The Blog

The Mahdi Army Is Losing Its Luster

7:20 PM, May 27, 2008 • By BILL ROGGIO
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

A common narrative about the war in Iraq is that fighting against the enemy in urban environments creates more insurgents, thus it is fruitless to even try. But today's Los Angeles Times finally asked Iraqis in Sadr City what they think about the recent fighting and how it impacts their views of the Mahdi Army. The answer: The Mahdi Army has lost significant support from not only residents caught in the crossfire, but from Mahdi Army fighters themselves.

In fact, some Mahdi Army fighters were so discouraged by the recent fighting that they vowed to never join the ranks again. "I had faith. I believed in something," a former Mahdi Army fighter told the LA Times. "Now, I will never fight with them."

"People are fed up with them [the Mahdi Army] because of their extremism and the problems they are causing," a merchant in central Baghdad said. The situation was so bad that the Sadrist movement was forced to sue for a cease-fire.

It's a public relations problem that even some Mahdi Army members acknowledge, and a fragile truce reached by Sadr and the Iraqi government this month, which allowed Iraqi troops to deploy into Sadr City, suggested that at least privately, Sadr's political wing recognized the need to back down from the fighting.

We're constantly being told that the fighting in Sadr City has ended in a stalemate at best, or was a failure for the Iraqi government and military as the Mahdi Army has lived to fight another day. But the attitudes of the Iraqis in Sadr City and in surrounding Shia areas paint a different picture.

These developments would not be a surprise to the readers of The Long War Journal. Bill Ardolino was embedded with U.S. forces in the Rusafa District, which abuts Sadr City, several weeks ago. During patrols in the markets with U.S. forces and the Sons of Iraq, he interviewed several locals about their views on the Mahdi Army. The Shia still feared the Mahdi Army, but were fed up with the militia and the fighting was only causing them to lose support.