Friday, September 22, 2006

More top Sadr aides seized; accuse U.S.of seeking to force military confrontation

Moqtada al-Sadr's political party is one of the largest blocks in the Iraqi parliament

BAGHDAD, Sept. 21 -- U.S. and Iraqi forces arrested top aides to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in pre-dawn raids Thursday, according to Sadr officials who called the move a provocation designed to trigger a full-blown battle between the groups.

"It is obvious they want to draw the Sadr movement into a military confrontation," said Abdul Razzak al-Nedawi, a leader of the Sadr movement in Diwaniyah, south of Baghdad. "But we are trying our best to avoid such confrontation and find alternative ways to armed confrontation."

Although the U.S. military and Sadr forces have fought some of the fiercest battles here since the 2003 American-led invasion, the relationship between the two sides has become even more convoluted since Sadr's political party became one of the largest blocs in parliament. Now, U.S. military and Iraqi officials are grappling with how to handle the Shiite Muslim cleric as he evolves from guerrilla fighter to political kingmaker.

The raids, which took place in Baghdad and Najaf, included the arrest in Najaf of a top spokesman for the group, Salah al-Obaidy, Sadr officials said. In response, Sadr's militia, the Mahdi Army, was deployed throughout the Shiite holy city to protect the movement's offices and the personal residence of its leader.

Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a U.S. military spokesman, said he had no information about the raids.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

Related Link:
Iraqi Shi'ites demand release of Sadr aide