When his future gleamed brighter
“Sadr said the militia would now focus more on cultural programmes. ‘We have set a cultural programme for the Mahdi Army…'”
A “cultural programme”? He doesn’t mean a series of Mozart concerts, or Shakespeare in the park. He means the transformation of Iraq into a Sharia state, proceeding by means other than military.
NAJAF, Iraq (AFP) – Radical Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Thursday ordered a halt to armed operations by his 60,000-strong Mahdi Army militia, blamed by Washington for some of the worst sectarian killings of Sunni Arabs in the war-torn country.
“The Mahdi Army suspension will be valid indefinitely and anyone who does not follow this order will not be considered a member of this group,” Sadr said in a statement issued by his office in the Shiite shrine city of Najaf.
The militia, created after the 2003 US-led invasion to fight invading American troops, became the most active and feared armed Shiite group in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, accused of operating death squads blamed for the killings of thousands.
In 2006, at the height of Iraq’s communal bloodletting, a Pentagon report said the Mahdi Army was the greatest threat to the country’s security, even greater than Al-Qaeda.
At that time Mahdi Army death squads reportedly carried out sustained campaigns of violence — kidnapping, torturing and brutally killing members of the minority Sunnis Arab community across Iraq, especially in Baghdad.
Dozens of tortured and bullet-riddled bodies of Sunni Arabs used to be found dumped on the capital’s streets, allegedly killed by Mahdi militiamen.
The US military cautiously welcomed Sadr’s decision.
“We welcome this announcement that appears to be an effort to support the Iraqi people,” military spokesman Major John Hall told AFP. “The proof is always in the actions and not just in words.”
Sadr said the militia would now focus more on cultural programmes.
“We have set a cultural programme for the Mahdi Army and we have named it Al-Mumahidun (Supporters of the Mahdi), and everybody should abide by it and whoever does not agree with it will be expelled from the army.”…