Friday, August 10, 2007


U.S. military - Sadr back in Iran

(AFP) - Radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr is reported to be back in Iran and elements of his Mahdi Army militia appear to be operating outside his control, a US military commander in Baghdad said Friday. Sadr's reported absence comes amid US fears that Iranian-backed cells are arming for attacks ahead of a key assessment to US Congress next month on whether the surge in US forces has worked to curb sectarian violence in Baghdad.
Colonel John Castles, a brigade commander whose area includes the sprawling Shiite stronghold of Sadr City, said he has seen intelligence reports that armor piercing explosives are being smuggled in from Iran. So far no surge in attacks has materialized, he said. To the contrary, indirect fire attacks have fallen in his Baghdad sector from about 60 a month in May to about 40 in July, he said.
"But there is reporting that supports that they are trying to increase that particularly as we go into the months of August and September," he said. Speaking to reporters here via video link from Baghdad, Castles said the degree of Sadr's influence and control over his movement in Sadr City was uncertain. "I think he is now in Iran, so just based on his location that implies that some of his control is not direct," he said, adding that US reporting places Sadr in Iran.
He said Sadr's political organization remains strong, but his control over the Mahdi Army is harder to discern.
"I personally think that it's fractured somewhat, that they don't get a whole lot of direct guidelines from him and that some of these divisions of it are operating on their own," he said. Sadr was reported to have gone to Iran in January ahead of a US troop surge to restore order in Baghdad and halt a spiral of sectarian violence.
He resurfaced in May in the southern Shiite city of Kufa where he led Friday prayers. He later met with key lieutenants in Najaf, reasserting his control over the movement.

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