SADR CITY, Iraq — Suicide bombers marched through the streets here last month. Soldiers of the Mahdi Army paraded through Baghdad’s Sadr city in black uniforms and face masks, bright yellow sticks of mock dynamite strapped to their chests. The militia, loyal to the militant Shia religious leader Muqtada al Sadr, vowed to defend Baghdad from the ISIS-led Sunni insurgency tearing through the country’s north.
And that was the image I had as I drove through Sadr City on Tuesday to meet a Mahdi commander, Hussam al Sudani, in his home. Years before the parade, Sadr City was the site of some of the United States Army’s most intense fighting during the Iraq war. Throughout the eight-year conflict, U.S.-led forces battled the Mahdi Army in an attempt to subdue the Shia insurgency. The Mahdi Army was quieted for periods but never fully defeated. Today it remains the authority in Sadr City and commands a loyal following among Iraq’s Shias.
Since that rally last month, the militia has deployed fighters to guard Shia holy sites that have been targeted by Sunni jihadists in the past. But their mission, Mahdi leaders claim, goes beyond a narrow sectarian defense. According to battle plans revealed by al Sudani, the group will soon launch a major offensive against the forces of ISIS, which now calls itself the Islamic State. Mahdi soldiers already are playing a key role in Iraq, carrying the burden of fighting alongside the Iraqi army, but if this commander’s claims are true, al Sadr’s forces will soon launch an attack against ISIS in one of the group’s strongholds.
Read the full story at the Daily Beast.