Sadrists vow to keep the Mahdi Army

The Sadrist movement said it will not disarm and disband the Mahdi Army unless senior Shia clerics order it. The announcement came two weeks after the Iraqi government said political parties with militias could not participate in the upcoming provincial elections.

“The Mahdi army will not allow anyone to disarm it and al Sadr could not disarm the Mahdi Army except if top Shiite clerics gave directives to do that,” Basem al Marwani, a senior leader in the Sadrist movement in Najaf told Al Hayat. Marwani also said the Mahdi Army would “continue its armed resistance against the foreign occupation” despite the cease-fire ordered by Muqtada al Sadr in late February.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the senior most Shia cleric in Iraq, has already said it was Sadr’s responsibility to disband the Mahdi Army, as he was responsible for forming the militia. Sistani said the militia should be disbanded as “the law is the only authority in the country.”

The head of the Badr organization, a rival militia whose forces have largely been incorporated in the security forces, compared the Mahdi Army to al Qaeda and said the Mahdi Army should disband. “No side raised weapons in the face of the state and government, other than the Mahdi Army and al Qaeda,” Hadi al Amiri, who is closely aligned to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a political rival of the Sadrist movement, told Voices of Iraq.

The political pressure comes as Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has pressed the offensive against the Mahdi Army in their strongholds in Baghdad, Basrah, and the South. US and Iraqi troops have advanced through the southern one-third of Sadr City and have begun to distribute humanitarian aid. In Basrah, two of the five Mahdi Army strongholds have been cleared by Iraqi troops and operations are underway to clear three others.

Iraqi and US troops continue to conduct raids on Mahdi Army and Sadrist leaders. On April 16, the Iraqi Army detained the tribes’ official at Sadr’s political office in Basrah. “A number of wanted men, including Muayad al Abdi, tribes official at al Sadr’s office, were arrested after finding 51 bombs at his house,” an unnamed Army commander told Voices of Iraq. Sadr’s office denied Abdi was a member of the Mahdi Army.

Iraqi security forces detained 12 “suspected gunmen” north of Al Kut in Wasit province. In Diwaniyah, Iraqi security forces detained 25 fighters, including policemen, after roadside bomb targeted a US patrol in the city. Iraq’s Department of Border enforcement also seized a large shipment of roadside bombs, landmines, and explosives as it was smuggled from Iran into Iraq’s Diyala province.

The Mahdi Army appears to be striking back by targeting political and religious leaders in the Baghdad South. Over the period of two days, assassination attempts were carried out against the governor of Najaf province and a senior aide to Sistani in Wasit province.

The Mahdi Army has a history of targeting its political enemies. The Mahdi Army was especially active in August 2007 just before the battle against security forces in Najaf that led to Sadr’s unilateral cease-fire. On Aug. 5, 2007, the Mahdi Army attempted to assassinate Brigadier General Falah Hassan Kanbar, a Shiite commander in the Kazimiyah district in Baghdad. Kanbar has been described as “the cleanest guy you can find in Kazimiyah.” On Aug. 11, 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. On Aug. 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.

The recent assassination attempts may be retaliation for the murder of Riyad al Nouri, Sadr’s brother-in-law and a senior aide in Najaf. The Sadrist movement maintained the US killed Nouri, then switched its story and said its political enemies had Nouri murdered. But some Sadrists believe Nouri’s murder “may have been an inside job from within the Sadr ranks.”

A US military officer serving in Iraq who wishes to remain anonymous told The Long War Journal that Nouri may indeed have been killed by rival members of his Sadrist movement. It is rumored Nouri was pushing for the Sadrist movement to disband the Mahdi Army lest the party be shut out from the political process.

