October 27, 2007

US Nabs Shi'a Militia Leader In Diyala

Now that the US and Iraqi forces have cleared al-Qaeda in Iraq from the Diyala province, the Shi'ites may think they have an opening to exploit. Instead, the Coalition captured a breakaway Mahdi Army commander and killed two of his lieutenants. The commander has some friends in interesting places:

US forces have captured a senior Shia militia leader and killed two others in a raid in the central Iraqi province of Diyala, the US military has said.

The military said the men were members of the Mehdi Army militia loyal to the Shia cleric, Moqtada Sadr, who had defied his order to suspend activities.

The captured man is suspected of having ties to an Iranian intelligence cell.

When the US forces approached the house in which the commander hid, two men came out to engage the forces. One of them had a suicide vest, and the troops killed him before he had a chance to kill himself. The other got shot after refusing to comply with orders to surrender. Afterwards, the force entered the house and captured the commander, who apparently had better things to do than kill himself. Fourteen others followed suit.

Moqtada al-Sadr commanded his forces to refrain from any activity. Sadr confirmed this command on Monday, warning that any who disobeyed would be considered "traitors". However, this commander told the troops that he had broken away from Sadr after his order and had determined to continue conducting operations against the Sunni, opposition Shi'a, and the Americans. Further questioning will reveal whether he defied Sadr's public orders or complied with other, less public wishes of the fading Shi'ite militia leader.

Diyala, of course, abuts the Iranian border. Coalition forces believe this commander to be a conduit for Iranian arms and influence, and it points out the vacuum left in the wake of AQI's retreat. Diyala and its mixed sectarian population offers Iran an opportunity for a great deal of mischief. The US appears on its toes to prevent this, but it will take quite some time to establish a bulwark against Iranian infiltration in this region. The capture of this commander -- and the intelligence he could deliver -- will help in that effort.

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