US army seizes man who sends extremists to train in Iran
AMERICAN soldiers in Baghdad captured an Iraqi arms dealer and "assassination squad" leader responsible for trafficking Shiite extremists in and out of neighbouring Iran for training, the military said yesterday.
The arrest reinforced long-standing US allegations that Iran arms, trains and funds Shiite Muslim militiamen inside Iraq – charges that Tehran denies.
It also coincided with a two-day visit to Iran by Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, his second such trip in a year.
Mr Maliki, himself a Shiite, is struggling to keep Washington happy while reassuring Iran, the largest Shiite nation, that a proposed US-Iraqi security agreement would not make his country an American launch pad for attacks on Iran.
"We will not allow Iraq to become a platform for harming the security of Iran and neighbours," Iranian state-run media quoted Mr Maliki as saying after talks with Manouchehr Mottaki, Iran's foreign minister.
The US arrest campaign against Shiite militia with alleged ties to Iran was also on the agenda for Mr Maliki's talks with Iranian officials.
American soldiers, acting on intelligence from other Shiite militiamen already in custody, captured the Basra-based "special groups" leader late on Saturday night at a hideout in eastern Baghdad.
"The wanted man is alleged to be a commander of an assassination squad in Basra, an arms dealer with connections to Iran and a document counterfeiter," the statement said.
It added that the man also arranges transportation of criminals into Iran for training, and then back into Iraq. One of the leader's aides was also arrested without incident.
Meanwhile, military officials said US forces had captured six more suspected Sunni extremists yesterday in the northern city of Mosul, including an alleged leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and another man who is allegedly a wiring expert in charge of a bombing cell.
Two women were injured when US soldiers "breached the door of a target building" during the arrest raid. Both were treated at the scene and then transported to an Iraqi hospital.
Mosul is believed to be one of the last urban strongholds of al-Qaeda in Iraq, and US and Iraqi forces have battled with militants there in recent months.
Meanwhile, Iraqi police arrested 13 suspected al-Qaeda members and seized 58 explosive belts prepared for suicide bombings. Hikmat Jubair, mayor of the town of Hit, west of Baghdad, said the suspects were arrested in possession of 13 explosive belts and led police to another 45 hidden in a house.
Hit is in Anbar province, once an al-Qaeda base for Sunni Arab insurgents.
Mr Jubair said the 13 militants were suspected of involvement in a suicide bombing late last month that killed Hit's police chief, eight policemen and four civilians.
Violence continued yesterday in Baghdad, where four police recruits were killed in an attack on the police headquarters. Another 22 people were hurt.
IRAN and Iraq fought an eight-year war in the 1980s in which hundreds of thousands were killed.
However, relations have improved since Saddam Hussein was ousted in the US-led invasion and a Shiite-led government came to power in Baghdad.
Iraq is an Arab nation while Iran's roots are Persian. Both countries have majority Shiite populations.
Iranian officials have called for the withdrawal of American and other foreign troops, whom they blame for destabilising Iraq.
Iran regularly voices support for Nouri al-Maliki's government and it has established an embassy in Baghdad, unlike most Arab states, which have only low-level ties.
It also showed its influence by helping to end fighting in the southern city of Basra in late March between Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia and Iraqi forces.
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