News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqSon of key Iraq Shiite arrested at Iran’s border

Son of key Iraq Shiite arrested at Iran’s border

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New York Times: The eldest son of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, perhaps the most powerful political leader in Iraq and the head of the dominant Shiite political bloc, was detained by American forces for several hours on Friday after traveling across the border from Iran into Iraq. The New York Times

By RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr.
Published: February 23, 2007

BAGHDAD, Feb. 23 — The eldest son of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, perhaps the most powerful political leader in Iraq and the head of the dominant Shiite political bloc, was detained by American forces for several hours on Friday after traveling across the border from Iran into Iraq.

Angry advisors to Mr. Hakim denounced the detention as an insult and said American forces had beaten several guards after stopping the convoy on Friday. The son, Amar Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, is himself a senior official in Mr. Hakim’s political movement and has often taken a lead role in building support for his father’s political efforts.

An American military official declined to comment on the beating allegations, but said in an interview Friday night that the son had been detained because he had an expired passport and because he was traveling with people who had a large number of guns.

In an interview after his release at the provincial governor’s office in Kut, Amar al-Hakim showed a passport that had an expiration date of Sept. 17, 2007. Mr. Hakim said the Americans detained him a few miles from the Iranian border shortly before noon on Friday.

“They arrested me and my guards in an unsuitable way, and they bound my hands and blindfolded me,” he said. “They took our phones, bags, money, documents and the guards’ weapons, and sent us to an American base.”

“They claim the reason for the arrest was because my passport had expired,” he said, “but as you can see my passport expires on the 17th of September.”

The detention comes at a very delicate moment in the relationship between American occupation officials and Mr. Hakim’s party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or Sciri, which has strong ties to Iran. American officials have increasingly accused Iran of fomenting violence in Iraq and supplying Shiite insurgents with the deadliest munitions employed against the American military’s armored vehicles.

Mr. Hakim met in Washington with President Bush late last year, but just weeks after the meeting American forces raided the Hakim compound in Baghdad and detained two Iranians, including one identified as a senior official of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

A senior advisor to Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Haitham al-Husseini, described the son as being in his mid-30s and said he was considered an heir to his father’s political dynasty. Mr. Hakim also has a younger son, Moshin, who serves as a political adviser. Mr. Husseini said American forces beat some of the Hakim guards who were detained on Friday. An American military official declined to comment.

Mr. Husseini also said that American military officers had contacted aides to Mr. Hakim and had apologized for the detention, and some reports quoted the American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, as saying he was “sorry” that Mr. Hakim was detained.

A spokesman for the American embassy in Baghdad, Lou Fintor, said he did not know whether an apology had been issued. But he said that American forces were investigating.

“We’re trying to determine the facts,” Mr. Fintor said. “What I can tell you is that at this point we understand that Mr. Hakim was arrested by soldiers who were doing their duty. He was not singled out, and we understand the soldiers were following standard procedure since the border was closed. Once the facts of the situation were determined, Mr. Hakim was released.”

The detention led to a large demonstration in front of the offices of Mr. Hakim’s Sciri party in Basra by a crowd protesting Mr. Hakim’s treatment. A senior Sciri party official in Najaf, Sadr Al-Din Al-Qubanchi, called for a demonstration in Najaf. “This will shake the stability, and it’s an insult to the Iraqi Shiite alliance and its leadership,” he said.

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