Deputy health minister arrested in U.S.-Iraqi raid


Feb 8, 2007

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. and Iraqi forces arrested the Iraqi deputy health minister Thursday morning in a raid on the Health Ministry complex in Baghdad, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said.

Deputy Health Minister Hakem Abbas al-Zamili is a senior member of the political group loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia has been blamed for much of the sectarian violence in Iraq.

Iraqi Health Minister Ali al-Shammari criticized the way forces seized his deputy, calling the raid a humiliating blow to the dignity of the ministry and to the official seized.

Al-Shammari said he should have been notified and that he would have cooperated. He said legal channels should have been followed, with the proper papers obtained from justice officials.

"We know that American people and their government respect the law. So they should respect the law here," al-Shammari said.

Without naming al-Zamili, a U.S. military statement said Iraqi army forces had captured a senior Health Ministry official.

He is suspected of being a central figure in alleged corruption and the Mehdi Army's infiltration of the ministry, according to the U.S. statement.

"The suspect is implicated in the deaths of several [Ministry of Health] officials," the statement said. "He is reported to openly intimidate and threaten [Ministry of Health] officials who disagree with and question his actions."

The statement accused the official of orchestrating kickback schemes to funnel money to al-Sadr's Mehdi Army and members of the militia.

The American and Iraqi armies are trying to stabilize the war-torn Iraqi capital under a new Baghdad security plan.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has touted the retooled Baghdad security plan, repeatedly vowing to go after any entity that foments violence, including al-Sadr's militia.

Some observers have questioned whether al-Maliki has the political will to take on the Mehdi Army, thought to be behind much of Iraq's violence between Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias. Al-Sadr helped al-Maliki become prime minister last year.

Al-Shammari said the prime minister told him he didn't know anything about Thursday's raid on the Health Ministry and he didn't order anyone to carry it out. He said al-Maliki told him he'd get back to him about what happened.

Al-Shammari said he also approached Iraqi defense and interior officials, who reportedly weren't aware of the incident either.

The deputy health minister is the second high-profile Sadrist arrested in less than a month. The head of al-Sadr's media office, Abdul Hadi Darraji, was detained January 19 in Baghdad.

On Sunday, Iraqi soldiers killed a Mehdi Army official during a raid in Diyala province, north of Baghdad. Ali Kadhim al-Hamadani was the head of al-Sadr's office in Diyala. He was killed inside his home in al-Huwayder.

Car bombs, gunmen kill at least 90

Insurgent attacks killed at least 90 people in Iraq on Thursday, authorities in Iraq told CNN.

A police action and a coalition airstrike killed 16 insurgents, the authorities said.

In Aziziya, about 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, a car bomb exploded in a meat market, killing at least 20 people and wounding 45, an Interior Ministry official told CNN.

Outside of Balad, about 50 miles northeast of Baghdad, at least 10 gunmen broke into two neighboring houses and killed 14 men after separating them from the women and children, according to officials with the Salaheddin joint coordination center. A 15th man was in critical condition.

In Baghdad, seven people were killed and 16 were wounded when a car bomb exploded outside a mosque in the capital's southeastern Amin neighborhood Thursday morning, police said.

Police said gunmen attacked an Iraqi army checkpoint with small arms fire and hand grenades in central Baghdad. Two Iraqi soldiers were killed and three were wounded.

In addition, 25 bodies were found across the capital Thursday, according to police. Another 10 were found in Mosul, hospital officials said.

South of Baghdad, seven people were killed and 10 were wounded Thursday evening when three mortar rounds struck a residential area in Iskandariya.

Farther north in the Diyala provincial capital of Baquba, four police officers and a bystander were killed when gunmen attacked a police patrol, police said.

Police in Baquba said they ambushed and killed three snipers said to be involved in killing Iraqi security forces and civilians from Baquba building roofs.

Elsewhere, 13 insurgents were killed in a coalition airstrike "targeting a senior foreign fighter facilitator northeast of Amiriya," the U.S. military said. A U.S. military spokeswoman said the area is south of Falluja.

Troops seized "five suspected terrorists" and discovered "a cache including armor piercing ammunition."

The U.S. military said Thursday that four Marines were killed in two separate incidents the day before in Anbar province, west of Baghdad.

The deaths resulted from wounds "sustained due to enemy action." The U.S. military death toll in the Iraq war stands at 3,107. Seven Defense Department civilian workers also have died.

Sixth copter crash probed

The U.S. military is investigating the circumstances surrounding a civilian helicopter that went down January 31, making it the sixth helicopter incident in less than three weeks, a U.S. Embassy spokesman said Thursday.

No further details of the incident were given.

The New York Times, quoting American officials, reported that ground fire forced down a private security helicopter flying in support of State Department operations between Baghdad and Hilla. The Times said another American helicopter rescued all the passengers and crew.

A similar investigation was launched Wednesday after a Marine Sea Knight CH-46 helicopter went down in Anbar province earlier in the day during "routine operations," killing all seven on board.

The U.S. military said Thursday that the seven were all military personnel -- five Marines and two sailors.

An umbrella insurgent group claimed responsibility for downing the CH-46 helicopter and "burning it down completely," according to a claim posted on various Islamist Web sites.

CNN was unable to confirm the authenticity of the statement from the group, which includes al Qaeda in Iraq.

Four other U.S. helicopters -- three military and one civilian -- were shot down in Iraq between January 20 and last Friday, raising concerns that insurgents are becoming more proficient at downing the aircraft.

Sixteen U.S. troops died in the three military helicopter crashes, and five employees of the Blackwater private security company were killed when their helicopter came under heavy fire January 23 in eastern Baghdad.