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U.S., Iraqi forces meet no Sadr resistance in Amara

Iraqi troops took the southern city without a shot being fired from Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army.

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Atef Hassan

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In recent months, Moqtada al-Sadr's forces have fiercely battled Iraqi and US troops in Basra and Sadr City. But this time, in the southern Iraqi city of Amara, the Shiite cleric ordered a tactical retreat.

A major Iraqi-US mission to clear Mr. Sadr's Mahdi Army out of one of its last supposed sanctuaries began here late last week but was met with no resistance.

Sadr – and his most trusted lieutenants, who visited Amara last week – called for restraint. He announced that an elite faction of his militia will still fight US troops while the rest would dedicate themselves to the betterment of society through peaceful means.

"This will preserve the [Mahdi] Army's pristine reputation and ensure that the resistance continues," said Sadr in a statement before the beginning of the operation, in effect altering the terms of an earlier freeze on the activities of his militia.

Sadr appears to be resorting to a strategy that has served him well in the past and kept everyone guessing about his true motives, say analysts.

"He's playing the survival game," says Mustafa al-Ani of the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center, a nonprofit think tank. "He understands there is no sympathy for the undisciplined members of his group."

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