Iraqi security forces, backed by U.S. troops, have arrested a hard-line Sunni cleric and about two dozen others after a raid of his Baghdad mosque uncovered weapons caches along with photographs of recent attacks on American troops, the U.S. military and the Iraqi National Guard said.
Sheik Mahdi al-Sumaidaei, the head of the Supreme Association for Guidance and Daawa, a conservative Sunni organization, was detained Thursday, along with 25 others, the U.S. military said.
The raid took place at the Um al-Tuboul mosque, a major landmark in western Baghdad, said Iraqi National Guard Col. Mohammed Abdullah said, who said the cleric and 27 others had been detained
The U.S. command said American troops “provided the outer cordon” while the 90-minute raid was carried out by Iraqi troops. Two U.S. soldiers were wounded by snipers during the raid, the military statement said.
Abdullah said they also found TNT explosives, lists with names of Iraqi officers employed in the U.S.-trained Iraqi National Guard, as well as photographs of recent attacks on U.S. soldiers and foreign convoys on the airport road.
The raid followed a tip that weapons were being stored in the prominent mosque, Abdullah said.
Also discovered in the raid were Kalashnikov rifles, one machine gun, four rocket-propelled grenade launchers and ammunition.
Al-Sumaidaei is now in custody of U.S. troops, he added.
Footage taken by Associated Press Television News showed Al-Sumaidei taken out of the mosque, sitting in handcuffs, surrounded by American troops and turning his face away from the camera.
Call for civil disobedience
Al-Sumaidaei has called on the country’s Sunni minority to launch a civil disobedience campaign if the Iraqi government does not halt the attack on Fallujah, an insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad.
He had told The Associated Press Thursday that military operations in Fallujah amounted to a “war on the Sunni people of Iraq” and urged students and government employees to mount a “civil strike” by staying at home if the attacks don’t stop.
Also Thursday, U.S. troops had raided the homes of two other Sunni Muslim clerics critical of the Fallujah offensive.
One raid was directed at the home of Harith al-Dhari, head of the Association of Muslim Scholars, about 20 miles west of Baghdad. U.S. troops confiscated five guns belonging to mosque guardsmen and a mobile phone.
Also, U.S. troops searched the home of Sheik Abdul-Salam al-Kobeisi in Baghdad, another association member.
The scholars’ association, with some 3,000 clerics nationwide, is considered the most influential Sunni group in Iraq. It hardened its opposition to the U.S. presence in Iraq and has called for a nationwide boycott of the January elections to protest the Fallujah attack.