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US troops detain Iraq’s Sunni leader in error

May 31, 2005

BAGHDAD, May 30: US forces in Baghdad admitted an embarrassing mistake on Monday when they released Sunni leader Mohsen Abdel Hamid after detaining him during a morning raid on his home. The incident sparked a sharp reaction from Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani, while the government was also angry about the wrongful arrest of a senior leader at a time when it is bidding to integrate Sunnis into political life.

“This morning coalition forces detained and interviewed Mohsen Abdel Hamid. Following the interview it was determined that he was detained by mistake and should be released,” a statement issued by the US military said.

“Coalition forces regret any inconvenience and acknowledge Mr Hamid’s cooperation in resolving this matter.” The leader of the Islamic Party had been hooded and taken from his home along with his three sons before dawn by US troops, according to senior party official Alaa Makki. No reason was given for the detention.

But the fate of his sons remained unclear.

“They have told me my sons have been freed but I have yet to see them,” Mr Hamid told journalists at his home.

Following the US statement, Prime Minister Ibrahim al Jaafari’s cabinet issued a statement which said: “The Iraqi government welcomes the news of Abdel Hamid’s release and stresses its deep concern about the detention of senior political figures who support the political process and Sunni participation in it.”

“The government will try to establish who was behind this detention and condemns those who try to sow discord between the Iraqi people ... and who seek to exclude Sunnis from the political process.”

President Jalal Talabani’s office had earlier condemned the detention in a statement and pressed for Mr Hamid’s release. President Talabani expressed surprise at the action ‘and called for his immediate release’, said a statement.

“The Presidential Council has not been consulted ... and feels that treating a political personality of this level in such an arbitrary way is unacceptable.”

Mr Hamid had a hood pushed over his head and was taken away after US troops broke windows in his home, Mr Makki said. A party statement issued later said: “American leaders claim to seek Sunni participation in the political process, but use searches, arrests and violations of human rights to reach that goal.”

All the more surprising, Mr Makki added, was that the action came a day after Iraqi government spokesman Leith Kubba had welcomed a statement by the Sunni party against violence threatening the country’s fledgling democracy and social fabric. The statement had also warned the government against transforming security forces into an instrument of repression. —AFP