Sunday, August 08, 2004

The NYTimes > Middle East > Security: Outlaw Militia Plays Role of Ad Hoc Police Force

The New York Times > International > Middle East > Security: Outlaw Militia Plays Role of Ad Hoc Police Force:
"The Mahdi Army has emerged in recent months as a powerful paramilitary force that has not only taken charge of policing Shiite enclaves like this one but has also been aiding Iraqi security forces in crackdowns against looters and kidnappers, according to Mahdi Army members and civilians in other parts of Baghdad.

Officially, the militia is an outlaw group. An arrest warrant was issued for Mr. Sadr in April by an Iraqi court in connection with the killing of a rival Shiite cleric.

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry, which controls police and security forces, said there was no official cooperation with the Mahdi Army but acknowledged that its members sometimes worked with local law enforcement groups on security. "

"In various parts of the country, they have been helpful," Sabah Khadim, the ministry spokesman, said in an interview. "When we have sufficient security forces, this government will have Iraq under control. There will be no other militias."

The apparent cooperation between the Mahdi Army and the state security forces signals the inability of the Iraqi government to control Mr. Sadr's militia, leaving it trying to make deals with the group.

Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has allowed Mr. Sadr to resume the publication of his newspaper, which Americans closed this spring, prompting clashes in the south. The government has not pressed the arrest warrant for Mr. Sadr.

It has also dangled an offer of an amnesty for some of his fighters and repeatedly invited Mr. Sadr to take part in a national conference to plan Iraq's political future. Mr. Sadr has rejected both.

[The government's approach has not brought peace. On Thursday, American forces and the militia began fierce fighting, which has continued through Saturday across several cities in the south, and there have been skirmishes in Sadr City. The American military estimated the death toll among the fighters at more than 300. Mr. Sadr's forces said it was about 40. Iraqi government officials sharply criticized the militia and what they said were foreign supporters of the group.

[Mr. Sadr's group called for a fresh uprising against the American-led coalition. "I say 'America is our enemy,' " said Sheik Jaber al-Khafaji, reading a statement from Mr. Sadr during Friday Prayer in Kufa, the city adjacent to Najaf, Mr. Sadr's base. "I warn Iraqi police not to attack any peaceful demonstration."]

In Sadr City recently, a Mahdi Army commander who called himself Haji Abu Mustafa - a name that means he is the father of Mustafa and has been to Mecca - both bragged and lamented about the militia's work with the Iraqi authorities. His group, he said, had retrieved 140 stolen cars and handed over 180 gang members to the police in recent months. He would not reveal much about his group's tactics except to say that Mahdi Army members, posted on each block in this neighborhood, were well placed to collect tips on wrongdoers and miscreants. The neighborhood police, he said, relied on the militia's capabilities but failed to give it credit.

He said the new government had initiated joint operations since coming into power June 28, but he said the Mahdi Army had set up patrols in Sadr City under its own command soon after the ouster of Saddam Hussein and the breakdown of law and order.
con·cept: The NYTimes > Middle East > Security: Outlaw Militia Plays Role of Ad Hoc Police Force