|In 2006 U.S. commander in Iraq Gen. Casey said that most of the violence was due to Shiite militias like the Mahdi Army (ABC News)|
In November, things fell apart politically for Sadr. At the end of the month, Maliki met with President Bush, and Sadr ordered his 30 parliamentarians and five cabinet ministers to withdraw in protest. Sadr was hoping that this move would strengthen his nationalist credentials, but instead it opened up the possibility for Maliki to move away from him.
From late-2006 on, the White House was pressuring Maliki to form a new ruling coalition without Sadr. The Kurds, the Iraqi Accordance Front, and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council were all on board with Washington’s agenda, but Maliki was hesitant. Again, he was afraid that the other parties would replace him, and therefore did not want to give up on his alliance with Sadr. With the Sadrists withdrawal however, the prime minister began to reconsider his position.
In January 2007 the Americans announced the beginning of the Surge, and Maliki ended his protection of the Mahdi Army. Sadr ordered his politicians to return to their positions to fend off the move, but it was too late. Not only did the prime minister let the U.S. target the Sadrists, he allowed the Supreme Council to do so as well, whereas before he tried to mediate between the two rival Shiite parties. The next month Sadr departed for Iran where he would stay for nearly four years.
In around six months Moqtada al-Sadr’s fortunes took a dramatic turn. At the beginning of 2006 Sadr helped put Maliki into office, gained five ministries, while in the streets Shiites were increasingly turning to his militia for protection during the sectarian fighting. Sadr could not manage his success. His militia grew out of control, and splintered more and more. At the same time, as the Mahdi Army went on the offensive the U.S. began singling them out for more and more attention. Maliki was protecting him up to that point, but when Sadr decided to withdraw from the government he undermined everything he had achieved. The premier could no longer fall back on the Sadrists for support, and decided to try his luck with the Americans. That led to Sadr’s departure for Iran where he tried to regroup, reform his image, and gain new status through religious studies. Now he’s back trying to see whether he can do a better job this time around.
Associated Press, “Iraqi leader drops protection of militia,” 1/22/07
- “Shiite militia may be disintegrating,” 3/21/07
Burns, John, “Precarious Cease-Fire in Amara Holds,” New York Times, 10/22/06
Glantz, Aaron, “Iraqi Health Ministry Severs Ties With US Over Raid,” AntiWar.com, 8/15/06
Kazimi, Nibras, “Where Things Stand in Iraq,” Talisman Gate Blog, 10/20/06
Michaels, Jim, “Shiites Redefine Battle in Baghdad,” USA Today, 8/10/06
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Raghavan, Sudarsan, “Sadr Casts a Shadow Over Bush-Maliki Meeting,” Washington Post, 11/30/06
Tavernise, Sabrina, “Influence Rises but Base Frays for Iraqi Cleric,” New York Times, 11/13/06
- “Many Iraqis Look to Gunmen as Protectors,” New York Times, 10/21/06
Wagner, Thomas and Yacoub, Sameer, “Al-Sadr Loyalists Boycott Iraq Government,” Associated Press, 11/29/06
Wong, Edward, “Iraqis Consider Ways to Reduce Power of Cleric,” New York Times, 12/12/06