Iraq PM orders probe into mass poisoning of police

Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered an investigation on Monday into a case of food poisoning that left hundreds of policemen ill.

It was not clear if the poisoning of at least 350 police was deliberate, but police sources said they arrested four cooks suspected of tampering with food at the Iraqi military base in Numaniya, about 120km south-east of Baghdad.

“The [prime minister] has ordered the formation of a committee to investigate why members of the police force were poisoned,” Maliki’s office said.

Iraq’s Health Ministry said on Monday an early investigation into the Numaniya poisoning showed a chemical substance was used that caused difficulty in breathing and severe pain in limbs. They said 17 people had seizures after they broke their fast on Sunday evening.

A military spokesperson denied reports of fatalities.

“Only 350 to 400 people were poisoned, they were given medical treatment instantly and four were taken to a nearby hospital and everyone has returned to normal,” spokesperson Brigadier Qasim al-Musawi told a news conference.

However, Lieutenant-Colonel Hasan Nima at the base said the policemen, from the Interior Ministry’s 4th division, became ill only minutes after the meal and insisted at least 1 350 of the 2 000 policemen at the base were hospitalised.

Other police sources at the base said seven people had died.

In Baghdad, gunmen in camouflage uniforms killed Amer al- Hashemi, the brother of Iraq’s Sunni Vice-President Tareq al- Hashemi, when they stormed his home at dawn, police and sources in Hashemi’s Islamic Party said.

Hashemi, a Sunni Arab, was also senior adviser in the Defence Ministry.

Amer al-Hashemi, a lieutenant-general in the Iraqi army, was at home in northern Baghdad’s Sulaikh neighbourhood when gunmen killed him and kidnapped his guards, the Islamic Party said.

Parliament opened on Monday with condemnations of Hashemi’s killing from all of the major political blocs. A statement from Maliki also condemned the murder.

“The security forces will pursue the killers and will capture them to bring them to justice so they get the punishment they deserve,” the prime minister said in a statement.

Hashemi becomes the third sibling of the Sunni Vice-President to be murdered this year.

Insurgent and communal violence claim about 100 lives everyday in Iraq.
- Reuters

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