BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraq's prime minister has dropped his protection of an
anti-American cleric's Shiite militia after US intelligence convinced him the
group was infiltrated by death squads, two officials said Sunday.
In a desperate bid to fend off an
all-out American offensive, the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr last Friday
ordered the 30 lawmakers and six Cabinet ministers under his control to end
their nearly two-month boycott of the government. They were back at their jobs
Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr delivers a speech
during prayers in Kufa, Iraq, in this Nov. 24, 2006 file photo. [AP]
Al-Sadr had already ordered his militia fighters not to display their
weapons. They have not, however, ceded control of the formerly mixed
neighborhoods they have captured, killing Sunnis or forcing them to abandon
their homes and businesses.
Saturday's US death toll climbed significantly to 25 after the military
reported Sunday that six more troops had died in the deadliest day in two years
for American forces.
The latest military reports said four soldiers and a Marine had died during
combat Saturday in Anbar province and one soldier was killed in a roadside
bombing northeast of Baghdad.
Nineteen of the deaths were reported Saturday, 12 in a Black Hawk helicopter
crash, five in an attack on a security meeting in the Shiite holy city of
Karbala and two others in roadside bomb attacks elsewhere. It was the
third-highest daily toll for US forces since the war began in March 2003.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's turnaround on the Mahdi Army was puzzling
because as late as Oct. 31, he had intervened to end a US blockade of Sadr City,
the northeast Shiite enclave in Baghdad that is headquarters to the militia. It
is held responsible for much of the sectarian bloodshed that has turned the
capital into a battle zone over the past year.
Shiite militias began taking revenge after more than two years of incessant
bomb and shooting attacks by Sunni insurgents.
Sometime between then and Nov. 30, when the prime minister met President
Bush, al-Maliki was convinced of the truth of American intelligence reports
which contended, among other things, that his protection of al-Sadr's militia
was isolating him in the Arab world and among moderates at home, the two
government officials said.
"Al-Maliki realized he couldn't keep defending the Mahdi Army because of the
information and evidence that the armed group was taking part in the killings,
displacing people and violating the state's sovereignty," said one official.
Both he and a second government official who confirmed the account refused to be
identified by name because the information was confidential. Both officials are
intimately aware of the prime minister's thinking.
"The Americans don't act on rumors but on accurate intelligence. There are
many intelligence agencies acting on the ground, and they know what's going on,"
said the second official, confirming the Americans had given al-Maliki
overwhelming evidence about the Mahdi Army's deep involvement in the sectarian
Earlier this month, Bush and al-Maliki separately announced a new security
drive to clamp off the sectarian violence that has riven the capital and
Bush announced an additional 21,500 American soldiers would be sent to
accomplish the task and al-Maliki has promised a similar number of forces, who
will take the lead in the overall operation.
Iraq's Special Forces Command division has already teamed with the Americans
since late last year for a series of pinpoint attacks in which at least five top
Mahdi Army figures have been killed or captured.
The neighborhood-by-neighborhood sweep, expected to begin in earnest by the
first of the month, will target Sunni insurgents, al-Qaida in Iraq and its
allied militant bands equally with Shiite militias, both the Mahdi Army and the