Michael Ware


TSR: Who's in charge in Baghdad?

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Length: 4:33

WOLF BLITZER: Meanwhile, there's growing concern over a situation that may be among America's worst fears -- Iraq looking more and more like one of its neighbors.

And joining us now, our correspondent in Baghdad, Michael Ware. You know, Michael, these reports of the prime minister of Iraq, Nouri Al-Maliki, going down to meet with the Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, with Muqtada al-Sadr -- to some people looking at how this situation, this political situation in Iraq is unfolding, it almost is beginning to look like Iran, where there's a supreme ayatollah who's in charge, overseeing the government.

Is that a fair comparison?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, not just yet. There's definitely elements of that, although Sistani, from the very beginning, as a key Shia religious figure, has made it patent that he wants to see effectively a separation of church and state. The problem is that not everyone agrees with him.

Even worse than that, where Sistani used to be the concentration of all Shia power, he was vital, as it so happens, to the American effort to see the elections through, to see that they were a success. He was pivotal to that, in harnessing the Shia vote and sending them out not only to the ballot boxes, but to vote for the united Iraqi alliance.

However, what we see now -- six, nine, 10 months down the track -- is what many officials suspect is a weakening of his position. Once these people got into power, particularly those related to the dominant Shia party, SCIRI, with its strong links to Iran, is that once in these positions, these people were able to develop their own power bases, somewhat independent of Sistani.

So, he certainly does not hold the same influence that he did back then. And perhaps this is a sign from the prime minister, Maliki, of starting to clutch a little bit at some straws -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, there's a lot of concern, I have to tell you here, that the prime minister put some unusual pressure on the U.S. military, the leadership, the civilian leadership, to release a leader of one of these so-called death squads, someone, a deputy to Muqtada al-Sadr, who had been captured by the U.S. military, I believe in Sadr City, someone from the Mahdi militia. And under pressure from the prime minister, Nouri Al-Maliki, the U.S. was forced to release him.

How much anger is there among U.S. military commanders about this specific incident?

WARE: Well, clearly there is some chafing among military officers. I mean, this was a fellow in an area of Baghdad not far from where I'm standing now that is a contested zone and is an area where Shia militias linked to the Jaish al-Mahdi militias of Muqtada al-Sadr would go hunting their Sunni prey.

However, if you've been here on the ground long enough, if you witnessed the birth of this Maliki government, honestly, this should come as no surprise to anyone. Effectively, Maliki is a paper tiger. The Americans are desperately trying to prop him up. He has no independent source of power except for one, and that is the critical support of Muqtada al-Sadr.

So, the fact that the prime minister orders the Americans to release a wanted man linked to Muqtada shouldn't really come as a surprise. He's got political debts owing to Muqtada. And, secondly, Sadr City, the center of the Jaish al-Mahdi power base from where these death squads are roaming, U.S. forces want to go in there. Yet I was on those streets this morning. Not only was there not a single American soldier, save for the odd quick in and out patrol, there's not even an Iraqi Army soldier. It is Jaish al-Mahdi which controls that whole part of the city and the two million plus people who live within it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Michael, we've got to leave it right there.

Michael Ware reporting for us from Baghdad.

It wasn't that long ago that the U.S. actually wanted to arrest Muqtada al-Sadr. Clearly, that has not happened.

Michael, thanks.

WARE: Thank you, Wolf.