The Washington Post reported January 19th that U.S. intelligence officials informed Congress that radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr will probably reduce the profile of the Mahdi Army, his private militia, as he evaluates President Bush’s new strategy.
“There’s a clear indication at the present time he’s not looking for contacts with coalition forces,” CIA Director Michael V. Hayden is quoted as saying to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. “And to the degree he controls Jaish al-Mahdi-and that’s a very important factor-to the degree that he controls this, he’s trying not to bait us or confront us into confrontation.
The Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Michael D. Maples, said “They will probably reduce their level of activity in the near term in order to see what’s going to happen, how it’s going to happen, particularly in Baghdad,” according to the Post report. He went on to say, “And I think they will continue to operate in other parts of Iraq to further establish their influence over the Shia population.”
Disarming the various militias operating in and around Baghdad is part of President Bush’s new strategy of surging more than 17,000 additional troops to Baghdad. According to the Post, President Bush’s administration has been putting pressure on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to crack down on al-Sadr’s militia. The Mahdi Army is accused of sponsoring death squads that are contributing to the sectarian violence in the Iraqi capital.
The report went on to say that at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, retired Marine General Joseph Hoar said no more American troops should be deployed unless the Iraqi Prime Minister disarms all the militias and purges the Iraqi security forces of militia members. “If he’s not committed to make hard choices early on, there’s no chance in pulling this thing off,” he is quoted as saying.
In a quote from Major General William Caldwell, spokesman for the U.S. military in Iraq, the report says, “I for one am personally very concerned that expectations have been raised so high that people are going to look for some kind of immediate results in the next 30 to 60 days and are not going to see it.” Caldwell went on to say that the troop surge is designed to accelerate the transition to the Iraqi government.
Information for this article was obtained from “Officials Predict Shiite Militia Will Lower Profile in Baghdad,” by Walter Pincus and Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post Staff Writers, published January 19th, 2007 in the Washington Post.