The Mahdi Army should not have attacked innocent civilians.
Death squad leaders seized in Baghdad
By BRIAN MURPHY Associated Press Writer
© 2007 The Associated Press
BAGHDAD, Iraq — U.S.-led strike forces seized suspected Shiite death squad bosses Tuesday in raids that tested the fragile bonds between the government and a powerful militia faction allowing the Baghdad security crackdown to move ahead.
The sweeps through the Sadr City slum were part of highly sensitive forays into areas loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has ridiculed the 2-week-old campaign for failing to halt bombings by suspected Sunni insurgents against Shiite civilians.
Al-Sadr withdrew his powerful Mahdi Army militia from checkpoints and bases under intense government pressure to let the security push go forward. But the U.S.-backed government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also worries that al-Sadr could pull his support if he feels his militiamen are being squeezed in Baghdad.
The pre-dawn raids appeared to highlight a strategy of pinpoint strikes in Sadr City rather than the flood of soldiers sent into some Sunni districts.
Bombings have not slackened off, with at least 10 people killed in blasts around Baghdad on Tuesday. However, an apparent success of the clampdown can be measured in the morgues: a sharp drop in the number of bullet-riddled bodies found in the streets of the capital, victims of sectarian death squads.
The number of bodies found this month in Baghdad — most shot and showing signs of torture — has dropped by nearly 50 percent to 494 as of Monday, compared with 954 in January. The figure stood at 1,222 in December, according to figures compiled by The Associated Press.
"We have seen a decrease in the past three weeks — a pretty radical decrease," said Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq.
Many Sunnis have long alleged that most of killings were by Shiite militias, such as the Mahdi Army or rogue elements within the Shiite-led police.