Al Sadr's Fight Threatens Iraq Stability

The U.S. military commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, will give Congress an update on the war Tuesday. Ten American soldiers have been killed in Iraq in the last two days, and the latest violence threatens to destabilize the country even more.

There is no sign in Baghdad of a let-up in fighting between U.S. troops and Iranian-backed Shiite militants.

The militia stronghold of Sadr City, home to Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, was burning again Monday, spreading fear and threatening the stability of Iraq's capital, CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan reports.

And in the southern city of Basra, the conflict that sparked the fighting in Baghdad also continued.

But even as the wounded still poured into hospitals in Sadr City and the number of dead kept rising, it was the political fight that took center stage: Iraq's Prime Minister threatening to bar Sadr's party from local elections if the powerful cleric refuses to disband his Mahdi Army militia.

When Prime Minsier Nouri al Maliki announced he was going after the Mahdi Army and other militias in Basra, he was praised by the U.S. president.

"I would say this is a defining moment in the history of a free Iraq," President Bush said. "The decision to move Iraqi troops into Basra talks about Prime Minister Maliki's leadership."

Some two weeks later, the militias are emboldened and Maliki's leadership is in question.

The Mahdi Army remains entrenched in Basra, and on the streets of Sadr City the prime minister has never been more unpopular.

"Maliki your punishment will be in hell," one sign reads.

He's widely seen as the loser in this fight against Sadr's followers, or "Sadrists" as they are called.

"Maliki came to Basra to fulfill an agenda against the Sadrists and what makes us sure about this agenda is when President Bush has announced that al Maliki is going through a very critical examination in Basra, so it was sure for us that al Maliki came to Basra in order to pass the American examination," said al-Sadr spokesman Sheikh Salah al Obeidi.

Monday night the Sadr spokesman blamed the U.S. for escalating the fighting in Sadr City and refused to condemn rocket attacks against the Green Zone.

Maliki's failure and the rise in violence come at a critical moment for U.S. policy makers.

Until two weeks ago, America's top commander in Iraq, Petraeus looked like he was heading to Washington with a success story. Now it's a very different picture.

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  • Lara Logan

    Lara Logan's bold, award-winning reporting from war zones has earned her a prominent spot among the world's best foreign correspondents. Logan began contributing to 60 Minutes in 2005.