The Mahdi Army, a predominantly Shia Muslim force led by Moqter al-Sadr, has terrorized Sunnis into fleeing certain Baghdad neighborhoods and has been linked to Iran. Al-Sadr has disappeared from the Iraqi capital and is widely believed to have holed up in Iran. Al-Sadr’s family and senior officers are believed, by elements of American intelligence in Iraq, to have left with him.
With al-Sadr’s paymasters gone many mid-level commanders are unpaid. And so are the fighters under them. (In the Mahdi Army, commanders are responsible for the financial well-being of the men under their command.) Some have resorted to extortion, robbery and violent crimes. They are desperate for money. And they are also being hunted by U.S. and Iraqi soldiers throughout Iraq.
This has created a unique opportunity for American and allied troops, intelligence sources say.
Through intermediaries — known in spook-speak as “assets” — a handful of Mahdi Army leaders have approached allied forces and begun negotiating.
The source did not say whether immunity from criminal liability or the promise of payments were under discussion.
If these negotiations bear fruit, the Mahdi Army could be well on its way to being dismantled , commander by commander, fighter by fighter.