Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Return of Sadr’s Militia?

In May 2010, there were several reports in the Western press about the return of Moqtada al-Sadr’s militia to Iraq’s streets. On May 12 for example, the Christian Science Monitor talked to the U.S. general in charge of southern Iraq who said that the Sadrists had been emboldened by their strong showing in the March 2010 election, and were intimidating people, extorting money, and using violence. Sadrists were also seen on Friday prayers. On May 5 The National reported that former Mahdi Army members were seen in Wasit. They were not armed however. One member told the paper that this was part of a new effort to organize small units to protect mosques. The Associated Press also had a story on May 4 of militiamen deployed around mosques and parading in Sadr City and southern provinces. Sadrists were also accused of carrying out a series of attacks in Basra on liquor stores and members of the security forces. The month before, after a bombing in a Shiite area of Baghdad killed 72 people, Moqtada al-Sadr offered to use his militia to protect mosques in conjunction with the Iraqi security forces.

In mid-2008 Sadr disbanded the Mahdi Army. This came after a series of offensives launched by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki earlier in the year that killed, detained, or scattered most of the militia. Even before that, the Sadrists had broken up into several factions, and had lost much of their standing by exploiting their fellow Shiites.

The Mahdi Army was replaced a few months later with a new organization called the Promised Day Brigade. Its stated goal was to drive the United States out of Iraq. The American military has claimed that the Brigade has carried out low level attacks upon their forces. For example, in September 2009 they were blamed for killing a U.S. soldier and wounding four others in a roadside bombing in Baghdad, and also firing rockets at a U.S. base in November. As a result, Iraqi and U.S. forces continue to target them for arrest. At the end of 2009 for instance, Iraqi police and troops detained 18 Promised Day Brigade members that included its leader in the city of Amarah in Maysan province, a senior commander in Baghdad, and a cell leader in Baghdad.

Since late-2008 Moqtada al-Sadr has been trying to refashion his movement into a social and political group. When he disbanded the Mahdi Army, he said that his followers should focus upon politics, and the upcoming provincial elections. They had a mixed showing in that vote, but they did much better in the March 2010 election when they won 40 seats. Despite his attempt to move into the mainstream, Sadr still has a small armed faction, the Promised Day Brigade, which continues to carry out attacks. That shows that Sadr has still not fully embraced being a political leader. The Sadrists are almost assured a prominent role in the new regime. That could mean that its militia will return to the streets to assert its authority over Shiite areas, or its fighting component will eventually fade, as the Sadr Trend becomes a real political party and the Americans withdraw by 2011.


Arraf, Jane, “U.S. sees return of Sadrist threat in southern Iraq,” Christian Science Monitor, 5/12/10

Cochrane, Marisa, “The Fragmentation of the Sadrist Movement,” Institute for the Study of War, January 2009

Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” June 2009

Fadel, Leila, “Iraq’s Kurds could lose some of their influence to anti-American Sadr movement,” Washington Post, 3/24/10

Hendawi, Hamza and Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Shiite militia reviving in post-election Iraq,” Associated Press, 5/4/10

Latif, Nizar, “Mahdi army may be poised to make comeback,” The National, 5/5/10

Mohsen, Amer, “Iraq Papers Sat: ‘The Promised Day,’” IraqSlogger.com, 11/14/08

Roggio, Bill, “Iraq continues crackdown on Iranian-backed terror groups,” Long War Journal, 12/23/09

Yates, Dean, “ANALYSIS – Iraq’s Sadr avoiding fight with government,” Reuters, 6/16/08

Zahra, Hassan Abdul, “Iraq’s Sadr plans new armed group to fight US forces,” Agence France Presse, 6/13/08


AndrewSshi said...

I'm curious as to whether we see a government that has a large Sadrist component. Because if we do, I suspect that we might see the same sort of thing we saw in the middle of the last decade, with certain police units basically being uniformed versions of JAM.

(Which is not to let the Supreme Council's own perpetrators of horrid things off the hook).

Joel Wing said...

That's the question I was trying pose at the end of the article. It's a bad sign to see his men out on the streets again, especially if they are involved in violence. Sadr has tried being a politician before but couldn't give up the street and his militia. At the same time I can't say this is his last chance either because despite all his problems and divisions his movement has faced he's still around.

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