This Washington Post article indicates that Sadr's Mahdi army in Iraq is modelling itself after Hezbollah in Lebanon - a military unit and a political unit, both working to gain the respect of the population. The article is about the Shiite Mahdi Army's response to bombings in Sadr City. Apparently they provided help with medical attention and transporting the dead to morgues while Iraqi soldiers responded by setting up checkpoints.
I remember people talking during the Hezbollah conflict last summer about how Hezbollah should have been disarmed long ago to prevent this war. Should the Iraqi Army attempt to militarily disarm the Mahdi Army?