Sadr did not provide any immediate explanation for his decision but it does appear connected to last week’s announcement by Nuri al-Maliki’s government that important steps had been taken to prepare for US troop withdrawal, which according to Baghdad should be done by 2011.
Although this decision has not been formally agreed to by the United States, the prime minister’s statement corresponds to the official reasons given by Sadr for his group’s hostility to the United States, namely the presence of US troops in Iraq.
The radical leader’s close ties to Iran cannot be excluded either, given Iran’s difficult international situation as a result of its nuclear programme and the possibility of new UN sanctions.
Sadr has a different future in store for his militiamen. “We have set a cultural programme for the Mehdi Army,” he said. “We have named it Al-Mumahidun (Mehdi supporters), and everybody should abide by it and whoever does not agree with it will be expelled from the army.”
This is not the first time that Sadr has announced a truce and suspended the activities of his army which in the past has clashed with Sunni militias, US troops as well as other Shia groups.
The last time this occurred was a year ago when he ordered his men to stop all kinds of hostile action for six months.