The group which freed the soldiers on Monday had threatened to kill the captives unless an aide to Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr was released.

 

On Sunday, Aljazeera showed a video from the captors standing near a group of uniformed men it had seized, apparently from Iraq's National Guard.

   

The captors were demanding the release of al-Sadr aide Hazim al-Aaraji, a Shia cleric, within 48 hours or they would kill their captives.

 

Condemnation

   

In an interview with Aljazeera, a senior aide to al-Sadr, Shaikh Ali Smaisim earlier on Monday denounced the capture of the guardsmen and called for their release.

 

"There is a conspiracy being set up against all movements that oppose the 'occupation' forces"

Shaikh Ali Smaisim,
aide, Muqtada al-Sadr

"I condemn this action despite the assassinations, arrests, raids, and abductions carried out by the 'occupation' forces against al-Sadr movement and all other national and political forces that oppose the 'occupier'," he said. 

 

"There is a conspiracy being set up against all movements that oppose the 'occupation' forces," Smaisim said. "Their members get arrested, assassinated or kidnapped," he added. 

   

Al-Sadr supporters in Baghdad said US forces had arrested al-Aaraji in a raid in the Iraqi capital.

   

Al-Sadr's supporters have launched two uprisings this year in Najaf and fought battles with government and US-led forces in Baghdad.