Was it only after the bloody events of Karbala, in which scores of civilians were killed and many private properties were destroyed that the Iraqi government forced the Sadr organization to freeze its militia? The Sadrists have been wreaking havoc on Iraq over the past three years.
A similar violent confrontation took place in August 2004, but it happened in Najaf instead. In order to put an end to the lawlessness of the Sadr militia, former Iraqi Prime Minister Dr. Iyad Allawi consented to fighting the Sadrists in Najaf at the same time he attacked the Sunni extremists in Fallujah.
During that time Abdel Hadi al Darraji, spokesman for Muqtada al Sadr, denounced and rejected the demands of the Iraqi government that were outlined by state minister Qasim Dawood. Darraji said, in reference to the Allawi government’s demands for disarmament, “For Sheikh Muqtada al Sadr to personally declare that he will disarm the Mehdi Army is not logical. It is equally illogical for the Sadrists as well who are fighting the occupation.” The Iraqi State Minister who was in Najaf at the time said that al Sadr must publicly announce “his agreement to disarm his army.”
Allawi was right then and Nuri al Maliki is right now. At the time, Allawi was under fire from both sides who accused him of serving American interests when all he wanted for Iraq was a centralized government. However, it was impossible to accept the existence of an armed dissident force that does not abide to the government, especially since the constitution allows for a civilian opposition, which can bring about change through parliament and local elections using transparency. This was precisely what led to the downfall of Allawi himself.
Unfortunately, the battle continued on two fronts against the Sunni extremists on one side, and Muqtada al Sadr’s group along with other Shia militias on the other. The pursuit of the armed Sunni groups prevailed, which was a sound decision considering the crimes they had committed against civilians, in addition to the fact that these groups continuously defied the state and threatened other Sunni groups so as to prevent them from participating in the peace process.
Considered a disruptive group, the Mehdi army was met with limited confrontations and attempts were made to placate it. The Sadr militias have committed heinous crimes against Sunni civilians over the past three years and have executed various sectarian cleansing operations against them, which has resulted in the expulsion and flight of hundreds of thousands of Sunnis.
Meanwhile, the government has done little to put an end to this matter, regarding it as the rightful pursuit of Sunnis who follow a takfiri [Muslims holding fellow Muslims disbelievers] ideology which is complete nonsense. The Sadrists groups were only deterred by the US forces, which saw that matters had spiraled out of control as 2 million people fled the country. The Sadrists had transformed into death squads serving Iran. This prompted the US forces to launch campaigns in which they arrested several figures from the organization’s leadership compelling the leader himself to flee to Iran. He was likely to be targeted by the Americans who found that the government was incapable of confronting him.
Undoubtedly, the Iranians hired elements of the Mehdi Army to carry out their own dirty sectarian operations, furthermore ruining the security situation for the Americans. Due to their subversive success via Sunni and Shia militias, Iranians candidly announced that they hold the key to security in Iraq and that the Americans should negotiate with them for it.
But as history dictates, such groups transform into gangs that end up killing one another and spin out of the control of their leaders. Recently, this seems to have been the case.