More trouble ahead. “Are Sadr militias rearming in Iraq’s south?” by Jane Arraf for the Christian Science Monitor, May 12:
Baghdad – A senior US general said forces loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are rising again in Iraq’s south, engaging in intimidation, extortion, and political violence as politicians in Baghdad continue to negotiate over forming a government two months after national elections.
Maj. Gen. Vincent Brooks, in charge of US forces in nine southern provinces, said he has not ruled out involvement by Sadrist paramilitaries or splinter groups in a string of deadly attacks Monday across the south.
“There’s evidence in the past that they’re not at all reticent to intimidate and to murder their fellow Shiite citizens, so I do not exclude them,” said Brooks, commanding general of the 1st Infantry Division, in a telephone interview from Basra.
The violence, which killed 67 Iraqis and wounded almost 300 in 10 separate attacks across the south, included an attack on an imam who has spoken out against the militias and the bombing of a mosque.
It will likely be unclear for some time who was behind the attacks – the deadliest in Iraq this year. But the reactivation of the Sadr militia known as the Jaish al-Mahdi (Mahdi Army) and other Shiite militias – not yet seen in Baghdad – would be a key warning sign of a resurgence of sectarian violence. […]
“We have seen some intimidation being done by local parties like the Sadrists engaging in old-fashioned methods like intimidation and extortion, particularly against police and police chiefs throughout the provinces,” said Brooks.
Brooks said in the past three weeks the provincial police chiefs of Maysan, Dhikkar, Diwayniya and Najaf have either been demoted or replaced, with officials who have been historically friendly to Sadr interests put in charge.
The move could mean rising tension between the national security forces in the Iraqi Army and police chiefs more influenced by provincial Shiite politics.
Although Al Qaeda in Iraq was blamed by the Iraqi government for Monday’s violence, the organization has traditionally had little presence in the overwhelmingly Shiite south, where most attacks have been linked to power struggles between competing Shiite parties – some of them linked to Iran. US officials believe attacks on citizens have been designed to show that government security forces cannot maintain security.
“The location, the timing, and the type of target says to me it is political opportunism,” Brooks said of Monday’s attacks….