The Sunni and Shiite tribal leaders were seized from their cars Sunday in the Shiite district of Shaab in northern Baghdad while driving home to Diyala province after a meeting with the government to coordinate efforts in fighting al-Qaida in Iraq, according to police accounts. At least one of the Sunni sheiks was killed. The others remained missing.
The military, citing intelligence sources, said Arkan Hasnawi, a former brigade commander in the Mahdi Army militia, was responsible for the abductions.
Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in August ordered his Mahdi Army fighters to lay down their arms for up to six months, but thousands of followers dissatisfied with being taken out of the fight have broken off to form their own groups that the military says are being funded and armed by Iran to foment violence. Tehran denies the allegations.
The military said Hasnawi's actions clear demonstrate that he has violated the cease-fire order and "joined forces with Iranian-supported special groups that are rejecting Muqtada al-Sadr's direction to embrace fellow Iraqis."
"Arkan Hasnawi and his gang of criminals continue to intimidate and terrorize innocent Iraqi citizens, taking actions that mirror the tactics used by al-Qaida in Iraq," it said in a statement obtained by The Associated Press.
The military said it was working with the Iraqi government to secure the release of the sheiks.
Suspicion for the killing had fallen on al-Qaida in Iraq, which has waged a campaign against Sunni tribal leaders and officials who have joined forces with the U.S. military against the terror network.