AAM: "...an enormous power base."

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Length: 2:44

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: In Iraq today, lots of activity in the search for that U.S. soldier who's been missing since October 23rd. American forces are now in a so-called dialogue with the Iraqi government. CNN's Michael Ware in Baghdad for us this morning.

Michael, good morning.

Why is the search focusing on Sadr City? Why do they think he might be there?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Soledad.

Well, according to a senior U.S. officer here on the ground that I've been speaking to, he says that U.S. military intelligence has strong intelligence that the missing soldier, Ahmed al-Taie, has been taken by some kind of faction associated with the Mahdi Army, loyal to the rebel anti-American cleric here in Iraq, Muqtada al-Sadr.

Now, obviously, the military won't go into the specifics of this information, but they are convinced that some element within this anti-American bloc has taken him. Whether it's from the mainstream of this organization or whether it's a rouge or militant group, we don't know for sure. But just looking at the areas in Baghdad where the search is focused, they are all solely within the strongholds of the Mahdi Army.

S. O'BRIEN: Michael, let me ask you a question. Why does the Mahdi Army have so much power?

WARE: Well, for a start, it has an enormous power base. I mean, it has this huge pool of people from which to draw from, its constituency. Sadr City is in the northeast corner of the city of Baghdad. It's an enormous slum area, for want of a better term. I mean, the conditions within Sadr City are appalling and there's at least two and a half million people in this quarter.

Now that's almost half the population of Baghdad within this area. The cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia, their control, their influence is absolute. Everyone from old women to children on the street chant pro-Muqtada slogans and anti-American slogans. Now this organization also has groups throughout the south.

Now, within the government, they're officially represented. They have 30 seats in parliament. They control four government ministries. And through this bizarre set of circumstances in Iraqi politics, a crack emerged and Muqtada was able to punch through it, helping put the prime minister in power and giving him an on-going sway over the Iraqi prime minister, which he's been using essentially against the Americans.


S. O'BRIEN: Michael Ware is in Baghdad for us this morning.

Michael, thank you.