Monday, March 31, 2008

Nouri al-Maliki humiliated as gamble to crush Shia militias fail

Times UK

The soldiers guarding the entrance to Sadr City were jumpy, despite a ceasefire announced by al-Mahdi Army Shia militia. And with good reason: a huge boom rolled across the militia stronghold as a roadside bomb struck a passing vehicle. American armoured vehicles sped off to the aid of stricken comrades.

Overnight al-Mahdi Army has melted back into the population in Baghdad and Basra after its leader, the antiAmerican cleric Hojatoleslam Moqtada al-Sadr, ordered it to stop fighting government forces. In Sadr City and other militia strongholds they do not need to be seen. Their presence is felt everywhere.

Walking across the lines separating the US and government forces from the barbed wire sealing off Sadr City, an Iraqi army major muttered: “You’re going in without guards? You’ll be kidnapped for sure.” The Sadr Office had, however, arranged an escort for visiting journalists: a police car with three officers. “Don’t worry,” the driver reassured his passengers. “We know where all the IEDs are.”

The police in areas controlled by al-Mahdi Army work closely with the militia and would never dream of interfering in its fights with the Government that pays their salaries.

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