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Mahdi Militia in Iraq moves towards Legitimacy!

Interesting Article: Iraq gives Mahdi militants preferential treatment by THE NATIONAL STAFF / Baghdad published Sunday, November 27, 2011

According to a recent article, Mahdi Army militants, who fought against US troops, are joining the government's security services under a secret deal between the government and the Sadrist movement. Since the US-led invasion of 2003, the Mahdi Army, loyal to cleric Muqtada Al Sadr, battled with US soldiers and Iraqi troops or, more commonly, planted bombs in roadside ambushes or fired mortars at military bases. It claimed to be able to call on tens of thousands of fighters. Even after the Sadrist movement called a ceasefire in 2008 and won an influential place in Iraq's mainstream politics, militants associated with its armed wing continued to stage sporadic attacks against US troops, particularly in Shiite-dominated southern Iraq. An arrangement with the government designed to entice the Sadrists to abandon militancy may already be unfolding, according to Iraqi media reports. Hundreds of Mahdi Army fighters have joined security services, some at high ranks, even though they are less qualified than other applicants, the reports say. The militants "are being taken into the interior ministry, the defense ministry, the air force, the border guards, Baghdad operations command, everywhere," said one of the officials. So what is the Mahdi Army?


According to sources, Sadrists had handed a list of more than 1,000 names to the authorities and that those on the list were to be given work even if they were not as well qualified as other applicants. Government officials have dismissed as media speculation claims that the Prime Minister, Nouri Al Maliki, has cleared the way for former militants to join the army and police. With a bloc of some 40 members of parliament, the Sadrists have been an important source of support for Al Maliki's fragile governing coalition, and a frequent critic of his leadership. Critics of the Sadrists accuse them of being an Iranian proxy, one of the levers Tehran uses to exercise some control over Iraqi politics. "The Mahdi Army will take advantage of the situation when the Americans have gone. They will not just go back to normal life," said Nahidar Al Musawi, a widow from Amarah whose husband was killed by militants for working with the Iraqi security forces. The Mahdi Army, also known as the Mahdi Militia or Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM) was an Iraqi paramilitary force created by the Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in June 2003. The group rose to international prominence on April 18, 2004 when it spearheaded the first major armed confrontation against the U.S.-led forces in Iraq from the Shia community in an uprising that followed the banning of al-Sadr's newspaper and attempts to arrest him, and lasted until a truce on June 6. This truce was followed by moves to disband the group and transform al-Sadr's movement into a political party to take part in the 2005 elections; Muqtada al-Sadr ordered fighters of the Mahdi army to cease fire unless attacked first. The truce broke down in August 2004 after provocative actions by the Mahdi Army, with new hostilities erupting. (To read more about Muqtada al-Sadr, read my blog entry: How influential is Muqtada al-Sadr and his Iranian ties?). The name Jaysh al-Mahdī has apocalyptic connotations: in Shi-ite theology, the Mah'dī is an end-times figure who it is said will assist Christ in destroying the anti-Christ and establish a global Islamic khilāfah in preparation for the Yaum al-Qiyāmah (judgment day). In the Twelver school of Shia Islam, the Mahdī is believed to have been an historical figure identified with the Twelfth Imām, Muhammad al-Mahdī, and is therefore called al-Imām al-Mahdī. It is believed that he is still present on earth "in occultation" (i.e., hidden), and will emerge again in the end times. Those Shi`ites of this school believe that the Imām Mahdī is the rightful ruler of the whole Islamic community (ummah) at any given time, and he is therefore also called Imām al-Zamān, meaning "Imām of the Age/Time." The Mahdi Army's popularity has been strong enough to influence local government, the police, and cooperation with Sunni Iraqis and their supporters. The group is believed to have recently been popular among Iraqi police forces. National Independent Cadres and Elites party that ran in the 2005 Iraqi election was closely linked with the army. The group is armed with various light weapons, including improvised explosive devices, also called road-side bombs. Many of the bombs used during attacks on Iraqi Security Forces and Coalition Forces have used infra-red sensors as triggers, a technique that was used widely by the IRA in Northern Ireland in the early to mid 1990s. A small faction of Religious Shi'ite Islamists began as a group of roughly 500 seminary students connected with Muqtada al-Sadr in the Sadr City district of Baghdad, formerly known as Saddam City. The group moved in to fill the security vacuum in Sadr City and in a string of southern Iraqi cities following the fall of Baghdad to U.S-led coalition forces on April 9, 2003. The group has been involved in dispensing aid to Iraqis and provided security in the Shi'ite slums from looters. Gradually, the militia grew and al-Sadr formalized it in June 2003. The Mahdi Army grew into a sizable force of up to 10,000 who even operated what amounted to a shadow government in some areas. Al-Sadr's preaching is critical of the US occupation, but he did not initially join the Sunni Islamist and Baathist guerrillas in their attacks on coalition forces. Although Muqtada Al-Sadr has historically had close ties to Iran, he has generally opposed Iranian clerical and political influence in Iraq. Unlike the Al-Hakim family, of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council and many leaders of the Dawa party who fled to Iran following the Persian Gulf War and remained there in exile until the American invasion in 2003, Muqtada al-Sadr and his family remained in Iraq throughout Saddam's rule. The refusal to leave Iraq garnered the Sadr family much support during and after the collapse of Saddam's regime. Early 2006, al-Sadr pledged military support to Iran and other neighboring Islamic countries if they were to be attacked by a foreign nation. Since then, however, Al-Sadr has opposed the Dawa Party, and in March 2008 Prime Minister Maliki ordered a major offensive targeting the Mahdi Army in Basra. Iran remains engaged and interested in the activities of Iraq. On an interesting note, Muqtada al-Sadr has spent the past few years in Iran, studying at the Hawza in Qom. Now with parts of the Mahdi army moving into key positions within the new Iraqi government, it will be a matter of time before Muqtada gains the leadership role he has been working on since operations began in Iraq.
 
References:
Harkin, Greg; Elliott, Francis; Whitaker, Raymond (October 16, 2005). "Revealed: IRA bombs killed eight British soldiers in Iraq". The Independent (London).
Howard, Michael (February 15, 2007). "Mahdi army commanders withdraw to Iran to lie low during security crackdown". The Guardian.
Semple, Kirk (2006-10-20). "Attack on Iraqi City Shows Militia’s Power". New York Times. Retrieved 2006-10-20.
Sadr orders militia to quit Najaf | BBC News
Cleric Said to Lose Reins of Parts of Iraqi Militia | New York Times
US:Iraq failing to tackle death squads - The Guardian


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