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Amerika tangkap pembantu Sadr untuk menyambut Gates ke Iraq?

US seizes Sadr aide as Gates arrives in Iraq

BAGHDAD, 19 January 2007 (Reuters) - US and Iraqi troops seized an aide to Shia cleric Moqtada Al Sadr on Friday, confronting a movement that is a key element in the ruling coalition.

The raid near Baghdad’s Sadr City district came as Defence Secretary Robert Gates flew in to the southern city of Basra to meet the US commander in Iraq, General George Casey.

Dealing with Sadr and his Mehdi Army militia is a burning issue for the Americans and Shia Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki as they prepare what many see as a last-ditch effort to rein in sectarian violence that is pushing Iraq into civil war.

Sadr, a young populist cleric with a mass following and some backing from Shia Iran, is a key ally of Maliki, who has been criticised by Washington and leaders of the once dominant Sunni Arab minority for failing to disarm the Mehdi Army.

Maliki, however, has said this month he will crack down on Shia militias and said some 400 Mehdi Army members had been arrested in mainly Shia southern Iraq over recent days.

The US military said in a statement that Iraqi special forces backed by American advisers seized an unnamed man they described as a death squad leader wanted for kidnap, torture and murder and linked to fugitive Shia warlord Abu Deraa.

Aides to Sadr said the man held was Abdul-Hadi Al Darraji, a prominent media spokesman for their movement. An official in Sadr’s political office branded his detention a deliberate ”provocation” but said they would not respond with violence.

“He was arrested at midnight (2100 GMT) with two cousins,” Abdul-Mehdi Al Matiri told Reuters, adding that a guard was shot dead during the arrest and that he believed the two others detained had since been released.

“Angry”

The US statement made no mention of any violence and US officials had no immediate comment. Though the statement did not identify Darraji, details of the operation given by the US military coincided with those given by Sadr’s office.

Matiri said: “We are angry. This is a kind of revenge. Sheikh Darraji deals with the media. He is not a military man.”

The US military said: “In an Iraqi-led operation, special Iraqi army forces captured a high-level, illegal armed group leader during operations with Coalition advisers.”

It said he was suspected of leading “punishment” activities -- an apparent reference to informal courts meting out rough justice according strict interpretations of Islamic law. These included “kidnapping, torture and murder”.

There was no immediate comment from the Iraqi government.

Maliki has in the past criticised raids on Shia groups conducted by Iraqi army special forces under the direct command of US officers, saying he has not been adequately consulted.

However, he has announced that the coming crackdown in Baghdad, backed by most of the 21,500 American reinforcements being sent by President George W. Bush, will tackle Shia militias as well as Sunni insurgents.

A senior figure close to Sadr was shot dead last month by a US soldier during a raid in the Shia holy city of Najaf.

Sadr himself has publicly distanced himself from violence blamed on his Mehdi Army supporters, whom the United States has called the biggest threat to the security of Iraq.

Fellow Shia leaders say they are negotiating to keep Sadr and his political movement inside the main Shia bloc while at the same time they hope to disarm his militia followers.

In other violence, after a bloody few days of bombings in Baghdad, an official in Sadr’s movement said a Shia mosque in the violent southern district of Dora was badly damaged in an explosion. And in the northern oil capital of Kirkuk, police said gunmen killed the preacher of a major Sunni mosque. Khaleej Times

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