- The Washington Times - Friday, May 4, 2007

BAGHDAD — U.S.-led forces yesterday arrested suspected Shi’ite militants accused of smuggling powerful bomb components from Iran, and clashes between Shi’ite factions broke out in two major cities. The U.S. also announced the deaths of five American soldiers — three of them in bombings.

The arrests occurred during a raid early yesterday in Baghdad’s teeming Shi’ite district of Sadr City, stronghold of the notorious Mahdi Army militia of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

A U.S. military statement did not identify them as Mahdi Army members but said they were part of a “secret cell” that smuggles powerful bombs known as “explosively formed penetrators,” or EFPs, from Iran and sends Shi’ite fighters from Iraq for training in Iran.

U.S. and some Iraqi officials suspect the Iranians may be stoking a growing power struggle among Shi’ite factions and political parties — despite the Tehran government’s insistence that it is working to help bring stability to its neighbor Iraq.

Some Mahdi Army members in Sadr City have said a pro-Iranian faction has been sending fighters to Iran for training. The members spoke on the condition of anonymity because of fears for their own safety.

U.S. officials maintain that sectarian killings in the capital have declined since the Baghdad crackdown was begun Feb. 14, in large part because Shi’ite militias assumed a low profile to avoid a confrontation with the Americans.

But attacks using EFPs, the signature weapon of Shi’ite militias, are on the rise.

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