Mahdi Army To Disarm?
For the past four years, every time Moqtada Sadr has made this-or-that tactical retrenchment — standing down from the August 2004 Najaf battle; going to study in Iran; the August 2007 ceasefire — there’s been a spate of breathless media declarations that Sadr’s moment is over. Gina Chon in The Wall Street Journal has the latest:
Anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr — long a thorn in the side of the U.S. military and Iraqi government — intends to disarm his once-dominant Mahdi Army militia and remake it as a social-services organization.
Chon has a Sadrist brochure that says so, you know. An alternative explanation would hold that Sadr is making yet another of his endless tactical retrenchments and is embedding his movement ever deeper within the fiber of Shiite Iraqi society, establishing an alternative infrastructure to Maliki’s failed governance, and retaining his military option for future use. It’s worked for him for five years now. Chon further writes:
He faces big challenges. Hard-liners within 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 — rivals who support the cease-fire.
But that’s not a challenge for Sadr. It’s an opportunity. The Mahdi Army soldiers who don’t listen to Sadr will become targets for U.S. and Maliki-loyal troops — a de facto Sadrist hit squad in camo. That’s win-win for Sadr. At the same time, he regains the popular support that he’s said to have lost recently by appearing to take action against the extremists; they will replenish the ranks of the Mahdi Army. What is Moqtada Sadr losing, exactly?