U.S. Taking Iraqi Separatists' Side in Shia-Shia Conflict
The U.S. is providing "logistic and intelligence assistance" to a rival Shiite faction to weaken the Sadr Movement, a movement's senior official said.
Bahaa al-Araji said the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, a leading ally of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, was working to undermine the movement and to provoke its military wing.
The Mahdi Army, the movement's military arm, has vowed to suspend military operations targeting U.S. and Iraqi troops as well as other militia factions.
But Araji said the movement, led by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr may not be able to keep its promise with the U.S. siding with one of its major rivals.
The Islamic council's military organization, the Badr Corps militias, is among the best armed and equipped irregular army in Iraq. Maliki's Dawaa party also has its own militia forces.
The two militia factions are reported to have mounted a unified front against Sadr's Mahdi Army in several cities in the south, particularly in Karbala and Najaf.
"We are afraid that leading figures in the Sadr Movement will not honor the decision by Moqtada al-Sadr to freeze activities by the Mahdi Army," Araji said.
It was the first direct hint by the group that it may once again resort to arms in its struggle against rival factions and U.S. occupation forces.
The Sadr Movement has large following in the Shiite quarters of Baghdad as well as several cities in the south. It also exerts large influence among the predominantly Shiite Turkmen of northern Iraq.
Iraqi observers say U.S. support of the Badr Corps is specifically designed to dent the support the anti-American Sadr Movement garners among the Shiites.
The policy, they say, is similar to the one the U.S. applied among Sunni Arabs by having them rise against the Sunni fighters of al-Qaeda.
But the observers say if the tactic has temporarily worked with the Sunnis, it is likely to backfire with the Shiites as the Sadr Movement, unlike al-Qaeda, is deeply rooted among Shiite populations in the country.
"The aim behind (American) support is to help the Islamic council spread its political dominance over the central and southern provinces in the country," Araji said.
However, Abdulhameed al-Maala of the Islamic council, denied reports that his group was getting U.S. support to undermine the Sadr Movement.
"On the contrary, we have an agreement with the Sadr Movement to avoid conflict and reach the maximum degree of understanding," Maala said.