Sadr Shifts Strategy in Iraq

Discussion in 'Political Zone' started by theogt, Aug 4, 2008.

  1. theogt

    theogt Surrealist Zone Supporter

    45,287 Messages
    3,589 Likes Received
    Sadr Shifts Strategy in Iraq

    [FONT=Times New Roman,Times,Serif]Cleric Plans to Turn Militia
    Into Civic Organization

    [FONT=times new roman,times,serif]By GINA CHON
    August 4, 2008 2:49 p.m.

    BAGHDAD -- Hit by a government military crackdown and dwindling popular support, anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is planning a major shift in strategy: re-branding and disarming the Mahdi Army by turning the militia into a civic and social service organization, a move that could further enhance the stability of Iraq.

    In an introductory brochure obtained by the Journal and confirmed by Sheikh Salah al-Obeidi, Mr. Sadr's chief spokesman, the Mahdi Army will now be guided by Shiites spirituality as opposed to anti-American militancy. It will even get a new philosophy or guiding principle: al-Mumahidoon, meaning his supporters will be the foot soldiers of the Shiites messiah, Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi, who Shiites Muslims believe will return to rid the world of evil and injustice.

    The brochure states the al-Mumahidoon will undertake an intellectual and scientific jihad that focuses on education, religion and social justice. It also says "It (the army) is not allowed to use arms at all." The al-Mumahidoon office will be divided into sections for the teachings of the faithful, religion, education and social services, as well as departments for information, administration and a follow-up section. Posters have been put up in some areas of Baghdad saying a new direction for the Mahdi Army will be announced at this Friday's prayers. The posters also bear the name al-Mumahidoon.

    Sadr officials say the transition is partly in reaction to a time horizon for withdrawal of U.S. combat troops that is expected to be part of the long-term security deal between the U.S. and Iraq, which is close to being hammered out after a few months of sometimes contentious negotiations. The Mahdi Army had long stated that its principal goal was withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and since talks of a time-table have emerged, the movement has tried to find itself a second life by transforming itself into a social, cultural and religious organization focused on helping Iraqi society through peaceful means, according to Mr. Obeidi.

    However, Mr. Obeidi said that Mr. Sadr will continue to direct small, special cells for limited military operations against U.S. forces but more details about these cells and how they can be distinguished from rogue Mahdi Army members who are disobeying a cease-fire order by Mr. Sadr will be publicized at a future date.

    "All the Mahdi Army must listen to this and follow this new office, which will have the name al-Mumahidoon," Mr. Obeidi said. "Because Sayeed Muqtada al-Sadr sees that the occupation force is starting to find a formula to pull out troops from Iraq, we are also thinking that our work must focus on guiding and enlightening the people to serve Iraqi society."

    This reorganization of the Mahdi Army reflects a major effort by Mr. Sadr to regain grassroots support and weed out the criminal and extremist elements of the Mahdi Army, which moderate members of the Mahdi Army believe have tarnished the movement's name. Mr. Sadr, who is believed to be studying in Iran, has expressed frustration at those who have chosen to disobey him by still fighting U.S. and Iraqi security forces, participating in smuggling and kidnapping rings, and assassinating opponents.

    But Mr. Sadr faces many challenges in implementing his new direction. The hardliners and mafia-like elements of the Mahdi Army will likely reject Mr. Sadr's new strategy, just as they have ignored his orders to freeze violent activities as part of a cease-fire. These members have also been threatening and assassinating more moderates who support the cease-fire and the move to turn the Mahdi Army into a civic organization, leaving in question whether the moderate members will proactively work to implement the new strategy or stay underground as many of them have.

    A similar pattern occurred when former Sunni insurgents began forming the Awakening movement in Anbar province and turned against al Qaeda in Iraq. After joining U.S. forces to form local, informal security groups, some Awakening leaders were assassinated and many others were threatened.
    "We know it will take time to get rid of these bad elements and even some good people joined them because they fell into a trap and became mixed," said Sheikh Abu Ali (a nickname), a moderate Mahdi Army leader and cleric who had his brother kidnapped by fellow Mahdi Army members because of his views. Since then he has stopped his religious work but is hoping this new strategy will make him feel safe enough to resume his teachings. "We want to go back to the army we started with, go back to our roots."

    Over the last several years, the Mahdi Army had enjoyed widespread popular support in areas of Baghdad and in the southern Shiite area of Iraq because they were known to help the poor by giving them money, food and other kinds of aid. But its popularity began to wane as some members turned increasingly to criminal activity, taking control of gas stations, organizing smuggling and kidnapping rings and extorting money from merchants in exchange for protection.

    The actions of the Mahdi Army has enormous impact on Iraq's stability, with fighting over the last several years against U.S. and Iraqi government forces having just as much impact on the country's lack of security as the attacks by al Qaeda in Iraq. Most recently, a government military crackdown on rogue members of the Mahdi Army in late March in Basra sparked fighting across southern Iraq and in Baghdad.

    U.S. military spokesman Colonel Jerry O'Hara said the military welcomed the news, but "the proof is always in the actions and not just the words, so we'll take a wait and see approach." Tahseen al-Shaikhli, spokesman for the Baghdad security plan, said the Iraqi government is pleased to see Mr. Sadr take a rational approach that will benefit Iraq. "We welcome any news about Iraqis laying down their arms and working to rebuild this country," Mr. Shaikhli said.

