Bill Roggio at The Fourth Rail also has several interesting insights about the reasons behind Sadr's order. And he provides a list of the different categories of Mahdi Army groups and this surprising statement:
With the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (formerly SCIRI) and large elements of the Badr Brigades breaking away from the Iranian sphere of influence, they have a greater motivation to fight Sadr and his Mahdi Army.* * * * * * *
9:30 PM EDT Update
Here are points I found of particular interest in Amer Moshen's take on Mookie's order (based on Amer's analysis of Thursday's Arab press):
Muqtada’s decision will have deep ramifications, given that the rank-and-file of the Mahdi Army will actually abide by the cleric’s decision. [...]Also, don't miss Amer's discussion about (1) Mookie's interest in Hezbollah and (2) the Muslim Brotherhood's representative party in Iraq.
The de-centralized nature of the Mahdi Army, which became in effect a broad umbrella organization, allowed its members to act more-or-less independently, and gave many armed groups the opportunity to “affiliate” themselves with the Mahdi Army. [...]
The six-months suspension of operations may aim at creating a more effective and disciplined force out of the Mahdi Army (which has proven itself effective in street battles against rival factions, but largely useless against US forces and the Iraqi Army.)
But another reason for the halt of operations may be that the US Army has been waging a major campaign against the Sadrist militia, Muqtada may have decided to take his armed wing underground until the situation “clears.”
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This is big news. Yet Pundita can't subscribe a sincere motive to anything Mookie does. So I doubt he's doing this for the good of the country or even Iraq's Shia as a whole, or to declare a truce with the Americans. What's he really up to?
It could be significant that Sadr's order is coming close to the (Sept 4) reconvening of Iraq's parliament. Has he cut a deal with Maliki that will allow Maliki to save face? Or is it just that Iran is trying to weed out certain elements in the Mahdi Army that don't toe the Tehran line?
Or is he making a populist announcement? It could be that the Shia caught in the middle of fighting between the Shia factions are ready to revolt.
Another angle is that the US military and Iraqi Special Forces have been coming down hard on the Mahdi Army, in particular the "rouge" elements with clearest ties to Iran. Yet with so many factions of the Mahdi Army in play, and with each faction having varying degrees of help from Iran, it's hard to tell how much control Mookie has left of his army. He's about to find out:
Just as the ongoing tensions between Iraq's two largest Shia factions appeared on the brink of spiraling into complete chaos, cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has ordered his followers to halt all activities.
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Sadr directed all his political offices to be closed for three days, and for his fighters to suspend operations until February. Sadr's order specifically called for Sadrists to stop targeting offices of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim's Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), a number of which have been attacked and burned in recent days.
One of his senior aides, Sheikh Hazim al-Araji, read the statement on Iraqi television, saying on Sadr's behalf:
“I direct the Mahdi Army to suspend all its activities for six months until it is restructured in a way that helps honour the principles for which it is formed." Araji also said that the intent of the pause was to "rehabilitate" the organization, which has reportedly broken into factions.
A Sadr aide told AFP that the suspension of activities was to include a cessation of all armed attacks against "the occupiers or any other groups," explaining, "The aim is to reorganize the militia but not to dismantle it. It is also an effort to root out the rogue elements" in the militant group.
Sadr's declaration comes after two days of fighting in Karbala between members of the Mahdi Army and elements of Hakim's Badr organization. The clashes killed an estimated four dozen and wounded hundreds, bringing an early end to the religious festival that had drawn tens of thousands of Shiite pilgrims. [...]
"The coming days will be a test for Sadr. It's a bold move to publicly order his followers to stop fighting, but one which leaves him exposed. If he is unable to reign in his fighters, demonstrating a lack of discipline in their ranks, Sadr's leadership will be questioned."