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Al-Mahdi Army in the Lead Up to USF-I Withdrawal

When USF-I presence is diminished at the end of 2011, Iraqi Security forces (ISF) will be accountable for all security responsibilities in Iraq, a role that many say ISF are not yet  prepared to assume at this point in time.  Currently, ISF are still in the developmental stages of training with its USF-I partner.  Without USF-I guidance and/or side-by-side training, there is a high probability that ISF may be overwhelmed with managing all internal security issues.  One of these security issues is the potential reactivation of Shia Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Shia militia faction, Imam al-Mahdi Army, aka Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM).  The data and analysis provided in this report support the claim that both Muqtada al-Sadr and JAM are gaining increasing momentum in Iraq.  USF-I withdrawal combined with the ISF’s lack of skills creates an environment where sectarian violence, fueled by JAM, has potential to reemerge and to intensify.  Further, once al-Sadr reasserts himself to Iraqis, there is a high probability that he will lead Iraq to serve as a puppet of Iran.

Looking forward, Muqtada al-Sadr could combine forces from JAM and Promised Day Brigades (PDB) under the banner of PDB in an attempt to lose the negative image and poor reputation associated with JAM’s history.  This scenario would also provide a possibility to please JAM members who want to continue the fight.   With so many Iraqis upset at the potency of USF-I and the Government of Iraq (GOI) since 2003, al-Sadr will not be hard-pressed to find additional recruits among the Iraqi Shia populace.  Alternatively, the permanent freeze could enrage JAM members to once again split from al-Sadr completely and to develop into their own splinter militia.  There is also potential for one of these groups to fully reconcile with the League of the Righteous, aka Asa’ib Ahl al-Haaq (AAH), considering the recent joint attack harvest released by PDB and AAH, whose attacks occurred in April and May 2011.  It seems as if AAH is coincidentally reconciling and returning to the leadership of al-Sadr just as he is about to lift the freeze on JAM.  Whether or not he will disregard their past disloyalty is a possibility, but he will most likely value any additional supporters he can get.

Al-Sadr is not going to leave the Iraqi political or militia sphere anytime soon. Now that AAH seems to be seeking reconciliation with al-Sadr and the Sadrist Movement, he already has a greater pool of supporters than in the past.  He has a substantial Shia following, and is only bound to gain additional supporters in the coming months.  Clearly, al-Sadr’s trip to Iran combined with a diminished USF-I presence, has only motivated al-Sadr to increase his political power in Iraq.  Whether his supporters act under the banner of PDB, JAM, or even AAH, they will actively profess Iraqi Shia/ Iraqi Sadrist dominance in a more professionally-organized way than can be seen in JAM’s history.  Additionally, if an offshoot militia is started from frustrated JAM, it will not be substantial enough to overrule al-Sadr’s control.  Shia Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his supporters are on the verge of incorporating increasing amounts of strict Islamic rules, seen in Iran, into the future of Iraq, potentially destroying whatever evidence of stability enacted by since 2003.

Kelly Seeger served as an Analyst Intern for Strategic Social, LLC. She is currently a senior studying Political Science and Middle Eastern Studies at Franklin and Marshall College. Her academic interests include US National Security and Political Developments in the Middle East. This OpEd was extrapolated from a longer paper and if you are interesting in reading the piece in its entirety you may download the document here: Al-Mahdi Army in the Lead Up to USF-I Withdrawal