Moqtada al-Sadr has moved his family to a secure location because of fears he will become the target of a security sweep of Baghdad, it was reported today [Jan 19].
In an interview with Mr Sadr, published in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica today, the cleric said 400 of his men had already been arrested.
"For this reason, I have moved my family to a secure location. I even have had a will drawn up, and I move continuously in a way that only few can know where I am," he was quoted as saying.
"But even if I were to die, Mahdi would continue to exist. Men can be killed. Faith and ideas cannot," he said.
Mr Sadr said his men would not fight during the Islamic month of Muharram, which marks the death of Muhammad's grandson Hussein, but that afterwards "we'll see".
Also of note is the fact that the al Sadr faction has ended its boycott of the Iraqi government effectively clearing the way for action against the insurgency.
Now there are a couple of schools of thought on what is going on with the Mahdi army.
One was reported by Sabrina Tavernise in the New York Times on Jan. 17th:
In an interesting twist, the militia's leadership has not visibly fought back against the crackdown. American commanders say that the arrests do not draw the howling objections they used to in 2004, because Mr. Sadr's militia has splintered so deeply since then that the members they are arresting are more criminal than political and considered by Mr. Sadr to be disloyal renegades.
In that assessment, Mr. Sadr could even be using the government and the American military to purge his own ranks of undesirables.
Tavernise also noted:
In perhaps the most surprising development, the Americans said, none of the members had been prematurely released, a chronic problem as this government has frequently shielded Shiite fighters.
“There was definitely a change in attitudes,” in the past three to four weeks, a senior American military officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Mr. Maliki, in a meeting with foreign journalists on Wednesday, said 400 Mahdi militiamen had been arrested “within the last few days,” according to a tape of the interview made available to The New York Times. A senior government official said later by telephone that the total number arrested was 420 and that they had been detained in 56 operations beginning in October. Several dozen senior leaders have been detained in the past several weeks, the senior official said on condition of anonymity. He said the total number of senior commanders did not exceed 100.
Still, some American military officials remained skeptical that the effort was more than just a short-term attempt to appease them at a time when American government support for Mr. Maliki appeared to have sunk to an all-time low.
“The question is whether it will be sustained,” another American military official said. “This shouldn’t be done to weather some short-term political storm. This has to stick in the long run.”
Or said another way, 'so far, so good ... but will it last"?
Speaking of Maliki, an Iraqi government official said:
"He told the sheik that the activities of both the Sadrist politicians and the militia have inflamed hatred among neighboring Sunni Arab states that have been complaining bitterly to the Americans," the official said.
Meanwhile DEBKAfile reports al Sadr is trying to "change the subject" in a manner of speaking in an attempt to save his militia:
He has also warned the Palestinians living in Iraq, most of them Sunni Muslims, they will be killed unless they leave the country immediately.
The Sadrist parliamentary bloc of 30 and its six ministers ended their two-month boycott Sunday, Jan. 21, clearing the way for Shiite PM Nouri al-Maliki to muster majority support for the planned US-Iraqi security crackdown in Baghdad. This was one of several steps taken by Sadr to save his Mehdi Army militia, the largest Shiite private army, and their strongholds in Baghdad’s Sadr City from being targeted as the source of much of the sectarian violence besetting the capital.
Sheik Mahmoud El Hassani, spokesman of Sadr’s militia ordered all 20,000 Palestinians living in Iraq to quit the country or face death. He said the Palestinians, for whom Saddam Hussein provided housing and money, had brought their suffering on themselves by joining forces with Sunni extremists and al Qaeda and for killing Shiites in the Saddam era. “They lived off our blood under Saddam. We were hungry when they were comfortable. They should leave now or they will have to pay,” said the Shiite sheik.
Moqtada Sadr is maneuvering to avert a clash between his militia and beefed up American forces, while at the same time continuing his sectarian onslaught on Sunnis. To be on the safe side, he has ordered his men to melt into the 2.5 million inhabitants of Sadr City and hide their weapons. His tactic is to keep his powder dry in the coming months until the Iraqi-US forces massing Baghdad pull back. He will then re-activate his militia and send them into battle to take over parts of the capital. He hopes the US and Iraqi forces, seeing the Shiites falling back, will turn their guns on the Sunni insurgents instead.
By turning his Mehdi Army against the Palestinians, Sadr wants to win points for helping the Americans quell Sunni extremists and al Qaeda and divert their offensive away from his militia.
There is no question that al Sadr is a crafty politician as well as a charismatic leader. His goal, obviously, is to survive and outlast this latest push, assuming, one must suppose, that it will be of relatively short duration.
Meanwhile the Mahdi army melts into the suburbs, changes tactics and hunkers down:
The Mahdi Army commanders said they were increasingly concerned about improved U.S. intelligence that has allowed the Americans to successfully target key figures in the militia.
"We're no longer using cell phones except in emergencies. Some of our top commanders have not been home (in Sadr City) for a year because they fear capture," one of the commanders said.
The militiamen said al-Sadr himself had apparently gotten wind of the coming assault and ordered a reshuffling of the Mahdi Army command structure, transferring many leaders to new districts and firing others who were of suspect loyalty.
No because we are Stoopit and We Suck, this will fail... this is not a victory but a crafty plan by the insurgents, geeeez is this not obvious?! We can never win, everything is a crafty plan based on our Stoopitity....
This is going to fail regardless of if it actually does fail. We’ve already been told this is a failure and believe me, nobody is going to let facts get in the way, not when they think they’re thisclose to defeating the enemy (which of course would be Pres. Bush)