An Iraqi government spokesman says security forces have arrested a controversial Shia 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.

Mr. al-Batat last year formed his Iranian-backed militia to protect Shias 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.

Mr. al-Batat claimed responsibility in November 2013 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 Shias and encourage killing them.

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