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Profile: Mahdi Army
Mahdi Army was a participant or observer in the following events:
Britain accuses Iran of having played a role in the transfer of explosive technology from Hezbollah in Lebanon to the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi army in Iraq. British officials say Iran is responsible for the deaths of all eight UK soldiers killed in Iraq this year, all of whom died in explosions. Iran denies the charges. [BBC, 9/5/2005; Reuters, 10/6/2005]
A map showing the various groups controlling portions of Baghdad in late 2006. [Source: Representational Pictures]A plan, later approved by President George Bush, to “surge” 21,500 US combat troops into Iraq (see January 10, 2007) is created, largely by Frederick Kagan of the main neoconservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), with the help of retired Army general and deputy chief of staff Jack Keane. Kagan and Keane want to send seven more Army brigades and Marine regiments to Iraq.
Opposed by Joint Chiefs - The AEI plan, however, has been rebuffed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who do not believe that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki can effectively confront the Shi’ite militias, especially those of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. [Washington Post, 1/10/2007] However, al-Maliki reportedly told Bush in recent days, “I swear to God, I’m not going to let Sadr run this country.” [ABC News, 1/10/2007]
Plan Created by Neoconservatives at AEI - Kagan is a neoconservative who, in his new book Finding the Target, has scorned Bush’s military policies as “simplistic,” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as “fatuous,” and Rumsfeld’s former deputy and architect of the Iraq invasion, Paul Wolfowitz, as “self-serving.” Along with Kagan and Keane, a number of lesser-known AEI neoconservatives contributed to the plans for the surge, including Danielle Pletka, a former aide to retired Republican senator Jesse Helms, and former Coalition Provisional Authority aide Michael Rubin. Commentator and former Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal calls the collection a “rump group of neocons” hanging on to influence primarily in the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, battered and demoralized by the failures of the past five years but, Blumenthal writes, “not so crushed that they cannot summon one last ragged Team B to provide a manifesto for a cornered president.” The AEI plan, entitled “Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq,” calls for a huge escalation to fight a tide-turning battle for Baghdad which, it predicts, will lead to the dissolution of Iraq’s Shi’ite militias, deliver a crushing defeat to the Sunni insurgency, and spread security and democracy from Baghdad throughout the country. Unfortunately, it ignores the realities of limited troop availability, Blumenthal observes, and perhaps worse, dismisses any notion of diplomacy, particularly the diplomatic initiatives advanced by the Iraq Study Group. The only solution to the Iraq problem, the plan asserts, is “victory.” The plan claims, “America, a country of 300 million people with a GDP of $12 trillion, and more than 1 million soldiers and marines can regain control of Iraq, a state the size of California with a population of 25 million and a GDP under $100 billion.” [Salon, 12/20/2006]
Marketing Slogan with Inaccurate Implications - In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “Recall that the surge strategy promoted by the American Enterprise Institute was titled ‘Choosing Victory,’ implying both that the only possible outcomes in Iraq were victory or defeat and that it was entirely within our power to decide which happened.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 272]
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Sidney Blumenthal, Paul Wolfowitz, J. Peter Scoblic, Nouri al-Maliki, Moqtada al-Sadr, Frederick Kagan, Danielle Pletka, American Enterprise Institute, Michael Rubin, Donald Rumsfeld, Jack Keane, Mahdi Army, George W. Bush, Jesse Helms
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Neoconservative Influence
Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr orders his militia, the Mahdi Army, to suspend offensive operations for six months following the deaths of over 50 Shi’ite Muslims during recent sectarian fighting in the holy city of Karbala. “I direct the Mahdi army to suspend all its activities for six months until it is restructured in a way that helps honor the principles for which it is formed,” al-Sadr says in a statement issued by his office in the nearby city of Najaf. The statement continues, “We call on all Sadrists to observe self-restraint, to help security forces control the situation and arrest the perpetrators and sedition mongers, and urge them to end all forms of armament in the sacred city.” Asked if the unexpected order meant no attacks on American troops, as well as a ban on Shia infighting, a senior Sadr aide says, “All kinds of armed actions are to be frozen, without exception.” [Daily Telegraph, 8/31/2007] Just three weeks before, Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno talked of the US concerns over heavy casualties inflicted on US troops by Shi’ite militia fighters using new roadside bombs called explosively formed penetrators (EFPs). [New York Times, 8/8/2007] US, British, and Iraqi officials are apparently surprised by the sudden announcement, and military officials are cautious about accepting the truth of al-Sadr’s ceasefire order. British military spokesman Major Mike Shearer says, “We don’t know how real this is and I suspect it will take some significant time to see if violence against us does diminish as a result.” But, two days after the announcement, the US military puts out a statement that calls the ceasefire order “encouraging,” and says it will allow US and Iraqi forces to “intensify their focus on al-Qaeda in Iraq… without distraction from [Mahdi Army] attacks.” It adds: “Moqtada al-Sadr’s declaration holds the potential to reduce criminal activity and help reunite Iraqis separated by ethno-sectarian violence and fear. [The ceasefire] would also be an important step in helping Iraqi authorities focus greater attention on achieving the political and economic solutions necessary for progress and less on dealing with criminal activity, sectarian violence, kidnappings, assassinations, and attacks on Iraqi and coalition forces.” Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubbaie is carefully optimistic: “I will see on the ground what is going to happen. It is good news if it is true. If it happens it will reduce violence in the country a great deal.” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office says, “This initiative is an encouraging step toward consolidating security and stability throughout the country and an opportunity for the suspension of the work of the rest of the militias in various political and ideological affiliations to preserve the unity, independence and sovereignty of Iraq.” Al-Sadr does not control all of the Shi’ite militias in the country; those groups do not follow al-Sadr’s lead in suspending hostilities. However, the Mahdi Army is considered by the Pentagon to be the biggest threat to stability in Iraq, even more so than al-Qaeda. In recent months, Mahdi-inflicted casualties have dropped in and around Baghdad, as al-Sadr’s fighters have left the capital to avoid the military crackdown, and gone to Shi’a-dominated southern Iraq. [Daily Telegraph, 8/31/2007; CNN, 9/1/2007] In the weeks and months that follow, US casualties indeed drop; administration and military officials do not credit the ceasefire, but instead showcase the drop in casualties as proof the surge is working (see Early November, 2007).
US officials hail a marked drop in casualties in Iraq in recent weeks. One major reason for the drop seems to be the recent decision by Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army to observe a six-month ceasefire (see August 30, 2007), but Pentagon and White House officials instead credit it to the recent “surge” of US troops into the country (see January 10, 2007), and do not mention the ceasefire at all.
Number of Explosively Formed Projectiles Decreasing - The number of deadly explosively formed projectiles (EFPs) coming into the country seems to be dropping as well, with 99 being detonated or found in July 2007 and 53 in October, according to Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, the commander of day-to-day military operations in Iraq. Al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army has been alleged to be a major recipient and user of EFPs. Defense Secretary Robert Gates will not yet declare “victory” in Iraq, saying that use of terms like “victory” or “winning” are “loaded words.” However, Gates says: “We have been very successful. We need to continue being successful.” Iran has promised to help curtail the flow of EFPs into Iraq; some believe that Iran is the source of most EFPs used in Iraq, and some US officials do not yet believe the Iranians. Odierno says: “In terms of Iran… it’s unclear yet to me whether they have slowed down bringing in weapons and supporting the insurgency or not. I’ll still wait and see.” [Washington Post, 11/2/2007]
Bush, Others Claim Surge a Success - President George Bush says the strategy is successful; at Fort Jackson, SC, he says, “Slowly but surely, the people of Iraq are reclaiming a normal society.” White House national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe adds, “The purpose of the strategy is to make the lull a trend,” and says the trend suggests “steady forward movement on the security front.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/3/2007] Presidential candidate and senator John McCain (R-AZ), an advocate of increasing the US presence in Iraq, says that the US is experiencing “astonishing success” in Iraq because of the surge: “Things are dramatically better, particularly since Gen. Petraeus went before the Congress of the United States and Americans had a chance to see what a great and dynamic leader he is.” [USA Today, 11/1/2007] The London Times agrees, writing, “[O]n every relevant measure, the shape of the Petraeus curve is profoundly encouraging.” The Times goes even further, avowing: “As the pace of reconstruction quickens, the prospects for economic recovery will be enhanced yet further. With oil at record high prices, Iraq should be an extremely prosperous nation and in a position to start planning for its future with confidence.” The editors dismiss the opposition to the war by British and American politicians alike as “outdated.” [London Times, 11/3/2007]
Since Britain has withdrawn its troops from the Iraqi city of Basra, attacks against British and Iraqi forces have dropped by 90%, according to the commander of British forces in southern Iraq. Major General Graham Binns says that the reason for the drop is simple: the presence of British forces in downtown Basra was the single largest instigator of violence. “We thought, ‘If 90 percent of the violence is directed at us, what would happen if we stepped back?’” Binns says. Britain’s 5,000 troops pulled out of their barracks—in a palace built for the use of former dictator Saddam Hussein—in early September, and instead set up a garrison at an airport on the edge of the city. Since the pullback, Binns says, there has been a “remarkable and dramatic drop in attacks.