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February 11, 2008

US Forces Capture Militia Leader

US forces conducting raids in Sadr City captured a militia leader who has connections to Iran. The raids apparently prompted Moqtada al-Sadr to reaffirm the cease-fire for the Mahdi Army, and the US continued to pursue supposedly rogue elements attempting to foment violence in the capital:

U.S. soldiers captured a suspected Shiite militia commander and one other suspect Monday, the latest of several days of raids in Shiite holy cities south of Baghdad.

The arrests came a day after car bombs and gunmen struck new U.S. allies, police and civilians in northern Iraq, killing as many as 53 people in a spasm of violence that coincided with a visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Baghdad.

The main suspect detained Monday is believed to be in charge of criminal operations for "special groups" in the Iraqi provinces of Wasit, Babil and Najaf, the U.S. military said in a statement. He was allegedly involved in coordinating weapons shipments and planning attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces, it said. It did not characterize the second suspect.

The attacks in northern Iraq involved al-Qaeda, which has its back against the wall in Mosul. They have had to moderate their operations of late, normally giving warnings now in order to minimize civilian deaths from their bombings. They have learned -- a little late -- that killing vast numbers of Muslims does not endear them to the rest of the Iraqis. The attacks yesterday show that not all forces got the memo to take the ETA approach to terrorism.

During the raids, the US has found more caches of Iranian-provided weaponry. They found 13 EFPs in the latest cache, a weapon designed and manufactured by Iran specifically to defeat the armor on American vehicles and kill American troops. This cache was found "deep" within Iraqi Shi'ite territory and appears to indicate that Iran has not relented in its efforts to arm Shi'ite militias as a counter to American efforts to pacify Iraq.

The capture of a commander could give the US plenty of intel on the activities of his units. It might also cause some political problems for Sadr and perhaps Nouri al-Maliki, as the men are reported to be on the staff of a member of the National Assembly. The reaction of the government to this capture and the raids that produced it should be interesting to watch.


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