By Gareth Porter
"The underlying reality in Iraq, which the Bush administration does not appear to grasp fully, is that the United States is now dependent on the sufferance of Iran and its Iraqi Shi'ite political-military allies to continue the occupation.
Since then, US officials have avoided giving any estimate of the Mehdi Army's strength. But according to a report published last month by London's Chatham House, which undoubtedly reflected the views of British intelligence in Iraq, the Mehdi Army may now be "several hundred thousand strong".
Patrick Lang, former head of human-intelligence collection and Middle East intelligence at the Defense Intelligence Agency, explained why in an important analysis in the Christian Science Monitor of July 21: US troops must be supplied by convoys of trucks that go across hundreds of kilometers of roads through this Shi'ite heartland, and the Mehdi Army and its allies in the south could turn those supply routes into a "shooting gallery".
Last week, a "senior coalition official" admitted to the Washington Post that "there's not a military solution" to the Mehdi Army.
Most of them never supported the current occupation in the first place. Wayne White, principal Iraq analyst for the US State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, recalls that polling done by the department soon after the US occupation began but never made public showed that a clear majority of Shi'ites were already opposed to it.
If Muqtada and his followers are already preparing for a showdown with the US occupation forces, the only factor that appears to be restraining the Mehdi Army now is Iran. After all, Tehran's interest lies not in forcing an immediate withdrawal of US forces, but in keeping them in Iraq as virtual hostages. The potential threat to US forces in Iraq in retaliation for an attack on Iran is probably Tehran's most effective deterrent to such an attack."