Friday, July 07, 2006

US - Led Forces Arrest Top Militia Commander Suspected Spying for Iran

The New York Times:
U.S.-led forces arrested a regional commander for a pro-government Shi'ite militia suspected of smuggling surface-to-air missiles and spying for Iran, the U.S. military said on Friday.

Adnan al-Unaybi, leader of the Mehdi Army militia in charge of an area south of Baghdad where two U.S. helicopters were shot down this year, was arrested during an Iraqi-U.S. raid near the town of Hilla, 100 km (62 miles) south of Baghdad on Thursday. READ MORE

Unaybi had been previously detained in 2004 but later released for torching liquor stores and tearing down public billboards of Iraqi singers, the U.S. military said.

News of his arrest came the same day as Iraqi and U.S. forces arrested a militant leader in Baghdad's Sadr City slum after a firefight in which 30-40 gunmen were killed or wounded. Police later identified him as a Mehdi Army leader.

It was not clear if the two sweeps were part of a coordinated crackdown, but Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has vowed to disband militias, some of which, like the Mehdi army, are tied to political parties in his government coalition.

Unaybi led the Mehdi militia in the volatile middle Euphrates valley, an area which has seen much fighting.

Militants shot down two U.S. helicopters during clashes with American troops near Yusifiya in April and in May.

The U.S. military did not say if Unaybi was wanted for his role in shooting down the helicopters but said he was responsible for ``weapons smuggling, including the movement of SA-7 surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles.''

Among other crimes he is suspected of committing, the military said, were ``espionage activities for Iran'' and ''financing the operations of his organization through contacts in both Lebanon and Iran.''

Mehdi Army militias are loyal to Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a radical and influential political figure who has allies in Iran. The militias staged two revolts against U.S. forces in 2004.