Militia Power Wanes as Iraqi Government Gains
Shiite Mahdi Army's extortion and violence alienate residents
By Matt Cantor,  Newser User
Posted Jul 27, 2008 5:38 AM CDT
Women sit surrounded by humanitarian aid packages from the Iraqi Red Crescent in Baghdad's Shiite enclave of Sadr City, Iraq, Thursday. The area was once a Mahdi Army stronghold.   (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)
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(Newser) – The sway of a key Iraqi militia has declined significantly and it's losing control of its Baghdad strongholds to the government, the New York Times reports. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army once controlled politics and police in areas throughout the city, but supporters became disenchanted by its violence and extortion as American and Iraqi forces hammered the group.

Last year, the Mahdi Army controlled local economies, demanded cash from businesses and drove up gas prices. Its decline demonstrates that Iraq’s government is gaining strength and national respect. “The Sadr movement has no power now,” said a government worker. But it hasn’t disappeared. Scrawled on city walls is the vow: “We will be back.” “People are still afraid,” said the worker.