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Iraq police evict Shi'ite radicals from town hall
( 2003-10-17 03:43) (Agencies)

Iraqi police detained a dozen supporters of a radical Shi'ite Muslim cleric on Thursday, evicting them from a municipality building in Baghdad's teeming Sadr City suburb.

Police spokesman Captain Basim Mahmoud said the detainees, followers of Moqtada al-Sadr, had been brought to police headquarters in Baghdad.

US troops and armoured vehicles were ringing the municipality building at dusk and a US commander said they were securing the area after Sadr's men had gone.

Sadr, who is based in the holy city of Najaf, south of Baghdad, has a youthful following in the slums of Sadr City, home to about two million Shi'ites.

His group had been using the municipality building, headquarters of a US-backed district council, to run its own social services in a parallel administration.

The district council asked Iraqi police earlier this week to remove Sadr's people from the building.

Mahmoud said police were prepared to release the detainees if clerics speaking for Sadr came to police headquarters and acknowledged that they had been acting improperly at the municipality building.

"We want the sheikhs to come here and apologise. We want them to tell their supporters to respect the police and then we will release the prisoners," he told Reuters.

Mahmoud said there was no place in Iraq for independent militia groups, such as the "Army of the Mahdi" set up by Sadr.

"If he wants his supporters to police Thawra City, then he should send them to the police academy to train as police officers," he added, referring to Sadr City -- once known as Saddam City -- by its official name.

Sadr has demanded the immediate departure of US troops and the establishment of an Islamic state, but has stopped short of calling for violence against them.

US military officials said several people taken hostage by Sadr's supporters in the shrine city of Kerbala, south of Baghdad, earlier this week had now been released.

Sadr's group had tried to take over the Imam Hussein shrine in Kerbala, sparking armed clashes with supporters of Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in which at least one person was killed.

"There are some very serious allegations about activities attributed to supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr. We take those allegations seriously," a civilian official with the US-led administration said.

"We are determined to uphold the rule of law in this country and hold people responsible for their actions. Some of those allegations suggest that the command and control goes back to him (Sadr)."

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