BAGHDAD Iraqi security forces arrested three locally prominent supporters of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Wednesday as part of a crackdown on Shiite militias in the southern city of Amarah, police said.
All three men are members of the provincial council in Maysan, where Amarah is the capital. Police said they were suspected of supporting Shiite militias.
The three included Abdul-Jabar Wahid Humaidi, head of the council, and leaders of the council's security and health committees Fadhil Niama and Abdul-Latif Jawad, police said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
A spokesman for al-Sadr, Sheik Salah al-Obaidi, criticized the arrests, saying the Iraqi government was targeting the cleric's movement and violating the spirit of agreements made in talks with the government in the run-up to the Amarah operation.
"The security forces broke in their houses and arrested them in front of their families in an uncivilized manner," al-Obaidi told The Associated Press, describing the arrests of Humaidi and Niama.
Sadrists had promised to cooperate with the Shiite-led government's operation in Amarah, about 200 miles southeast of Baghdad, so long as Iraqi troops did not make arrests without warrants or commit other human rights violations. Al-Obaidi said Wednesday that the government was not sticking to the agreement.
"In fact, there are violations in the security plan in Maysan, but we are adhering to not confronting the government," said al-Obaidi.
The operation is part of a campaign by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to assert government control in areas of the Shiite south where militias have held sway for years.
The U.S. blames much of the violence in the south on "special groups" that it says have split off from al-Sadr and are being supported by the Iranians a claim denied by Tehran. Iraqi security forces arrested five of these militants around central Iraq on Saturday, said the U.S. military.
One of the men arrested in the Bayaa area of Baghdad was an Iraqi police officer who the U.S. said leaked information to other "special groups criminals" in the area.
"The government of Iraq and Iraqi security forces are determined to pursue all criminals and provide a secure and stable environment for the people of Iraq," U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Neil Harper said in a statement Wednesday.
Despite Iran's strong objections, al-Maliki's government is negotiating a new security agreement with the U.S. to keep American troops in Iraq after the U.N. mandate expires at the end of the year.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari voiced support for the deal, saying U.S. forces couldn't stay in Iraq without an agreement.
Zebari, who met recently with President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington, said Wednesday they have shown flexibility on contentious issues in the negotiations.
He said they agreed that operations by U.S. and Iraqi forces will be determined by a joint committee and Iraqi courts will determine the detention of the country's citizens, a controversial issue given the thousands of Iraqis currently held by U.S. forces.
On Tuesday, Zebari told lawmakers that the U.S. has agreed to an end to immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law enjoyed by American and other foreign security contractors.
He also said the U.S. was prepared to give up control of Iraqi air space if the Iraqis could guarantee that they could protect the country's skies with their limited air force.
Many Iraqi lawmakers have complained that U.S. demands would infringe on Iraqi sovereignty, and al-Maliki said last month that the talks had reached an impasse. But many lawmakers also do not want to see U.S. forces leave prematurely, worried that Iraqi soldiers would not be able to control violence in the country.
That violence continued Wednesday, with a string of mortar shells hitting the residential area of al-Amil in western Baghdad, killing one civilian and wounding eight others, said police.
Also in Baghdad, a U.S. patrol was hit by a roadside bomb in the southeast area of the city, wounding two soldiers and damaging one Humvee, said the U.S. military.
Another roadside bomb targeting a police patrol in the mainly Shiite Baghdad neighborhood of Zafaraniyah missed its target and hit a civilian car, wounding three people, said police, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
In the eastern Diyala province, a police report said U.S.-allied Sunnis killed two Sunni militants nine miles south of the provincial capital, Baqouba. Six of the awakening council members were injured in the clashes, it added.
Also in Diyala, Iraqi authorities released 65 detainees who had been cleared of criminal charges, said police Gen. Ghanem al-Qureshi. A total of 1,680 detainees have been released in the province since January 2008, he added.