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Warrant Issued for Anti-Coalition Cleric's Arrest

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 5, 2004 – An Iraqi judge has issued a warrant for the arrest of anti-coalition Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr in connection with the death of Ayatollah Sayed al Khoei last year, coalition authorities revealed today.

Iraqi police have arrested Mustapha Yacoubi for his involvement in the same murder and have him in custody, said Dan Senor, coalition spokesman, during a briefing in Baghdad.

Khoei, a leading Shiia cleric and human rights advocate, was stabbed and shot outside a mosque in Karbala last year. A total of 13 Iraqis have been arrested in connection with the murder, and 12 more suspects, including Sadr, still are at large.

The arrest of Yacoubi and the warrant for the arrest of Sadr show that "the Iraqi people want elections, not mob violence, to determine who will rule Iraq," Senor said.

Coalition military spokesman Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said that the coalition is accelerating its offensive operations to kill or capture anti- coalition elements and enemies of the Iraqi people. He said Marines and Iraqi forces initiated Operation Vigilant Resolve to confront anti-coalition and anti-Iraqi elements in the Fallujah area.

The force, now numbering 1,300, has surrounded the city and is regulating passage into and out of the city. The coalition has imposed a curfew of 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. "These are the first of a series of actions to attack anti-coalition and anti-Iraqi forces and to re-establish security in Fallujah," Kimmitt said. On March 31, insurgents in that city killed four American security experts. A mob burned and mutilated their bodies.

Kimmitt also gave a rundown of the coalition's response to the latest spike in violence in the country. "In the past 24 hours we conducted 1,566 patrols, 10 offensive operations, 18 raids and captured 42 anti-coalition suspects," he said. The operations were not without cost, as a total of 12 soldiers and Marines were killed in action since April 3.

Most of those killed were in central and southern Iraq, as demonstrations encouraged by Muqtada al-Sadr turned violent. Kimmitt said members of Sadr's militia -- the Mahdi Army -- incited violence against the coalition and Iraqi forces. There was violence in Baghdad, Najaf, Nasiriyah, Basra and Amarah. The general said all areas are calmer today, with peaceful demonstrations being staged in Basra, Najaf and Kut.

Kimmitt said the coalition will focus more attention on Sadr's Mahdi Army. He said the coalition believes militias are inconsistent with a democratic and sovereign nation with a central government. "We are particularly focused upon militias that start attacking coalition forces, start attacking Iraqi forces, start attacking Iraqi civilians," he said. "The actions of the Mahdi Army over the past 48 hours (are) clearly inconsistent with a safe and secure environment.

"Individuals who create violence, who incite violence, who execute violence against persons inside of Iraq will be hunted down and captured or killed," he continued. "It is that simple."

Kimmitt said the coalition forces are responsive to the levels of violence in Iraq because the coalition has an obligation to establish and maintain a safe and secure environment. "We have forces that are absolutely capable, 100 percent of the time, to be in a mode of fixing schools, fixing sewers, fixing health clinics. That's what our soldiers would like to be doing. That's what our Marines would like to be doing," he said.

"But their first and foremost responsibility is for safety and security in Iraq," he continued. "And when that safety and security is threatened, is challenged, and violence is incited, and violence is executed, those same soldiers and those same Marines are capable of putting down their paintbrushes and picking up their weapons to defend the people of Iraq and to ensure that the process of taking this country to democracy and sovereignty will not be impeded."

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