December 7, 2007


Sadr militia moves to clean house: Since halting attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces, the Shiite cleric's Mahdi Army has been weeding out alleged rogue elements. (Ned Parker, 12/07/07, Los Angeles Times)

Sadr, whose Mahdi Army has as many as 60,000 members, has been trying to make his movement a viable political factor, and more appealing to his hundreds of thousands of followers. In late August, he declared a six-month freeze in hostilities to rein in lawless elements after deadly clashes with a rival Shiite militia.

If Sadr succeeds, it could lead to a much more stable Iraq -- at least in the short term. U.S. commanders say they are optimistic so far. But it is not yet clear whether Sadr can control even the men such as Abu Maha on whom he is depending to establish order.

"What we want to do during this period is to establish a new order, to collect the people who are professional, educated and have good information, who are good, faithful in our social works and are helping the people," said Sadr's chief spokesman Sheik Salah Ubaidi.

Some local military leaders are following Sadr's orders, but several Mahdi Army members acknowledge that others are striking out on their own, continuing to commit acts of sectarian violence and sometimes attacking U.S. forces.

Sadr's movement emerged in 2003 as a counterweight to exiled politicians arriving in Baghdad with the Americans. His Mahdi Army began to provide an array of social services to the urban poor and courted the Sunni Arab minority with a nationalist message of resistance to U.S. forces.

Then as sectarian violence erupted into civil war by early 2006, his fighters reportedly began torturing and killing Sunni civilians in the name of fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq, the movement blamed for the car bombs used to devastating effect against Shiites.

The cleric has at various times reined in his militia leaders, including a cease-fire announced in January that unraveled. Many members continued their attacks, and Sadr's loyal followers hesitated to confront them.

But late this summer, faced with a major public relations problem, Sadr changed strategy again. His forces were widely blamed for a clash with the rival Badr Organization during a festival in the Shiite holy city of Karbala that left at least 50 people dead. He blamed the violence on rogue elements and vowed to eliminate them.

Now, all across Baghdad, militiamen loyal to Sadr's main office in the shrine city of Najaf are on the hunt for the purported renegades -- men such as the Master.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 7, 2007 11:14 AM

"Mahdi Army"--D*mn good thing I wasn't holding a coffee when I saw those words. We all know it's a different Mahdi army, but we all still think of Omdurman.

Posted by: Lou Gots at December 7, 2007 5:17 PM