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Op-Ed: Muqtada al-Sadr reactivates his Mahdi Army in Iraq

The background

The Mahdi army has been disbanded and reactivated before. Wikipedia gives some of the background: “The Peace Companies (Arabic: سرايا السلام‎, Sarāyā as-Salām), frequently mistranslated as Peace Brigades in US media, are an Iraqi armed group linked to Iraq’s Shia community. They are a 2014 revival of the Mahdi Army (جيش المهدي Jaysh al-Mahdī)[8][9] that was created by the Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in June 2003 and disbanded in 2008. The Mahdi Army rose to international prominence on April 18, 2004, when it spearheaded the first major armed confrontation against the US forces in Iraq from the Shia community. This concerned an uprising that followed the ban of al-Sadr’s newspaper and his subsequent attempted arrest, lasting until a truce on June 6. The 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. The group was disbanded in 2008, following a crackdown by Iraqi security forces. ” The Peace Brigades suspended activities as of February 2015.

The reactivation of the Mahdi Army

As noted the Mahdi Army was a major armed group the fought against the US occupation of Iraq from 2003 right through to 2007. The group actually had a deal with the Iraqi government to disband.

Al-Araby reports the reactivation: “Iraq’s militia leader turned populist politician Moqtada Sadr reactivated his Mahdi Army on Friday, nearly a decade after dissolving the notoriously anti-American force. The move comes following a US strike that killed top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in Iraq, dramatically heightening regional tensions. Taking to Twitter, Sadr ordered “fighters, particularly those from the Mahdi Army, to be ready” following the strike, reactivating the notoriously anti-American force.”

Sadr portrays himself as a nationalist

While Sadr is much against any US presence in Iran he often is critical of Iranian influence as well even though he is a Shia cleric. He also is for cooperation between Shia and Sunnis in a unified Iraq. Although Sadr’s move is a reaction to US action against Iran-supported militias if the US is expelled from Iraq he could very well join those who are protesting against the excessive influence of Iran in Iraq. Earlier as shown on the appended photo al-Sadr joined protests against the Iraqi government.

The Mahdi Army existed before the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) the umbrella militia groups that are approved and financed by the Iraqi government. The PMF is dominated by mainly Shia militia groups supported by Iran. Perhaps al-Sadr will want to keep his militia at arms length from the PMF that is closely associated with the Iraqi government and its regular forces.
On the other hand, perhaps Al-Sadr will join the group if it will be accepted in order to have it financed by the Iraqi government as are other members of the PMF.

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