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Police kidnapped by Sadr's militia
The radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's militia has kidnapped 18 Iraqi police officers, apparently to force authorities to release detained militants, police said yesterday.
The kidnappings took place as Mr Sadr's aides accused authorities of trying to arrest officials in the cleric's Mahdi army. The new tensions appear to threaten a fragile ceasefire.
A Najaf police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the militants had snatched 18 police officers and two police cars, hoping to get some of their comrades out of jail. Najaf's governor, Adnan al-Zurufi, confirmed that a number of officers had been kidnapped. Najaf police were awaiting orders from local officials, who did not want to escalate the situation, the official said. An interior ministry spokesman in Baghdad could not confirm the report.
Ahmed al-Shaibany, a spokesman for Mr Sadr, denied that any officers had been locked up.
He said Iraqi police had conducted several arrest raids against the Mahdi army. Police had tried to arrest a senior Sadr follower at a university in the southern city of Kufa on Friday, but had been shooed away by the university's dean.
Mr Shaibany warned that the police behaviour was "provocative," adding that it "threatens peace and stability".