"We think the situation has deteriorated and I think people will move against the Americans whether the army interferes or not," the sheik said of the new force. "One person could use a Kalashnikov to express his frustration, so how can we quell these masses?"
During the sermon he told the worshipers to control their emotions, and they dispersed peacefully. Indeed, the powerful influence of the Hawza in telling the Shiites not to confront the Americans accounts for the minimal attacks against US and British troops in the predominately Shiite southern parts of Iraq. Shiites form some 60 percent of Iraq's 25 million people.
But tempers are fraying given the heat, lack of electricity and rising prices needed for the fuel to power generators. No one interviewed in Sadr City on Friday had ever heard one of the explanations given by US officials, that a severely battered infrastructure suffering from years of neglect and recent sabotage would take time to revive.
Some thought it was time to put the Americans on notice that they should leave.
"Confrontation. Confrontation, we don't want them anymore," said Ghazak, a 23-year-old student who said he would join the Army of Muhammad because of the helicopter incident.
"When they assault the name of Muhammad's family, they assault all Muslims. This is the only response they could understand, confrontation."
Others, happy to be free of Saddam Hussein, said they were willing to give the Americans the benefit of the doubt.
The US has been channeling its efforts for a security force into a civil defense force, discouraging or disarming previously formed private armed forces. There was no specific reaction to the proposal for a clerical-run militia.