On July 10, a statement was posted on a Sadr website that the Mahdi Army would not return. The release said they had studied the affects of their parade in Baghdad in May, which featured unarmed fighters, and decided that it was not the right time to end the freeze on the militia. Sadr disbanded the Mahdi Army in March 2008. The march was meant to send a message to the United States that the Sadr Trend was ready and willing to oppose them if they stayed past the end of 2011, but instead it was received badly by some of the country’s political parties. The movement also said it was not responsible for any clashes that might involve individual Sadrists, which might have been a reference to a June 20 shootout between members of the Sadr movement and a breakaway group led by Abu Dura in Baghdad. This was a dramatic change for Sadr who had been making ever more menacing remarks about using force if the Americans stayed in Iraq.
|Sadr's April rally in Baghdad (Reuters)|
|Sadr's May march through Baghdad (Agence France Presse)|
In June, the rhetoric became more inflamed. Members of the Mahdi Army claimed that they would be willing to carry out suicide attacks upon the Americans if they were still in the country in 2012. A Sadrist official later said that Moqtada had not condoned these types of attacks. Soon after, Sadr’s Promised Day Brigades claimed responsibility for ten mortar and rocket attacks upon U.S. bases in Baghdad, Ninewa, Diyala, Tamim, Basra, Maysan, Dhi Qar, and Muthanna provinces. It also said that it had set off roadside bombs against U.S. patrols, and to have killed and wounded U.S. soldiers in these operations. That same day, a Sadrist parliamentarian told the press that these attacks were meant to pressure the Americans to leave. The message was clear, the Sadrists were militarily opposing the Americans right now, and that would increase in intensity if they were given a troop extension. They also wanted to claim that they were responsible for the U.S. departure.
After three months of fiery words and deeds, Sadr has now backtracked. His rallies, threats about the Mahdi Army, and attacks by the Promised Day Brigades were meant to intimidate the Americans, and make them leave by the end of the year. Instead, he angered Maliki, the Iraqi National Movement, and others who were opposed to seeing militiamen back on the streets of Iraq. Sadr has always tried to straddle the line between being a militia leader and man of the street on the one hand, and being a politician on the other. In the previous Maliki administration, Sadr failed at this attempt when he ended dropping out of the government, and was then faced with an assault by the Americans during the Surge, and then the prime minister himself. Sadr tried again in the 2009 provincial election, and then the 2010 parliamentary voting. He is back to having control over several governorates, and was the major reason why Maliki returned for a second term. Talking about the Mahdi Army could threaten all of that, and was probably the main reason why he retreated from his militant talk.
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Would agree about Sadr's efforts to create distinction between the Mahdi Army and the Promise Day Brigades (as well, Sadr Trend's efforts to move passed militant associations), but think complete discussion of Mahdi Army should note shift towards social welfare to bolster grassroots support.
See Niqash article on the subject:
The Sadr Trend has tried to provide social services since the 2003 invasion. When Sadr disbanded the Mahdi Army in 2008 he then created two social/political groups Mumahidoon and Munasiroon that are involved in this work.
You have to understand that the Mahdi Army was not an organized group, but rather a collection of armed men who took suggestions from Sadr, but were not under his direct control. I think when the militia was disbanded some went into these new organizations, some continued fighting as the Mahdi has faced constant breakaway groups, while others just went looking for work or joined gangs.
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