Jaysh Al-Madhi or the Mahdi Army is an insurgent force in Iraq loyal to 32-year-old Moqtada Al Sadr. Moqtada’s great uncle, Mohammad Baqr Al Sadr, was a contemporary and ally of Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and was hung by Saddam Hussein in 1980. In order not to become a target of the U.S. “troop surge” in Baghdad, Sadr himself has been in Iran for much of the time since March 2007.
The December 6, 2006, Iraq Study Group report says the Mahdi Army might now number about 60,000 fighters. The Mahdi Army’s ties to Iran are less well-developed than are those of the Badr Brigades because the Mahdi Army was formed by Sadr in mid-2003, after the fall of Saddam Hussein. U.S. military operations put down Mahdi Army uprisings in April 2004 and August 2004 in “Sadr City”, a Sadr stronghold in Baghdad, Najaf, and other Shiite cities. In each case, fighting was ended with compromises under which Mahdi forces stopped fighting in exchange for amnesty for Sadr himself. Since August 2004, Mahdi fighters have patrolled Sadr City and challenged the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Iraqi government forces, and U.S. and British forces in Diwaniyah, Nassiryah, Basra, Amarah, Samawah, and other Shiite cities, enforcing conformity with Islamic and traditional behavior norms. SCIRI changed its name in May 2007 to the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq (SICI).
SICI controls the “Badr Brigades”, now renamed the “Badr Organization”, which numbers about 20,000 but which has now reported to have burrowed into the still-fledgling Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). The Badr Brigades were formed, trained, and equipped by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, politically aligned with Iran’s hardliners, during the Iran-Iraq war. During that war, Badr guerrillas conducted forays from Iran into southern Iraq to attack Baath Party officials, although the Badr forays did not spark broad popular unrest against Saddam Hussein’s regime. Badr fighters in and outside the ISF have purportedly been involved in sectarian killings, although to a lesser extent than the “Mahdi Army”
Iran sees Sadr’s faction — which has 32 seats in parliament and a large and dedicated following, particularly among lower-class Iraqi Shiites, some of whom are able to receive medical treatment in Iran under Sadr’s auspices — as a growing force in Iraqi politics.