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Iraq's Mehdi Army (MA) militia probably has no more than a few thousand actual members but its potential for organising unrest is clear from the street battles which erupted in Shia parts of the country.
It was created in the summer of 2003, prompted by radical Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr, who preached in his sermons the need for a new force.
Young men were recruited at offices near mosques to defend the Shia Muslim faith and their country in defiance of the US-led coalition's arms controls.
One year on from the invasion, Mr Sadr's movement continues to take on new members, now feeding on dissatisfaction with the coalition among Shia who initially welcomed the ousting of Saddam Hussein and the end to curbs on their faith.
SADR CITY, Iraq - As the muezzin calls the faithful to evening prayer and shadows lengthen against the mosque walls, dozens of young men line up patiently at a table, clutching pieces of paper scrawled with their details.
The men are answering a call from a controversial young firebrand cleric to form an Islamic Shia army in defense of their religion and country, but also, many say, eventually to take on the occupiers from the United States and drive them from Iraq.
Thousands have responded to the call by Hojatoleslam Moqtada al-Sadr, most of them from this fetid slum known as Sadr City, where unemployment is high and crime is rife, a breeding ground for discontent and disenchantment against their American "liberators."
Mohammed Abbas, 27, who signed up two weeks ago at the office of the Arasul mosque, said: "God willing, this army will get rid of the Americans, the Israelis and the infidels."
He is one of many in the neighborhood aligned with Mr. al-Sadr. He returned yesterday with a group whom he had urged to join. "All Shias should do this because we must be ready to defend ourselves against our enemies."
The political views of Hojatoleslam al-Sadr, the Shia Muslim cleric, are still murky.
His academic pedigree is shaky and his oratorical skills are rough, but the 30-year-old cleric whose supporters turned to violence has a family lineage that earns him respect and adulation among his anti-US supporters.
Moreover, his movement’s mix of religion, politics and community work provides a welcome platform of self-assertion for poor Shias in Baghdad and Shia-dominated cities in Iraq’s impoverished south.
Al-Sadr’s father, Iraq’s top Shia Muslim cleric, was gunned down by suspected agents of Saddam Hussein in 1999.