First there was this:
Iraq’s top Shiite religious leaders have told anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr not to disband his Mehdi Army, an al-Sadr spokesman said Monday amid fresh fighting in the militia’s Baghdad strongholds.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki demanded Sunday that the cleric disband his militia, which waged two uprisings against U.S. troops in 2004, or see his supporters barred from public office.
But al-Sadr spokesman Salah al-Obeidi said al-Sadr has consulted with Iraq’s Shiite clerical leadership “and they refused that.” He did not provide details of the talks.
The official spokesman for al-Sadr’s office on Monday denied that Shiite Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr had referred the dissolution of al-Mahdi army to Shiite clerics, describing reports in this regard as inaccurate.
“Shiite Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr did not think of dissolving al-Mahdi army,” Sheikh Salah al-Ubeidi told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI), noting that “we have no right to interfere in freezing or dissolving al-Mahdi army because it is an exclusive right of Muqtada al-Sadr.”
And finally this:
The influential Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr said his clerical advisers, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, rejected calls to disband the Mahdi Army.
Salah al-Obaidi, the spokesman for Sadr, said the cleric issued his decision in a statement following a meeting with Sistani and Ayatollah Kazem al-Haeri in Qom, Iran.
The statement reiterated Sadr’s call for an end to the apparent politically motivated violence in Iraq by urging all parties to solve their issues through comprehensive dialogue, Voices of Iraq said.
The same spokesperson said Sistani did not want the Sadr thugs disbanded, then denied Sadr had even asked Sistani, and now he is back to saying that Sistani wants them to stay whole.
With the Iraqi government applying pressure to the Sadrist movement and Muqtada al Sadr to disband the Mahdi Army, Iraq’s senior Shia cleric has weighed in on the issue. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most revered Shia cleric in Iraq, backed the government’s position that the Mahdi Army should surrender its weapons and said he never consulted with Sadr on disbanding the Mahdi Army. Instead, the decision to disband the Mahdi Army is Sadr’s to make.
Sistani spoke through Jalal el Din al Saghier, a senior leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a rival political party to the Sadrist movement. Saghier was clear that Sistani did not sanction the Mahdi Army and called for it to disarm.
“Sistani has a clear opinion in this regard; the law is the only authority in the country,” Saghier told Voices of Iraq, indicating Sistani supports Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and the government in the effort to sideline the Mahdi Army. “Sistani asked the Mahdi army to give in weapons to the government.”
Sadr did not consult with Sistani on the issue of disbanding the Mahdi Army, disputing a claim from Sadrist spokesmen who intimated Iraqi’s top cleric told Sadr to maintain his militia. “The top Shiite cleric had not been consulted in establishing the Mahdi Army, so [he] could not interfere in dissolving it,” Saghier said. “Whosoever established the al-Mahdi army has to dissolve it; Sayyed Muqtada al-Sadr established this army and it is only him who has to dissolve it.”
Based on Sadr’s changing story I don’t put much weight on their version of events. So while Sistani is not telling Sadr to disband directly his statement that the law is the only authority in Iraq is powerful, and if true pretty much seals the fate of Sadr.
Meanwhile this story is quite interesting:
Iran’s state-run media have de facto confirmed that this was no spontaneous “uprising.” Rather, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) tried to seize control of Iraq’s second-largest city using local Shiite militias as a Trojan horse.
Tehran’s decision to make the gamble was based on three assumptions:
* Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki wouldn’t have the courage to defend Basra at the risk of burning his bridges with the Islamic Republic in Iran.
* The international force would be in no position to intervene in the Basra battle. The British, who controlled Basra until last December, had no desire to return, especially if this meant getting involved in fighting. The Americans, meanwhile, never had enough troops to finish off al-Qaeda-in-Iraq, let alone fight Iran and its local militias on a new front.
* The Shiite clerical leadership in Najaf would oppose intervention by the new Iraqi security forces in a battle that could lead to heavy Shiite casualties.
The Iranian plan – developed by Revolutionary Guard’s Quds (Jerusalem) unit, which is in charge of “exporting the Islamic Revolution” – aimed at a quick victory. To achieve that, Tehran spent vast sums persuading local Iraqi security personnel to switch sides or to remain neutral.
The hoped-for victory was to be achieved as part of a massive Shiite uprising spreading from Baghdad to the south via heartland cities such as Karbala, Kut and al-Amarah. A barrage of rockets and missiles against the “Green Zone” in Baghdad and armed attacks on a dozen police stations and Iraqi army barracks in the Shiite heartland were designed to keep the Maliki government under pressure.
There is much more at the link including detailed descriptions of the fighting and the fact that Iran underestimated Maliki. They did not believe he would take the fight to Basra, they gambled….and lost.