BAGHDAD ø The Mahdi Army has received support from the
largest Shi'ite militia in Iraq.
U.S. officials said the Mahdi Army loyal to Iranian-aligned cleric
Moqtada Sadr has obtained the assistance of the much larger Badr militia.
Badr has been described as a 30,000-member force formed by the Supreme
Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
Iraqi sources said leading Shi'ite clerics have been trying to mediate
an end to the revolt against the United States, Middle East Newsline reported. They said one proposal
called for the expulsion of Sadr to Iran, where he would be granted safe
haven. Sadr has been wanted by the United States for the killing of a
leading Shi'ite cleric in April 2003.
Badr and the Mahdi Army fought together in several engagements in
the Shi'ite city of Karbala. But officials said the cooperation was limited.
"We are getting preliminary reports at this time that there may be some
engagements between those two organizations," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt,
deputy director of operations for the coalition, said.
At the same time, officials said the U.S. military has revised its
figures on the strength of the Mahdi Army. They said the latest estimate was
that Sadr has 10,000 men under arms, a significant increase from its
previous assessment of between 1,000 and 6,000 fighters.
Sadr has also received offers of help from Sunni insurgency groups. The
Ansar Islam Army, regarded as an Al Qaida-inspired group, released an
announcement that offered to help Sadr in the Shi'ite revolt against the
United States. The communique said an Ansar delegation was sent to
Sadr earlier in April to discuss cooperation.
Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of the U.S.-led coalition forces in
Iraq, said on Monday that U.S. troops have regained control of Kut and
Nasseriya. Sanchez said Sadr, whose deputy was arrested in Baghdad on
Tuesday, has remained in control of Najaf as well as parts of Karbala.
"We have maneuvered forces down into the vicinity of Najaf to ensure
that we are prepared to conduct offensive operations to eliminate the final
elements of Muqtada Al Sadr influence down there," Sanchez said. "The
mission of the U.S. forces is to kill or capture Muqtada Al Sadr."