AKI has more from that interview he did with La Repubblica. I’ve been working off the assumption that Sadr and Maliki are in cahoots and feigning antagonism to bolster American support for the Shiite government, but this seems like unusually incendiary language to toss at a secret ally:

In a long interview with Rome-daily La Repubblica published Friday, Iraqi Shiite radical leader Moqtada al-Sadr said he has never trusted prime minister Nouri al-Maliki nor his predecessor Iyad Allawi, whom he described as the brains behind a US-backed plot to destroy him and his militia. Al-Sadr said a crackdown on him and his al-Mahdi Army “has already kicked off.” “Last night they arrested over 400 of my people. But it is not us they want to destroy, it’s Islam,” he said.

Who’s “they,” I wondered. It apparently hasn’t occurred to any western media outlets to translate the La Repubblica interview, but lefty blog “Just World News” has filled the breach thanks to one of their readers (and thanks to our reader, Roboetal, for tipping me to it). Here’s the passage:

[Q1] How is it that al-Málikí, who up until a short time ago even saw to it that there were six ministers of your movement in his cabinet, is suddenly so aware that the religious militias, and especially yours, are the true problem that must be solved?

[A1] Between me and Abú Asárá [al-Malikí] there has never been much good will. I have always suspected he was up to something and I never confided in him. We only met a couple of times. The last time he said to me, “You are the backbone of the country,” and then went on to admit to me that he was “obliged” to fight. Obliged, you see?

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[Q2] The fact remains that he is on the brink of [?] unleashing an iron fist against his own people.

[A2] It is effectively unleashed already. Yesterday evening they arrested four hundred and some of my people. It is not we that they wish to destroy, it is Islam. We are only one obstacle. For the moment we shall offer no resistance.

It’s in response to a question about Maliki, so presumably “they” means him and Bush.

Here’s more, this time re: Saddam’s execution. If he really believes “they” planted phony Sadrists there, in what ended up as a worldwide, credibility-crushing embarrassment for the Iraqi government, he’s even dumber than he’s rumored to be:

[Q7] It is said that you were present in the crowd at Saddam’s execution. Is that true?

[A7] It’s utter nonsense. If I had been there, they would have killed me also. As for Saddam, I’m certainly not going to cry for the man who massacred my family and my people by tens of thousands. The only thing is, I would have executed him in a public square so that all the world saw it.

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[Q8] If you were not there yourself, do you deny that there were a lot of your men in that room?

[A8] No, they were not my men. They were people paid to discredit me. To make me look like the person really responsible for that hanging. Listen to the audio again, the proof is that in reciting my prayer they left out some basic passages. Stuff that not even a child in Sadr City would ever have done. The object was to make Muqtadá look like the real enemy of the Sunnis. And they’re getting away with it. At a time when I have been received with full honours in Saudi Arabia! But suddenly after that show under the scaffold, my spokesman al-Zarqání, who was on the pilgrimage to Mecca, has been arrested. A subtle way to let me know that I am no longer on their list of friends.

Al Jazeera reported al-Zarqani’s arrest on January 9.

Exit question: Is the crackdown for real?

Update: Roboetal e-mails to note that Sadr mentions Iyad Allawi as Maliki’s probable successor — and, per this article from Asharq al-Awsat, he’s not the only Iraqi bigwig harboring those suspicions. In fact, those rumors have been circulating since November.

Let it be noted: our hero, Iyad Jamal al-Din, is a member of Allawi’s party.

Update: A Shiite official denies it, but the U.S. military is claiming that a “militia” killed five American soldiers in a firefight today in Kerbala.