Mahdi Army losing support — or just losing power?

posted at 8:40 am on May 27, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

The Los Angeles Times runs an interesting look at the popular reaction to the Iraqi Army’s mission in Sadr City. Tina Susman and Usama Redha report that Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia has rapidly lost support from the citizens of the Baghdad slum as a result of the fighting caused by the Nouri al-Maliki government’s push to establish sovereignty in the sector. However, one has to wonder whether that really represents a change of heart or the effects of liberating the territory from terrorists:

Four summers ago, when militiamen loyal to hard-line Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr were battling U.S. forces in the holy city of Najaf, Mohammed Lami was among them.

“I had faith. I believed in something,” Lami said of his days hoisting a gun for Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia. “Now, I will never fight with them.”

Lami is no fan of U.S. troops, but after fleeing Baghdad’s Sadr City district with his family last month, when militiamen arrived on his street to plant a bomb, he is no fan of the Mahdi Army either. Nor are many others living in Sadr City, the 32-year-old said. Weeks of fighting between militiamen and Iraqi and U.S. forces, with residents caught in the middle, has chipped away at the Sadr movement’s grass-roots popularity, Lami said.

More than 1,000 people have died in Sadr City since fighting erupted in late March, and hospital and police officials say most have been civilians. As the violence continues, public tolerance for the Mahdi Army, and by association the Sadr movement, seems to be shifting toward the same sort of resentment once reserved for U.S. and Iraqi forces.

“People are fed up with them because of their extremism and the problems they are causing,” said Rafid Majid, a merchant in central Baghdad. Like many others interviewed across the capital, he said the good deeds the group performs no longer were enough to make up for the hardships endured by ordinary Iraqis who just want to go to work and keep their families safe.

When the Mahdis first organized in Baghdad, they had some justification. They provided protection that neither the US nor the provisional Iraqi government could against Sunni terrorists and militias, including Ba’athist dead-enders and al-Qaeda in Iraq. They mobilized to defend Shi’ite neighborhoods and to inflict retribution on Sunnis as a deterrent. Their only early mistakes came in challenging the US forces in two separate campaigns, from both of which Sadr barely escaped with his forces in place.

Unfortunately, in Sadr City and Baghdad, the Mahdis began to run wild. Once they eliminated the external threat, the Mahdis transformed themselves into a hybrid of the Mafia and the Taliban. Protection rackets abounded and strict shari’a conditions were imposed — not so brutally as AQI enforcement of Islamic law in the West, perhaps, but harsh nonetheless. Sadr City and Basra residents had security, but at a high price, and that chafed as the rest of the country slowly emerged from internecine warfare and terrorism in 2007.

The LA Times now reports that the Mahdis have lost popular support because they have resisted the current operation to establish Baghdad’s authority on Sadr City. This feels like a chicken-egg argument. Even the anecdotes used by the reporters to make that argument sound more like the Mahdis lost popularity quite some time ago, but only with the Maliki push to displace the Mahdis have residents felt free to voice their dissent. The extremism didn’t start in March, for example, and neither did Mahdi interference with commerce and traffic.

What seems more likely is the dynamic we saw in Basra. No one dared to openly oppose the Mahdis while they kept a tight grip on the city, but as soon as that grip weakened, dissent flowered into defiance. People threw off the shackles of fear and oppression to welcome the Iraqi Army and began playing music and celebrating for the first time in years. As Sadr City gains confidence in Maliki’s tenacity and no longer fear retribution from the Mahdis, the people will defy them and lower-level functionaries will find better, more productive jobs.

Terrorists only get power from fear. Once that dissipates, they discover that they never had much support at all, and only the luckiest of them escape the fate of most terrorist oppressors: an abrupt end to life.


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Man, the MSM, the Hollywood crowd and the so-called “Democrats” must be crying their beers, as the leaders of the Anti-American/Pro-Jihadi Leftist Nutbag crowd, this is a real serious blow to their reflexive desire to surrender at any cost!

Dale in Atlanta on May 27, 2008 at 8:52 AM

It’s also worth noting the effects of simple inertia and the influence of the Western Press.

al-Sadr pere was a genuine hero who stood up to Saddam and the Ba’ath to try to get a modicum of decent treatment for the poor Shi’ia. His elder sons were cut from the same cloth. When they were assassinated by the Saddam regime, only the stupid and feckless Muqtada was left. Think Teddy Kennedy, less about fifteen IQ points.

