By Ross Colvin
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – The U.S. military has succeeded in delivering a crippling blow to al Qaeda in Iraq, but this has only served to highlight “the other big problem” — the power of Shi’ite militias, Washington’s envoy to Iraq said on Thursday.
Ambassador Ryan Crocker said the new U.S. “surge” strategy, which saw 30,000 extra troops sent to Iraq, had significantly reduced sectarian violence in Baghdad, the former al Qaeda stronghold of Anbar province and elsewhere.
“Al Qaeda in Iraq has shown extraordinary persistence but clearly their abilities have been badly damaged. In a sense that puts into highlight the other big problem, which is the militias, particularly JAM,” he told journalists in Baghdad.
JAM is the acronym for the Jaish al-Mehdi, otherwise known as the Mehdi Army, the feared militia force commanded by Moqtada al-Sadr. The cleric ordered a ceasefire in August so that he could reorganize the militia, which has splintered into factions, many of which are believed to be beyond his control.
“We have seen JAM Militant transform into JAM Incorporated. They may not be shooting at us or Iraqi soldiers, but (they are) controlling gas stations, real estate, trade and services,” Crocker said.