AP: Mahdi Army fractures, defectors now loyal to Iran

posted at 7:27 pm on March 21, 2007 by Allahpundit

Not just a bombshell but a cluster bombshell, with plenty of bomblets inside.

Pretty well sourced, too.

The violent Shiite militia known as the Mahdi Army is breaking into splinter groups, with up to 3,000 gunmen now financed directly by Iran and no longer loyal to the firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, adding a potentially even more deadly element to Iraq’s violent mix.

Two senior militia commanders told The Associated Press that hundreds of these fighters have crossed into Iran for training by the elite Quds force, a branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard thought to have trained Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and Muslim fighters in Bosnia and
Afghanistan…

At the Pentagon, a military official confirmed there were signs the Mahdi Army was splintering. Some were breaking away to attempt a more conciliatory approach to the Americans and the Iraqi government, others moving in a more extremist direction, the official said.

However, the official, who was not authorized to be quoted by name on the topic, was not aware of direct Iranian recruitment and financing of Mahdi Army members.

The outlines of the fracture inside the Mahdi Army were confirmed by senior Iraqi government officials with access to intelligence reports prepared for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The leader of the breakaway faction allegedly is Qais al-Khazaali; google him and you’ll see plenty of statements from him issued on Sadr’s behalf back in 2004, when we should have mopped up all of them up.

As for the Iranian angle, I’ll take a double heaping of crow for having scoffed at that dissident earlier. Follow the link in the update to that post and you’ll see that this is the third separate report today of Iraqi Shiite militiamen being trained and equipped across the border. The AP story is the first one to identify them as rogue JAM, though. Details:

The Mahdi Army commanders, who said they would be endangered if their names were revealed, said Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were funding and arming the defectors from their force, and that several hundred over the last 18 months had slipped across the Iranian border for training by the Quds force.

In recent weeks, Mahdi Army fighters who escaped possible arrest in the Baghdad security push have received $600 each upon reaching Iran. The former Mahdi Army militiamen working for the Revolutionary Guards operate under the cover a relief agency for Iraqi refugees, they said.

Once fighters defect, they receive a monthly stipend of $200, said the commanders…

The defectors are in secret, small, but well-funded cells. Little else has emerged about the structure of their organization, but most of their cadres are thought to have maintained the pretense of continued Mahdi Army membership, possibly to escape reprisals.

The money makes sense. Pajamas wrote last week about the financial crisis JAM capos have found themselves in after Sadr bugged out. Doubtless some of the defectors are fanatics who couldn’t wait any longer to fight the occupier, but a lot of them are probably just starving at this point and looking to make a buck. Mercenaries, to borrow the parlance of our loyal opposition. The irony is, Bill Roggio has long maintained that there really is no such thing as “rogue” Mahdi Army fighters. That’s a fiction, he’s said, invented by the U.S. to justify its covert targeting of JAM fighters. By designating the guys we liquidate as “rogue” we preserve the appearance of neutrality towards the Mahdi Army proper, which prevents an all-out war from breaking out and grants them the legitimacy needed to negotiate with us, disarm, and rejoin civilian life.

But maybe there really are rogue fighters. It makes sense that Iran would want to cannibalize as much of Sadr’s boys as they can; the other major Shiite militia, SCIRI’s Badr Organization, is already close to Tehran (and is ID’d as such by the AP). If they want to dominate the country when the U.S. leaves, they might as well line up as many guns as they can now.

Or, just maybe, this whole story is garbage fed to the AP as propaganda. But if so, whose propaganda is it? It could be ours: Roggio’s theory is essentially a divide-and-conquer strategy and this would be the ne plus ultra of that. Plus the involvement of the Quds Force lets us point the finger at Iran, which in turn gives us a very good reason to keep our troop levels high. Or the propaganda could be Iran’s: any accusation that they’re training Iraqis is plausibly deniable, and it could be that they’re sincerely worried about Sadr’s strength and are angling for a little divide and conquer of their own. The AP notes that estimates of JAM membership vary sharply, but the last number I saw a few months ago was 40,000. The Badr Organization isn’t that strong, I don’t believe, so maybe the mullahs are hoping to turn the Mahdi Army against itself before they really make their move for control. (According to the Mahdi capos who spoke to the AP, they’ve been trying to lure people away since 2005.) Or, possibly, the propaganda is Sadr’s own: if the world thinks some of his guys have broken away — while “maintaining the pretense” of being loyal JAM — then he can start ordering hits on whoever he likes while blaming it all on the breakaway wing. It’s the Roggio theory in reverse, coopted by Sadr for his own ends. In fact, the Mahdi Army commanders interviewed by the AP both attribute the attempted murder of the mayor of Sadr City last week to those pesky rogues. What a coincidence.

