The mayor, Rahim al-Darraji, has been negotiating with us for awhile now, first as a liaison to the Mahdi Army and then to secure safe passage for U.S. and Iraqi troops into Sadr City. Yesterday Michael Moore’s minutemen caught up to him:

Gunmen fired on the vehicle that was carrying al-Darraji just before 4 p.m. in the Habibiyah area of Sadr City, police said. A U.S. military statement said al-Darraji was treated by Iraqi police and nearby American troops before being airlifted to the heavily fortified compound known as the Green Zone.

“Al-Darraji was reported in good condition at a coalition medical facility,” the statement said.

Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, a U.S. military spokesman, said the mayor’s driver and another passenger had been killed. He couldn’t confirm Iraqi reports that the passenger was Sadr City Police Chief Mohamed Mutashar.

Senior Mahdi Army leaders, most of whom had fled the area before the security crackdown, couldn’t be reached to confirm the identities of those who died.

No group claimed responsibility. Some of al-Sadr’s political officers said they suspected that disgruntled Shiite militants had staged the attack to register their displeasure with the Mahdi Army’s cooperation with the security plan.

If Pajamas is right about the U.S. trying to talk the Mahdi Army into disarming then al-Darraji’s probably involved in that too, which means Sadr’s got as much of a motive to kill him as “rogue” JAM elements do notwithstanding his own alleged support for the security plan. In fact, a statement from Sadr calling for protests against the occupation generally and the U.S. presence in Sadr City in particular was read after Friday prayers today:

“I’m confident that you consider them (U.S. forces) your enemies,” said the statement carrying Sadr’s seal which was issued by his office in the holy city of Najaf as well as being read out to thousands of worshippers in Sadr City.

“I call upon you all to raise your voices all together and shout with one voice ‘No, No, America’,” the statement said.

And so they did.

Maj. Gen. Fil told Reuters yesterday after the shooting he’s no longer sure if Sadr’s cooperating. He probably is insofar as his guys are still under orders not to confront U.S. troops, but he has to walk a line between lying low and not disappearing so completely that people’s loyalties begin to reorient towards other demagogues. If he was involved in the attempt on al-Darraji, it might be his way of showing that he still owns Sadr City well enough to reach the VIPs even from as far away as Iran.

Or maybe it really was rogue guys trying to pop the mayor for cooperating with the U.S. Shrug.

I’ll leave you on an upbeat note: Iraq’s first criminal court for insurgents outside Baghdad is up and running, and not only aren’t U.S. troops managing it, they’re not even allowed to watch the proceedings.