Anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is planning to disarm the Mahdi Army by turning the militia into a civic and social service organization, a significant strategic shift, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.
In a brochure obtained by the paper and confirmed by Sheikh Salah al-Obeidi, Sadr's chief spokesman, the Mahdi Army will now be guided by Shiite spirituality instead of anti-American militancy. A new guiding principle will also be introduced: al-Mumahidoon, indicating that his supporters will be the foot soldiers of the Shiite messiah, Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi, who Shiite Muslims believe will return to rid the world of evil.
The move, according to the Wall Street Journal, could further enhance the stability of Iraq amid a government military crackdown and dwindling popular support. The brochure states the al-Mumahidoon will undergo an intellectual and scientific jihad focusing on education, religion and social justice.
"[The army] is not allowed to use arms at all," the brochure reportedly says.
The al-Mumahidoon office will be separated into sections, including religion, education, social services and information. Posters bearing the indicating a new direction for the Mahdi Army have been put up in some areas of Baghdad, the Wall Street Journal reported.
According to the report, Sadr officials say the strategic shift is partly a reaction to a timeframe for withdrawal of U.S. combat troops. The Mahdi Army has long stated that its principal goal was withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.
Obeidi told the paper that Sadr will continue to direct smaller, elite cells for limited military operations against U.S. troops. More details about these cells will be publicized at a later date, the report said.
"All the Mahdi Army must listen to this and follow this new office, which will have the name al-Mumahidoon," Obeidi told the paper. "Because Sayeed Muqtada al-Sadr sees that the occupation force is starting to find a formula to pull out troops from Iraq, we are also thinking that our work must focus on guiding and enlightening the people to serve Iraqi society."