- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2003

From combined dispatches

BAGHDAD — Iraqi police detained a dozen supporters of a radical Shi’ite Muslim cleric yesterday, evicting them from a municipal building in Baghdad’s teeming Sadr City suburb.

Police spokesman Capt. Basim Mahmoud said the detainees, followers of Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr, had been brought to police headquarters in Baghdad.

U.S. troops and armored vehicles were ringing the municipal building at dusk. A U.S. commander said they were securing the area after Sheik al-Sadr’s men had gone.

Sheik al-Sadr, who is based in the holy city of Najaf, south of Baghdad, has a youthful following in the slums of Sadr City, home to about 2 million Shi’ites.

His group had been using the municipal building, headquarters of a U.S.-backed district council, to run its own social services in a parallel administration.

Capt. Mahmoud said police were prepared to release the detainees if clerics speaking for Sheik al-Sadr came to police headquarters and acknowledged they had been acting improperly at the municipal building.

“We want the sheiks to come here and apologize. We want them to tell their supporters to respect the police and then we will release the prisoners,” he told Reuters news agency.

Capt. Mahmoud said there was no place in Iraq for independent militia groups, such as the “Army of the Mahdi” set up by Sheik al-Sadr.

Sheik al-Sadr has demanded the immediate departure of U.S. troops and the establishment of an Islamic state, but has stopped short of calling for violence.

U.S. military officials said several people taken hostage earlier this week by Sheik al-Sadr’s supporters in the shrine city of Karbala, south of Baghdad, had been released.

Sheik al-Sadr’s group had tried to take over the Imam Hussein shrine in Karbala, sparking armed clashes with supporters of Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. At least one person was killed.

In other developments yesterday, a 4-year-old Iraqi girl was killed when a bomb intended for two U.S. Bradley Fighting Vehicles exploded just outside the main U.S. Army base in Tikrit, north of Baghdad. Her 12-year-old sister was critically wounded, U.S. officials said.

In the southern city of Basra, an Iraqi doctor, Haidar al-Baaj, was fatally shot in the back of the head as he was entering his clinic Wednesday, hospital officials said yesterday.

Dr. al-Baaj, 48, who was recently promoted as director of the Educational Hospital in Basra, had been threatened over the past two months for cooperating with the U.S.-led coalition, officials and family members said.

In Baghdad, Iraqi security officials said a woman with explosives tied to her belt was arrested Tuesday as she tried to enter a Finance Ministry building, apparently to carry out a suicide attack.

The incident occurred in a building next to the Iraqi Central Bank on the same day as a suicide bomber tried to blow up the Turkish Embassy, killing himself and wounding more than a dozen others.

Meanwhile, an explosion damaged part of the main pipeline running from Iraq’s northern oil fields yesterday, forcing a reduction in the amount of oil available for export.

It was not clear whether the explosion along a section of pipeline near the city of Hadeetha, 125 miles northwest of Baghdad, was caused by saboteurs, a senior Oil Ministry official told the Associated Press.

He said the explosion ripped open part of the main pipeline linking the northern oil fields to the al-Doura oil refinery and the Mussayab power plant. The oil in the pipeline was earmarked for domestic use.

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