Influential Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has had his plate full leading a protest movement calling for major reforms, but in comments to followers today instructed them that US ground troops inside Iraq are “a target for us,” the latest indication the US could quickly find itself facing a Shi’ite insurgency on top of the ISIS war in Iraq.
This isn’t a surprise, as Sadr has been loudly opposed to US deployments of ground troops into Iraq, warning that his followers would resist any attempt to return to the days of the American occupation, during which US troops repeatedly targeted Sadrists.
The timing of the comments, less than a week after the most recent Pentagon announcement of another large deployment to Iraq, suggests that Sadr’s patience for the growing US force is wearing thin, and that, having already gone far beyond the “cap” the Abadi government set on US troop numbers, he doesn’t care to see more troops arriving uncontested.
Sadr’s Mahdi Army was disbanded almost a decade ago, but fighters loyal to that army remain across the Shi’ite portions of the country, and have often made public their presence in such cities as a set of “Peace Brigades.”
There is little real doubt that Sadr could reform the Mahdi Army as a substantial force overnight, and if he really does intend to begin targeting US forces, it could be a major change in the country’s landscape, and the US view that their latest deployment is limited just to ISIS.