Iraqi forces arrested a Sunni paramilitary leader Saturday in Baghdad, security officials said, in the latest sign of the marginalizing of the movement of former insurgents who helped turn the tide against Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Adel Mashadani, the head of the Sons of Iraq paramilitary group in the east Baghdad neighborhood of Fadhil, was detained by Iraqi military forces on suspicion of involvement in sectarian killings, police said.
Soon after his arrest, Mashadani’s supporters clashed with Iraqi security forces, and one policeman and three civilians were killed, police said. Mashadani’s supporters also abducted an Iraqi lieutenant colonel and five Iraqi soldiers and promised to release them in exchange for their leader, the police said.
The U.S. military did not respond to requests for comment about the arrest.
Mashadani is a controversial figure who has often made inflammatory remarks about the Shiite-led Iraqi government, accusing its officials of having links to Iran. But his arrest could mean the silencing of another significant Sunni fighter and could poison his supporters’ relations with the Americans, who had relied on them to control the poverty-stricken area of narrow streets and alleys where extremists once held sway.
“Those Americans betrayed us after we fought Al Qaeda,” said Khalid Qaisi, one of Mashadani’s deputies in Fadhil. “We warn the Americans that they should release Adel al Mashadani -- if they don’t, Baghdad . . . will not like the situation.”
The Sons of Iraq movement has been hobbled by assassinations, arrests and the flight abroad of those fearing arrest.
Iraqi officials have moved to disband the group, which they viewed as a Sunni militia hostile to the country’s Shiite majority. The government has pledged to place the nearly 100,000 fighters in the security forces and other positions, but progress has been slow.
“If the process of integrating . . . members into the state security services and other institutions is frustrated, as it looks very much it will be, then this will leave a huge opportunity for Al Qaeda in Iraq, which has been down but never out, to get back into the game,” said Joost Hiltermann, deputy director of the Middle East program at the International Crisis Group think tank.
The Iraqi government took over the paramilitary group’s payroll from the Americans in November, but for the last month it has failed to pay the fighters in Baghdad. The U.S. military has described the payroll failure as a bureaucratic glitch that the Iraqi government is fixing.
Although his government has gone after some Sunni fighters, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has also reached out to other Sons of Iraq leaders. At least one prominent leader has begun advising the prime minister in an informal capacity, and others endorsed some of Maliki’s candidates in the January provincial council elections.
Times staff writer Saif Hameed contributed to this report.