A couple of nights ago our neighbor, Dr. A, sent his son over to tell my husband to keep his mobile phone next to him while he slept. There had been a car bombing in Sadr city that day, a predominately Shiite poor neighborhood that day, with many dead. Dr. Ammar told my husband that there was news that the Al Mahdi Army (a militia led by the Shiite imam Muqtada Al Sadr) had started moving from Sadr City to mostly Sunni neighborhoods (including ours). Dr. Ammar was afraid that they might come after him as an active leader in the Iraqi Islamic Party (Sunni party), and he wanted to keep communication open between us in case of an emergency.
Thankfully, nothing happened that night to us, but Dr. Ammar had plenty of reason to worry. In the days following the bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samarra, many Sunni mosques were attacked and many Sunni leaders and citizens were kidnapped and assassinated. In many cases, the culprits were described as hooded men dressed in black-as the Mahdi Army is known to dress.
These militias are one of the many problems plaguing a chaotic society in post-Saddam Iraq. I was watching Muqtada Al Sadr in an interview on an Arabic news channel, where they asked him about dismantling Al Mahdi army. His reply was that this is a religious duty, and no one had the right to dismantle this army, and the highest Shiite authority in Iraq (Sistani) told him not to dismantle it. What kind of a country is going to survive with such a mentality and such lawlessness?
I'm going to post another blog about the extent of lawlessness here. The problem with these brigades are that they are one of the main reasons behind the ethnic violence here, behind the sectarian kidnappings and assassinations, behind the fear plaguing this society. I'll post in a few days about some kidnappings of our near relatives- a direct and indirect result of these militias rule.
UPDATE: I found a good online article that details this problem nicely, much better than I could ever say it: www.back-to-iraq.blogspot.com. The article is from the March 2006 archives: "Neither a Good War Nor a Badr Peace."