Monday, February 12, 2007

Perspective: Sadr army lying low

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Their rhetoric is still stridently anti-American, but Mahdi Army militiamen are tucking away their weapons and blending into civilian life. Their leaders are keeping out of sight.

In the streets of Sadr City, the strategy of Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shiite militia leader, is clear: Lie low, avoid a showdown and hope to emerge even stronger after the Americans leave.

Gathered for prayers this week, at least 10,000 al-Sadr supporters raised clenched fists and chanted "No, No to America." Later, a black-turbaned cleric addressed them, dressed in a white shroud to signal readiness for martyrdom.

"They claim that the Mahdi Army is made up of terrorists," Mohanad al-Moussawi said mockingly before delivering a tirade against Sunni political groups he accused of sponsoring terrorism.

Religious ceremonies charged with fiery rhetoric are common among al-Sadr loyalists. But with a massive U.S.-Iraqi security operation getting under way to pacify Baghdad, the Mahdi Army and its political masters are sending out assurances that it has no wish to fight.

Read the rest at the LA Times