Militia leaders fleeing Baghdad

Sunday Times:

DEATH SQUAD leaders have fled Baghdad to evade capture or killing by American and Iraqi forces before the start of the troop “surge” and security crackdown in the capital.

A former senior Iraqi minister said most of the leaders loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical anti-American cleric, had gone into hiding in Iran.

Among those said to have fled is Abu Deraa, the Shi’ite militia leader whose appetite for sectarian savagery has been compared to that of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, who was killed last year.

The former minister, who did not want to be named for security reasons, backed Sunni MPs’ claims that Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, had encouraged their flight. He alleged that weapons belonging to Sadr’s Mahdi Army had been hidden inside the Iraqi interior ministry to prevent confiscation.

Maliki said last week: “I know that senior criminals have left Baghdad, others have left the country. This is good — this shows that our message is being taken seriously.”

Sadr has been unexpectedly subdued about the coming purge, prompting allegations of a deal between the radical cleric and the Iraqi prime minister.

The flight from Baghdad could impede American plans to target the leaders of death squads. An extra 17,000 US troops are being sent to Baghdad as part of the surge in forces promised by President George W Bush.

...

With Bush facing heavy criticism at home over the surge, death squad leaders have every incentive to wait out what could be the president’s last-ditch effort to pacify Baghdad. Zalmay Khalilzad, the outgoing US ambassador to Baghdad, said last week he was concerned that militants were “lying low, avoiding conflict now in order to fight another day”.

...

According to a US source, American officials fear that Iran is following the path it took in Lebanon during the 1980s, when Islamists were encouraged to leave the relatively moderate Amal group for Hezbollah. The more militant Iranian-backed group went on to overtake Amal in popularity.

The Americans believe Iran is encouraging a similar split in Sadr’s forces by sponsoring the most extreme anti-Sunni death squad leaders.

...
The militia death squad leaders who flee will hopefully find and different situation when they return. Actually there would be little need for their grizzly work if the Sunni insurgents are stopped from killing Shia non combatants. The flight of al Qaeda and the death squad commanders shows how weak the enemy force are in Iraq. What is unfortunate is that the Democrats have given them hope that they can just wait out the Americans and resume their work later.

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