Peace Brigades / Mahdi Army (Iraq)

Country: Iraq
Details of Formation: Muqtada al-Sadr created the Mahdi army in 2003. Back then, the Mahdi army mainly fought US coalition forces. The group supported al-Maliki in his quest to become prime minister, but because of disagreements the group begun to openly oppose the Iraqi government by 2006. In 2008, Sadr shifted the Mahdi army’s focus away from military activity to providing social services. In 2010/2011 Sadr’s party Iraqi National Alliance, made up of Mahdi army members, became part of the government. However, there is no evidence that the group was armed and a militia during that time. In 2013, Sadr retreated from politics and officially dismantled the Mahdi army. Its members continued to follow Sadr and in June 2014 Sadr created the Mahdi army again, albeit under a different name, Peace Brigades (Stanford Mapping Militant Organizations 2017). The Baghdad government was too weak to disarm them. Although the Peace Brigades openly called for Maliki’s retreat, they claimed to act under government control and evidence suggests that Maliki relied on them in their fight against the IS.
Details of Termination: --
Purpose: The main purpose of the Peace Brigades is to fight the Islamic State and protect Shia mosques and neighbourhoods from IS attacks.
Organisation: The Peace Brigades’ commanders claim they are operating under government command. Other sources suggest that the group is operating outside any legal framework and without any official oversight. Prime Minister al-Maliki relied on militias such as the Peace Brigades to cling to power with a rising IS bringing chaos to the country. After al-Abadi became al-Maliki’s successor, the Peace Brigades closely cooperate with the Iraqi Security Forces in the fight against the IS. The main leader and founder of the PGM is by Muqtada al-Sadr, son of Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr. Sadr’s senior aide is Hazim al-Araji (Stanford Mapping Militant Organizations 2017).
Weapons and Training: The Peace Brigades are better trained than the original Mahdi Army (Stanford Mapping Militant Organizations 2017). They are armed with missiles, bazookas, high-tech assault rifles and artillery guns.
Size: Various news sources give different estimations upon PGM membership in June 2014. These estimates range between 10,000 to 50,000 (Stanford Mapping Militant Organizations 2017). One news source mentions that the organizers claim a million men participating in a PGM march, which according to the journalists’ observations’ seems unlikely, but rather a size of 30-50,000.
Reason for Membership: --
Treatment of Civilians: When the Mahdi army was still a rebel group in 2006-2007, it had participated in killing Sunni civilians. After becoming a PGM in 2014, there is no evidence of the group participating in such killings anymore (Stanford Mapping Militant Organizations 2017). One of the aims of the Peace Brigades was to protect neighbourhoods from attacks by the Islamic State.
Other Information: The Peace Brigades are sometimes still referred to as Mahdi Army (Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM)). Their new name means Peace Companies, but is usually mistranslated to Peace Brigades. Although the Peace Brigades are indirectly allied with the US via the Iraqi government, tensions exist between the group and the US forces. The Peace Brigades have generally good relations with the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and Kata’ib Hezbollah (Stanford Mapping Militant Organizations 2017).
References: Stanford Mapping Militant Organizations. 2017. “Mahdi Army.”

Information was taken from news sources listed in the PGMD