Muqtada al Sadr.
Muqtada al Sadr has ordered the Sadrist political movement to boycott the upcoming provincial elections. Sadr’s order comes one day after his order to disband the Mahdi Army as a fighting force and the creations of a small, armed wing to attack Coalition forces exclusively.
Sadrist aides claim Sadr rejects the election process and fears being associated with the occupation. “Sayyid Muqtada does not believe in elections or in the coming provincial governments as long as the occupation forces are here,” Salah al Obaidi, a senior aide to Sadr, told The Washington Post.
“We don’t want anybody to blame us or consider us part of this government while it is allowing the country to be under occupation,” Liwa Smeisim, the leader of the Sadr movement’s political committee told The Washington Post.
But the Sadrist movement has embraced the political process in the past and never feared being associated with the “occupation.” The Sadrist movement won an estimated 30 of the 275 seats in Iraq’s parliament. The Sadrists then joined the United Iraqi Alliance, an umbrella Shia political group. The movement was instrumental in Nouri al Maliki’s appointment as Prime Minister.
The Iraqi government had threatened to bar the Sadrist movement from participating in the upcoming provincial election if the Sadrists did not disband the Mahdi Army. The move, which has wide support amongst all of Iraq’s political parties, sparked panic within the Sadrist movement. Sadr had refused to disband the Mahdi Army, claiming Shia clerics supported it. But Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the senior-most Shia cleric in Iraq, said the Iraqi government is the only authority that should enforce the law.
The Iraqi government has achieved its goal of disbanding the Mahdi Army while Sadr’s political rivals in the Shia benefit from the absence of Sadrist opposition at the ballot box. On June 14, Sadr essentially disbanded the Mahdi Army as a fighting force after he called for the creation of small, specialized cells to attack Coalition forces. He ordered the Mahdi Army to put down its weapons and become a social organization.
The Sadrists’ withdrawal from the provincial elections and the demobilization of the Mahdi Army comes as the Iraqi government has pressed a relentless series of offensives against the Mahdi Army in Baghdad, Basrah, and the wider South.
Operation Knights’ Assault was launched against the Mahdi Army in Basrah on March 25. After six days of heavy fighting, the Mahdi Army pushed for a cease-fire. The Iraqi security forces also dealt the Mahdi Army a heavy blow in the southern provinces of Najaf, Karbala, Qassadiyah, Maysan, and Wasit.
The Iraqi security forces and the US military also confronted the Mahdi Army in Sadr City in Baghdad. After six weeks of heavy fighting, the Mahdi Army and the Iraqi government signed a cease-fire that allowed the military to enter Sadr City uncontested.
During the month of May, the Iraqi security forces expanded operations throughout Basrah province in Az Zubayr, Al Qurnah, and Abu Al Khasib along the Iranian border. This week, an operation kicked off in Dhi Qhar province. Just yesterday, the Iraqi military began operations in the Mahdi Army strongholds in Maysan province.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.