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Families Caught in Shiite Power Struggle in Iraq

Falah Hassan, 42, provides for an extended family of 15 with a monthly government pension of about $125. He lives in a brutally poor Shiite area in northwest Baghdad.
Eric Westervelt, NPR
Falah Hassan, 42, provides for an extended family of 15 with a monthly government pension of about $125. He lives in a brutally poor Shiite area in northwest Baghdad.

Fighting between Shiite-led government forces and Shiite militia loyal to cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is threatening any gains won by the U.S.-led troop surge in Iraq. Shiite families are caught in the middle of the ongoing intra-Shiite power struggle. Some empathize with Sadr and are increasingly disillusioned with the government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki.

Sadr's potent mix of populism and militancy resonates with many desperately poor Shia who, like 42-year-old Falah Hassan, see the intra-Shiite conflict as a fight between haves and have-nots.

"Using bullets isn't the correct way," Hassan says, "but I understand why Sadr's men are fighting." He calls Maliki's government corrupt and dysfunctional.

He says he had hoped the U.S. overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the new Shiite-led government would mean change. But, "It's been five years, and, frankly, neither the coalition forces nor the new government has done anything to improve the social and financial situation on the ground."

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