Are Sadr militias rearming in Iraq's south?
A US general said he hasn't ruled out the involvement of militias close to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in recent attacks in Iraq's south and says the movement is reasserting itself as a force in the area.
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Who are the Sadrists?
For the US, which fought the Mahdi Army in the streets in 2004, and for the Sadrists' Shiite political rivals, the lines between the movement’s political and other activities are far from clear. The Sadrists’ main constituency are poor and dispossessed Shiites – many of them young men.Skip to next paragraph
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Much of Basra's oil fields and ports were controlled by Shiite militias until Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sent in Iraqi Army forces two years ago to take back the south. The Iraqi Army broke a stranglehold on the city by the Mahdi Army, the Sadr movement’s paramilitary wing, known for killings and corruption.
Following a cease-fire, the movement’s leader, Sadr, who is in Iran pursuing his religious studies, suspended the militia.
“There is no more Jaish al-Mehdi at all,” said Bahaa al-Araji, a leader of the Sadr movement, adding that the militia was now a religious and cultural institution. He added, however, that its fighters are waiting in the wings. "If the need arose – and the United States did not fulfill its commitment to withdraw from Iraq according to the timetable, and if the Iraqi government was not able to preserve security and keep the peace, it is possible at that moment for us to call on Jaish al-Mahdi."
The Sadr movement had a strong showing in the March elections, winning 40 seats in the 325-member parliament. In an indication of Iraq’s fluid politics, the Sadrists and Maliki’s State of Law coalition have found themselves in the same Shiite alliance that will likely form a governing coalition.
Forming that coalition, though, could take several months, and in the meantime, politically motivated violence has flared in the vacuum.
“We have seen some intimidation being done by local parties like the Sadrists engaging in old-fashioned methods like intimidation and extortion, particularly against police and police chiefs throughout the provinces,” said Brooks.
Brooks said in the past three weeks the provincial police chiefs of Maysan, Dhikkar, Diwayniya and Najaf have either been demoted or replaced, with officials who have been historically friendly to Sadr interests put in charge.
The move could mean rising tension between the national security forces in the Iraqi Army and police chiefs more influenced by provincial Shiite politics.