BAGHDAD ø The U.S. military says it has expelled an Iranian-backed
Shi'ite force from major Iraqi cities.
U.S. officials said U.S. and coalition troops have forced the Mahdi
Army, led by Iranian-backed cleric Moqtada Sadr, out of such Shi'ite cities
as Karbala, Kut and Najaf. They said the Shi'ite force, which numbers up to
10,000, withdrew under U.S. fire over the last three days.
Over the last week, the U.S. military accelerated operations in an
effort to dislodge the Mahdi Army from major Shi'ite cities. U.S. troops in
Kufa and Najaf battled Mahdi Army units composed of up to five people armed
with rocket-propelled grenade and automatic weapons. More than 150 Mahdi
fighters were said to have been killed over the last week, Middle East Newsline reported.
In Karbala, the Mahdi Army appeared to have completely withdrawn from
the central Iraqi city, officials said. But they did not rule out that Mahdi
combatants had merely removed their uniforms and remained in the city with
"Since then Iraqi police have begun patrolling the city, and it would
appear that life ø normal life is returning to the city
of Karbala, absent the militia that had been holding the city hostage for so
many weeks," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of coalition
Kimmitt said the Mahdi Army has also been equipped with mortars and
anti-aircraft guns. The U.S. brigadier said coalition forces destroyed two
120 mm mortars and a 57 mm anti-aircraft gun in Karbala on May 23.
The U.S. operation has included the use of what Kimmitt termed Iraqi
counterterrorism forces to enter Shi'ite mosques, where the Mahdi Army had
stored weapons. Kimmitt said Iraqi forces found a significant weapons cache
in a mosque in Kufa and captured 10 Mahdi Army combatants, including a
The U.S. military campaign began after Shi'ite leaders called for the
withdrawal of the Mahdi Army from their cities. The Shi'ites have organized
marches against Sadr and in some cases were said to have provided
intelligence information that facilitated the search for weapons stored by
Officials said Iraqi Civil Defense Corps members have also joined the
operation to expel the Mahdi Army. They said ICDC units conducted
checkpoints north and south of Al Dur in southeastern Iraq in an effort to
prevent the escape of Sadr's forces.
This marked the first major deployment of Iraqi security forces since
the Shi'ite revolt in April in which ICDC units collapsed and members
defected to the Mahdi Army. Officials said the Iraqi forces have been used
for missions in and around Shi'ite mosques to avoid friction with the local
"As challenges arise in Falujah, Najaf, and elsewhere, the tactics of
our military will be flexible," President George Bush told the U.S. Army War
College on Monday. "Commanders on the ground will pay close attention to
local conditions. And we will do all that is necessary - by measured force
or overwhelming force ø to achieve a stable Iraq."