Saturday, June 02, 2007

Report: Mahdi Army representatives meet Maliki in secret, demand halt to patrols in Basra, offer prisoner exchange for kidnapped Britons

Iraqi Army soldiers search vehicles at a temporary checkpoint in Sadr City today as the search continues for five Britons abducted from the finance ministry.

THE militia believed to have seized five British hostages in Baghdad last week has called for UK forces in southern Iraq to be confined to base.

Representatives of the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shi’ite cleric, have demanded an end to patrols in Basra and attempts to kill its leaders, according to one well connected but unconfirmed source.

They are also seeking the release of nine Mahdi officials from British and American custody, including Sheikh Abdul al-Hadi Darraji, Sadr’s chief spokesman, who was detained by US troops in January.

In public statements the Iranian-backed Mahdi Army has denied that it abducted the British computer expert and four security guards captured in an audacious raid on Iraq’s finance ministry last Tuesday.

However, according to a senior Iraqi government source, one of Sadr’s officials visited Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, on Wednesday night.

The official said the men were “safe and sound” but would not be freed until the Mahdi demands were met, the source added.

Maliki is said to have responded by urging that the hostages be freed immediately and promising that an agreement would follow.

Read the rest at the Times of London

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