Thursday, July 03, 2008

Sadr movement, Mahdi army shrink under pressure

Special Analysis for The Long War Journal

Over the space of several days in early June, Muqtada al Sadr has issued two consequential orders that will affect the future of his movement and that of Iraq. Sadr has ordered the reorganization of his infamous Mahdi Army and has forbidden the Sadrist movement from participating in the upcoming provincial elections.

Sadr’s first declaration addressed the organization and operations of the Mahdi Army, the military arm of the Sadrist movement. Sadr ordered his militiamen to halt the fighting and announced that a small, specialized unit will have the exclusive right to fight the “occupier.” The unit, ironically called the “special groups,” is forbidden to attack Iraqi security forces or government officials.

Sadr’s second declaration addressed how the Sadrist movement would participate in the upcoming provincial elections, tentatively scheduled for October of this year. In the second order, Sadr told his followers not compete directly in elections that take place under “occupation” but said the movement would support “technocrat and independent politicians” to prevent rival Shiite parties from dominating provincial governments.

The two orders show that Sadr is being forced to scale down both his political and military ambitions as the Iraqi government and Iraqi security forces continue to pacify Mahdi Army strongholds during a series of offensives that started in Basrah at the end of March, and moved through Sadr City and the wider Shia South. Operations in Maysan, a Mahdi Army bastion, are currently in progress. The Maysan operations so far resulted in the capture of 354 wanted militiamen and the discovery of hundreds of rockets, artillery rounds, RPGs and surface to air missiles and various other weapons and munitions. More than two hundred militiamen also surrendered to the Iraqi security forces, according to Ministry of Interior spokesman Abdul Karim Khalaf.

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