The U.S. military on Wednesday blamed a renegade Shiite militiaman for a truck bombing that killed 63 people in a Shiite area of Baghdad, saying he was trying to re-ignite sectarian violence for personal gain.
The allegation points to a shift in the Iraq war, with the U.S. military increasingly concerned about Iranian-backed Shiite splinter groups as al-Qaida in Iraq's influence recedes.
No group claimed responsibility for the blast, which devastated a street in Hurriyah, scene of some of the bloodiest Shiite-Sunni slaughter in 2006. That fueled speculation Sunni extremists may have been behind the attack.
However, Lt. Col. Steven Stover said the U.S. command believed the bombing was carried out by a Shiite splinter group led by Haydar Mehdi Khadum al-Fawadi, also known as Haydar al-Majidi, who has been sought for months for kidnapping, murder and other offenses.
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“We believe he ordered the attack to incite (Shiite) violence against Sunnis; that his intent was to disrupt Sunni resettlement in Hurriyah in order to maintain extortion of real estate rental income to support his nefarious activities,” Stover said in an e-mail.
A senior Iraqi security official said the investigation into the bombing was under way and that the Iraqis were not yet convinced al-Fawadi was behind the attack, the deadliest in the capital since March.
He said al-Fawadi had broken with the Mahdi Army militia led by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and has run criminal operations including extortion ever since.