Report: Sadr to disarm Mahdi Army
Anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr intends to disarm his once-dominant Mahdi Army militia and remake it as a social-services organization, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.
The transformation would represent a significant turnaround for a group that has been one of the most destabilizing anti-American forces in Iraq.
A new brochure, obtained by The Wall Street Journal and confirmed by al-Sadr’s chief spokesman, Sheik Salah al-Obeidi, states that the Mahdi Army will now be guided by Shiite spirituality instead of anti-American militancy. The group will focus on education, religion and social justice, according to the brochure, which is aimed at al-Sadr’s followers. The brochure also states that it "is not allowed to use arms at all," The Journal noted.
Posters have been put up in some areas of Baghdad saying a new direction for the Mahdi Army will be announced at this Friday’s prayers, the paper reported.
Disarmament is far from certain, the Journal noted, writing that the group is ridden with internal strife, and that al-Sadr now is believed to spend significant time outside the country, in Iran.
U.S. military spokesman Col. Jerry O’Hara told the Journal that the military welcomed the news, but said "the proof is always in the actions and not just the words, so we’ll take a wait-and-see approach."
Al-Sadr faces big challenges. The Journal wrote that hard-liners within the Mahdi Army will likely reject the new strategy, just as they have ignored his orders to freeze violent activities as part of a cease-fire. These members have also been threatening — and assassinating — rivals who support the cease-fire.