Posts Tagged ‘Jaish-al-Mahdi’

Militias, Tribes and Insurgents: The Challenge of Political Reintegration in Iraq

10 September, 2008

IRG member David Ucko has a paper published in the October edition of the Conflict, Security & Development journal, entitled Militias, Tribes and Insurgents: The Challenge of Political Reintegration in Iraq. The paper provides a valuable case study of the central role played in post-conflict state-building and counterinsurgency by the reintegration of armed sub-state groups into the political process, and focuses on the evolution of the US approach in Iraq since 2003.


Following its overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the United States was confronted with one of the most complex state-building enterprises of recent history. A central component of state building, emphasised in the literature yet given scant attention at the time of the invasion, is the process of political reintegration: the transformation of armed groups into political actors willing to participate peacefully in the political future of the country. In Iraq, political reintegration was a particularly important challenge, relating both to the armed forces of the disposed regime and to the Kurdish and Shia militias eager to play a role in the new political system.

This article examines the different approaches employed by the United States toward the political reintegration of irregular armed groups, from the policy vacuum of 2003 to the informal reintegration seen during the course of the so-called “surge” in 2007 and 2008. The case study has significant implications for the importance of getting political reintegration right—and the longterm costs of getting it badly wrong.

Access a free copy of the paper here.


Iraqi IDPs, COIN & ‘Competition in Government’

16 April, 2008

In his 1966 classic, The Long, Long War: Counterinsurgency in Malaya and Vietnam, British soldier and academic Richard Clutterbuck described the battle between the insurgent and the counterinsurgent as essentially ‘a competition in government’, echoing the analysis of Lt General Sir Harold Briggs, the predecessor of the more celebrated British commander in Malaya, Sir Gerald Templer.

It is in this light that the findings of a report entitled Uprooted and Unstable: Meeting Urgent Humanitarian Needs in Iraq [PDF], produced by Refugees International, should be interpreted.

Five years after the US-led invasion, Iraq remains a deeply violent and divided society. Faced with one of the largest displacement and humanitarian crises in the world, Iraqi civilians are in urgent need of assistance. Particularly vulnerable are the 2.7 million internally displaced Iraqis who have fled their homes for safer locations inside Iraq. Unable to access their food rations and often unemployed, they live in squalid conditions, have run out of resources and find it extremely difficult to access essential services. The US , the government of Iraq and the international community must begin to address the consequences of leaving Iraqis’ humanitarian needs unmet.

As a result of the vacuum created by the failure of both the Iraqi Government and the international community to act in a timely and adequate manner, non-state actors play a major role in providing assistance to vulnerable Iraqis. Militias of all denominations are improving their local base of support by providing social services in the neighborhoods and towns they control. Through a “Hezbollah-like” scheme, the Shiite Sadrist movement has established itself as the main service provider in the country. Similarly, other Shiite and Sunni groups are gaining ground and support through the delivery of food, oil, electricity, clothes and money to the civilians living in their fiefdoms. Not only do these militias now have a quasi-monopoly in the large-scale provision of assistance in Iraq, they are also recruiting an increasing number of civilians to their militias – including displaced Iraqis.

The way in which Hizballah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza, gained local legitimacy and a comparatively broad constituency through the provision of welfare services that a dysfunctional state apparatus was unable to provide is well-known. In the face of both military pressure and political manoeuvring from the Maliki government, Muqtada al-Sadr’s decision to pursue a similar strategy is therefore a smart move, and plays to the Sadrists’ strengths – namely, their identification and affiliation with the urban Shia working classes.

If the emerging cleavage between the central government and the various local factions that exist within the country is not to worsen, it is therefore vital that the Iraqi state retakes the initiative and begins visibly addressing welfare issues such as those posed by internally displaced people (IDPs). While the Refugees International report is right in arguing that the international community should be addressing this, it is critical that welfare measures are widely seen as resulting from Iraqi government initiatives, rather than international aid, if the central state is to win the competition in government with the militias.

Helping the Iraqi state address the IDP issue is important for another reason too. As described in the NPR report linked to below, a consequence of their usually violent displacement is the fact that the Shia and Sunni IDPs gravitating towards the various militias – whether al-Sadr’s Jaish al Mahdi [Mahdi Army] or the Awakening movements – are commonly more radical in their outlook, less sensitive to the concerns of the local communities in which they find themselves, and less open to compromise and reconciliation than their non-IDP peers.

While there are all kinds of reasons not to force through a hurried return of IDPs to their original communities, some of which are elaborated upon in the Refugees International report, if we wish to prevent these IDPs becoming spoilers of any future political settlement, or footsoldiers for any aspiring rabble-rouser, they must not be left in limbo with their grievances unaddressed. The danger of failing to resolve the plight of such IDPs is well-illustrated throughout the Caucasus, where IDP populations, such as the Georgians displaced from the separatist Abkhazia region, are a radicalising force and a critical obstacle to the resolution of several ‘frozen conflicts’ left over from the early 90s.

