BAGHDAD ø Despite its initial gains, the Shi'ite insurgency
against the United States has been based on light conventional arms.
U.S. officials and analysts said the Mahdi Army has not acquired heavy
weapons in its campaign to dislodge the U.S.-led coalition from Iraq. They
said the Shi'ite force loyal to Iranian-aligned cleric Moqtada Sadr has been
largely equipped with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and light weapons.
But independent analysts said the Mahdi Army has also obtained anti-tank
weapons, anti-aircraft missiles as well as bazookas. They said the weapons
were purchased cheaply from arms dealers or former commanders of Saddam
Hussein's army. On April 11, insurgents shot down an AH-64 Apache attack
west of Baghdad, Middle East Newsline reported.
"They are armed with a range of the usual Kalashnikovs ø the AK-47s ø
significant small arms," Julian Lindley-French, an analyst at the Geneva
Center for Security Policy, said. "Some evidence of very light anti-tank
weapons and bazookas -- that kind of thing. Fairly basic, but nevertheless
deadly weapons when used against thin-skinned vehicles, such as jeeps and
other light military vehicles."
The estimates of the strength of the Shi'ite force have become a key
issue as U.S. troops surrounded Najaf. Officials said the United States
was preparing to enter the city to capture Sadr, who led the current Shi'ite
uprising that has killed nearly 100 U.S. soldiers and coalition troops over
the last two weeks.
"Currently, we see a significant threat in the vicinity of Najaf by the
name of Moqtada Al Sadr and his militia," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy
director of coalition operations, said. "And we will get the forces to the
place and at time when it is necessary to go after him, and his militia to
end this violence. It is that simple."
The Mahdi Army has also recruited thousands of well-trained fighters,
officials said. They said many of the militia members were soldiers in the
military of Saddam Hussein, who have obtained the cooperation of loyalists
of the former regime.
The strength of the Mahdi Army remains in dispute. Officials and
analysts said estimates range from between 6,000 and 10,000 fighters.
Officials said the Mahdi Army also contains fighters trained abroad,
including those from Iran and Lebanon. They said Iranian-backed Hizbullah
combatants were found in some units of Sadr's forces, particularly in
Karbala, Kut and