debkafile Exclusive: American troops pour into Iraqi Shiite towns of Najef and Karbala to meet radical Sadrist militia threat

The US military command in Iraq dispatched large-scale Marine forces with armor, tank and helicopter support to the two Shiite shrine cities south of Baghdad before dawn Friday, April 7. debkafile‘s military sources report the action followed a threat by radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr to overrun the Shiite cities and Baghdad’s Shiite suburb, if the Americans force the Iran-backed interim prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari to step down.
Armed Shiite tribesman have smuggled senior Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and his staff out of the city and harm’s way, amid fears the Mehdi Army may take him hostage. The tribes have taken him under their protection.
While US forces took control of central Najef, they are keeping to Karbala’s western suburbs; Sadr’s men occupy the center and are building military positions.
In the summer of 2004, US and Iraqi forces crushed a rebellion staged by Sadr at the head of his militia. debkafile‘s military sources reveal that since this defeat, the Mehdi Army has developed into the strongest and best equipped armed force in Iraq, outgunning its two Shiite rivals, the Badr Force and Wolves Brigades. The buildup is entirely the work of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and undercover agents.
Saturday, April 8, formal talks aimed at breaking Iraq’s political stalemate begin in Baghdad between a US delegation headed by ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and an Iranian delegation. Jaafari’s refusal to stand aside is the main hurdle in the way of a unity government.

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