Michael Ware


YWT: "Welcome to the future of a post-American Iraq."

Length: 3:45

LARGE (44.1 MB) ----- SMALL (4.3 MB)

MICHAEL HOLMES: Let's begin with Iraq.

The Shia militia that the Pentagon once called the biggest threat to Iraq's security is putting aside its weapons, at least for now. Hard-line cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered his Mahdi army to suspend armed activities. This coming a day after it was directly involved with deadly clashes with Shia rivals.

Let's bring in Michael Ware in Baghdad to explain the significance, or otherwise, of this.

Michael, of course what went on in Karbala was, frankly, ridiculous -- Shia militias battling Shia government forces in a Shia town at a Shia festival. What is the significance of Muqtada al-Sadr saying this now?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, firstly, Michael, welcome to the future of a post-American Iraq. This is a glimpse of what it's going to look like.

If the British defeat in Basra and the internecine fighting that we're seeing and the competition down there isn't enough, Karbala is a glimpse what's going to happen. A very Lebanese-style breakdown of militia-versus-militia power blocs fending for power.

Now, what we've seen in the wake of a number of casualties, 54 killed in this holy city during this holy festival, is that Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered his powerful militia to suspend military operations. Now, to be frank, in the final washout, this honestly doesn't mean a great deal, certainly according to the Mahdi militia sources we've been speaking to, both on the ground, in the mid ranks, and at the leadership levels.

What it is, it's akin to the U.S. military announcing it's investigating an incident that involved one of its troops. When they say "suspend military operations," that's Muqtada saying, "stop going out and picking fights without consulting with the leadership first."

The Mahdi militia still protects large parts of Baghdad. It still protects other southern Shia-dominated cities. That's going to continue. And they do that armed.

Their checkpoints shall remain. Their control shall not be reduced. This is essentially Muqtada playing to a domestic audience, making it seem that he addresses the significance of these terrible civilian casualties.

But militarily, they're going to stay intact. Have no fear of that -- Michael.

HOLMES: And Michael, of course this all comes at a time when Nouri al-Maliki is under great pressure for his performance, or lack of it, as the Iraqi leader. And you have a Mahdi militia whose political wing still is literally part of the government.

It becomes a bit of a joke, doesn't it?

WARE: Well, Michael, the whole government is just a series of armed militias which, according to U.S. military intelligence, are backed by Iran. Now, Iranian officials here on the ground, at the embassy, deny that, as does the government in Tehran itself.

Nonetheless, the fact remains that the currency of political power in this country is simply the size of your militia. And I'm afraid to say, apart from the two Kurdish power blocs, all of the militias are opposed to the U.S.; indeed, most of this government is opposed to the U.S.

So, the fact that Muqtada's militia a part of this government really just defines this government. It's a loose coalition of largely anti-American militia.

HOLMES: All right. Michael Ware with some important context there, live in Baghdad.

Thanks, Michael.