Sadr's militia using light arms against U.S. forces

Thursday, April 15, 2004

BAGHDAD 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 helicopter west of Baghdad, Middle East Newsline reported.

"They are armed with a range of the usual Kalashnikovs the AK-47s 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 Najaf.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

Print this Article Print this Article Email this article Email this article Subscribe to this Feature Free Headline Alerts

Search Worldwide Web Search Search WorldTrib Archives
Publish exclusive world news on your site