YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections
(Page 2 of 2)

Sadr sees star rise again in Iraq

The radical Shiite cleric's move to support Prime Minister Maliki's bid for a second term has reaped him a political windfall, netting key posts and release from jail for his supporters.

November 25, 2010|By Ned Parker, Los Angeles Times

Sadr's decision to deliver his votes to Maliki — the man most assumed to be an implacable enemy — shocked some of his supporters at the time. But it is increasingly seen as a master stroke that allowed Sadr and his followers to engineer a return to prominence.

Since spring, Sadr has managed to extract concessions from Maliki as he battled to stay in office. Five months ago, the Justice Ministry set up a special committee to screen prisoners' cases after the Sadr camp exerted political pressure; soon, the government was releasing Mahdi Army detainees. Amir Kinani, a leader in Sadr's parliament bloc, insists the men were innocent or had been detained without warrants.

Those released included the three brothers of Sadr militia leader Abu Derra, one of the most feared and brutal commanders in Baghdad during the sectarian war.

One Iraqi commander said 60 to 70 people, mostly former Mahdi Army members from his area, had been let out of jails without any formal judicial process. A senior U.S. officer said he had received a list of 15 former senior Mahdi Army commanders who had suddenly been freed. They had been serving time — some of them on death row — for killing Iraqis or harming U.S. forces. According to the officer, at least two of them have been given jobs in the police or Justice Ministry.

In one of the most graphic demonstrations of their newfound might, Mahdi Army prisoners have now taken control of their prison blocks at Taji, which holds more than 2,700 inmates.

As recently as a year ago, when Americans still controlled the prison, Sadr loyalists feared being held by Iraqi forces. Now, according to an Iraqi official and a U.S. military officer, there is no doubt that the Sadr supporters, rather than the guards, are in command of their cellblocks.

Prisoners roam about and use their phones freely. The institution is going to start implementing a photo headcount of detainees because of concern that some of the Mahdi Army members could escape — or may have already done so, the U.S. officer said.

"The Mahdi Army controls the Taji correctional facility," the Iraqi official added. He said he believed personnel sympathetic to the Mahdi Army were chosen to supervise Taji in order to curry favor with the Sadr movement as part of the political negotiations.

The Sadr supporter who recently was given the position of brigadier general in the security services said Mahdi Army veterans were now getting their spoils of power just like rival parties. But he predicted they would all keep each other in check.

"All of the parties are afraid of dictatorship," he said. "Democracy will continue because our people are aware.... They will not repeat the same mistakes."

Los Angeles Times Articles