Sadr Group Losing Influence Among Iraq's Shiia, DoD Says
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 7, 2004 The Mahdi Army, a militia group led by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, is losing influence among Shiia in Iraq, a Defense Department official said here today.
Speaking on background, he said the Mahdi Army was a group of about 3,000 lightly armed devotees of Sadr before operations against the group started Sunday. "It was a small group on the margins," said the official, adding that while it is unknown how large the group is now, it has been degraded.
The Mahdi Army is losing popular support because of the resolute action coalition forces are taking against it, the official said. Coalition forces have reaffirmed their control of the Sadr City neighborhood in Baghdad. He said the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps and the Iraqi Police Service "acquitted themselves well" in the fighting there.
Soldiers of the Polish-led Multinational Division Central-South, with headquarters in Hillah, are working to contain the Mahdi Army. News reports indicate that Sadr is holed up in a mosque in Najaf, his center of support. His followers control the mosque and the local television station.
But even in Najaf, support for the militia group is tepid because of its excesses, the official said. "(The militia's) thug-like behavior and looting of the area it has taken is working against (the group) with the larger population of Shiia," he said.
An Iraqi judge has issued a warrant for Sadr's arrest for his complicity in the murder of a prominent Shiia cleric and human rights leader last year. Sadr has preached in Iraq against the coalition and encouraged his followers to kill Americans.
Coalition administrator Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III has said Sadr's attack is not a Shiia uprising. "It is a militia, an illegal militia run by an outlaw, a group of people who have attacked, first and foremost, Iraqis Iraqi police, Iraqi army, the Iraqi civil defense force, and coalition forces and Americans," Bremer said earlier this week. "And we will deal with them. That is not the view of the majority of the Shiia."