Johan Spanner for The New York Times
Members of the Mahdi Army set up checkpoints
in Shiite neighborhoods like Topchi, in Baghdad,
but melt away when American patrols pass by.
Shiite Fighters Arrested in Crackdown, Iraq Says
By SABRINA TAVERNISE
Published: January 18, 2007
BAGHDAD, Jan. 17 — Facing intense pressure from the Bush administration to show progress in securing Iraq, senior Iraqi officials announced Wednesday that they had moved against the country’s most powerful Shiite militia, arresting several dozen senior members in the past few weeks.
It was the first time the Shiite government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki had claimed significant action against the militia, the Mahdi Army, one of the most intractable problems facing his administration. The militia’s leader, the cleric Moktada al-Sadr, helped put Mr. Maliki in power, but pressure to crack down on the group has mounted as its killings in the capital have driven a wedge into efforts to keep the country together.
Although the announcement seemed timed to deflect growing scrutiny by an American administration that has grown increasingly frustrated with Mr. Maliki, American officers here offered some support for the government’s claims, saying that at least half a dozen senior militia leaders had been taken into custody in recent weeks.
In perhaps the most surprising development, the Americans said, none of the members had been prematurely released, a chronic problem as this government has frequently shielded Shiite fighters.
“There was definitely a change in attitudes,” in the past three to four weeks, a senior American military officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Mr. Maliki, in a meeting with foreign journalists on Wednesday, said 400 Mahdi militiamen had been arrested “within the last few days.” A senior government official said later by telephone that the total number arrested was 420 and that they had been detained in 56 operations beginning in October. Several dozen senior leaders have been detained in the past several weeks, the senior official said on condition of anonymity. He said the total number of senior commanders did not exceed 100.
Still, some American military officials remained skeptical that the effort was more than just a short-term attempt to appease them at a time when American government support for Mr. Maliki appeared to have sunk to an all-time low.
If Sadr didn't approve, they would not be there.
He wants the Americans to move first.
posted by Steve @ 1:38:00 AM