Iraq's No. 2 Health Official Is Held And Accused Of Financing Shiite Militants

Iraq's No. 2 Health Official Is Held And Accused Of Financing Shiite Militants
February 9th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Iraq's No. 2 Health Official Is Held And Accused Of Financing Shiite Militants

Iraq's No. 2 Health Official Is Held And Accused Of Financing Shiite Militants
New York Times
February 9, 2007
Pg. 8
By Damien Cave
BAGHDAD, Feb. 8 — Iraqi and American troops arrested the second highest official in the Iraqi Health Ministry on Thursday, charging that he funneled millions of dollars to rogue Shiite militants who kidnapped and killed Iraqi civilians.
The United States military said in a statement that the official was suspected of using his position to run a rogue unit of the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia that claims loyalty to the cleric Moktada al-Sadr. The statement accused the official of flooding the Health Ministry’s payroll with militants, embezzling American money meant to pay for Iraq’s overworked medical system and using Health Ministry “facilities and services for sectarian kidnapping and murder.”
The military’s statement did not identify the official, but several Iraqi government officials said he was Deputy Health Minister Hakim al-Zamili, a Shiite with longstanding ties to the Sadr organization. An Interior Ministry official said the authorities in recent weeks had come to believe that Mr. Zamili was using government ambulances to ferry weapons and militants across Sadr City, hiding them from American raids.
Mr. Zamili’s detainment was the latest of several high-profile arrests or killings of commanders from the Mahdi Army in recent weeks. He was the fifth Iraqi deputy or cabinet level official to be arrested and charged with corruption since 2003, according to Iraq’s Commission on Public Integrity, and the first known example of a senior Iraqi official charged with directly contributing to the country’s convulsive sectarian violence.
He was arrested as new Iraqi Army and police checkpoints appeared all over Baghdad as part of the new security plan for the city. Though it was unclear whether Mr. Zamili’s arrest was part of the new plan, it underscored the challenge that American troops faced as they tried to secure the capital while relying on an Iraqi government with questionable loyalties.
The Health Ministry is one of six ministries controlled by officials affiliated with Mr. Sadr. And even as Iraqi hospital officials complain of medicine and equipment shortages, the ministry has often been the site of dramatic kidnappings and killings.
In November, Mr. Zamili’s predecessor, Ammar al-Saffar, a Shiite, was kidnapped by at least 24 gunmen wearing the uniforms of Interior Ministry policemen. Though he was abducted in a Sunni neighborhood, there were questions at the time about whether he had been removed by Shiite rivals.
Neither American nor Iraqi officials connected Mr. Zamili to Mr. Saffar’s kidnapping, but the American statement said the arrested official was implicated in the deaths of several Health Ministry officials, including a director general in Diyala Province.
Though the statement from the American military said Iraqi forces had made the arrest, witnesses said American Humvees flooded the ministry building about 9 a.m., firing warning shots into the air and breaking windows before seizing Mr. Zamili, several guards and important paperwork in his office.
Shiite officials said Mr. Zamili’s arrest was an affront to Iraqi sovereignty. The health minister, Ali al-Shammari, called the arrest an abduction and demanded proof to support the charges against his deputy.
Bahar al-Araji, one of 30 members of the Sadr bloc in Parliament, said American troops should have sought permission to search the ministry from the prime minister or an Iraqi court.
“This is not an attack on the Sadr organization,” he said. “It’s an attack on the Iraqi government.”
His comments suggested that the Sadr organization planned to stand by its stated policy of refusing to outwardly fight American and Iraqi troops as the security plan moves through Baghdad. In recent weeks, Sadr officials have repeatedly sought to show that the Mahdi Army is only a defensive organization that aims to protect Shiite residents from Sunni attacks.
The American military also said in a statement that an airstrike in Anbar Province on two suspected safe houses for foreign fighters killed 13 insurgents. But witnesses said the airstrike flattened four houses, killing at least 35 people, including women and children. There was no immediate way to confirm either claim.
Witnesses said the site of the airstrike, a mostly Sunni Arab area northeast of Amiriya, near Falluja, had been the site of vicious battles between fighters with Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and local tribes. One tribal leader said the clashes started because Al Qaeda wanted tribal leaders to join its fight, and they refused.
Violence also continued to rage near the capital, with news agencies reporting that gunmen killed 14 men from the same Sunni family just north of Baghdad.
The United States military announced that four marines were killed Wednesday in separate episodes in Anbar Province. Seven other people were killed the same day when a Marine transport helicopter crashed in an insurgent-heavy region northwest of Baghdad.
And in what appeared to be a rare case of cross-sectarian solidarity, the police in Diyala Province said a family of 25 Shiites — moving from a Sunni area after receiving death threats — was saved from death on Thursday when their Sunni neighbors repelled an insurgent ambush. Iraqi security forces were called in to help, and continued the battle, killing six gunmen.
Reporting was contributed by Ahmad Fadam, Wisam A. Habeeb, Hosham Hussein, Khalid al-Ansary and Qais Mizher.

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