According to the Middle East Times, Moqtada al-Sadr’s militia has begun to disintegrate after a series of confrontations with the Iraqi Army throughout the south of Iraq.  The remnants of the Mahdi Army have gone underground, forming an armed network on a much smaller scale.  How small?  Think of the Spartans at Thermopylae, and cut that in half while removing the courage and the military skill:

The Mehdi Army of Moqtada Sadr is evolving into a clandestine movement following Iraqi military operations targeting the group, intelligence suggests.

The military wing of the Sadrist Movement, the political party loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, is “turning itself into a secret armed organization,” an Iraqi intelligence official told the Gulf News on condition of anonymity.

Iraqi intelligence reports suggest the group’s numbers have dwindled from around 50,000 to as few as 150 in the past few years.

Intelligence officials credit decisions by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to launch military offensives against Shiite militants in the southern parts of the country as deterring the group. An Iraqi intelligence official reports as many as 2,000 Mehdi Army fighters were killed in recent operations in Basra, Sadr City and the provincial capital of Maysan, Amarah.

Where did the rest of the Mahdis go?  According to the intel official, a number of them followed Sadr into Iran, fleeing the IA when it came to Basra and Amarah.  Maliki broke their back, and Sadr’s continuing issuance of empty threats wasn’t enough to keep the force together.

One could see this end result right from the beginning of the surge — actually, before it, when the surge first got announced.  Sadr immediately fled to Iran and stayed there, turning the militia into another of Tehran’s proxies.  The US kept them out of the way by avoiding engagements with the Mahdis and focusing on al-Qaeda in the West, but Maliki began isolating Sadr politically by building alliances with Sunnis, Kurds, and rival Shi’ites.  Sadr got painted as a stooge of the Persians, and rightfully so.  And when Maliki finally had a strong enough army, he took the lead against Sadr rather than the US, which finally gave Maliki a political edge against Sadr.

This became obvious over the last few weeks, when Sadr couldn’t get more than 1500 people to participate in a Sadr City protest over the Maliki actions in the south.  It was a showing of Sadr’s weakness, and the flop showed how much ground Sadr had lost among his own constituency.  He strongly suggested that he would declare war against the American forces and end the cease-fire, but he no longer has the forces to do that — and even the Mahdis remember the previous two beatings they took when Sadr dared to actively confront the US in Iraq.

Sadr has survived before, but this time he has lost the one asset that kept him politically alive.   He may well wind up a forgotten toady in the court of the Iranian mullahcracy, and that’s if he’s lucky.