I don’t know. Something to sleep on. I’ll leave you with this fun fact: “Al-Sadr tried to return to Iraq last month but turned back before he reached the Iraqi border upon learning of U.S. checkpoints on the road to Najaf, the Shiite holy city south of Baghdad where he lives.” Exit question: Why? Does he really think we’re going to arrest him?


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If the story is true, now is the time for the US Forces to arrest this pig and bring him to justice, before he has the time to build up his forces again.

NEMETI IN SYRACUSE on March 21, 2007 at 7:33 PM

I have this feeling that Iran has been behind the Mahdis all along, so hold off on that crow.

Methinks the splintering is those seeking to keep their lives and realizing the time is not yet right to strike.

steveegg on March 21, 2007 at 7:51 PM

I really hope this is the last time I read the name al-Sadr except in the context of an obituary.

SailorDave on March 21, 2007 at 8:14 PM

A stretch maybe, but Sadr could be setting up for a double-cross. Get the boys out of town while things are hot, and on Iran’s dime too. Little more training, some new equipment, and then back in his camp when the time is right.

TexasDan on March 21, 2007 at 8:18 PM

Kill em all, Let AP sort them out!

JayHaw Phrenzie on March 21, 2007 at 8:30 PM

Somebody contact a Spec 4 working in an MI unit on the ground over there and get the true answer fer Christs sake. All these damn theories sound more like a bunch of truthers debating the flammability characterics of skyscrapers.

LakeRuins on March 21, 2007 at 8:37 PM

Exit question: Why? Does he really think we’re going to arrest him?

I think he had a vision of .50 cal. aimed right at his sternum.

Zorro on March 21, 2007 at 9:00 PM

On the exit question?

There is still an Iraqi Warrant out for his arrest as an accesory to murder of a fellow Shiite cleric 3 years ago.

Warrant was not being served because of his political power, but as far as I know its still active.

Romeo13 on March 21, 2007 at 9:11 PM

On one hand I wish we would give Iran the whupping they’ve deserved since 79. On the other I think maybe the majority in Iran might like to be rid of the mullas as much as we would. Iran is not Iraq. I tend to think the people there might be capable of some kind of self rule. Maybe not. The situation in Iraq has been an education in why authoritarianism rules the ME. It seems the only thing free arabs/persians would fight for is more islam. Those who wouldn’t, won’t stand up to those who would. It’s a shame to have to bomb the former to hit the latter. Still, I’d prefer that to letting them develop nukes. If they test one, let the hellfire rain down.

Buck Turgidson on March 21, 2007 at 9:18 PM

Now is the time for all good men from America in our military to take out every last one of these “things”. ASAP. No more mister nice guy. For pity’s sake, let’s get it on!

sharinlite on March 21, 2007 at 9:19 PM

This is actually better this way. Now, we can go after Sadr and his Mahdi Army as outlaws to lawful Iraqi government authority and completely destroy them.

Phil Byler on March 21, 2007 at 9:44 PM

I’d love to get my hands on Mookie for this crap

Defector01 on March 21, 2007 at 10:19 PM

Exit question: Why? Does he really think we’re going to arrest him?

My bud who is in Sadr City has a pic of Mookie and wants to send him to Allah. What is the official US position? Do we shoot this POS on sight or grab him up?

csdeven on March 21, 2007 at 10:19 PM

The leader of the breakaway faction allegedly is Qais al-Khazaali; google him and you’ll see plenty of statements from him issued on Sadr’s behalf back in 2004, when we should have mopped up all of them up.

Exactly! But we didn’t want to offend anyone……. especially those who are shooting at our troops….

Will we ever learn “who” made that decision?

PinkyBigglesworth on March 21, 2007 at 11:26 PM

There’s an old murder charge mookie’s been dodging isn’t there?

Purple Avenger on March 22, 2007 at 4:22 PM