesterday’s reports by senior Sadrist leaders who stated off the record the cease-fire would be extended.

The US military confirmed Sadr’s extension of the truce and has welcomed Sadr’s extension of the cease-fire in press release issued today. Multinational Forces Iraq said the extension will allow Coalition and Iraqi forces to focus in on al Qaeda, but also warned the rogue elements of the Mahdi Army – the Iranian-backed Special Groups – will continue to be targeted.

The Multinational Force has received initial reporting that al-Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr’s has pledged to extend the cease fire. This extension of his August 2007 pledge of honor to halt attacks is an important commitment that can broadly contribute to further improvements in security for all Iraqi citizens. It will also foster a better opportunity for national reconciliation and allow the coalition and Iraqi Security Forces to focus more intensively on Al-Qaeda terrorists.

Those who continue to honor al-Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr’s pledge will be treated with respect and restraint. Those who dishonor the Sadr pledge are regrettably tarnishing both the name and the honor of the movement. Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces will continue to work closely with the Iraqi people to protect them from these criminals who violate the law and dishonor the commitment made by al-Sayyid Muqtada. We also welcome an opportunity to participate in dialogue with the Sadr Trend and all groups who seek to bring about reconciliation in building the new Iraq.

Sadr’s decision was strongly influenced by US and Iraqi pressure from both the military and political spheres. The US military has worked to divide the Mahdi Army since early 2007 and began to see results by the late summer of that year. As noted at the beginning of February, US forces began to step up operations against the Sadr-linked and Iranian-backed Mahdi Army to pressure Sadr to extend the cease-fire. US forces raided Sadr City several days later, and then proceeded, along with Iraqi troops, to relentlessly target Special Groups cells in central and southern Iraq. Multinational Forces Iraq even blamed the Special Groups for a blast in Sadr City and rocket attacks throughout Baghdad.

Sadr’s original cease-fire order, which was issued after clashes between the Mahdi Army and the Iraqi security forces during a religious festival in Najaf in August 2007, is widely credited with contributing to the dramatic reduction in violence since September 2007. The US and Iraqi surge in forces, the spread of the Sunni Awakening movement, the rapid growth of the Sunni and Shia “Sons of Iraq” local security forces, the change in counterinsurgency plan, and the appointment of General David Petraeus as commander of Multinational Forces Iraq have had a major impact on the reduction in sectarian and insurgency-related violence.

For more information on the background of Sadr’s decision to extend the ceasefire, see Report: Sadr to extend cease-fire.

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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  • Alex says:

    I’m worried that, while his militia is slowly getting dismantled, that he’ll try to portray himself as some kind of misunderstood overall good guy.
    Even if they get him on tax evasion or something, he’s got to go.

  • MattR says:

    Sadr seems to be rather transparent. He wants power, plain and simple, and he’s going to play by whatever the rules are. Before, the rules came from the end of a gun (or the Iranians), and now MFI has set the rules. Yes, he’s a dirt bag, but he sees the writing on the wall. Way to go Petreaus. Sadr is one more reason not to leave before the Iraqis are ready. Anyway, removing him might bring someone worse to take his place.

  • Dan R. says:

    I see this as a very positive development. As much of an ego-maniac as this idiot is, the only reasons I can think of why he would agree to extend his “cease fire” are:
    a) He knows that he would not have the support of most of Iraq’s shiites were his thugs to start shooting up the streets again, and
    b) He knows full well that the Iraqi Army is now capable of kicking his ass pretty much by itself, meaning that he wouldn’t be able to paint any violence as a confrontation between “the true believers” and “the infidel occupiers”.
    His people have already withdrawn from the current Iraqi government, haven’t they? So what other card does he have left to play other than telling his people to get out into the street and start shooting again? So, that fact that he won’t play that card tells me that his position is weak indeed.
    Eventually, his militia, as well as the Badr Brigades, is going to have to be disbanded. Having private armies running around who aren’t answerable to the elected government is fundamentally incompatable with a democratic political system. But for the time being, Sadr has been effectively marginalized. As much as I’m like to see him laid out on a slabe with a bullet in his skull, it’s probably best to allow him to continue to live and just wither away than to risk making a martyr out of him.

  • Martino says:

    What Dan said. He and his people know the MFI can take him out at any time. If we do the “I won’t shoot if you don’t” gig, we can bide time and maybe even win over those on the fence in showing restraint. But of course, the second he shoots, he dies. He wants to live and have a slice of power.

  • Neo says:

    At this point there is significant progress in getting government security. Basic government services need to follow. That’s how you attract rank and file followers away from the extremists, bread and butter issues. Ultimately, people want to get back to their families and lives.

  • Neo says:

    By the way everyone, we are approaching the six month mark on improved security. I realize that the military is being cautious in it’s characterization, but that is a pretty solid stretch of improvement. Maybe Al Qaeda can produce increases in the death toll from time to time but all indicators are that improvements will continue.
    When do we dare say this is not a transient improvement but acknowledge that this has been a dramatic and thorough change in the security situation. Casualties may go up slightly during the spring fighting season, but I see no reason to keep expecting a dramatic reversal in the situation. I believe this winters casualty numbers are more or less the new baseline, there will be bad days of course but the security improvements are here to stay.

  • ds says:

    Could it be that many Iraqi insurgents (both Shiite and Sunni) realize that their future battles will be political, not military? If so, we should continue to see reduced levels of violence combined with continued political discord and disagreement.
    To me, it seems that we’ve passed a point of no return for men like Al-Sadr and other militia leaders. It may be too late for them to use violence to effectively advance their causes because the Iraqi people are weary and will no longer support the radicals in large numbers.

  • crosspatch says:

    I am going to be most interested now in any statements made by coalition forces concerning continued drawing down of forces. Leading up to the expiration of the ceasefire the military was being cautious and saying they were going to slow or stop the draw down. That would be expected. I am interested to see if that changes now.

  • Hamidreza says:

    Sadr is a typical fundie snake and can never be trusted or reformed. He will try to rig the elections in 12/2009 like he did in 12/2005 by controlling the polling stations in places that his gunmen dominated. That way, he got hold of about 15% of the parliament.
    He will try that again, now that outright gun/RPG runnery has not paid off. He will get huge amounts of money from the Iranians to spend to buy votes, ballot stuff, and falsify polling results.
    He will never agree to a democratic precept, because he considers that fundametally evil and the work of the devil meant to deprive him and his people from a theocratic VF dictatorship, which they consider their entitlement, and that is meant to serve god.
    Velayat-e Faqih is pure Islamofascism – where the nation is called a bunch of “invalids” needing guidance from the jurisprudent that is in touch with divine authorities. There is a supernatural component to VF – which is the state system in Iran.
    The best way to get rid of Sadr is to discredit him through the press. This should be done now before the press is shut down as the US draws down. There is so much horror associated with Sadr that his dirty laundry should be exposed and made an example to the other would-be-fundies.

  • Don Vandervelde says:

    The Sadr “army” is history. Armies cannot be turned off and on like a water tap. They must coalesce and have victories, or they deteriorate and exist only as paper, non-fighting, forces, if that. Let’s hope Sadr will be soon in court, defending himself for his many crimes. Then, civil order will truly have arrived.


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