    In May, Mr. Sadr and the Iraqi government worked out a truce after a government crackdown that began in Basra in late March, and many Mahdi Army members abandoned the fight, were killed, or fled to Iran. While the Mahdi Army has been weakened since those government military operations, the extremist elements are regrouping and being trained, with an estimated 5,000 members in Iran. U.S. military officials worry there is a chance that the extremists could return.

    Abu Karar al-Sadri, a Mahdi Army leader in Baghdad's Rusafa neighborhood who has been against the cease-fire, says he and his men will continue operations despite this new direction for the Mahdi Army. He acknowledged his fighters had been negatively affected by the crackdown but they are rebuilding and continue operations. "We will continue to fight until the occupation is driven out of Iraq," he said.

    Mr. Sadr began moving away from military operations when he ordered a cease-fire last August after Mahdi Army members clashed with government forces in the southern city of Karbala during a Shiite religious holiday. The fighting represented a growing rivalry between Sadr followers and supporters of the main Shiite parties in government, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Islamic Dawa Party. In February, Mr. Sadr extended the cease-fire for another six months, saying he still wanted time to reorganize.

    Since then, several moderate Sadr followers who favored the cease-fire have already been killed. In April, Riyadh al-Nouri, director of Mr. Sadr's office in Najaf, was gunned down after Friday prayers after rumor circulated that he was supporting the Americans.

    Mr. Abu Ali has stopped teaching and gone underground since gunmen abducted his brother and threatened to kill him unless he stopped supporting the cease-fire and speaking out against more extremist members of the militia. Now, he is hopeful that Mr. Sadr's new direction will allow him to begin educating Mahdi Army members again.

    "We want people to come back to the Sadr movement and believe in us again," the sheikh said. "We hope this new direction will allow us to rebuild our relationship with the people and make them believe we are good again."
    Write to Gina Chon at
  2. Vintage

    Vintage The Cult of Jib

    13,418 Messages
    1,164 Likes Received
    Some people will applaud this.... and there is some good in this.

    But call me skeptical on how "good" this news is.

    Edit: And this quote doesn't do much for me, either...

  3. arglebargle

    arglebargle Well-Known Member

    5,147 Messages
    223 Likes Received
    Short term, probably good. IE less people getting killed, etc. Long term, it is obviously a political ploy, probably designed to ride out the American presence in Iraq, while laying the groundwork for future power.

    It will undercut the opposition to him, and allow his group freer access and movement in Iraq. If he actually does come through with social services (especially when the government doesn't or can't), it will earn him goodwill. This is how Hamas got elected amongst the Palestinians: They were providing the only medical care and schools available for a large chunk of the population. Internal politics may play a part here as well. He may need to do something that shows his continuing control of his movement.

    It's probably a smart move for him, and if Sadr's focus is 20 years down the road, it might work.
  4. BrAinPaiNt

    BrAinPaiNt Winter is Coming Staff Member

    64,076 Messages
    7,899 Likes Received
    If they trust this guy...they are stupid.
  5. vta

    vta The Proletariat

    8,746 Messages
    5 Likes Received
    No one trusts him. He's an opportunist and it hasn't gone over anyone who's anyone's head; the crackdown on his Mahdi army was a show of who is really in charge.

    Now he's allowed to be part of a 'civic's' organization with some face left in the end.
  6. iceberg

    iceberg winter??? RUN AWAY RUN AWAY!!! Zone Supporter

    29,671 Messages
    2,570 Likes Received
    the fact of the matter is, regardless of our intentions, there will always be resistance to our being there. as long as we are, *someone* will have it as a goal to get us out.

    if he cooperates to the degree said, then we'll be gone and he won't have to worry about it. i'm just surprised he's not figured out how to get to his end goal. one thing i've had to learn and learn the hard way is "what do i want out of this"?

    if it's the US gone - then you must ask, what are the ways we can get that done?

    cooperation is seen as giving in, so that's what takes it longer. maybe it is. maybe they *need* that resistance there to keep the fire alive in iraqi's.

    like all things, this is a step. we'll see where it goes from here.
  7. iceberg

    iceberg winter??? RUN AWAY RUN AWAY!!! Zone Supporter

    29,671 Messages
    2,570 Likes Received
    so would you stay after him till we kill him? you can either bring him in the fold or keep fighting him. the risk is will he *ever* cooperate or be a "good" part of the rebuilding? if no, then yea, very stupid.

    dunno what he'd do but given his past flip flopping more than any american politican ever could, this is another ploy to get what he wants. nothing more.
  8. burmafrd

    burmafrd Well-Known Member

    43,536 Messages
    3,026 Likes Received
    pop a cap on him.
  9. iceberg

    iceberg winter??? RUN AWAY RUN AWAY!!! Zone Supporter

    29,671 Messages
    2,570 Likes Received
    poppa cap is my rap name. : )
  10. theogt

    theogt Surrealist Zone Supporter

    45,287 Messages
    3,589 Likes Received
    I don't think anyone should trust him, but this is clearly good news. We may not agree with his position, but he obviously has support among a large population of the country. The idea isn't the quell the voices we don't like, but to just get them to go through the political process, rather than violence.
  11. burmafrd

    burmafrd Well-Known Member

    43,536 Messages
    3,026 Likes Received
    This dufus wants power any way he can get it. In the end he is going to have to be taken care of.

Share This Page