I am a little perplexed and wish to know why when the term “Mahdi”, meaning “Divinely Guided One” has come to appear in CPA (read: American) references to the current attempted uprising by militant Shias in Iraq.
Those with some historical awareness will know that the term “el Mahdi” refers to an historical figure who led a pan-Islamic army in the late 19th century against principally the British. Ultimately, he was defeated at the battle of Omdurman (just across the White Nile from the Sudanese capital Khartoum) by General Kitchener in 1898.
I want to know how it came about that General Kimmitt saw fit to refer to al-Sadr’s supporters as the “al-Mahdi army”. Does he equate al-Sadr with the original Mahdi (brilliantly played by Lawrence Olivier in the 196? film Khartoum)?. Why is he using this term? Is it to add some emotional depth to his military action so that if he succeeds, he will be known as the military man who defeated the Mahdi? Is it just another case of The USA usurping historical names and events and applying them to their own historical actions in the same way the term “Gulf War” came to mean the 1990 Kuwait conflict instead of the 1980 - 88 Iran - Iraq war?
Whatever one may think of the Mahdi - and by most accounts he was at best an appalling administrator - The Mahdi is an historical figure and the US should really refrain from using this terminology to refer to al-Sadr. It inadvertently bestows upon him, in the eyes of extremist Moslems, a recognition by the CPA of his ‘divine’ credibility; the last thing the CPA wants al-Sadr to be percived as. Or perhaps Kermit doesn’t know what he is talking about? After all, his commander-in-chief once referred to General Musharraf as the ‘military guy’ in charge of Pakistan, so current political, and historical, ignorance is nothing new amongst America’s military and political elite.
General Kermit is no General Kitchener. al-Sadr is no Mahdi and Bremer for all his good intent, is no Gordon.