‘SIGNS OF TORTURE’ ON MAHDI ARMY COMMANDER – after arrest by British troops

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THE Basra office of militant Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has said a former Basra commander of the Al-Sadr movement’s Mahdi Army showed ‘signs of torture’ after being arrested and released by British soldiers on Sunday.

A source at the al-Sadr Office said on Sunday that British forces had released Ahmad al-Fartusi, one of three members of the Al-Sadr movement detained in Basra.

The official added that Al-Sayyid Al-Sadr had sent his personal envoy to Basra, accompanied by Iraqi puppet Communications Minister Salam al-Maliki, to calm the situation and hold negotiations with the Basra governor and British forces to release the detainees.

The Sadr Office source also added that one of the three detainees had been treated badly, that there were signs of torture on Al-Fartusi’s body and that the third detainee had received a bullet to his leg.

An Iraqi-British force at dawn had arrested Al-Fartusi, a prominent close associate of al-Sadr, in Basra City, southern Iraq.

A spokesman for the British army confirmed what Al-Sadr’s Office in Basra had announced, saying that Sheikh Ahmad al-Fartusi was arrested in his house along with his brother and a third man.

The British spokesman said that the arrest took place following an investigation by the multinational forces regarding individuals who carried out terrorist attacks against the multinational forces.

Iraqi police said Al-Mahdi Army fighters had been deployed intensively in Basra, after the British and puppet Iraqi forces arrested al-Fartusi.

The Al-Sadr Office had demanded the British and Iraqi forces to release him immediately.

Meanwhile, in western Iraq’s Al-Anbar province it was reported on Sunday that US soldiers opened fire on an employee of Al-Anbar Radio and Television, western Iraq, killing him.

Khalid al-Qaraghulli, director of the press centre in Al-Anbar, said that the governorate’s media and press people announced a sit-in today to protest the killing of their colleague, Rashid Awsaj Ibrahim, who is over sixty years of age.

Al-Qaraghulli noted that a US Hummvee armoured vehicle had on Saturday afternoon confronted Rashid Awsaj after he left the Al-Anbar Radio and Television building whereby the US soldiers pointed their guns at him, shooting him dead in Al-Sufiyyah area where the residents took him to the general hospital’s morgue in Ramadi.

l In central Iraq, the Italian contingent of occupying troops began a gradual disengagement from Iraq last weekend.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, accompanied by Defence Minister Antonio Martino, told a Rome press conference on Saturday that the Folgore (paratrooper) brigade has turned over operational command to the Ariete brigade, with the 300-man reduction that had been announced.

Now, 2,900 men remain in the field.

Berlusconi made official what was already known: the Italian contingent in Iraq is gradually being reduced.

In the future, said the prime minister, ‘we will continue to reduce our contingent in agreement with our allies and the Iraqi government’.

As anticipated, this changing of the guard has entailed a 10-per-cent troop reduction. A further 10 per cent could return home with the next hand over, scheduled in four months’ time.

Berlusconi was keen to stress, however, that Italy is moving towards slow and gradual disengagement, and not towards greater commitments in some other area.

He said: ‘Our presence will not be requested outside the area that we are policing today and our withdrawal plan will go ahead as announced.’

The remaining Italian forces will continue to be stationed in Nasariyah, in the south and not be required to patrol south of Baghdad in western Iraq.

Berlusconi claimed Italy was not running away from Iraq.

He added: ‘Our personnel reduction is the result of success achieved in the field.

‘The most important result is the 9,000 men representing the Iraqi police and 1,000 soldiers that we trained.

‘The province under Italian control is the one that has reported the lowest number of terrorist acts and of incidents involving petty crime.’

Berlusconi boasted a ‘completely successful operation. Italian soldiers do their job well, which is that of giving the people the basic benefit from which all other benefits derive. That is, peace and security.’

Defence minister Martino told the press conference: ‘As Iraq is gradually able to manage without foreign troops, our presence will be reduced.

‘As of today, 14 out of the 18 Iraqi provinces enjoy conditions of security. In the four provinces where we are present the situation is calm.’

In response to Berlusconi’s announcement, anti-war campaigners condemned the gradual disengagement, and continued to call for all-out withdrawal.

Greens member Paolo Cento said: ‘The Italian military mission in Iraq is a failure.

‘The means chosen by Berlusconi do not fool anyone as to the outcome of this military adventure.

‘You don’t conduct foreign policy by bluffing or via gradual withdrawals ahead of getting the final OK from the United States, but with the courage of clear and bold decisions.’

l Puppet Iraqi security officials last Saturday announced the deaths of eleven Iraqis, including eight army and police members, adding that ten others were wounded in sporadic attacks that took place north of Baghdad.

Iraqi police said that four soldiers and an army officer were killed when an explosive charge went off in Kirkuk when an Iraqi Army patrol was passing through Al-Sina’i neighbourhood, southern Kirkuk.

In Al-Dulu’iyah, to the north of Baghdad, police confirmed that three soldiers were killed and a fourth was wounded when an explosive charge went off targeting their patrol in Al-Dahabat Village.

An Iraqi soldier was killed and three others were wounded in an armed attack on an army checkpoint at the western entrance of Al-Ishaqi City, north of Baghdad, at dawn on Saturday.

A bomb targeting a patrol in charge of protecting the North Oil Company pipelines went off, leading to the deaths of two of its members and wounding three others.