BAGHDAD – The U.S. military said Wednesday it was holding the administrator of a psychiatric hospital on suspicion he may have helped insurgents find mentally disabled women to carry bombs that devastated two markets earlier this month.
The blasts Feb. 1, which Iraqi officials said killed 99 people, marked the worst violence to hit Baghdad since a buildup of U.S. troops was completed last July. The day after the attacks, U.S. and Iraqi officials showed photographs of the heads of two women, who they said had been used to unwittingly carry explosives that were detonated by remote control.
According to military officials, both women were mentally disabled and unaware of what they were doing.
At a news conference, U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Greg Smith said U.S. forces detained the man Sunday at the al-Rashad psychiatric hospital “in connection with the possible exploitation of mentally impaired women” by insurgents from al-Qaida in Iraq.
Smith said the hospital administrator was being questioned to determine if he had provided information to al-Qaida in Iraq about patients at al-Rashad or other medical facilities.
He did not name the administrator, but a hospital worker, and a spokesman for the Ministry of Health, identified him as Sahi Aboob al-Maliki. They, and Smith, said al-Maliki had only worked at the hospital for a couple of weeks.
The hospital worker and a Sadr City pharmacist who knows al-Maliki expressed surprise that he would be suspected of involvement in insurgent activity.
The pharmacist, Mohammed Ali Khadem, described al-Maliki as a popular doctor who had run a private clinic near Sadr City for more than 10 years.
“He has a calm personality, and throughout the years he has built a very good reputation for himself here in Sadr City,” said Khadem, adding that al-Maliki was not known to be politically active.
Al-Maliki was described as both a pediatrician and a psychiatrist by Iraqi health officials. His specialty remained unclear.
At the al-Rashad facility, the hospital worker, who asked not to be named, said U.S. forces raided al-Rashad at about 1:30 p.m. local time Sunday, rifling through cabinets and offices and leaving at about 4 p.m. with the doctor. Since then, he said, U.S. forces had returned several times. The employee estimated al-Maliki is in his mid-50s.