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Mahdi Army biggest threat to Iraqi security, report says
Shia militias linked to the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr pose the greatest threat to Iraq's stability, a Pentagon report concluded yesterday.
The report (pdf) said the Mahdi Army had eclipsed al-Qaida in Iraq in presenting "the greatest negative effect on the security situation".
Despite US pressure, the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, has been reluctant to confront Mr Sadr because he relies on the backing of the cleric's supporters in parliament and government.
The Pentagon's bleak assessment, covering the period from early August to November, also reported the highest level of attacks against Iraqis and US forces since the Pentagon began issuing the quarterly reports last year.
It said the Iraqi government's efforts at national reconciliation had been unsuccessful.
The report's release coincided with the swearing in of Robert Gates as the new US defence secretary.
Mr Gates, who replaces Donald Rumsfeld, has warned that failure in Iraq would be a "calamity" that would haunt the US for years. He said he would travel to the country for talks with commanders soon.
The defence secretary is expected to have a decisive say in George Bush's "new" strategy on Iraq. The strategy will be unveiled early in the new year amid a flurry of proposals and reviews including the Iraq Study Group's findings.
As Mr Bush weighs his options, the Washington Post has reported a split over the idea of a temporary increase in troops for Iraq. White House officials are strongly in favour of the plan despite the unanimous disagreement of the joint chiefs of staff.