U.S. fed up with al Sadr

Thursday, June 10, 2004

BAGHDAD After 10 days of withstanding attacks, the U.S. military has lost patience with the Shi'ite militia of Iranian-backed cleric Muqtada Sadr.

U.S. officials warned that Sadr's Mahdi Army was being given until Tuesday to begin withdrawing from Kufa and Najaf. They said the Mahdi Army has failed to implement its agreement to withdraw from the Shi'ite cities.

The agreement between Sadr and Shi'ite clerics was announced on May 29.

Coalition Provisional Authority senior adviser Dan Senor said on June 5 that the U.S. military would give the Mahdi Army 72 hours to monitor the agreement with Sadr. He said the agreement was to have led to the departure of the Shi'ite insurgents, evacuation of occupied buildings, closure of the Islamic court and prison, and the return of the Iraqi police to all parts of the city.

"It's not a deadline," Senor said. "It is just a period, a reasonable timeframe within which we think we can monitor the progress and see if this is sort of an isolated situation or is part of a broader trend to really resolve the situation peacefully."

[On Tuesday, 13 Iraqis and a U.S. soldier were killed in a series of car bombings in the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Baqubah. Another of those killed was a leading Iraqi police officer]

Senor said if Sadr does not begin to implement the agreement, the U.S.-led coalition "will act and respond accordingly." He added that anybody bearing weapons in Kufa and Najaf would also be considered "third-party agents provocateurs."

U.S. officials have tried to portray the agreement between Sadr and Shi'ite clerics as a watershed meant to end control of the Mahdi Army over Kufa and Najaf. Officials have reported the start of the evacuation of the Mahdi Army, while witnesses maintained that Sadr's forces remained in Kufa and Najaf.

On Monday, a mosque believed to have contained explosives and ammunition blew up in Kufa. At least two people were killed.

"You have seen the deployment of Iraqi police into the city," Senor said. "You are seeing joint patrols between Iraqi police and coalition forces. You are seeing these weapons being turned in."

Senor said the Mahdi Army must disband and Sadr must surrender to authorities to face charges of having plotted to kill a senior Shi'ite cleric in April 2003. He did not say how Sadr should surrender.

But U.S. analysts expect Sadr to remain a thorn in the side of the U.S.-led coalition. They said the Mahdi Army has been quick to adapt to U.S. military tactics.

"The campaign against Sadr has yet to run its course, and claims that his militia has been defeated are probably premature," Jeffrey White, a retired U.S. government intelligence analyst and researcher at the Washington Institute, said. "Muqtada Al Sadr is not just a passive recipient of coalition blows. He is an adaptive opponent who is actively seeking to avoid complete military defeat while enhancing his political position."

On Monday, Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Alawi announced an agreement that called for most of Iraq's independent militias to reintegrate or disband. Alawi said 90,000 of the 100,000 members of nine militias will either join the Iraqi security forces or enter civilian life by early 2005, when Iraq undergoes elections.

Officials said the militias that have agreed to disband were the forces of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the Iraqi Islamic Party, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in the Iraqi/Badr Organization, the Iraqi National Accord, the Iraqi National Congress, the Iraqi Hizbullah, the Iraqi Communist Party and Da'wa.

The Mahdi Army was not included, officials said. Alawi's announcement also failed to include the Sunni militia inspired by Al Qaida that controls Faluja, about 50 kilometers north of Baghdad.

"Just under 60 percent will pass into the Iraqi security services and the rest will be reintegrated back into civil society," Alawi said.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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