The clashes against US forces in 2008 seem a world away for many veterans of the Mahdi Army, but with the deadline for the US withdrawal just six months away and cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is threatening to reform the army if they don’t leave, raising the prospect of renewed fighting.
But many of the vets are reluctant to return to fighting, seeing the Sadrist Trend’s strong political position as the end of their era of fighting in the streets. This is raising the prospect of a split, with some of the fighters refusing to return.
Sadr retains overwhelming support among this group, and they are united in opposing the US occupation. That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that after years of rebuilding their lives they are going to drop everything and go to war.
This might make Sadr’s threat less credible, but at the same time it speaks to the faction’s maturation as a political force, and it is this political force, more than the prospect of violence, that is in a position to block the continued US presence at any rate.