Sadr's Army Feeding Off U.S. Help

Sadr's Army Feeding Off U.S. Help
February 2nd, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Sadr's Army Feeding Off U.S. Help

Sadr's Army Feeding Off U.S. Help
Miami Herald
February 2, 2007
Pg. 1

A radical Shiite cleric's militia, all but destroyed in 2004, has rebuilt and become the most dangerous militia in Iraq -- with the unwitting help of the United States.
By Tom Lasseter, McClatchy News Service
BAGHDAD - The U.S. military's drive to train and equip Iraq's security forces has unwittingly strengthened anti-American Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army militia, which has been battling to take over much of the capital as U.S. forces are trying to secure it.
U.S. Army commanders and enlisted men who are patrolling east Baghdad -- which is home to more than half the city's population and the frontline of Sadr's campaign to drive rival Sunni Muslims from their homes and neighborhoods -- said Sadr's militias had heavily infiltrated the Iraqi police and army units that they have trained and armed.
''Half of them are JAM. They'll wave at us during the day and shoot at us during the night,'' said 1st Lt. Dan Quinn, a platoon leader in the Army's 1st Infantry Division, using the initials of the militia's Arabic name, Jaish al Mahdi. ``People [in America] think it's bad, but that we control the city. That's not the way it is. They control it, and they let us drive around. It's hostile territory.''
The Bush administration's plan to secure Baghdad rests on a ''surge'' of about 17,000 more U.S. troops to the city, many of whom will operate from small bases throughout Baghdad. Those soldiers will work to improve Iraqi security units so American forces can hand over control of the area and withdraw to the outskirts of the city.
The problem, many soldiers said, is that the approach has been tried before and resulted only in strengthening Sadr and his militia.
Amid reports that Sadr is telling his militia leaders to stash their arms and, in some cases, leave their neighborhoods during the American push, U.S. soldiers worry that the latest plan could end up handing over those areas to units that are close to Sadr's militant Shiite group.
'All the Shiites have to do is tell everyone to lay low, wait for the Americans to leave, then when they leave, you have a target list and within a day they'll kill every Sunni leader in the country. It'll be called the `Day of Death' or something like that,'' said 1st Lt. Alain Etienne, 34, of Brooklyn, N.Y. 'They say, `Wait, and we will be victorious.' That's what they preach. And it will be their victory.''
Four senior American military representatives in Baghdad declined requests for comment.
Sadr's success in infiltrating Iraqi security forces says much about the continued inability of U.S. commanders in Iraq to counter the classic insurgent tactic of using popular support to trump superior military firepower. Lacking attack helicopters and other sophisticated weapons, Sadr's men have expanded their empire with borrowed trucks and free lunches for militiamen.
After U.S. units pounded Sadr's men in August 2004, the cleric apparently decided that instead of facing American tanks, he would use the Americans' plans to build Iraqi security forces to rebuild his own militia.
So while Iraq's other main Shiite militia, the Badr Brigade, concentrated in 2005 on packing Iraqi intelligence bureaus with high-level officers who could coordinate sectarian assassinations, Sadr went after the rank and file.
Received training
His recruits began flooding the Iraqi army and police, receiving training, uniforms and equipment either directly from the U.S. military or from the American-backed Iraqi Defense Ministry.
The infiltration by Sadr's men, coupled with his strength in Iraq's parliament after U.S.-backed elections, gave him leeway to operate death squads throughout the capital, according to more than a week of interviews with American soldiers patrolling Baghdad.
Some U.S.-trained units carried out sectarian killings themselves, while others, at checkpoints, allowed militiamen to pass.
Sadr's gunmen got another boost in 2005 and 2006 when U.S. commanders handed over many Baghdad neighborhoods east of the Tigris River to Iraqi units, transitions that often were accompanied by news releases that contained variations of the phrase ``Iraqis in the lead.''
''There's been a lot of push to transition to Iraqis so you can show progress, but have you secured the area?'' said Capt. Aaron Kaufman, a Washington, Iowa, native who works for a unit that acts as a liaison between U.S. and Iraqi forces in the Shiite enclave of Kadhamiya, across the river from east Baghdad. ``I think the political pressure has hurt. . . . You're wishing away, you're assuming away enemy activity, and you hurt yourself doing that.''
Seizes opportunity
Sadr's militia has taken advantage of the chaos.
Iraqi soldiers, for example, often were pushed into the field by Iraqi commanders who didn't give them adequate food, clothing or shelter, said Etienne, a 1st Infantry Division platoon leader.
Etienne was on patrol one day when he saw Iraqi soldiers eating fresh vegetables and meat.
The afternoon before, the same soldiers had complained that they had only scraps of food left. Who had brought them their meal? It had come courtesy of Muqtada al Sadr.
''Who's feeding the Iraqi army? Nobody. So JAM will come around and give them food and water,'' Etienne said. ``We try to capture hearts and minds, well, JAM has done that. They're further along than us.''
There has been ample evidence -- despite claims to the contrary by American and Iraqi officials -- that death-squad activity isn't isolated to a few troops loyal to Sadr.
In the southeastern Baghdad neighborhood of Zafrainyah, an entire national police brigade was sent to be retrained last year -- and much of its leadership was replaced -- after its officers kidnapped 24 Sunnis, took them to a meat-processing plant and killed them.

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