Ernesto Londono & Zaid Sabah / Washington Post – 2009-04-27 22:54:17
BAGHDAD (April 27, 2009) — Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Sunday denounced a predawn American raid in southern Iraq during which two Iraqis were killed, saying his government intends to prosecute US soldiers who carried out the operation.
The incident marked the first time Iraq’s government has called for the prosecution of US soldiers, setting the stage for a showdown between the two countries at a time when sectarian violence appears to be spiking.
Since the implementation this year of a bilateral security agreement, US forces have been barred from conducting unilateral operations and can no longer detain Iraqis for long periods. The agreement says American forces can be prosecuted in Iraqi courtrooms for grave, premeditated crimes committed off base and off duty – criteria that US officials have said effectively means American soldiers will never face Iraqi justice.
But the language of the agreement is vague, which could make this a test case. If that happens, it may become an irritant in US-Iraqi relations and could exacerbate hostility toward US soldiers at a time when extremists are vowing to step up attacks against US troops in Iraq.
In a statement issued by the Iraqi government’s Baghdad security command, which reports to the prime minister, al-Maliki called the raid “a violation of the security agreement.” He demanded the immediate release of the six men US forces took into custody after the raid and said he would ask the top US commander in Iraq to “send those who carried out this action to the judiciary.”
Efforts were quickly launched in an attempt to tone down the dispute. The six detainees were released, said Major Gen. Read Shakir Jawdat, head of the provincial police that includes Kut. At the same news conference, US Col. Richard Francey offered condolences to the family of a woman killed in the raid.
The US military earlier in the day said the raid had been “fully coordinated and approved” by the Iraqi government. A US military spokesman would not say who in the Iraqi government approved the raid or whether Iraqi security forces were present.
The raid targeted Shiite militiamen who belong to an elite unit created by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to carry out attacks against US forces, the US military said.
Hours after the raid, as protesters gathered in downtown Kut, which is 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, the Iraqi Defense Ministry announced it had detained two top Iraqi military officials in Wasit province for authorizing the American raid without obtaining approval from their commanders.
The raid began at approximately 1:30 a.m., when US convoys pulled up outside the house of Capt. Muaamer Abid Naama al-Bidyree, who is assigned to the Interior Ministry’s internal affairs office, relatives said. Bidyree was not home at the time, they said. While American soldiers were searching the house, which is split up into several apartments occupied by members of an extended family, Bidyree’s wife began screaming.
“The wife was alone in the house,” said Um Amar, 50, a relative who lives there. “She started yelling: ‘Americans, Americans!’ ”
2 people shot
Bidyree’s brother Khalid, who was armed, and one of Bidyree’s sisters-in-law, Nedal Abolabas, then headed toward Bidyree’s residence. US soldiers fired, striking Khalid in the head, and Abolabas in the chest, Um Amar said.
In a statement, the US military said soldiers opened fire on a man because “forces assessed him to be hostile.” The woman, the statement said, “moved into the line of fire and was also struck by gunfire.” The military said soldiers suspected that members of the Promise Day Brigades, the elite Sadr militia, were in the house.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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