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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  • Dan R. says:

    I get the impression these Sadrists are clinging to the hope that if they put up a brave enough front, if they talk tough enough, at the end of the day Maliki and the Iraqi government/army won’t have the stomach for a real knock-down/drag-out fight.
    Maybe it’s just wishful thinking on my part, but I get the impression that the political calculus in Iraq has now changed significantly. The Iraqis believe that they now have the muscle to take on the Mahdi Army, and the political will to neutrailze them also seems to be in place now. A year ago, neither one of these things were true.
    But the Mahdi Army simply has to be disarmed, either voluntarily or by force. There is no other option. Independent militias loyal to non-elected clerics are simply incompatable with a democratic society operating under the rule of law.

  • Marlin says:

    The Mahdi Army tries a new negotiating angle.

    The chief of the Sadrist bloc, or Iraqis loyal to Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, in the Iraqi parliament, said the Mahdi Army militia disbanding might be negotiated if Shiite leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim’s Badr militia was dissolved.
    “We can never disband the Mahdi Army as long as occupation forces are present in Iraq, but if the Badr militia was dissolved, we could sit at one (negotiation) table,” Uqeil Abdul-Hussein told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI) by telephone.

    Aswat al-Iraq: Sadrist MP links militia disbanding to Badr end

  • Marlin says:

    The Coalition Forces, and the Iraqi government, continue to show they are serious about establishing security (independent of the Mahdi Army) in Sadr City.

    Trying to stem the infiltration of militia fighters, American forces have begun to build a massive concrete wall that will partition Sadr City, the densely populated Shiite neighborhood in the Iraqi capital.
    The construction, which began Tuesday night, is intended to turn the southern quarter of Sadr City near the international Green Zone into a protected enclave, secured by Iraqi and American forces, where the Iraqi government can undertake reconstruction efforts.

    New York Times: U.S. Begins Erecting Wall in Sadr City

  • End Game On With Sadr Should Bring Sadr’s End

    I was collecting articles on a post showing the end game coming in Iraq for Sadr and his Mahdi Army but Bill Roggio beat me to the punch today in a much better post than I was going to put together.
    Needless to say Sadr has refused to disarm despite …

  • Marlin says:

    More evidence that the Iraqi Army is stepping up to the challenge.

    Iraqi troops clashed with Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s militia on Friday in what was described as some of the heaviest fighting in Baghdad for weeks.
    Amid blinding dust storms, Sadr’s Mehdi Army fighters attacked Iraqi army positions in east Baghdad’s Sadr City slum, but U.S. forces said Iraqi troops stood their ground.
    “The Iraqi Army still hold their positions in Sadr City,” U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Steven Stover said, quoting a dispatch from U.S. troops at the front. “They are currently under attack … but are organising a counter-attack.”

    Reuters: Iraqi troops face off with Sadr followers

  • Marlin says:

    The Iraqi Army continues to push in Basra with American and British help.

    Artillery fire and bomb blasts shook a militia-held district in the southern city of Basra today as U.S. and British forces backed up Iraqi troops launching a new offensive in the area.
    The fighting was concentrated in Hyaniyah, in western Basra, a stronghold of Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr and his Mahdi Army. Witnesses who spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns said Iraqi forces were trying to wrest control of the area from the Mahdi Army, known by its Arabic acronym JAM.
    “JAM tried to prevent them from entering, but fierce air strikes enabled the Iraqi Army to take over control of the main streets and roads in Hayaniyah,” one witness said.
    Hyaniyah has been surrounded by Iraqi forces for several days, but today’s actions marked the first time they had attempted to take over the neighborhood.
    Los Angeles Times: Iraqi troops launch offensive in Basra

  • Neo says:

    According to this news release the Iraqi Army just took control of Basra’s Hayaniyah District.
    “Major-General Abdul-Karim Khalaf, an interior ministry spokesman, described the operation as a major success.”

  • Hamidreza says:

    Its obvious that Sadr is becoming a spent force and now he is “fighting for a ceasefire”.
    Western journalists still don’t understand the concept of Taqqiyya practiced by Islamists.
    All this bluster and hype about how he will unleash the Mahdi Army was meant strictly for the New York Times and the McClatchy “all the lies fit to print”.
    What is interesting will be the repercussions of this Mahdi failure in Iran. And how the MSM will try to cover it up.


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