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Iraq mosques bombed, US grabs Shi'ite militant

Written by: Staff

BAGHDAD, July 7 (Reuters) Attacks on mosques today prayers killed 11 people in Iraq and 40 were killed or wounded in a Baghdad raid on Shi'ite fighters that the U.S. military said netted a top militant wanted for kidnap and murder.

In a separate raid, Iraqi and U.S. forces arrested another commander of the Mehdi Army Shi'ite militia south of Baghdad; a man the U.S. military said was responsible for smuggling weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, and spying for Iran.

It was not clear if the two sweeps were part of a 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.

The sectarian attacks, three on Sunni mosques and a car bomb that killed at least six after Shi'ite prayers, dealt new blows to Maliki's attempts to end bloodshed between Shi'ites and once-dominant Sunnis that has pitched Iraq towards all-out civil war.

The overnight assault on a building in Baghdad's Sadr City slum killed at least seven people, mostly Mehdi fighters, police and witnesses said. The U.S. military did not identify the group but said the commander targeted had been captured.

The U.S. military said Adnan al-Unaybi, the local leader of Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army in the volatile middle Euphrates valley, was detained in a Iraqi-U.S. raid near Hilla, 100 km south of Baghdad yesterday.

Analysts say militias pose a threat to Maliki's seven-week-old national unity coalition government. Sadr's followers staged two uprisings against U.S. forces in 2004.

In the village of Tal Banat near Mosul, a car bomb outside a mosque killed six and wounded 46, police said.

Around the same time, a mortar attack and a car bomb killed five people and wounded nine near two Sunni mosques in Baghdad. A roadside bomb near a Sunni mosque in Baquba wounded seven.

Maliki has imposed today curfew in Baghdad banning all vehicles to stop attacks. Sectarian tensions are running high since militants blew up a Shi'ite shrine in Samarra in February.

The U.S. military said the wanted man in Sadr City, whom it declined to name, was seized after a firefight in which Iraqi troops killed or wounded 30-40 gunmen. The bodies of at least seven people, including two women, were seen in hospital.

The Interior Ministry said there were nine dead in total and 31 wounded and that four houses were destroyed.

FAMED AND FEARED Shi'ite political sources named the target of the raid as Abu Deraa, a feared commander nominally attached to Sadr's Mehdi militia. They said it appeared Abu Deraa, previously disciplined by Sadr, was still at large.

Political sources also said the raid was part of efforts to find a Sunni woman lawmaker whose kidnap prompted the biggest Sunni parliamentary bloc to boycott the assembly this week.

The U.S. military said the man targeted may have been running a splinter movement. A spokesman declined to confirm that Abu Deraa was the ''high-level insurgent'' it had taken.

Sadr aides condemned the operation and local people accused the troops of killing innocent civilians. The young cleric is fiercely opposed to the U.S. occupation but his supporters also hold key posts in the Shi'ite-dominated coalition government.

''The captured individual heads multiple insurgent cells in Baghdad whose main focus is to conduct attacks against Iraqi and coalition forces,'' the U.S. military said in a statement, adding that no Iraqi or U.S. troops were hurt in a ''43-minute'' battle.

''He and his followers have kidnapped, tortured and murdered Iraqi citizens ... Additionally, he is linked to a 'punishment committee' that carries out vigilante judgment.'' Japan began withdrawing some of its 550 troops from the south on Friday, with the first group of ground forces arriving in neighbouring Kuwait, a Japanese official there said.

Reuters SY DB2149

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