Ayatollahs Decline to Ban Militia

Ayatollahs Decline to Ban Militia

I am always astounded at the combination of unrealistic optimism and foolish gullibility that marks political discourse on the Right in Washington. We were being told by Rich Lowry at the National Review that Sadr was on the ropes and on the verge of disbanding the Mahdi Army because the other political factions had turned on him, and that the others had had their militias join the regular security forces.

So let us get this straight. Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr”s Mahdi Army fought off thousands of regular Iraqi army troops in Basra and Baghdad, and perhaps thousands of those troops deserted rather than fight. So the Mahdi Army won big and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki lost. Also the US military trainers of the Iraqi troops lost face.

So the next thing we hear is that al-Maliki is talking big and demanding that the Mahdi Army be dissolved. Usually you get to talk big if you win the military battle, not if you lose.

The Sadrists have no intention of dissolving the Mahdi Army, according to this Arabic source, quoting Sadrist spokesman Salah al-Ubaidi. They point out, pace that great Iraq expert Lowry, that there are 28 militias in Iraq. The Badr Corps of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) still exists as a stand alone organization. In fact it ran as a political party in the elections and holds both provincial and federal seats. It hasn”t been complete merged into the state security forces as Lowry alleged. And anyway, painting a sign on a militia saying “this one is legitimate because its party won the last election” is not going to convince any real Iraqis.

As it happens, the parliamentary representatives of Mosul demanded Monday that the Kurdish Peshmerga be dissolved. (Hint: Hell will freeze over first).

Then the US press went wild for this supposed report that Muqtada al-Sadr said he would dissolve his militia if Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani ordered it. Folks, he always says that when there is a controversy. (He said the same thing in spring, 2004). He says it because he knows it makes him look reasonable to the Shiite public. He says it because he knows that the grand ayatollahs are not going to touch the matter with a ten foot pole. They are not so foolish as to take responsibility for dissolving a militia that they had nothing to do with creating. And that is probably the real meaning of this CNN report that they “refused” when asked. I doubt the grand ayatollahs in Najaf actively commanded Muqtada to keep his militia. They just declined to get drawn in.

So the idea that, having lost militarily, al-Maliki and his political allies (who are a minority in parliament now) could just a couple of days later jawbone Muqtada into giving up his paramilitary was always absurd.

As for the the threat that the Sadrists would not be allowed to run in the provincial elections in the fall unless the Mahdi Army was dissolved, it is either empty or very dangerous. First of all, not only Sadrists but also other observers have pointed out that excluding parties from running in elections is not the prerogative of the prime minister. It is a matter that would have to be passed by parliament. And since the parliamentarians who would be voting to dissolve all militias ahead of elections are all in parties that maintain militias, it would be political suicide for them to vote that way. Of course, they could just play the hypocrite card and declare, as Lowry did, that their militias are not militias, whereas the Mahdi Army is a militia.

But if the Sadrists are really excluded from civil politics, and they are the majority in the South, then you will have just pushed a majority of Iraqis out of the political process and potentially into civil violence. Isn”t that the opposite of the goal here?

As for the real Iraq, Monday was a difficult day.


Guerrillas killed 4 US troops in Iraq on Monday, bringing the 2-day total to 9.

Robert Reid of AP reports that hundreds of Iraqis fled the Shiite districts of Baghdad that are under siege by American and Iraqi government forces. The US and its Iraqi allies engaged in firefights on several fronts in the Shiite neighborhoods. US helicopter gunships and fighter bombers also fired missiles into the civilian neighborhoods. The attacksleft 14 dead in the Baghdad area. The US military denies that its bombing of civilian neighborhoods kills innocent civilians. While I know they try hard to minimize collateral damage, the blanket form of the assertion is not plausible.

The Baghdad fighting is the worst in about a year.

Courtesy Gulfnews.com.

A huge explosion in the southern port city of Basra destroyed a house and killed at least 8 persons. The origin of the blast remains controversial.

