March 13, 2007

Hundreds Of Mahdis, Thousands Of Insurgents Detained

The new counterinsurgency strategies of David Petraeus have shown remarkable initial success. USA Today reports that the US and Iraqi forces now employing the Baghdad security plan have captured thousands of insurgents as well as large numbers of Mahdi Army militia members -- and Moqtada al-Sadr has yet to poke his head above ground:

Coalition forces have detained about 700 members of the Mahdi Army, the largest Shiite militia in Baghdad, the top U.S. commander in Iraq said Monday.

The militia, which is loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and has clashed with U.S. troops in the past, has mostly avoided a direct confrontation with American and Iraqi government forces, Gen. David Petraeus said in an interview with USA TODAY.

Some of the militia's top leaders have left the capital, and Iraqi government officials are negotiating with al-Sadr's political organization in an effort to disband the militia, Petraeus said.

"I think in part one reason that al-Sadr's militia has been lying low … is due to some of the discussions being held," Petraeus said in a telephone interview from Iraq. "It's also in part due to some of the leaders leaving Baghdad" and others being arrested, he said.

The seven hundred Mahdis are only the tip of the iceberg. The White House estimated that 16,000 other insurgents are held by US and Iraqi forces as well, making this sweep an early success. In fact, the burgeoning numbers of detainess require the US to send more military police to guard them.

Moqtada al-Sadr has still not made an appearance in Iraq after the beginning of the surge. He skedaddled to Teheran to meet with his sponsors and hasn't made a public return. Some believe that the surge might wind up boosting Sadr if the surge suppresses the Mahdis but leaves the Shi'ites exposed to Sunni attacks. However, if that's the case, Sadr has avoided taking advantage of the situation. If he thought he would benefit from Shi'ite dissatisfaction, he would be leading protests on the streets of Baghdad. Instead, he's in hiding while Baghdad's Shi'ites have begun to live normal lives free of Sadr's goons.

Petraeus appears to be on the right track and gathering momentum. Congress represents the only real long-term obstacle to success.


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