… The motivation for attacking us was gone, because we’re no longer patrolling the streets.” Last spring, British forces waged relentless and bloody battles with Shi’ite militias through the streets of central Basra. British forces have now left the in-town patrols to Iraqi forces, who, Binns says, can now handle the remaining problems in the city. By the middle of December, British troops will return control of Basra province back to Iraqi officials, formally ending Britain’s combat role in the area. Binns says, “We’ve been in that de facto role since we moved out of the palace… but we hope the transfer will symbolize the end of a period many in Basra city perceived as occupation.” Binns says he and other British military officials were surprised that the expected spike in what is termed “intra-militia violence” after the pullback never occurred. Binns says the Mahdi Army, the Shi’ite militia led by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, is “all powerful” in Basra. The rival Badr Brigade, tied to Iraq’s largest Shi’ite party, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, will not openly challenge the Mahdis in the city. Britain’s troop levels have steadily declined from a high of 46,000 in March 2003 to about 5,000 now. [Associated Press, 12/15/2007]
The Associated Press reports that 2007 is the deadliest year yet for US troops in Iraq, though the death toll has dropped significantly in the last few months. The US military’s official count of US war dead for 2007 in Iraq is 899. (The previous high was 850 in 2004. The current death toll since the March 2003 invasion is 3,902.) The unofficial count for Iraqi civilian deaths in 2007 is 18,610. [Associated Press, 12/30/2007] CNN reports that there was a spike in US deaths in the spring as the “surge” was getting underway. There were 104 deaths in April, 126 in May, and 101 in June: the deadliest three-month stretch in the war for US troops. [CNN, 12/31/2007] The reasons for the downturn in US deaths are said to include the self-imposed cease-fire by the Shi’ite Mahdi Army, a grassroots Sunni revolt against extremists (see August 30, 2007), Iran’s apparent decision to slow down its provisions of aid for Shi’ite fighters, and the US “surge” (see February 2, 2007). General David Petraeus, the supreme commander of US military forces in Iraq, says: “We’re focusing our energy on building on what coalition and Iraqi troopers have accomplished in 2007. Success will not, however, be akin to flipping on a light switch. It will emerge slowly and fitfully, with reverses as well as advances, accumulating fewer bad days and gradually more good days.” Security consultant James Carafano of the conservative Heritage Foundation warns that the US is not out of the weeds yet. “The number of people who have the power to turns things around appears to be dwindling,” he says, referring to Iraqi extremists. “But there are still people in Iraq that could string together a week of really bad days.… People have to be really careful about over-promising that this [decline in violence] is an irreversible trend. I think it is a soft trend.” [Associated Press, 12/30/2007]
Many Iraqi officials and citizens hail the decision by US President Obama to withdraw most American forces from Iraq by August 2010 (see February 27, 2009). Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki endorses the plan; an Iraqi government spokesman says: “We welcome such a decision and support it. We consider this as a good-faith sign from the American administration toward Iraq and Iraqis.” Some Iraqi political factions want the Americans to leave sooner, particularly the powerful Mahdi Army led by Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. But some factions, mostly made up of minority Sunnis, are nervous that a US drawdown will leave them vulnerable to a resurgence of sectarian violence against them. And the commanders of Iraq’s security forces worry that US logistical support will fade as the soldiers leave. “It’s really necessary for the American troops to remain now,” says Yousef Aboud Ahmed, a Sunni volunteer fighter with a militia supported by US forces in Baghdad. “If we had a nonsectarian government in power, then yes, it would be a good idea for the American forces to go. They should go one day. But not in this situation.” “All Iraqis want the Americans to withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible,” says Sunni politician Adnan al-Dulaimi. “We’re just afraid of the vacuum that this withdrawal may cause.” Mohammed Faris, a car salesman in Mosul, says: “I wish it [the withdrawal] could happen more quickly, but it is the beginning of the end of the US occupation. I think Iraq is getting stronger by the day.” Interior Ministry spokesman General Abdul-Karim Khalaf says: “We will be ready to take over when the Americans leave. There is no doubting the improved performance of Iraq’s security forces. We are even now taking on and beating al-Qaeda and the militias.” Former Planning Minister Mahdi al-Hafez calls the withdrawal timetable “wise,” and says the US must continue using its diplomatic influence to solve thorny issues such as the debate over the control of the northern city of Kirkuk. Of the plan, al-Hafez says: “It is a realistic and responsible plan. It represents a recognition that Iraq must take matters into their own hands and deal with those huge challenges as an independent country.” American soldiers are more than ready to leave. Army Captain Matt van Stavern, whose unit is stationed in Mosul, says: “My boys are ready to go home. And the Iraqi people will be ready.” [Time, 2/27/2009; Guardian, 2/27/2009]
Entity Tags: Mohammed Faris, Al-Qaeda, Adnan al-Dulaimi, Abdul-Karim Khalaf, Barack Obama, Matt van Stavern, Mahdi Army, Mahdi al-Hafez, Moqtada al-Sadr, Nouri al-Maliki, Yousef Aboud Ahmed
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
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