Anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr -- long a thorn in the side of the U.S. military and Iraqi government -- intends to disarm his once-dominant Mahdi Army militia and remake it as a social-services organization.
The transformation would represent a significant turnabout for a group that, as recently as earlier this year, was seen as one of the most destabilizing anti-American forces in Iraq. For much of the past several years, the Mahdi Army, headed by Mr. Sadr, a Shiite cleric, controlled sizable chunks of Baghdad and other cities. Its brand of pro-Shiite activism had the side effect of pitting Iraqis against each other, helping to stir worries of civil war.
Recently, however, the group has been hit by a largely successful Iraqi military crackdown against militia members operating as criminal gangs. At the same time, Mr. Sadr's popular support is dwindling: Residents who once viewed the Mahdi Army as champions of the poor became alienated by what they saw as its thuggish behavior.
Until recently, the Mahdi Army had enjoyed widespread popular support in areas of Baghdad and in the southern Shiite area of Iraq because it was known to help the poor by giving them money, food and other aid. But its popularity began to wane in the past few months as some members turned increasingly to criminal activity such as taking control of gas stations and extorting money from merchants in exchange for protection.
Senior American and British commanders say they have increasingly come to conclude that Mr. Sadr's once-feared militia is in disarray. American officers say Mr. Sadr now spends most of his time in neighboring Iran, where he has talked of pursuing a more advanced course of religious studies.
Didn't Harry Reid, the Democratic Leader of the Senate, want to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory!!!!!!!!!!!
The Democrats hate the fact that we WON THE IRAQ WAR!!!!