Continued from page 1

Also Friday, Iraqi and U.S. troops carried out a sweep in two Mahdi Army strongholds of western Baghdad, the Amil and Bayaa districts, arresting around 100 people, police officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press.

Iraqi forces in the operation cordoned off a cultural center in Amil where Sadrists were gathering to hold prayers and arrested some worshippers, the officials said.

Sadrist lawmakers denounced the moves saying there was a “nationwide conspiracy against Friday prayers” and a government move to “eliminate” their movement.

Sadrist lawmaker, Aqeel Abdul-Rahman, said the group was still committed to Sadr City truce. “But we see black clouds on the horizon, being brought by the government to rain on the sons of the Sadr Movement,” he said.

The Sadrists’ angry rhetoric may in part be aimed at warning al-Maliki not to take more aggressive steps against the Mahdi Army in Sadr City, such as confiscating heavy weapons or arresting key figures. The government has said it plans to do so, but has not begun any raids in the district, wary of sparking retaliation.