Sadr Reconsiders Political Role, Mahdi Army

By Ali Abdel Sadah for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

The armed clashes between the Mahdi Army and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq that took place in east Baghdad at the beginning of August aroused concerns that armed conflicts might prevail in the streets once again.

On Aug. 3, 2013, in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad, gunmen from both sides clashed following a verbal altercation between Jassem al-Hijami, a leader in the Mahdi Army, and Sami Salem, a leader in Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq.

Speaking to Al-Monitor, a lieutenant from the Sadr City police forces, Sajad Abdali, said, “Sami Salem opened fire on Hijami, killing him on the spot. Later, militants from the Mahdi Army attacked Salem and took him to an unknown destination. The kidnapping of a leader from Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq sparked clashes between the two sides, which ended in the death of a member of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq.”

The news of the clashes in Sadr City reached westward toward the predominantly Shiite region of Hurriya, which is also home to supporters of the Mahdi Army and some advocates of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq.

Armed clashes broke out in Hurriya, but did not last long. They were settled according to tribal traditions, which impose financial payments known as “fedya,” or bloody money, to be paid to the families of the dead.

Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, led by Qais al-Khazali, is one of the groups that defected from the Sadrist movement. The group is at loggerheads with the Mahdi Army, which is seen as the military wing of the Sadrist movement.

The head of the Sadrist movement, Muqtada al-Sadr (pictured), described Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq as “a murderous group without any religion.” Meanwhile, Asaib Ahl al-Haq said that the movement’s accusations serve as “an attempt to carry out a political takeover.”

Reports claimed that on Aug. 5, 2013, Sadr closed his private office in the holy city of Najaf, located southwest of Baghdad, to protest the clashes.

However, in an official statement issued on Aug. 6, 2013, Sadr said he is withdrawing from political work as he “does not wish to be part of a conspiracy against the Iraqi people.” Sadr’s withdrawal suggests that controlling the Sadrist movement’s military wing has become a difficult task.

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