Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

The Death of the Mehdi Army. the Rise, Fall, and Revival of Iraq's Most Powerful Militia

Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

The Death of the Mehdi Army. the Rise, Fall, and Revival of Iraq's Most Powerful Militia

Article excerpt

The Death of the Mehdi Army. The Rise, Fall, and R evival of Ir aq's Mos t Pow erful Militia. By Nicholas Krohley. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. 305 pp. $40.

Perhaps the greatest surprise confronting U.S. forces following the 2003 invasion of Iraq was the rise of firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Prior to the invasion, Sadr was not on the U.S. radar, but in the wake of the operation, he became a military obsession, quickly establishing himself as the chief impediment to the restoration of order in the country, at least from Washington's perspective. While Sadr's Mahdi (or Mehdi) Army (meaning, loosely, the Army of the Messiah) was responsible for thousands of deaths- American as well as Iraqi-relatively little was known about Sadr and his militia beyond the names of top lieutenants or what could be gleaned from his speeches.

Krohley is a veteran of the "Human Terrain System," the collection of social scientists embedded within U.S. fighting forces whose job was to illuminate the intricacies of local society to help the top brass's decision-making. He remedies this lack of insight, shedding light on an important piece of recent U.S. history in Iraq.

He asks: Why did the Mahdi Army collapse in 2008? The rapidity of its fall with so little combat suggests other factors at play. In answering the question, the author weaves a masterwork of recent Baghdadi and Iraqi political history, setting his study apart from previous analyses of the surge, which tend to be long on journalism but short on understanding the nuances of Iraqi society.

Krohley traces the origins of the Mahdi Army to the growth of the eastern slums of Baghdad and the internal migration of Shiite Iraqis, beginning with the establishment of the republic in 1958. …

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