Erbil, 16 March (AKI) - A Kurdish source in Baghdad has told a Kurdish national daily that the Mahdi Army, the militia of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, " has set up a shadow government in Sadr City in the centre of Baghdad". The source told the Aso daily: "this group was tasked with carrying out the affairs of the city in the place of the Iraqi government and institutions." The source explained that the Mahdi Army, accused of kidnappings and sectarian killings, has transformed the rundown Sadr city into an independent district with its security forces and its own courts which do not only judge local residents but also Shiites from other areas of the capital.

The source alleged that "the health and transport ministers, which both are headed by minsiters from the Sadr faction, have been completely monopolised by followers of this movement" adding that "in Sadr City the police forces, for example the local police, take their orders from Moqtada al-Sadr and not from the interior ministry."

The Cultural Network of Iraq, an internet site which publishes news on the Shiite community, has said that "the peoples courts in Sadr City have condemned to death terrorists who carried out massacres in the city."

The former government of Iyad Allawi and the movement of al-Sadr,. who has headed two lengthly revolts against the US-led coalition forces, clashed over these courts, which have special police forces and prisons. When the authorities in Baghdad tried to close them down and disband the militias they failed.

The power of Sadr's militia and his huge constituency of loyal Shiite voters have made him a growing force in Iraq.

Gunmen wearing the old Mahdi Army uniform of black pants and black shirts - abandoned for civilian gear in recent days - are blamed for some of the worst retaliatory raids and killings in Baghdad following the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra on 22 February.