The disposition of the oil-rich province of Kirkuk remains a ticking time bomb in Iraq”s north. The Kurds intend to annex it to Kurdistan. Most Turkmen and Arabs are violently opposed to this step, as is neighboring Turkey. The referendum scheduled for last December was postponed six months, but seems unlikely to take place in June, either. Some Iraqis, including some Kurds, are talking about a negotiated settlement of the question rather than a referendum (which the Kurds would win since they have flooded Kirkuk province with Kurds).

Not every place in al-Anbar Province is yet “calm,” the CSM points out.

With regard to the kidnapping of 42 students from a bus near Mosul, who were later released, I received this from a US military observer in the area:

“Mr. Cole,
You should check your sources closer before you report on the “impunity” of the insugents to operate in the Mosul area. My unit was involved in the location of the college students mentioned in your blog. They were not released by the insurgents at their leisure. They were found by coalition forces, engaged to disable the dump truck that the students were being transported and then freed by combined coalition, Iraqi Army and police forces. The four individuals that were driving the dump truck were all detained by Iraqi Army and police units after firing at U.S. helicopters and then hiding among women and children to avoid being fired upon. I know these items are facts as the operation occured a mere three hours after I completed my mission for the day and was briefed by the aircrews that were responsible for the capture. Please know that everyday we see dispicable acts that are perpetrated upon the Iraqi people in the name of the “insurgency”. They dare not engage directly because they have learned of the swift and deadly consequences that will occur to them if they do. Also realize that I see the Iraqi security forces taking a larger role in every operation that we conduct here in Ninevah provence of which Mosul is a part. I know that the axiom “if it bleeds it leads” is more true now than ever, but yesterday was a win in the books for the Iraqis and the coalition. Yesterday yielded 42 students that are home with their families, 4 bad guys that are not on the streets, and not a single bystander hurt by coalition or Iraqi forces alike. That is a good news story, not a bullet to show how impotent we are to what is occurring on the ground. ”

It is great to have some background on the way the release was accomplished, information that was to my knowledge not reported in the wire services. And it was certainly good news that the students were released. But I didn”t say the US military was impotent; what I said was that if people can be kidnapped like that in broad daylight, security can”t be very good. And while it is welcome that security was restored for these victims, it still seems like a high crime area. . .

What I can”t understand is why I don”t get more letters like this one. I take eyewitness accounts seriously. I”m a classic political liberal and I think the maximization of information is intrinsically good for a republic.

McClatchy reports political violence in Iraq on Monday:

” Baghdad

– Around 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. two roadside bombs targeted Iraqi police vehicles in Zayouna injuring 5 policemen and 5 civilians in both attacks.

– Around 9 a.m. a mortar shell hit the Green Zone.

– Around 2 p.m. a roadside bomb targeted a police vehicle in Al Mashtal injuring 5 policemen.

– Two mortar shells hit the air force soccer club in Palestine Street, causing no casualties.

– Clashes between Mahdi army militiamen and the Iraqi army in Sadr city took place today; Iraqi police said and gave no figures for the casualties.

– Around 3 p.m. three mortar shells targeted the Green Zone, one hit Karrada neighborhood injuring two civilians and two hit inside the Green Zone. – Around 4 p.m. two mortar shells hit the Green Zone.

– Around 5 p.m. a mortar shell hit the cars” parking area in the ministry of foreign affairs causing damages to three parking cars with no casualties.

– Around 5:30 p.m. three mortar shells hit Al Rustamiyah military camp. Minutes later the sources of fire were targeted in Al Ameen neighborhood east of Baghdad, killing 9 civilians and injuring 31, Iraqi police said. No military reepsonse was available by the time of publication of this report.

– A fire in Al Eatiman bank building in Saadon started yesterday night.

– Police found four dead bodies throughout Baghdad, one in Baladiyat, one in Jisr Diyala, one in Amil and one in Dora.


– Seven men were killed in Al Asdiqa neighborhood (5 miles north of Basra) as an explosion took place in their house.

– A roadside bomb targeted the convoy of General Abdul Kareem Khalf, the spokesman of the ministry of interior, in Al Nashwa area (about 37 miles north of Basra) injuring four body guards.


– A roadside bomb targeted an army vehicle in Al Bu Khamis area (about 8 miles south of Baquba) killing one soldier and injuring another.”

Juan Cole is President of the Global Americana Institute