Iraqi security forces arrest controversial Shiite cleric who leads Iranian-backed militia

An Iraqi government spokesman says security forces have arrested a controversial Shiite cleric who leads an Iranian-backed militia.

The Interior Ministry spokesman, Saad Maan Ibrahim, told The Associated Press on Thursday that Wathiq al-Batat, the leader of the so-called Mukhtar Army, was arrested in Baghdad on Wednesday.

Al-Batat last year formed his Iranian-backed militia to protect Shiites from attacks by Sunni extremists. Earlier, he was a leader in Iraq's Hezbollah Brigades, which is not related to the better-known Lebanese Hezbollah.

Al-Batat claimed responsibility in November for firing six mortar shells at a region of Saudi Arabia bordering Iraq and Kuwait, describing it as retaliation for Saudi religious decrees that allegedly insult Shiites and encourage killing them.

He also claimed responsibility for attacks on a camp hosting an Iranian opposition group.