Baghdad Shiites Turn Away From Mahdi Army

As al-Sadr's militia degenerates, locals seek out US military
By Jason Farago,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 12, 2007 1:22 PM CDT
Mahdi Army militiamen hold a picture of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr as they celebrate the withdrawal of British troops from Basra, 550 kilometers (340 miles) southeast of Baghdad, Iraq, Friday,...   (Associated Press)
camera-icon View 3 more images

(Newser) – In Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad, a substantial shift in allegiances is under way, the  Times reports: locals are beginning to turn from the Mahdi Army, the militia that once represented their best defense against Sunni insurgents. A lack of coherent ideology has turned a militia into a gang, and local Shiites have been horrified by the growing incidence of intrasectarian violence.

“We thought they were soldiers defending the Shiites,” one local says. “But now we see they are youngster-killers, no more than that. People want to get rid of them.” As a result, military officials say, Shiite sheiks are reaching out to Americans—as Sunnis began doing earlier this year—with tips to help curb violence. “Everything is changing,” said one businessman. "Now in our area for the first time everyone say, ‘To hell with Mahdi Army.'"