Anti-U.S. Sentiment on the Rise in Iraq

Many Iraqi Shiites are turning against the Americans, expressing their anger and indignation at U.S. policies and practices in increasingly violent ways.

The Shiite political factions were ostensibly pleased with America's invasion of the country and its removal of former leader Saddam Hussein.

But that "marriage of convenience" did not last and the Shiites, like their Sunni brethren, have come to realize that U.S.'s strategic interests lie somewhere else.

Spearheading the anti-U.S. drive among the Shiites is the powerful movement of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who is in collision not only with the Americans but also with his former Shiite allies currently steering the government.

While some semblance of quiet has returned to violent areas where Sunni Arabs form the majority, Sadr's supporters and militias are reported to have turned into a destabilizing factor in numerous towns and cities in southern Iraq.

Sadr's people are not opposing the Americans only. They are opposing the Shiite-dominated government which they believe is a U.S. stooge.

Sadr's military wing is one of the most secretive militia groups in Iraq. Some analysts draw parallels between it and the military tactics the Hizbollah Party pursues in Lebanon.

It is not clear whether Sadr's armed men are as heavily equipped and efficiently trained like Hizbollah fighters. But analysts say Iraq's nascent military cannot on its own take on the Sadr movement with its popular grassroots support in mainly impoverished Shiite towns and districts.

One thing the analysts cannot say with certainty: They wonder whether the Sadrists are coordinating their anti-U.S. actions with the predominantly Sunni resistance whose attacks targeting U.S. troops have plummeted recently.

Last week Sadr's supporters organized large-scale demonstrations in the provinces of Babel and Diwayniya as well as Baghdad demanding the departure of U.S. troops.

Clashes broke out during these demonstrations with government troops arresting scores of Sadrists.

Sources say neither the U.S. nor the government have a full picture of the strength of the movement. The Sadrists, they say, have not used all their "military potential" and militarily the U.S. and the Iraqi government will have to think twice before waging a full-scale war to disarm them.

But the question troubling U.S. military strategists in Iraq is what would happen should the Sadrists openly ally themselves with Iraqi resistance -- or what the Sadrists would do in the face of a military confrontation with Iran.

Analysts say if hostilities flare up between the U.S. and Iran, the Sadrists and other heavily armed groups loyal to Tehran will enter the battle, using everything at their disposal.

Iraqi resistance groups, the Sadrists, other militias, the sleeping Iranian cells in Iraq, and the "might" of Iran's Revolutionary Guards will practically hold U.S. troops at gunpoint.

This nightmarish scenario is in the back of the minds of U.S. military planners -- and they have so far found no practical way on how to approach it.

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