Tuesday, January 23, 2007
About 600 fighters and 16 leaders of the radical Shia militia, the Mehdi Army, have been captured by security forces in Iraq, the US military says.
"The statement said 52 operations had been conducted in 45 days targeting the militia, which is loyal to Najaf-based cleric Moqtada Sadr.
Sunni extremists were also the focus of the crackdown, the US military said.
US and Iraqi forces are currently preparing for a broad offensive in the strife-torn Iraqi capital Baghdad......
The BBC's Andrew North in Baghdad says it is still not clear how significant the senior Mehdi Army figures now in custody are.
Sadr's group has spearheaded anti-US military action in the past
But this appears to be the beginnings of a harder line on this widely feared Shia militia, he says.
In the past, the Iraqi government has been criticised for turning a blind eye to Mehdi Army activities for political reasons.
A spokesman for the movement would not confirm the numbers detained, but he said they were now seeing Iraqi and US raids almost every day.
Police are still finding dozens of bodies across the capital every day, most of them believed to be the victims of sectarian death squads.
Many Iraqis remain deeply sceptical that the Mehdi Army will be broken up, our correspondent says, and those fighters who have gone to ground are believed to have hidden their weapons, ready for future confrontations."