Thursday, January 18, 2007

Iraq Announces Crackdown On Mahdi Army, 400 Fighters For Muqtada Al-Sadr Arrested; Iraq PM Calls For Better Weapons, Equipment - CBS News

Iraq Announces Crackdown On Mahdi Army, 400 Fighters For Muqtada Al-Sadr Arrested; Iraq PM Calls For Better Weapons, Equipment - CBS News

(CBS/AP) Apparently seeking to calm U.S. fears that he will not go after militia gunmen loyal to one of his key political backers, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said 400 fighters from the Mahdi Army had been arrested over the past several weeks.

In Baghdad on Thursday, bombers and gunmen killed at least 19 more people in a series of attacks in the pre-noon hours as the capital faces a surge in violence ahead of a planned U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown.

It was the first time the Shiite prime minister has specifically detailed any arrests of figures from the Mahdi Army militia that is loyal to his key backer, the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Many of the militiamen are believed responsible for a majority of the sectarian violence in Baghdad over the past year.

Yassin Majid, a senior al-Maliki adviser, said reports that dozens of senior militia leaders had been detained were incorrect.

A Baghdad Mahdi Army commander, meanwhile, said U.S. and Iraqi troops launched a major campaign Tuesday in Um al-Maalef, a Shiite neighborhood in south Baghdad.

"They detained every man who was able to carry weapons. We heard from our people in the area that about 400 people were detained," said the militia commander on condition of anonymity because senior figures in the group are not permitted to give their names.

He said that in December U.S. troops had killed one of the Mahdi Army's top commanders, known as Abu al-Sudour, in Sadr City.

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