BAGHDAD — The Iraqi paramilitary unit that stormed a government complex in Iraq's Diyala province earlier this week usually is directed by the prime minister's office, but was acting without its orders in this case, the Iraqi government said Friday.
Abdul Karim Khalaf, an Interior Ministry spokesman who's serving as the interim commander of police in Diyala, described the emergency response unit as a counterterrorism force that's nominally under Interior oversight but with its own chain of command. The name of its leader and the size of its force are classified, he said.
A spokesman for the Iraqi Islamic Party challenged the assertion that the unit was acting without orders, days after a prominent member was arrested in one of the raids. "We believe that such a raid could not have taken place unless Mr. Maliki had at least prior knowledge of it," said Dr. Salim Abdullah al Juboori, referring to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki.
At least 30 ERU's are operating in Iraq, according to D.J. Elliott of the Long War Journal Web site, with some elements trained by U.S. Special Operations Forces.
The unit that conducted Tuesday's raids usually is based in Baghdad but has been operating in Diyala since late July, according to a Defense Ministry spokesman, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
During the raids, unit forces killed the governor's secretary and got into a gunfight with local police.
Some of those who participated in or planned the raid have been arrested, Khalaf said. He wouldn't say whom, but he faulted the commander of the unit that conducted the raid. "He didn't inform the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defense about this raid," he said.
The unit on Tuesday arrested the head of the provincial council's security committee and the president of the local university, charging both under Iraq's broad anti-terrorism law. Both men are Sunni Muslims, and the security committee head was the liaison between the Iraqi security forces and the Sons of Iraq, the largely Sunni groups whom the U.S. pays to fight the al Qaida in Iraq group. The two remain in custody.
Some members of the Sons of Iraq say they've been unjustly targeted in recent weeks by a massive military and police operation in the province.
The Shiite Muslim-dominated Iraqi government says it's clearing Diyala of insurgents, but some outside the ruling coalition see politics.
"All of these operations — Basra, Amara, Mosul — have political dimensions that are unannounced," Jaboori said. "We believe it is to give Prime Minister Maliki a foothold and standing in these provinces."
(Spangler reports for The Miami Herald.)
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