by user Layla
Crpssposted from The HILL Chronicles
A deputy minister at the Health Ministry is accused of funneling millions of dollars to Shiite militias in the first major sign that a crackdown in Baghdad has begun by US and Iraqi forces.
Ministry officials and witnesses said Deputy Health Minister Hakim Zamili, a member of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al- Sadr’s political group, was detained during the raid, the latest operation by US and Iraqi forces to target senior Sadr aides.
The US military did not name anyone, but said a senior Health Ministry official had been captured on suspicion of infiltrating members of Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia into the Ministry and using it as a cover for sectarian killings.
The Pentagon has identified the Mehdi Army as a greater threat to peace in Iraq than Sunni Islamist Al Qaeda.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who is a Shiite, vowed to tackle both Shiite and Sunni Arab militants in the US-backed offensive that aims to strengthen his government’s precarious grip over Baghdad — epicentre of the sectarian bloodletting.
Critics say previous campaigns failed because Maliki, who got the job thanks to support from Sadr’s group, had resisted moving against Sadr’s supporters and the Mehdi Army. But the US military has intensified operations against the group in recent months as Washington has stepped up pressure on Mr Maliki to curb violence.
Meanwhile in further bloodshed in the strife-torn country, at least 33 Iraqis were killed and 58 wounded in a series of blasts across Iraq over a 24-hour period, sources said Thursday. Fourteen Iraqis were killed and 15 injured, some seriously, when a remote-controlled car bomb went off Thursday morning at a public market in Azziziyah, south of Baghdad.
In another incident, four Iraqi policemen and one civilian were killed Thursday when gunmen attacked a police patrol in Baquba, 60 kilometres north-east of the capital. In eastern Baghdad, at least six Iraqis were killed and 10 others wounded, some seriously, in a car bomb blast Thursday near a mosque in the Shiite Amin district.
The devices exploded consecutively on a main street in Suwayrah, 50 kilometres south-east of Baghdad, the source added.