Analysis: Iraq Panel Concerned Over Al-Sadr's Army
WASHINGTON - The Iraq Study Group's grim report embraces the most worrisome estimates about Muqtada al-Sadr's private army: He has up to 60,000 fighters, and his followers are planted throughout the security forces protecting the Health Ministry and other Iraqi government institutions.
Making matters worse, the high-level panel believes the cleric himself may not be able to manage the diverse and growing parts of his network known as the Mahdi army.
"As the Mahdi army has grown in size and influence, some elements have moved beyond Sadr's control," the report concludes.
Al-Sadr's independent force is one of many factions bedeviling U.S. efforts to help Iraq's fledgling democracy gain control. It's part of a tableau of trouble detailed in the 160-page report, whose authors had broad access to U.S. intelligence data.
The commission, led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, also found fault with the intelligence agencies who were advising it.
The agencies undercounted the number of violent attacks in Iraq and failed to hire enough qualified analysts to study the insurgency, the report said. "Clearly, U.S. intelligence agencies can and must do better," it said.
Once a minor figure in Iraq, al-Sadr gained prominence through the reputation of his murdered father, a revered Shiite leader and dissident during Saddam Hussein's rule. The son's strength has grown rapidly in recent months.
In 2005, al-Sadr had fewer than 10,000 fighters, but the new report puts that figure now at as many as 60,000 _ or three fighters loyal to al-Sadr for every seven U.S. soldiers in the country. The latest estimate is believed to include a dedicated core as well as part-time fighters.
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