Read more:

Displaced Iraqis Turn to Militias for Help [Audio] – Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR

Iraqi Militias Offering Aid To Displaced – Walter Pincus, Washington Post

AEI will spin this one as a triumph of American-style limited government – Abu Muqawama

Sadrists Outmanoeuvred?

7 April, 2008

Bill Roggio has some good analysis over at the Long War Journal on Maliki’s latest gambit designed to sideline Moqtada al Sadr and his Jaish al Mahdi [Mahdi Army] ahead of the upcoming elections. Having failed to knock the Sadrists off-balance militarily during the recent engagement in Basra, Maliki is trying a political manoeuvre, passing a parliamentary resolution to ban all political parties that maintain an armed militia from participating in the election. While it is too early to say how it will pan out, early signs suggest that in his latest face-off with al Sadr, Maliki is playing his cards a little better.

Less than two weeks after Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki launched Operation Knights’ Assault to clear the Mahdi Army and other Iranian-backer militias in Basrah, the Iraqi government is moving to ban Muqtada al Sadr’s political movement from participating in the election if it fails to disband the militia. Facing near-unanimous opposition, Sadr said he would seek guidance from senior Shia clerics in Najaf and Qom and disband the Mahdi Army if told to do so, according to one aide. But another Sadr aide denied this.

The pressure on Sadr and his Mahdi Army started on Sunday after Maliki announced the plans to pass legislation to prevent political parties with militias from participating in the political process. “The first step will be adding language to a draft election bill banning parties that operate militias from fielding candidates in provincial balloting this fall,” Reuters reported on Sunday. “The government intends to send the draft to parliament within days and hopes to win approval within weeks.”

Today, Maliki was explicit that the legislation was aimed at Muqtada al Sadr, his Sadrist movement, and the Mahdi Army. “Solving the problem comes in no other way than dissolving the Mahdi Army,” Maliki told CNN. “They no longer have a right to participate in the political process or take part in the upcoming elections unless they end the Mahdi Army.”

Read the full piece here.

Kagan on the British in Basra

30 March, 2008

Frederick Kagan, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and one of the architects of the ‘surge’ in Iraq, has long been critical of the British role in Basra. In a telephone conversation with the Sunday Telegraph over the weekend, he had this to say about the British contribution to the current offensive against Sadrist militias:

“It’s very clear that the Maliki government has launched a major offensive against Iranian-backed special groups and militias. The Iraqi security forces are in the lead and we are backing them up.

“It’s a good fight that they’re fighting. It’s a very important fight and I think we should be prepared to support them fully. And by ‘we’ I mean the entire coalition.”

“The British military in Basra has said it is in a position of strategic overwatch. That means that they expect the Iraqis to take the lead in security operations and that British forces are there to provide back-up and support in case the Iraqis encounter something that is beyond their means.

“It is pretty to apparent to me – and just about anyone else I have spoken to – who looks at this that the clearing of Basra is going to be beyond the means of the Iraqi security forces.

“So it’s a little bit hard to understand in that context, if the British military really means that it is in a strategic overwatch posture, how they would reject supporting the ISF in what is after all the decisive fight in their area of operations.

“The Iraqis have made the decision to do something at this point in time, [and it] is vitally in the interests of both the United States of America and Great Britain that the elements in Iraq which have been the agents of direct Iranian military intervention be defeated.

“This is not something that we’re doing because we like the Iraqis. It is not in our interests – for either state – for the Iranians to continue this intervention in Iraq’s military affairs.

“It is rather a watershed moment in the Anglo-American alliance. I understand that your prime minister has already said that the special relationship is over. This is another watershed moment. There’s an issue of special relationship. There’s an issue here of fulfilling your obligations as an ally, freely undertaken.

“If Britain has responsibility for that area of operations, which it does, then British forces have an obligation to step up when needed and it sure looks here like they’re needed.”

Shia Clashes in Basra

27 March, 2008

Al-Jazeera English has a good report on the current fighting in Basra, which offers a more nuanced analysis of events than is provided by most coverage. The report makes clear that underlying the engagement is a struggle for influence in the oil-rich south between the two main Shia factions in Iraq: the Sadrists led by Muqtada al-Sadr, whose armed wing – the Jaish al Mahdi (Mahdi Army) – is the object of the security operation; and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), whose armed wing – the Badr Organisation – dominates the security forces.

h/t: Danger Room


The Council on Foreign Relations has a Q&A with Vali R. Nasr – CFR’s Adjunct Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies – which provides an excellent introduction to the complex dynamics that govern the inter-relationships between the Sadrists, the ISCI, the US and Iran.

Update 2:

The Basra incidents have generated a wealth of comment. Small Wars Journal has a collection of links here.

Update 3:

According to a BBC report, British ground forces have intervened for the first time in the Basra hostilities. In what appears to be an isolated incident, British forces launched artillery shells at a mortar position in the al-Klalaf area of northern Basra, which had been firing on Iraqi troops.