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May 30, 2007

al-Sadr's Militia Claims It Kidnapped Britons - Threatens Christian Women Who Don't Wear Veil

muqtada%20al%20sadr.jpgThe Telegraph reports that Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army is suspected in the kidnapping of four British security guards and a British computer expert, in Iraq. The abductions are believed to have occurred a retribution for the death of Sadr's lieutenant in a gunfight earlier this month between the Mahdis and the British:

[...] A cell commander in Sadr's Mahdi army, the militia suspected of orchestrating the kidnapping, told The Daily Telegraph that the five men were taken to the centre near Mudafra Square in Sadr City, the Iraqi capital's biggest Shia district.

He claimed that the order to seize the hostages, who were visiting the finance ministry in central Baghdad, was handed down by Hassan Salim, the leading figure in the Madhi Army militia in Sadr City, the cell commander said.

"We are holding the British until they release our brothers from Camp Buca in Basra," he said. "There are hundreds there under British security, some of them for years. When they are released the British will be allowed to go."

However, other Mahdi army spokesmen denied that the powerful militia played no part in the kidnappings.

[...] Negotiations with the Mahdi Army are already under way after one of several spokesmen for the armed force under the command of the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr claimed responsibility for the kidnappings at the finance ministry in Baghdad.

Hundreds of Iraqi and American troops raided Sadr City, Baghdad's largest Shia neighbourhood, in an operation that ended early today. Residents said areas of Sadr City were sealed off and several arrests were made.

Iraqi forces have established a special battalion of soldiers and police officers to search for the kidnapped men. "We are conducting search operations near the site where the abduction took place," said Brig Gen Qassim al Musawi, an Iraqi army spokesman.

"Maybe today or in the coming few days, we will find them with the help of secret intelligence."

[...] The Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshiyar Zebari, said he suspected that Mahdi militiamen were the most likely candidates behind the kidnappings and were probably assisted by local police. Dozens of gunmen wearing paramilitary police uniforms kidnapped the men on Tuesday.

Mr Zebari told the BBC: "The location is of interest to everybody. It's near Sadr City, which is a Shia-dominated area controlled mainly by... the Mahdi Army, who have been very active there." He described the raid as a "sophisticated operation".

"The number of people who were involved in the operation to seal off the building, to set roadblocks and to get into the building with such confidence must have some connections," he said.

"There must be some unholy, unruly militias working beyond the law in that area, with this connection with the local police, to be able kidnap these people."

If al-Sadr's militia is indeed behind the kidnapping, Captain Ed sees the event as a challenge to the status of al-Sadr as a politician to a degree not seen since his capitulation in Najaf in 2004:

It also highlights the problem of Sadr's influence on the Interior Ministry, controlled by one of his allies and reportedly infiltrated to a high degree by Mahdis and other Shi'ite militias. The kidnapping took place at a government building, the first time Westerners have been abducted from such a facility.

The abduction itself was a complicated, well-planned event. The Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshiyar Zebari, told the BBC that he suspected the Mahdis of the kidnapping. He said it took a number of people to seal off the building, get inside, and abduct four private security contractors and the computer expert they were protecting. Zebari said that local police almost certainly were involved in the "sophisticated" operation.

The big worry is that the Mahdis will sell the hostages to another group, perhaps even al-Qaeda. The commandos of the SAS have been put on alert in case they are needed for rescue and extraction. In the meantime, the UK and the US have to pressure the Maliki government to either take care of Sadr or to stand by while we do so. The raids on Sadr City this week sent a message, but as we have seen with Sadr in the past, that message needs to be personal -- and final, this time.

The report of al-Sadr's likely involvement in the kidnapping of the Britons comes as CNN reports that U.S.-led coalition forces detained five suspected terrorists in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood Wednesday, including their cell leader:
All are believed to be members of a cell involved in weapons trafficking.

"Intelligence reports indicate the cell leader that was targeted and detained during the morning's operation is suspected of being a key weapons trafficker ... of small arms, mortars and other munitions," the military said, including "explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, from Iran to Iraq, as well as bringing militants from Iraq to Iran for terrorist training."

The U.S. military has been saying for months that militants are getting the EFPs from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force and that Iraqi militants are being trained in Iran.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman has denied the allegations, chalking it up to U.S. "propaganda."

In other operations, Iraqi special operation forces have detained the suspected leader of a kidnapping and assassination cell that was operating in Baghdad, a U.S. military statement released Wednesday said.

"The individual is also suspected of kidnapping a nuclear power scientist and murdering both the director and deputy of citizenship and naturalization," the military said.

Acting on intelligence information, the suspect and a second individual were detained Tuesday.

And in more troubling information about al-Sadr , AINA reports that in an undated letter issued by Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army to Christians in Baghdad, Christian women have been ordered to veil themselves or face grave consequences.
The letter, obtained and translated by AINA, states that the Virgin Mary was not unveiled and so Christian women should not be unveiled. The letter ends with an ominous note that committees have been established to monitor the Christian populace and enforce the decree.
The time has long-passed for the U.S. military to have ended the al-Sadr problem, and having failed to do so, bears a significant responsibility for much of the continued problems we are experiencing in Iraq. Let's recall that the five Britons kidnapped in Iraq yesterday are not the first. Others include...



Posted by Richard at May 30, 2007 2:58 PM





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