American and Iraqi forces face a major problem in Baghdad: how to deal with the Mahdi Army, which has been linked to death squads responsible for a string of assassinations and kidnappings. Worse, the Mahdi Army's leader, Moqtada al-Sadr, seems to be losing his grip on the thousands of armed men who once followed his every word. "There are forces that are controlled by Moqtada, but there are commanders that are not controlled by him; there are death squads that are not controlled by him," U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad told NEWSWEEK.

Under the leadership of Sadr, the Mahdi Army was considered a containable force, susceptible to political bargaining. But as Sadr has leaned toward moderation--his party now has 30 seats in the National Assembly--men fighting under his militia's banner have become more aggressive. In interviews with NEWSWEEK, Mahdi Army members, Iraqi politicians and Western officials describe an organization in which local commanders are increasingly independent from Sadr, splintering into cells of fighters committed to civil war. There are at least four offshoot Mahdi leaders in Sadr City alone; some groups are taking orders from Iran. There's similar fragmentation in the largely Shiite cities of Najaf and Basra. According to a U.S. military intel official in Najaf, Coalition forces have been attacked by individuals who get their inspiration from the Mahdi Army but are not official members--men with "an AK-47, an RPG and a Sadr poster," says the official, requesting anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity. The situation is so volatile that, according to the U.S. officials, Sadr now fears for his own safety and position.

The United States is targeting militia-run death squads in the new Baghdad security operation. Meanwhile, a suicide bombing in Najaf last week brought renewed calls among some Shiite leaders for the Mahdi Army and other militias to take over more security operations. But it's difficult for the United States to turn over control to an increasingly uncontrollable force.

The presumptive future president of France looks buff (we're being kind here) in a bathing suit. Until last week, leading contenders Nicolas Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal had spent the Lebanese war at the beach, fawned over by paparazzi. Not the real president, Jacques Chirac, however. A month ago, his 39-year political career seemed to have been reduced to a bad joke. Race riots, mass job protests, murky corruption scandals--instead of a grand exit, Chirac looked to be shuffling off into the sunset.

No more. Thanks to his aggressive, attentive and hard-knuckled handling of the Israel-Lebanon conflict, he's enjoying a robust comeback. His poll ratings are up 11 points lately. And if French troops lead the coming intervention in the Levant, he can probably expect another boost. This doesn't mean Chirac will be seduced into another run for office. He's clearly on the way out in 2007--but he wants to go gracefully, head high. A flag-waving foreign intervention might well salve glum France and its battered leader's legacy--if it can stop the bleeding in Lebanon, too.

Tracy McNicoll

In 1854, Dr. John Snow's map of the incidences of cholera in London showed a cluster of cases around a particular water pump--a source of the outbreak. It was proof that sometimes the answer to the question "Why?" can come from first solving a different puzzle: "Where?"

Now two research groups have published new "cancer atlases." The American Cancer Society's global report showed graphically that while the "risk of getting cancer is higher in the developed world ... cancers in the developing world are more fatal." Experts think higher incidence rates in rich countries spring partly from lifestyle choices, like physical inactivity, unhealthy diets and more-prolonged tobacco use.

Jonathan Mummolo

Japan may be the second wealthiest country in the world, but according to the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Global Development, it's also the stingiest. This year's Commitment to Development Index, just released by the CGD and Foreign Policy magazine, ranked Japan last--for the third year in a row. So what did Japan--the world's largest aid donor just six years ago--do wrong? The CDI rankings of the world's 21 richest countries judges how well they help improve lives in the developing world by looking at their policies not just in foreign aid but trade, investment, migration, environment, security and technology. Japan has high barriers on imported goods--its rice tariffs average 900 percent--and a low tolerance for immigration. Its foreign aid is the smallest as a share of income, and it has a poor environmental record. Still, Japan's not the only one falling short. Says CDI's David Roodman: "Even the best could do better."

Allan Madrid

Wall Street is worried. The world's biggest IPOs are moving to London and Hong Kong instead of New York. Some are quick to blame the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, but critics say cost is the bottom line. ^The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which regulates public companies and their accounting practices, is scaring big business away. WRONG: Cost is the real culprit. U.S. underwriting fees are the highest in the world, and IPO discounts are higher in the United States than Europe, which means worse pricing for the seller. ^ American and foreign companies are willing to pay top dollar for access to the U.S. investor base and prestigious New York stock exchanges. WRONG: A company doesn't have to be listed on the NYSE or NASDAQ to snare U.S. investors. Savvy American investors and hedge funds trade shares all over the world. Moreover, overseas markets are increasingly stronger and more competitive.--From

If Yahoo searches are anything to go by, there's a new hottie on the rise. Channing Tatum, star of the upcoming dance movie "Step Up," has developed a cult following--even though he has yet to open a movie (he's had supporting roles in "Coach Carter" and "She's the Man"). Coming from the pages of Abercrombie & Fitch, he's the first male model turned actor to generate Hollywood heat since Ashton Kutcher. "Tons of crazy girls have said to me, 'Channing Tatum is in your movie? Oh, my God, he's so hot!' " says "Step Up" director Anne Fletcher. "When you go onto MySpace, it's insane how many people love this boy." Tatum is also about to start filming a movie in which he plays a sergeant back from Iraq. "We just wrapped six days of boot camp. I smell like a horse," he says.

Ramin Setoodeh

Reality Check: America loves imposing economic sanctions on governments it deems dangerous. The problem is, they don't work. Witness the 45-year-old embargo against Cuba and a 57-year injunction on North Korea. Sanctions rarely help oust regimes, and only further isolate oppressed populations--who might someday stage a coup--from the influence and aid of the outside world. Washington might as well say, "More power to you, Ahmadinejad."--From

Join the Discussion