Bagdad, Asharq Al-Awsat- Harith al-Adhari, the official in charge of Muqtada al-Sadr’s headquarters in Basra, asserted that the campaign against “Al-Mahdi Army” would fail and said in statements to Asharq Al-Awsat yesterday that the “bone-breaking operations to end Al-Mahdi Army’s existence will fail because of the Trend members’ strength and determination.”
Regarding the reasons for targeting Al-Sadr Trend, Al-Adhari said that the governorates councils’ elections in October “are the main reason behind this targeting but they always forget the broad base of the Trend and Al-Mahdi Army. They will know the extent of the Trend’s presence in the Iraqi street if it contested the elections.”
After asserting that the religious leaders in Al-Najaf were making efforts to contain the crisis, he denied the validity of a message attributed to the Trend’s leader Musqtada al-Sadr calling on his gunmen to surrender and not drain their resources. He said the message “is a lie and a fabrication and it and everything to do with it are baseless”, adding that the Trend’s leaders in Al-Najaf also denied the validity of the message.
In his message, a copy of which was obtained Asharq Al-Awsat, Al-Sadr said, “I advised you in previous statements to be patient and respect the orders of the Hawzah [Shiite seminary]. I asked you to standup to the onslaught by the occupier and his lackeys who are implementing his plans that aim to harm the sons of this noble line. Recent events in Basra, Al-Kut, and Al-Sadr City have proved that the Iraqi Government is pressing ahead, in cooperation with the occupation forces, with the implementation of its evil plan and which coincides with the approaching governorates councils’ elections for the purpose of distorting the image of Al-Sadr Trend whose supporters are now suffering from continued arrests in all the governorates.” The message added: “The violation of the truce we had announced when we froze Imam Al-Mahdi Army that is happening today…I said when we adopted the freezing of the Imam Army under the current conditions that we believed the interest required this freezing. If the resistance continues in this way, it will drain Al-Mahdi Army’s moral and material resources and this might make many of our supporters turn against us in addition to the Shiite public opinion’s view of us.” It said: “We believe that protection of Al-Sadri line can only be made by remaining silent at present as long as the occupation is in our territories. The events of Al-Diwaniyah and Karbala were the blows that made us think deeply, so to speak, that the confrontation would provide the government with the justification for exploiting the obnoxious occupier’s plan and the pretext for imposing the law enforcement plan so as to strike Al-Sadr Trend’s sons in Basra and Al-Sadr City. I say it with deep anguish, so to speak, and with much regret that there are renegades from our ranks who did not obey our orders and hid behind the Imam Al-Mahdi Army’s cloak. They helped the government and the occupier against themselves and decided to rebel against our orders.”
On his part, Aqil al-Bahadili, a leading Al-Sadr Trend figure in Basra, said Al-Sadr – who was recently reported to be in Iran – was following the progress of the clashes between his “Al-Mahdi Army” and the government forces through the Trend’s leaders, adding that his orders for freezing his gunmen’s activities exclude self-defense cases. He told Asharq Al-Awsat that Muqtada al-Sadr “orders us to freeze Al-Mahdi Army but says at the same time defend yourselves if you are confronted with weapons. We are defending ourselves and carrying out the leader’s orders to the letter.” He added that “Al-Mahdi Army has extensive presence all over Iraq and anyone who is thinking of its demise is definitely ignorant of matters.
Contacts between Al-Sadr Trend’s leaders with the leader are continuing uninterrupted to manage life and make it permanent in the Trend and the Imam’s Army. The military or civilian management of the operation is done through the higher authorities who are indirect contact with leader Muqtada al-Sadr.” He refused however to reveal the latter’s whereabouts.
Al-Bahadili went on to say that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki “came with a force of 50,000 soldiers from Baghdad and Basra to start the fight against Al-Sadr Trend’s elements and services were cut off from most parts of Basra”, adding that “Al-Maliki did with the people what Saddam Hussein had not done.” Asked if disagreements with Al-Da’wah Party and the Iraqi Islamic Supreme Council’s Badr forces are the reason for the outbreak of the crisis, Al-Bahadili stressed: “We undertook a peace initiative between Al-Da’wah Party, the Badr Organization, Hezbollah, and other parties. This initiative was based on three points, which are Shiite-Shiite brotherhood, Islamic brotherhood, and human brotherhood. While not denying there are kidnap and murder gangs in Basra, this still does not justify what Al-Maliki has done in the city.”
He disclosed that he had a meeting with National Guards elements after they surrendered to the “Martyr Al-Sadr” office in Basra, saying “those who surrendered” told him “they were ordered to come to Basra to pursue the oil and drugs smuggling gangs and none among them knew they were coming to fight Al-Mahdi Army and that they would have resigned immediately had they known of this before coming here.” He added that “the largest number of police and security forces in Basra are Al-Mahdi Army elements and they left their work and sat at home as soon as they learned about the battles’ objectives.”