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6/2/04 - REDUCING MILITIA THREAT IN IRAQ - 2004-06-03


In southern Iraq, the U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi security forces have called for the dismantling of an illegal militia known as the Mahdi army. The fighters are supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr, an extremist Shiite Muslim cleric who has incited violence and attempted to seize control.

Sadr is accused in an arrest warrant of being involved in the April 2003 murder of Abdul-Majid Al-Khoei, a moderate Shiite cleric. Al-Khoei was stabbed to death shortly after Iraq was liberated from the Saddam Hussein regime.

Now, Sadr has sent a letter to the Shiite house, a group of prominent Shiite members of the former Iraqi Governing Council. Dan Senor, the Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman, says the letter pledges a withdrawal of the Sadr militia from Najaf, a Shiite holy city:

“The process also includes...that Moqtada al-Sadr meet the requirements in the arrest warrant, and that he dissolve and disarm his militia, his illegal militia. . . . We are going to monitor it very closely.”

The coalition did not participate in the negotiations that produced the letter. But Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, Deputy Director for Coalition Operations, says that if Moqtada al-Sadr lives up to the commitments, it will help end the violence in southern Iraq:

“This is a very positive step, not only for the coalition forces who can reduce their presence in Najaf, but also for the Iraqi people who can get back in, which has always been one of our ultimate goals, which is to get Iraqi control back into the city of Najaf, so that instead of being held hostage by Moqtada al-Sadr and his militia, we can open that city back up to its capability to allow [Shiite Muslims] to come back in and pray at their most holy of shrines.”

The coalition has not altered its position regarding the illegal militia, says coalition spokesman Dan Senor, or with regard to Moqtada al-Sadr’s “obligation to meet the requirements in the arrest warrant issued to him.”

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