The Left’s narrative of Iraqi Minute Men and freedom fighters opposing the vile invaders complimented and ennobled the Ba’ath oppressors of Shi’ia, and the poor of Sadr City concluded that this was a case of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” The situation was fluid enough for them to do something that they thought might be effective, and they did so, organizing it around the existing network originated by the al-Sadr family. Unfortunately for them, Mookie isn’t half the man his father and brothers were, and a Movement of the resentful led by the semi-moronic didn’t work out. Too bad so many innocents had to be hurt to establish that.

Regards,
Ric

warlocketx on May 27, 2008 at 9:07 AM

Little by little, street by street, person by person…the effect of an orderly society will be felt.
What we take for granted, these people never had, and as we bring order, out of chaos, they will begin to embrace freedom, and understand that freedom comes at a cost, it is seldom ever given freely.
This is why it takes years, decades, generations, to implant this strategy…which is what was said at the beginning of the war, nothing has changed, just that time has passed and the citizens are beginning to see the results.

right2bright on May 27, 2008 at 9:12 AM

While we’re at it, let us offer major props to the American and Allied planners who understood, however dimly and with whatever degree of resentment, that the correct thing to do about Muqtada al-Sadr was nothing. There were calls from the well-intentioned ignorant, right here on Hot Air among other places, to simply whack Mookie. That would have confirmed in the minds of the poor Shi’ia that the American and Allied forces were just Ba’athists in different uniforms, and made the situation enormously worse.

The Mooreonic Convergence was a major contributor to the damage done. Doing away with Muqtada al-Sadr would have reinforced and exacerbated that damage, and a call to do so was and is a declaration of alliance with Fat Mike and his cohorts.

Regards,
Ric

warlocketx on May 27, 2008 at 9:21 AM

Am I the only one getting the feeling little by little that if we left now…there might just not be a bloodbath?

Not that I’m saying we should, but that feeling is taking hold. As bad as it looked a couple years ago, it almost feels like a critical mass towards stability and –gasp– victory is being achieved and building nearly exponentially daily.

I wonder just what the landscape come November might be if Iraq continues on its present course, and sometime over the summer we’re presented with the corpse of Osama.

Typhoon on May 27, 2008 at 9:47 AM

More good news for those who value Freedom,more bad news for the Democrats who are so invested in our failure in Iraq.

By looking at the left wing drivel and hysterical rants from the NY Times editorial board and HuffPo yesterday,it is obvious that democrats are worried that all their proclamations of defeat are going to come back and bite them in their a$$.

After all,if you are going to sell out your country and stab the American Soldier in the back for political gain,you at least want to win those seats and the White House.

It is infuriating to listen to democrats talk about the Iraq war like they had nothing to do with sending our men and women over there and didn’t spend the better part of the 90′s telling the world how dangerous Saddam’s WMDs and ties to al-qaeda were.

Biggest case of amnesia the world has ever seen.

democrats and their hollywood friends are constantly listing the “horrible crimes” committed by the Bush Administration yet they have the power to de-fund the war and impeach, But do neither and their hollywood friends and
activist keep giving them millions of dollars and votes.

Jessica Lange Decries Bush Era of Torture, Prison Camps, and War

By Tim Graham | May 26, 2008 – 13:51 ET
http://newsbusters.org/blogs/tim-graham/2008/05/26/jessica-lange-decries-bush-era-torture-prison-camps-war

Associated Press reports that actress Jessica Lange launched another assault on the Iraq War and the Bush administration on Friday as a speaker at her daughter Hannah Shepard’s commencement from Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York. “We are living in an America that, in the last seven and a half years, has waged an unnecessary war, established prison camps, condoned torture, employed corporate armies, eliminated the right of habeas corpus, practiced extraordinary rendition, and believe me, this is only a partial list,” Lange said, before she launched into more personal observations about the joy of eating sun-warmed strawberries.
Lange has repeatedly launched public attacks on President Bush as a man who “has no heart,” who runs a “regime of deceit, hypocrisy, and belligerence,” and his tenure has been “an embarrassing time to be an American.”

(via Newsbusters)

You really have to be blinded by your ideology or just ignorant to buy the crap that democrats and their hollywood friends are selling.

Congressman admits Dems “stretched the facts” about stopping the war to get elected
By see-dubya • May 23, 2008 08:47 AM
Headline says it all:
http://michellemalkin.com/2008/05/23/congressman-admits-dems-stretched-the-facts-about-stopping-the-war-to-get-elected/

As Jeff Emanuel notes, there’s an extra little dollop of condescension to leaven all that honesty:
“Now anybody was a good student of Government,” said Kanjorski, “would know that wasn’t true [that they “could stop the war”].” Fortunately for those Democrats who campaigned, and were elected, based on their war-ending promises, their hardcore supporters, their activists, and their base of voters, are all made up of people who are, by Mr. Kanjorski’s reckoning, very, very poor students of Government.
But all of that was justified to these incumbents and first-time candidates. Taking advantage of poor, uneducated rubes? Abusing trust, and leaving those who offered it stranded along the way? All acceptable — because, again by Mr. Kanjorski’s own description, of “the temptation to want to win back the Congress.”
http://jeffemanuel.net/paul-kanjorski-pa-11-admits-democrats-lied-about-being-able-to-end-war-in-iraq

(via Michelle Malkin)

Harry Reid and the rest of the Brave Sir Robin crew need to
be sent out on their collective butt’s for turning their backs and undermining the very mission they sent our Soldiers off to battle for.

