BAGHDAD, Iraq – The U.S. military detained the son of one of America’s closest political allies in Iraq for several hours Friday, raising the ire of Shiite Muslim officials and straining delicate relations with Iraqi leadership. The American ambassador here quickly apologized for the incident.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military announced that three soldiers attached to American-led forces were killed in combat in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province Thursday, but released few details pending notification of relatives. At least 3,154 American troops have died in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, according to icasualties.org, a Web site that tracks casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Soldiers arrested Ammar al-Hakim and at least three of his bodyguards around noon as they crossed into Iraq from Iran about 80 miles southeast of Baghdad. His father, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, heads the largest Shiite voting bloc in the Iraqi parliament. The elder al-Hakim met with President Bush in December in Washington, D.C., and pledged to help end bloodshed in Iraq.
In a telephone interview with the Los Angeles Times, Ammar al-Hakim said troops arrested him because his passport was nearing expiration and they thought his identification picture did not match his appearance. He complained of being treated roughly at the hands of U.S. soldiers, including being blindfolded as he was transported to a military base and having his underwear searched once he arrived there.
“We supported the new Baghdad (security) plan and we hoped that it would succeed, but at the same time people’s dignity should respected,” al-Hakim said. He said the government would seek answers from the U.S. about how the incident was handled.
Al-Hakim was released after about seven hours, and U.S. officials rapidly began damage control efforts. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad appeared on Iraqi government television, saying that the U.S. was “sorry about the arrest” and meant no disrespect.
Al-Hakim’s father leads the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, the largest Shiite party in parliament.
Ammar al-Hakim heads the Shahid al-Mihrab Foundation, a charity affiliated with SCIRI that provides food and money to the foundation’s supporters.