BAGHDAD – Iraq freed a jailed Hezbollah commander wanted by the United States on Friday, his lawyer said, returning him to Lebanon in a move that underscores Washington’s waning influence in Baghdad since last December’s troop pullout.
The U.S. believes Ali Mussa Daqduq is a top threat to Americans in the Middle East, and had asked Baghdad to extradite him even before two Iraqi courts found him not guilty of masterminding a complex raid that left five American soldiers dead in 2007. But Iraq’s Shiite-led government, which is close to Hezbollah’s top patron Iran, refused to hand him over.
The move vastly complicates the Obama administration’s efforts to prosecute Daqduq, as Shiite Hezbollah dominates the Lebanese government and the U.S. has no extradition treaty with the country. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. was upset with the decision and had made its feelings known to the Iraqi government.
Washington believes Daqduq worked with Iranian agents to train Shiite militias to target the U.S. military during the years of sectarian violence that gripped Iraq over the last decade, and that he was behind the raid on a U.S. military base in the holy city of Karbala where the five soldiers were killed – four of them shot after being kidnapped.
U.S. forces held Daqduq for four years, handing him over to Iraqi authorities when American troops left Iraq.