RE: Nothing Lives Long in a Vacuum
As Michael noted, Nothing Lives Long in a Vacuum. That apparently includes "taking up arms against the occupiers."
Muqtada al-Sadr has announced a six month suspension of Mahdi Army activity in Iraq. The question is why, and at least part of the answer is obvious.
Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered a six-month suspension of activities by his Mahdi Army militia in order to reorganize the force, an aide said Wednesday.
The aide, Sheik Hazim al-Araji, said on Iraqi state television that the goal was to "rehabilitate" the organization, which has reportedly broken into factions, some of which the U.S. maintains are trained and supplied by Iran.
"We declare the freezing of the Mahdi Army without exception in order to rehabilitate it in a way that will safeguard its ideological image within a maximum period of six months starting from the day this statement is issued," al-Araji said, reading from a statement by al-Sadr.The order was issued after two days of bloody clashes in the Shiite holy city of Karbala that claimed at least 52 lives. Iraqi security officials blamed Mahdi militiamen for attacking mosque guards, some of whom are linked to the rival Badr Brigade militia.
Muqtada al-Sadr's Najaf spokesman Ahmed al-Shaibani told reporters, "It [six month suspension] also includes suspending the taking up of arms against occupiers as well as others."
Iran can hardly afford much internal Shi'a bloodshed, which is likely the impetus behind Sadr's (read: Iran's) sudden announcement. Iran must salvage the Mahdi Army, Iran's terrorist hedge fund in Baghdad.
Why, it was only 3 months ago that the largest political party in Iraq, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), dropped "Revolution" from its name, a clear shift away from Iran and Khameini and open support for Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Sistani and an unmistakable nod to the fledgling Iraqi democratic system. When the average news consumer understands the context that SCIRI was created in Iran by Iran during the Iraq-Iran war, the announcement of the Iraqi transformation of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq to simply the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council this past May is perhaps understood as the significant fissure it represented between Iraq and Iran.
Iranian support for and infiltration of Shi'a Iraqi militias is both deep and wide - including Sadr's Mahdi Army and the former-SCIRI's Badr Brigades. The May SCIRI transformation wrested much control from Iran, which came after many Shi'a leaders within SCIRI were convinced of evidence that Iran was supporting not only them, but groups that were actively killing them as well.
From a May article I wrote for FrontPage Magazine titled "Turning The Corner In Iraq," I noted that the rivalry between Sistani and Khameini is significant and that Iranian support for groups killing Sistani's following was a decisive factor in the split.
It was through those open channels that the United States clearly shared evidence of Iranian material support for specific Sunni groups engaged in targeting Shi’a Iraqis in attacks. And it was clearly compelling enough to cause Iraq’ largest Shi’a political party to seek guidance from the traditionalist (and pro-democracy) al-Sistani instead of the revolutionary Iranian leaders.
While it is not known publicly what specific Iran intelligence was shared with the SCIRI leadership, the compelling details surely included such things as the information gained through December and January Baghdad and Irbil raids on Iranain Quds Force operatives. One official confirmed, “We found plans for attacks, phone numbers affiliated with Sunni bad guys, a lot of things that filled in the blanks on what these guys are up to.” Such detailed information proving Iranian cooperation with Sunni groups killing Iraqi Shi’a civilians likely proved compelling enough to the SCIRI leadership that Iran’s support is far less than advertised.
So what to make of Sadr's announcement? Two things.
First, that Muqtada al-Sadr most assuredly makes no such announcement without the direction of his Iranian masters.
Second, that no such Iranian direction comes from a position of Iranian strength. The Mahdi Army was long ago splintered by two actions: Petraeus' orders to confront them rather than avoid them, and Sadr's abdication by fleeing to Iran, leaving the rag-tag group of thugs without any cohesive central leadership.
Iran has long been hedging its Shi'a Iraqi bets between the Badr Brigades of (former) SCIRI and Muqtada's Mahdi Army. It can't very well "fill the power vacuum" in Iraq that Ahmadinejad just prognosticated while the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council trends away from Iran's Khameini and towards Iraq's Sistani and the 'hedge-fund' Mahdi Army disintegrates into the localized street thugs they always were.
When the Mahdi Army spokesman says that Sadr (and his Masters) are "freezing of the Mahdi Army without exception" for six months "in order to rehabilitate it in a way that will safeguard its ideological image," he means exactly that. And that "ideological image" will be unmistakably Iranian.
Time to reconstitute. Time to re-start the public services to garner public support lost. The question is, can the Hizballahfication of the Mahdi Army achieve any measure of success in six months?
If General Petraeus' actions are at all consistent, it will have to occur under great duress. He's not likely to honor a gentlemen's time out while a murderous enemy reconstitutes to fight another day. Petraeus owns the terms. Not Sadr.