Thursday, May 29, 2008

Mahdi Army Itches to Fight Again

Success in Iraq will depend on how the Iraqi government deals – or fails to deal – with the Shiite militias like the Mahdi Army.

To watch a comparable situation, keep your eyes on the democratic government of Lebanon that continues a shaky relationship with the radical Hezbollah terrorist militia.

By the way, both Hezbollah and the Mahdi Army are supplied, funded and trained by Iran. Iran’s ultimate goals in both Lebanon and Iraq are the establishment of fundamentalist governments like the one in Tehran.

Check out the following article:

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Philadelphia Inquirer
May 29, 2008

Dissent Arises Over Iraq Cease-Fire
A Mahdi Army leader said, "We were duped." A disagreement could restart Shiite fighting.

By Hamza Hendawi, Associated Press

BAGHDAD - An angry Shiite militia commander complained yesterday "we were duped" into accepting a cease-fire in Sadr City - remarks that pointed to a potentially damaging rift within the movement of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The May 11 truce ended seven weeks of fierce fighting in Baghdad between U.S. and Iraqi government forces and Sadr's Mahdi Army militia, which held nearly complete control of the capital's sprawling Sadr City district.

Iraqi soldiers now have moved into most parts of Sadr City with little resistance. But the objections raised by the commander highlight apparent dissent by some Mahdi Army leaders.

A split among Sadr's followers - between those favoring a more militant path and others seeking compromise with Iraq's government - could threaten the relative calm in Baghdad and reignite Shiite-on-Shiite violence across Iraq's oil-rich south.

The commander, speaking to tribal sheikhs and lawmakers loyal to Sadr, said "we were duped and deceived" by the truce. "They are arresting many of us now."

The group had gathered in Sadr's main Baghdad office to discuss how to respond to what they consider cease-fire "violations" by Iraqi troops, such as arrests and house searches.

Some in the audience, however, took issue with the views of the commander, whose name was not made public for security reasons.

"You can be the winner without a military victory," said Falah Hassan Shanshal, a prominent Sadrist and one of two parliamentarians who attended the meeting in Sadr City, home to 2.5 million Shiites.

"We had to bow before the storm because it was uprooting everything and everyone standing in its path," he said.

Shanshal was referring to the punishing attacks by U.S. and Iraqi government forces, which used tanks, helicopter gunships, and Hellfire missiles fired from unmanned aircraft. The strikes killed and wounded hundreds and left parts of Sadr City in ruins.

The southern section of the district has been sealed off from the rest of Sadr City in an attempt to foil militia movements and rocket and mortar attacks on the U.S.-protected Green Zone.

The battles in Sadr City were part of a wider Mahdi Army backlash to a government crackdown on armed groups launched in late March in the southern city of Basra.

Sadr, who has been in Iran for at least a year, supported the Sadr City cease-fire, perhaps to save his Mahdi Army from further losses so it can continue the fight later.

But signs of opposition have been growing within the militia ranks. Last week, two Mahdi Army commanders said militiamen were divided over whether the cease-fire was in their interest.

The head of Sadr's office in Sadr City, Sheikh Salman al-Freiji, suggested the truce might collapse if "violations" by the Iraqi army continued.

"There will not be any trust built between the two sides like that," Freiji warned. "The Mahdi Army was created to defend the Iraqi people. How can you do that without fighting the occupier?"

Shanshal, the Sadrist lawmaker, was conciliatory. He blamed the Iraqi army for heavy-handed tactics but stressed that he did not want more fighting in Sadr City.

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As long as the armed radical militias remain in the shadows, ready to continue their fight, long-term peace will be difficult to achieve in Iraq.

SFC Chuck Grist

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