Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Mahdi Army on the Attack Again

The Mahdi Army’s seven-month-long ceasefire has come to an end. Today they fired more rockets into the Green Zone and fighting has erupted between government and US forces and Mahdi Army militias around Baghdad.

The US military blames elements of Mahdi Army linked to Iran. The Iraqi authorities closed the major Chalamcheh border crossing between Iraq and Iran yesterday for security reasons.

Mahdi Army militias have apparently received orders that the cease fire was over and they needed to fight the US. Iran-led initiative to have Mahdi Army declaring unilateral ceasefire last summer has apparently come to an end.

US commander in Iraq Gen. David Petraeus said yesterday the rockets that hit the Green Zone on Sunday had been provided by Iran.


Joseph Sixpack said...

Are you suggesting that this was directed or approved by Sadr?

Nader Uskowi said...

Yes,I am. Moqtada al-Sadr was in Tehran. He reportedly returned to Baghdad two weeks ago. He is THE leader of Mahdi Army. They would not have restarted the fight without his direct orders.

Basra has also been the scene of renewed fighting between Mahdi Army and government forces in the last 48 hours. This is a very coordinated attack, a change in policy, and an end to Mahdi Army's cease-fire.

Hakim and Shia groups loyal to him do oppose Sadr. I expct the inter-Shia fighting to also start soon.

Joseph Sixpack said...

I only asked because it was my understanding that Sadr lost control of several elements within JAM. Also, mortar attacks against the green zone are fairly commonplace. However, I can see how your analysis could be accurate in spite of this. Do you think that Sadr is in control of JAM Special Groups?

Nader Uskowi said...

Your question was a very important one. I am not at all an expert on Iraqi politics. What I know about Mahdi Army and Sadr is mainly due to their very close links to Iran. Hence my caution not to get into details in the main post. I do believe that there are indeed “moderate” and “radical” factions within Mahdi Army, with some semi-splinter groups whom Sadr has no direct authority over. What is happening on the streets of Basra and Sadr City in the past three days, however, is not limited to “rouge” elements, as much US military likes to believe so. This is a fight between Sadr’s Mahdi Army and Hakim’s Badr Organization (with the caveat that a large number of Badr militants wear Iraqi security uniform!)

For the time being the fighting is generally limited to Mahdi Army against Iraqi government forces with limited US involvement (air support in Basra and cordoning off Sadr City in Baghdad). If US gets involved extensively, which all the signs are pointing to that direction, it would be the end of seven-month period of relative calm. Iran is playing an important role in this.

Making situation worst is the situation with the Sunnis. Awakening movement is very unhappy. They practically kicked Al Qaida out of Iraq, but have not much to show for. Bathists are as active as before. Unfortunately Iraq looks to be on the verge of meltdown again.

1 said...

“Iran is playing an important role in this.”


I’ve read that Iran has trained and funded the Badr Brigades, but that was largely before the invasion when they were still based in Iran. To what extent does Iran continue to maintain influence over the Badr Organization? I suspect it hasn’t waned much. After all why would Iran not leverage the support it cultivated for years?

It’s almost as if we are picking between the lesser of two evils (between the Badr organization and Mahdi Army). However, I don’t really view either of being any less detrimental to the stability of Iraq.

Nader Uskowi said...

Iran helped create and supported Badr. They still support them. It is not unusual for Iran to support rival factions. Hakim and Sadr each offer Iran a particular advantage. Hakim can facilitate close relations between Iraqi and Iranian governments. Sadr can create troubles for the US when Iran needs it. At times such policy becomes contradictory, however. Iranians want to hit at the US, but by supporting Sadr they’re hitting at Badr Organization, and by consequence at Iraqi government.

I agree with you that both Shia factions are detrimental to the stability of Iraq in the long term