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Top Aide To Muqtada Al-Sadr Captured

.S. and Iraqi forces swooped into a mosque complex in east Baghdad on Friday and detained a top aide to radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the latest in a series of operations aimed at eviscerating the leadership of the Mahdi Army militia.

Abdul-Hadi al-Darraji was captured in the early morning raid and his bodyguard was killed in what Abdul-Zahra al-Suweiadi, a senior al-Sadr aide, called a "cowardly act." Al-Sadr's office said al-Darraji was media director for the cleric's political movement and demanded his immediate release.

"America is playing with fire and our patience is beginning to fade," said Abdul-Razzaq al-Nidawi, an al-Sadr aide in the Shiite holy city of Najaf. "This savage barbarian act will not pass peacefully."

The U.S. military, in a statement that did not name al-Darraji or mention the Mahdi Army by name, said special Iraqi army forces operating with U.S. advisers had "captured a high-level, illegal armed group leader" in Baghdad's Baladiyat neighborhood, which is adjacent to Sadr City, the Mahdi Army stronghold.

"Iraqi forces detained him based on credible intelligence that he is the leader of an illegal armed group (involved in) ... the organized kidnapping, torture and murder of Iraqi civilians. The suspect is also reportedly involved in the assassination of numerous Iraqi Security Forces members and government officials," the U.S. statement said.

It said two other suspects were detained for questioning.

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