U.S. military intelligence sources tell ABC News that large shipments of weapons have been smuggled to an Iraqi militia over the past five weeks, including dozens of Iranian-supplied EFPs, or Explosive Form Projectiles, highly effective against armored vehicles.
The weapons were sent to Moqtada al Sadr's Shi'a militia, known as "Mahdi's Army," who control Sadr City, a slum in northern Baghdad with a population of two million.
U.S. and Iraqi intelligence units on the ground detected the shipments, which are believed to be of Iranian origin.
In addition, U.S. military sources tell ABC, al Sadr has been working on his own "surge," actively recruiting hundreds of residents of Sadr City to supplement the 8,000 to 10,000 militiamen already believed to make up the "Mahdi Army" in Baghdad.
Bahaa al-Araji, one of Moqtada al Sadr's representatives in the Iraqi parliament, has told ABC News that the radical Shiite cleric has ordered his Mahdi Army not to attack U.S. forces -- even if targeted.
But the increased arms shipments from Iran and intensified recruiting are yet another troubling sign of the difficulties facing the new Bush war plan, which Ambassador Negroponte alluded to in his congressional testimony yesterday.
"One has to wonder why it is they (Iran) have increased their supply of these kinds of lethal weapons to extremists Shi'a groups in Iraq, provoking violence, attacks on coalition forces and others. And one wonders if their policy towards Iraq may not have shifted to a more aggressive posture than it has been in the past."