Iraq arrests Shiite cleric who claimed Saudi shelling

Iraq arrests Shiite cleric who claimed Saudi shelling
An Iraqi woman carries a load on her head on New Year's day in the capital Baghdad, January 1, 2014.

BAGHDAD - Iraqi security forces on Thursday arrested a Shiite cleric who heads a pro-Iranian group which he claimed was responsible for firing mortar rounds into Saudi Arabia in November, police said.

Security forces arrested Wathiq al-Battat, the head of Jaish al-Mukhtar, on Palestine Street in Baghdad, the police colonel said.

It was not immediately clear on what charges he was arrested.

In November, Battat said Jaish al-Mukhtar had fired mortar rounds into an unoccupied area of neighbouring Saudi Arabia in a "warning strike" over the Sunni-ruled kingdom's stance towards Shiites.

"We did not mean for our missile to reach a residential area because we value people's blood," said Battat. "But next time, if Saudi Arabia continues the same course, we will go farther, little by little."

Diplomats and Iraqi security officials routinely say they do not believe Jaish al-Mukhtar to be a capable militia and do not regard Battat as a credible figure.

But the incident came amid regional turmoil fuelled by the Syrian conflict.

Riyadh backs the mostly Sunni rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is strongly supported by predominantly Shiite Iran and Shiite militias in Iraq and Lebanon.

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