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Iraq: Mehdi Army Takes Over Amara
October 20, 2006 13 58 GMT
Fighters from the Mehdi Army, a Shiite militia, seized control of the southern Iraqi city of Amara on Oct. 20, blowing up buildings and taking over police stations. The takeover, which includes a curfew for civilians, follows a day of clashes between the Mehdi Army, which is loyal to Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, and members of the Badr Brigades, loyal to Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has sent a high-level security delegation to the city to stem the violence.
The Mahdi Army, also known as the Mahdi Militia, Mahdi Army or Jaish al Mahdi (Arabic جيش المهدي) , is a militia force created by the Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in June of 2003. The Islamist militants rose to international prominence on April 4, 2004 when it spearheaded the first major armed confrontation against the U.S-led occupation forces in Iraq from the Shiite community in an uprising that followed the banning of al-Sadr's newspaper and attempts to arrest him, and lasted until June 6. The group is armed with AKM (Kalashnikov) assault rifles, rocket propelled grenades, mortars, Strela anti-air missiles, and other light weapons. The Mahdi Militia also utilizes IEDs (improvised explosive devices also known as road-side bombs) during their attacks on Iraqi civilians, Iraqi Security Forces and Coalition Forces. The truce agreed to in June was followed by moves to disband the militia and transform al-Sadr's movement into a political party to take part in the 2005 elections; Muqtada al Sadr ordered fighters of the Mahdi army to go into a ceasefire unless attacked first. The truce broke down in August 2004, with new hostilities breaking out. The Mahdi Militia currently operates in an intimidation role towards Iraqis, using their illegal weaponry to influence local government, infiltrate the police, and terrorize Sunni Iraqis and their supporters. The militia is believed to have infiltrated Iraqi police forces and to be involved in vigilante activities. National Independent Cadres and Elites party that ran in the 2005 Iraqi election was closely linked with the army.
Two months ago, British troops transferred security control to the Iraqis in Amarah, the provincial capital of Maysan province, in the heart of the Shiite-dominated south and not far from the Iraq-Iran border.
BAGHDAD, Oct 20 (Reuters) - A government minister sent to quell battles between Shi'ite militias and police in the southern Iraqi city of Amara said on Friday reports the Mehdi Army militia was in total control were exaggerated.
"These reports are not true," National Security Minister Shirwan al-Waeli told Reuters by phone from near Amara. He added: "What is happening there is serious."