updated 12/31/2008 2:25:38 PM ET 2008-12-31T19:25:38

Police in Basra have announced the arrest of a leading figure in a messianic Shiite cult that has battled with Iraqi and U.S. forces.

The arrest may have thwarted plans by the group to carry out attacks against hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who will gather next week at one of Iraq's holiest shrines in Karbala.

The arrest came as the Iraqi government made final preparations for what it considers a restoration of its full sovereignty. A new security agreement with the United States goes into effect on New Year's Day. Under the agreement, Iraqi authorities will have oversight over U.S. military operations and formally assume control of the Green Zone in central Baghdad.

But violence persisted in some parts of Iraq today, with eight people killed in four bombings in the north.

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