Mehdi Army dissolving, reports say

June 26, 2008 at 5:44 PM

BAGHDAD, June 26 (UPI) -- The Mehdi Army of Moqtada Sadr is evolving into a clandestine movement following Iraqi military operations targeting the group, intelligence suggests.

The military wing of the Sadrist Movement, the political party loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, is "turning itself into a secret armed organization," an Iraqi intelligence official told the Gulf News on condition of anonymity.

Iraqi intelligence reports suggest the group's numbers have dwindled from around 50,000 to as few as 150 in the past few years.

Intelligence officials credit decisions by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to launch military offensives against Shiite militants in the southern parts of the country as deterring the group. An Iraqi intelligence official reports as many as 2,000 Mehdi Army fighters were killed in recent operations in Basra, Sadr City and the provincial capital of Maysan, Amarah.

"This led to the almost complete collapse of the army," the official said. Intelligence reports suggest many Sadr fighters also fled to neighboring Iran in the wake of the recent Iraqi military operations.

U.S. and Iraqi authorities, Gulf News reported, blame Iran for transporting weapons to the militia.

Intelligence officials said the latest operations in Maysan province would signal "the end of the Mehdi Army."

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