BAGHDAD — U.S. forces have arrested a deputy of Ahmad Chalabi, who was once the Bush administration's favorite Iraqi politician, and implicated him in bombings that killed Americans and Iraqis, Chalabi and Iraqi government officials said Thursday.
The U.S. military alleged that the arrested official was working with the "highest echelons" of the Iranian "special groups" criminals, referring to what the U.S. military says are Iranian-backed militias operating in Iraq.
Ali Faisal al Lami, a Shiite Muslim official and a member of the Sadrist Party who's serving as an executive of the Justice and Accountability Committee, which Chalabi heads, was arrested Wednesday at Baghdad International Airport as he returned from a family vacation in Lebanon, Iraqi officials said. The Justice and Accountability Committee screens former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party who are applying for jobs in the government.
The American military doesn't release the names of those it detains. Maj. John C. Hall, a U.S. spokesman in Baghdad said the arrested man was implicated in "multiple criminal acts including bombings and attacks against Iraqi targets" including the bombing June 24 of the Sadr City District Advisory Council meeting, which killed six Iraqis, two American soldiers and two U.S. civilians.
The blast ripped through the municipal building just before elections for a chairman of the advisory council in a neighborhood that's mostly controlled by supporters of renegade Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr. It was thought to have targeted Hassan Shamma, the leading candidate for the office.
"If it's right that they've arrested the man who was in charge, I will sue him," said Shamma, who was wounded in the bombing but has since been elected and taken office.
Chalabi condemned the arrest Thursday night. "This incident shows the need for an end to the random arrest of Iraqis by the American forces, which are against the human rights outlined in the constitution. It proves for a fact that each Iraqi might be arrested or put in prison without knowing the reasons," he said in a news release. He couldn't be reached for further comment.
Sadrist Party politicians also were critical of the arrest, charging that it would give Saddam's followers better access to the government. "It is a message for the Baathists to go on in their wrongdoings," said Bahaa al Araji, a Sadrist member of parliament. "This guy was doing his job perfectly. . . . He's served his country by all his efforts since 2003."
Chalabi once had an enormous following among conservatives in Congress and the Bush administration. Vice President Dick Cheney and the Pentagon touted him as a potential head of state in Iraq and used intelligence from his exile group, the Iraqi National Congress, to build the case for invading Iraq. However, much of that information was found to be bogus. U.S. military and diplomats curtailed contact with Chalabi in May at Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's request.
At the time, American military and intelligence officials said that Chalabi was close to Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' elite Quds Force, who helped arrange the recent cease-fire between Iraqi forces and Sadr's militia in Basra.
The first decree of the U.S. occupying government in 2003 disbanded the Baath Party, purging its members from the Iraqi government and administration.
Hundreds of thousands of party members, most of them low-ranking, were barred from their jobs. The Justice and Accountability Committee reinstated most of them as soon as it began its work in 2004, but it's moved slowly to reinstate higher-ranking former members, and many Sunni Muslims say its work is biased against them.
(Spangler reports for The Miami Herald. Kadhim is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
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