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
Sadr, a young populist cleric with a mass following and some backing from Shia
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
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.
Matiri said: “We are angry. This is a kind of revenge. Sheikh Darraji deals with the media. He is not a military man.”
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
A senior figure close to Sadr was shot dead last month by a
Sadr himself has publicly distanced himself from violence blamed on his Mehdi Army supporters, whom the
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