LA Times: Mahdi Army melting down

Mmmmm yeah. All according to plan, per what Roggio’s been saying for months.

Seven weeks into the U.S.-led security crackdown in Baghdad, leaders of the Al Mahdi militia of Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr acknowledge that their fighters are chafing under orders to freeze operations, and worry they could lose control of the sprawling organization.

Some members have defected to armed groups that have no intention of calling a cease-fire. Commanders have gone underground, leaving a leadership void as U.S. forces arrest members in raids. Some commanders have fled to Iran and others to southern Iraq. Rumors abound about the location of Sadr.

Senior leaders of Sadr’s movement also worry openly that Iran has started to recruit Al Mahdi fighters to possibly confront U.S. forces in Iraq.

Yeah, we know all about that at this point, don’t we? JAM sources tells the Times that Sadr’s been purging his ranks since October, but that it hasn’t stopped the defections to the “rogue,” Iranian-backed wing of the Mahdi Army so far. In which case, why doesn’t Sadr play ball with Iran and offer his services as a Nasrallah-type proxy? Iran probably wants his brand name more than they want him, but they can’t be thrilled by the prospect of having their own foot soldiers targeted by fighters still loyal to Muqtada when they’re trying to establish hegemony. Much easier to coopt him and use him as a figurehead. Sadr is allegedly a true Iraqi nationalist, though, so that may be the stumbling block. Here’s another puzzle: if Iran really is trying to steal his militia out from under him, what on earth is Sadr doing hiding out in Iran? Shouldn’t he be nervous that they’re going to bump him off to decapitate the Sadrist movement, which could then be reoriented towards Tehran with promises of money and materiel? It’s like the leader of the Gambino family hiding out in Genovese territory. Either he’s not in Iran at all or he must be in cahoots with them and knows he has nothing to fear by being there. No other explanation makes sense.

This is interesting/promising, too:

The Baghdad security plan has left the Al Mahdi militia acutely aware of its enemies. Members are mindful of all those they believe are seeking to weaken them, particularly their Shiite rival, the Badr Brigade, which has evaded a similar crackdown despite being implicated in sectarian killings.

Abu Haidar also worried that the Americans had seized the opportunity to develop an intelligence network in Sadr City since establishing a base on the edge of the district last month. He believed that it was no accident that nightly raids in the community, which forms the bedrock of the Al Mahdi militia’s support, had resulted in a string of arrests of top members.

For some reason the Badr Brigade rarely come up in big media reports, probably because they have no cult of personality like the one that surrounds Sadr. It’s a big oversight, though: not only do they pose the main threat to the JAM’s Shiite dominance once we’re out, but they can count on support from Iran thanks to SCIRI’s ties with the Iranian government. Whatever Iran’s doing with the JAM, it has an impact somehow on the Badrists but the media rarely stops to ask what that is. In fact, I wonder if Iran had initially tapped the Badr Brigade to play the Hezbollah role in Iraq and then had to regroup when Sadr, through his own charisma, the prominence of his family name, and his own precocious mafia skills, built a bigger machine than they could faster than they could. I also wonder why, if they’re building a militia army to fight the U.S., they need to lure away members of the Mahdi Army instead of just using the Badr Brigade for that purpose. It could be that the Badrists simply don’t have the numbers that the JAM does or it could be that the stuff about fighting the Americans is nonsense and they’re just looking to split off as many of Sadr’s guys as they can to diminish his power. If the latter, then it’s ironic that we find ourselves working on the same project as Iran. And a testament to Sadr’s power, I guess.

So much for tonight’s rank speculation; look for it tomorrow on the front page of the Independent and at the top of the Drudge Report. Elsewhere, Iraqslogger claims that Sunni jihadis have now somehow acquired official ID badges to enter the Green Zone, which is not nearly as far fetched as it sounds. Are we ramping up security measures to deal with the problem? On the contrary, Iraqi government officials are pressuring U.S. troops to ease off on searching them and their security details, despite the fact that many of them are filthy with links to terrorists and the deputy PM was almost murdered a few weeks ago by his own relative-turned-jihadi-turned-bodyguard.

Ayatollah Sistani nixed the reconciliation law that would have allowed Baathists back into the government, too. Shiites uber alles.

Iraqi blogger Hammorabi, who’s been pro-war for as long as I’ve been reading him, says it’s all over and we lost.