Is it Al-Qaeda? Is it the Mahdi Army? Is it any of a dozen other groups, some without names? Is it any individual who feels as though the Infidels deserve to die?
An article on the Shi’ite threat in Iraq by Joshua Partlow for the Washington Post:
BAGHDAD — The lights were on in Baghdad. Something was wrong.
Two platoons were creeping through the southwestern neighborhood of al-Amil well past midnight last week. Headlights snapped off, night vision lenses lowered into place, they maneuvered their Humvees and Bradley Fighting Vehicles down narrow streets, angling for surprise. As they approached the suspected homes of the militia leaders they were hunting, their cover of darkness disappeared, fluorescent bulbs on the houses and street lights casting a glow on their vehicles. At 3 in the morning in a city notoriously hard up for power, these blocks were strangely bright.
Capt. Sean Lyons, the company commander leading the raid, said he knew why. “This whole area here is just absolutely dominated by Jaish al-Mahdi,” he said, using the Arabic for the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia led by the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. “They control the power distribution.”
In the 10-square-mile district of West Rashid, the Mahdi Army also controls the housing market, the gas stations and the loyalty of many of the residents, according to the soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division’s 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment. The militia has a structure familiar to U.S. soldiers: brigade and battalion commanders leading legions of foot soldiers. Its fighters are willing and able to attack Americans with armor-piercing bombs, mortars, machine guns and grenades. Meanwhile, the political wing of Sadr’s movement plays an outsize role in the national government.
West Rashid confounds the prevailing narrative from top U.S. military officials that the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq is the city’s most formidable and disruptive force. While there are signs that the group has been active in the area, over the past several months, the Mahdi Army has transformed the composition of the district’s neighborhoods by ruthlessly killing and driving out Sunnis and denying basic services to residents who remain. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, described the area as “one of the three or four most challenging areas in all of Baghdad.”
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