Baxter Greene on May 27, 2008 at 9:48 AM

My son, home on leave from Iraq, says the situation is more complex than a couple of inches in a newspaper column can deal with. He says there are some units of the Iraqi army that can kick ass and take names with the best of our army units, and there are others (most of them) that still operate under the bribe/strong man mentality and until they outgrow that in their own self interest, progress will be slow.

But there is major progress. That’s the whole thing.

Mommynator on May 27, 2008 at 10:09 AM

. . . Harry Reid and the rest of the Brave Sir Robin crew need to
be sent out on their collective butts for turning their backs and undermining the very mission they sent our Soldiers off to battle for.

Baxter Greene on May 27, 2008 at 9:48 AM

Indeed, but the American public (outside of forums like this) have been so brainwashed by the Dems and the MSM that they believe the nonsense that Jessica Lange spouted.

I wonder just what the landscape come November might be if Iraq continues on its present course, and sometime over the summer we’re presented with the corpse of Osama.

Typhoon on May 27, 2008 at 9:47 AM

That’s definitely what we need; a dramatic turnaround in the Long War that the MSM can’t ignore and the public will applaud.

The White House has begun to start defending itself publicly, after seven years of taking one lambasting after another without complaint. Too bad it took them so long.

MrLynn on May 27, 2008 at 10:21 AM

Permanent Revolution gets annoying, ultimately, to normal people.

Luckily, there seem to be some even in “Sadr City”.

Power to the Disgusted With Fanatics!

profitsbeard on May 27, 2008 at 10:57 AM

When we look at the political landscape in America, we see much fear and hatred of the Christian Right. People are more or less the same everywhere. In Iraq 2003, many people already didn’t want an Islamic theocrazy, and many more learnt why the others didn’t want the Islamic theocracy.

It’s a pity that there is no practical way to let the theocrats rule for ten years and then hold an election on whether the theocrats should get the death penalty.

I wonder how the common man felt in Jean Calvin’s Geneva–the Christian government which came the closest to the Taliban’s Afghanistan? I suppose there was no internet back then.

thuja on May 27, 2008 at 11:27 AM

I wonder how the common man felt in Jean Calvin’s Geneva–the Christian government which came the closest to the Taliban’s Afghanistan? I suppose there was no internet back then.

thuja on May 27, 2008 at 11:27 AM

You must mean John Calvin…like in the early 1500′s. Why would you equate something from 500 years ago to now, except to mislead?
That is like the foolish “crusade” arguments,or other such foolish comparisons.
And what Christian government is like the Taliban now?

right2bright on May 27, 2008 at 12:23 PM

You must mean John Calvin…like in the early 1500’s. Why would you equate something from 500 years ago to now, except to mislead?
That is like the foolish “crusade” arguments,or other such foolish comparisons.
And what Christian government is like the Taliban now?

right2bright on May 27, 2008 at 12:23 PM

Sorry for the Jean Calvin. I was reading a book in French about religion and “Jean” actually was the dude’s name. I should have anglicized it.

Anyway, my point in bringing up Jean Calvin was not moral equivalence. I’m proud of Western culture including our Christianity and Judaism. I do strongly believe in the superiority of Christianity and Judaism to Islam. And I view the Crusades as a defensive reaction several centuries too late.

On the other hand, Christianity has resulted in some unfortunate and cruel laws in the West: punishment for gay sex and lustful teenage heterosexuals among the most blatant. And there was the Inquisition, the pograms, abuse of unwed mothers, and censorship run amok as with Anthony Comstock here in the United States. We seem to have got over that phase of Christianity. Perhaps, the muslims will get over their religious evil also.

Isn’t this hope for change to a milder Islam the only justification for us being in Iraq? If the muslims are just going to be Islamic nutcases, our only credible tactic for survival in an age of nuclear weapons is to kill them now and convert at gun point any survivors. My point in bringing up John Calvin’s Geneva is to show some hope that George W’s strategy of bring democracy to Iraq will work.

thuja on May 27, 2008 at 2:55 PM