Top Al-Sadr Aide Arrested In Iraq

Muqtada al-Sadr CBS

U.S. and Iraqi forces arrested one of Muqtada al-Sadr's top aides Friday in Baghdad, his office said, as pressure increased on the radical Shiite cleric's militia ahead of a planned security crackdown in the capital.

An adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, however, denied the government knew in advance about the raid, in which Sheik Abdul-Hadi al-Darraji was captured and said the detention was not part of the new operation aimed at quelling Baghdad's sectarian violence.

"There was no coordination with the Iraqi political leadership and this arrest was not part of the new security plan," the adviser, Sadiq al-Rikabi, told Al-Arabiya. "Coordination with the Iraqi political leadership is needed before conducting such operations that draw popular reactions."

His comments reflected the differences between the United States and Iraq's Shiite-dominated government on how to deal with the Shiite militias that have been blamed for much of the recent violence, particularly the killings that have left dozens of tortured and bullet-riddled bodies daily in Baghdad and elsewhere.

The raid came as Defense Secretary Robert Gates began his second trip to Iraq in less than a month, arriving in the southern city of Basra to consult with British and other allied commanders.

Al-Darraji was captured and his guard was killed in a raid on a mosque complex in eastern Baghdad, according to senior officials with the cleric's movement.

The U.S. military said special Iraqi army forces operating with coalition advisers captured a high-level, illegal armed group leader in Baladiyat, an eastern neighborhood near al-Sadr's stronghold. It did not identify the detainee, but said two other suspects were detained by Iraqi forces for questioning.

It said the main suspect was involved in the kidnapping, torture and murder of civilians, as well as the assassination of Iraqi security forces and government officials.

But al-Sadr's office said al-Darraji was the movement's media director in Baghdad and demanded his immediate release.

"We strongly condemn this cowardly act," said Sheik Abdul-Zahra al-Suweiadi, a senior al-Sadr aide in Baghdad.

Al-Sadr said in an interview with an Italian newspaper published Friday that the crackdown had already begun and that 400 of his men had been arrested, confirming an earlier statement by al-Maliki. La Repubblica also quoted the cleric as saying he fears for his life and stays constantly on the move.

Al-Sadr told the newspaper his militias would not fight back during the Muslim holy month of Muharram, saying it was against the faith to kill at that time. Muharram starts Friday for Sunnis and Saturday for Shiites.

"Let them kill us. For a true believer there is no better moment than this to die: Heaven is ensured," he was quoted as saying. "After Muharram, we'll see."

One of al-Sadr's fighters told CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan by telephone from Sadr City, "Our orders are not to fight, for now."

Al-Sadr said he is being targeted.

"For this reason, I have moved my family to a secure location. I even have had a will drawn up, and I move continuously in a way that only few can know where I am," he was quoted as saying.

Militia commanders have said the Shiite prime minister has stopped protecting the fighters under pressure from Washington and have described pinpoint raids in which at least five top commanders of similar standing were captured or killed in recent months.

Al-Maliki has pledged to rein in the Shiite militias as well as Sunni insurgents in the security operation. His reluctance to confront the Mahdi Army of al-Sadr, his political backer, contributed to the failure of previous efforts to stem sectarian violence.

But al-Rikabi stressed that "the new security plan does not target a specific militia, it targets everyone practicing killing and terrorism against civilians, whether Sunnis or Shiites."

In other developments:

  • Andrea Parhamovich was among four civilians killed when gunmen in Baghdad shot up their convoy Wednesday. Her family and fiancé (video) spoke to CBS News correspondent Kelly Wallace about the 28-year-old who went to the war zone just five months ago to teach Iraqis about democracy.

  • Mental health screening isn't consistent for U.S. troops returning from war, and if they don't say they need help they often don't get it, Army Surgeon General Kevin Kiley, said Friday at a hearing on military medical readiness before the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. Kiley estimated that about 17 percent of returning war fighters have post-traumatic stress disorder or severe anxiety and depression, compared with about 6 percent or 7 percent of the general population.

  • A roadside bomb killed one U.S. soldier and wounded three in an attack on a patrol that was escorting a convoy in northwestern Baghdad, the military said. At least 3,030 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

  • At least nine people were killed or found dead Friday, including a man working for the Ministry of Tourism and Archaeology Affairs who was shot to death near his home in a predominantly Sunni neighborhood in western Baghdad. Gunmen also attacked a Shiite mosque in southern Baghdad, killing two guards, then detonating explosives to damage the building.

  • A leading Sunni insurgent and 10 of his deputies also were captured in a raid in Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad, according to state-run Iraqiya TV station, which cited an unidentified Interior Ministry official. The report, which could not immediately be confirmed, said Tami al-Majmaie was a leading commander of the Omar Brigades.
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      Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.

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