Tensions are rising again between the U.S. military and the Mehdi Army, the Shiite militia loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The militia is growing increasingly powerful in Baghdad, and it is accused of running death squads out of Iraq's Interior Ministry.
But Iraq's Shiite-dominated government — which includes Sadr supporters — refuses to take on the militia. U.S. troops put down two "uprisings" by the Mehdi army in 2004.
Earlier this week, U.S. and Iraqi forces detained Sadr officials meeting in Najaf, south of Baghdad. Among those arrested were Sadr's top representative from the Baghad district of Hurriya.
Sadr's response came Friday, as Mehdi militiamen attacked offices of Sunni political parties in Hurriya, according to an eye witness reached by phone.
"I know they were Mehdi Army because they are my neighbors," the source said. "And they were reinforced by volunteers from Sadr City," he said, referring to the area of Baghdad.
The Mehdi Army set several buildings on fire, and attacked two Sunni mosques. Firefighters were shot at when they came to help. According to the eyewitness, who asked not to be identified for his own safety, an Iraqi checkpoint nearby did not respond. Instead, U.S. forces arrived backed by helicopters, and the miltia retreated.
Sadr's militia has regularly retaliated when its people are detained.
At the end of August, Iraqi soldiers backed by U.S. forces arrested a member of Sadr's milita in Diwaniya, south of Baghdad, saying the man was planning bombings there. A major battle erupted between the Iraqi army and the Mehdi Army. Some 25 soldiers were killed, including 12 who Sadr militiamen reportedly executed in the public square.
In other areas, people loyal to Sadr are believed to have infiltrated the Interior Ministry and police forces. And Gen. Joseph Peterson says the Mehdi Army, known in arabic as Jaish al-Mahdi, is among the most active of the Shiite death squads now targeting Sunnis.
A former Iraqi police captain who asked that only part of his name, Mohammed, be used, claims that Interior Ministry officers have given vehicles, weapons and uniforms to death squds from various Shiite mlitias.
The U.S. military has launched a new operation called "Quick Look" to reassess the police leadership and provide additional training in the coming month.
They plan to use a range of measures to clean out the police force. They include lie-detector tests, new uniforms that are not easily duplicated, and specially marked vehicles.