In Iraq, a Mahdi Army spokesman is threatening to not renew the Shia militia’s six-month ceasefire with U.S. and Iraqi forces. The Seattle Times reports:
In a statement, Salah al-Obeidi charged that rival Shiite militias have infiltrated Iraq’s security forces and that some senior security officials remain in their jobs although they have been charged with human-rights offenses.
“This will force us to reconsider the decision to extend the cease-fire despite repeated public statements in the past that we will,” al-Obeidi said.
While Sunni Awakening groups continue to patrol their areas and lead raids on al Qaeda and insurgents, progress among Iraq’s Shia has been a more complicated affair. Since the Mahdi Army ceasefire, many Mahdi officials have coordinated anti-militia efforts with the U.S. or joined Iraqi security forces in the South. However, the good news is heavily tempered by pro-Iranian sentiment, sectarian self-determination, and violent rifts within the Shia community and with or without a formal statement, the threat of more fighting was always there.
In truth, Moqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army has been more of an indirect threat to U.S. forces since well before the ceasefire. Their immediate enemies were Baathists and Wahhabists. With both those parties being fought off by U.S. and Iraq forces, one question is: will an end to the ceasefire mean new attacks directly against U.S. forces or merely and end to Mahdi cooperation with them?
Sadr is hoping to become Ayatollah, and he’s used the ceasefire period to gain legitimacy. He’s seen how the country’s changed during the time he’s ordered guns down. Just yesterday Shias in Iraq’s police and security forces clamped down on a Shia doomsday cult in Basra. As connected as Sadr is, he knows that Iraqis aren’t going to stomach a breach in the progress that’s been made. He also knows that the bottom-up political progress will eventually translate into shared oil wealth, and if he’s interested in becoming an Ayatollah he’d be unwise to poison the well on a whim. The Mahdi Army has become more of a political force than a fighting force, and it’s unlikely that this threat will materialize as full-blown anti-American warfare anytime soon.