05 August 2008

Crash and Burn for the Mahdi Army

Fading Dreams for the Mahdi Army

After the Iraqi Army's strategic successes against Shi'ite militias in Basra, Amara, and the Sadr City district of Baghdad, it appears the Mahdi Army has lost its allure (which was also noted by Bill Ardolino in the densely-populated, mixed sect Rusafa district in May). The Mahdi Army, the armed wing of the Sadr movement, is tied to the belief that the 12th Imam will come about during the end times and bring about salvation with Jesus. Following the 2004 Shi'ite uprising, that strange religious belief degenerated into a band of misfits conducting racketeering operations, intimidation, and largely being responsible for the ethnic cleansing of Sunnis in Baghdad in late 2006/early 2007. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Sadrists have released guidance calling for complete disarmament of the militia loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr:

A new brochure, obtained by The Wall Street Journal and confirmed by Mr. Sadr's chief spokesman, Sheikh Salah al-Obeidi, states that the Mahdi Army will now be guided by Shiite spirituality instead of anti-American militancy. The group will focus on education, religion and social justice, according to the brochure, which is aimed at Mr. Sadr's followers. The brochure also states that it "is not allowed to use arms at all."

This should be welcomed by anyone who has an interest in a stable Iraq, as General Petraeus noted in the September 2007 testimony: "The fundamental source of the conflict in Iraq is competition among ethnic and sectarian communities for power and resources. This competition will take place, and its resolution is key to producing long-term stability in the new Iraq. The question is whether the competition takes place more — or less — violently." Sadr's followers waffled back and forth the last year saying that there was a ceasefire, but having breakaway "Special Groups" members conducting attacks against Coalition Forces and members of the Iraqi government who "weren't playing ball". Now it appears they have been coerced into disarming their militia due to overwhelming force by the Iraqi government and a desire to save face for the Sadrist name. This would have been unthinkable two years ago.