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McCain Sees Iraqi Cleric as a Key Obstacle

From Bloomberg News

The militia of radical cleric Muqtada Sadr, said to be backed by Iran and representing Iraq’s Shiite majority, has emerged as a major obstacle to U.S. military efforts in Iraq and must be forcefully confronted, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said.

“Sadr has got to be taken out of this equation, and his militia has got to be addressed forcefully,” McCain said in an interview on the NBC News program “Meet the Press.”

Sadr’s army “is now becoming more and more powerful,” McCain said.

Insurgent attacks after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 initially were largely blamed on Iraq’s Sunni Arabs, who make up about 15% to 20% of the population yet enjoyed political and economic dominance under deposed dictator Saddam Hussein.

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The majority Shiite Muslims, to protect themselves from the Sunni-led attacks, increasingly have formed their own militias, with Sadr’s Mahdi army emerging as a leading force. Iran is aiding Sadr, U.S. military leaders told Congress this month.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, a Shiite who relies on Sadr for political support, complained after an Aug. 6 raid by U.S. and Iraqi troops against Sadr’s forces in Baghdad.

Industry Minister Fawzi Hariri said Sunday on CNN that he had no information to substantiate U.S. claims that Iran’s government was backing militias such as Sadr’s.

Hariri also denied that the fighting in Iraq was worsening, saying he disagreed with the image “that is portrayed by certain television stations.” Sectarian attacks “are intermittent and are not coordinated,” he said.

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McCain repeated his criticism of President Bush for using too few troops in Iraq and his lack of confidence in Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Yet McCain said he remained confident of Bush’s ability to handle the Iraq war and called for a greater U.S. military commitment, rather than a troop withdrawal, in the face of warnings that Iraq could be sliding toward civil war. “We cannot lose this,” McCain said. “It will cause chaos in Iraq and in the region.”


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