April 7, 2008


Iraq: Al-Mahdi army offers to lay down its arms (James Hider, 4/07/08, Times of London)

His announcement today was the first time that the rebellious junior cleric had offered to disband his forces, and came as US and Iraqi troops were poised for a big offensive into his Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City, home to 2.5 million poor Shia, which has been under absolute militia control for years.

Streams of refugees were pouring out of Sadr City on foot today, as automatic gunfire and mortar blasts ripped through the giant slum. Terrified residents scuttled down side streets as Iraqi and American tanks trundled along the main thoroughfares, shooting at guerrillas.

A massive American and Iraqi security presence had ringed the area, with police and soldiers guarding every exit as many people here predicted a final, bloody showdown with the Mahdi Army, which appeared to be losing popular support.

The position of Hojetoleslam al-Sadr, whose fighters had fought government forces to a standstill in Basra, was looking increasingly precarious today. His erstwhile ally, Nouri al-Maliki, the Shia Prime Minister, who led the Basra crackdown personally, saw his popular support bolstered by his tough stance on lawless militias.

Despite the inconclusive results of his Basra offensive, Mr al-Maliki has refused to back down and this weekend stitched together a rare consensus of Kurds, Sunnis and Shias to back a draft law banning any party that maintains a militia from running in future elections.

“A decision was taken . . . that they no longer have a right to participate in the political process or take part in the upcoming elections unless they end the Mahdi Army,” Mr al-Maliki said.

That united stance has put the Sadrists on the back foot, while even in Sadr City itself support for the militia was waning as government forces and their US allies pushed ever deeper into Mahdi Army territory.

Ali Nema, a 45-year-old bureaucrat, was pushing his frail, elderly parents out of Sadr City on a wooden market barrow that he had hired to remove them and his young children.

“I had to get them out now because almost the whole of my sector has left, more than 80 per cent of the houses empty now. The Americans are attacking, the Mahdi Army mortars are falling and the Iraqi Army are fighting too,” he said, as gunfire rattled a few blocks away. “We believe things will get worse in the next few days.”

Beating Maliki and company was easy. The US military? Not so much.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 7, 2008 2:16 PM

"Mahdi Army" Har-har-har-har-har. . . .

Most seriously, this expression cracks me up every single time I see it.

Posted by: Lou Gots at April 7, 2008 5:23 PM

If he had beaten Maliki he wouldn't be laying down his arms.

Sadr = wounded Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Posted by: AWW at April 7, 2008 8:06 PM

Beat Maliki. Can't beat Petraeus. Petreaus can't stay.

Posted by: oj at April 7, 2008 10:27 PM

Perhaps Mookie will come back to his old neighborhood, to take a stand with his men.

Or perhaps not.

If Maliki was a popinjay, he would have backed down last week. He didn't. He achieved sectarian unity on his proposal, and Sadr's army will cease and desist or it will cease to exist.

Now, there is probably a lot of hash being settled among the various Shi'a tribes and groups, but Mookie is not going to win. Even before the latest dust-up, al-Hakim's militia was bigger than the JAM, and that wasn't going to change absent more direct Iranian action in Iraq.

Posted by: ratbert at April 7, 2008 11:53 PM

Maliki did back down. We took over. We can't afford to have him too deeply humiliated in an honor culture.

Posted by: oj at April 8, 2008 6:23 AM

We can't afford to have him too deeply humiliated in an honor culture.

That goes for Mookie, too.

A far more plausible reading of events is that Mookie's Iranian handlers had him order a ceasefire before the ISF destroyed his forces.

If Maliki had proposed a ceasefire after two days of fighting in Basra and ISF units in Sadr City were now surrounded, would anybody say that *he* was winning?

Posted by: Chris B at April 8, 2008 10:11 AM

We want to humiliate Mookie, which is why we took over after Maliki screwed the pooch.

Posted by: oj at April 8, 2008 10:36 AM

AUSTIN BAY: No, Sadr did not win. "The quick damnation of PM Maliki and the Iraqi Army’s efforts last week reveals an immense ignorance of warfare, one still rampant despite six-plus years of alleged experience; it displays not simply hasty, herd-mentality judgmentalism, but demonstrates in trump cards the sensationalist, fear-leveraging slant of most media coverage."

Related item here. "On the political front, Sadr now finds himself completely isolated."

UPDATE: Mahdi Army offers to lay down its arms. Plus, Top-level Iraqi Body Calls for Immediate Disarming of Militias.
posted at 07:31 AM by Glenn Reynolds

Posted by: Genecis at April 8, 2008 11:44 AM

Austin Bay? Why not ask a Maliki aide?

Posted by: oj at April 8, 2008 1:30 PM
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