/ 29 June 2008

US faces Iraqi anger over raid near Kerbala

The United States military faced Iraqi anger on Sunday over a raid near the holy Shi’ite city of Kerbala in which a distant relative of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was killed.

Iraqi leaders in Kerbala said the pre-dawn raid on Friday should have been approved by local authorities since security for the area was handed to Iraqi forces last year. The US military has not responded to questions about the incident.

The incident comes at a sensitive time for Washington, which is negotiating a new security pact with Baghdad to provide a legal basis for American troops to stay in Iraq after a United Nations mandate expires on December 31.

One of the main sticking points in negotiations has been whether the US military could conduct operations and detain suspects without Iraqi approval.

”This action was barbaric and a violation of Iraqi sovereignty. … Iraqi forces in the local government were not aware of it,” Aqeel al-Khazali, the governor of Kerbala province, told a news conference on Saturday.

The Kerbala provincial council said it would stop working with US forces in response to the incident.

Provincial police chief Major-General Raad Shakir said US helicopters landed in the al-Hindiya district, just east of the city of Kerbala, during the raid. One person was killed and another detained, he said.

A senior official who declined to be identified said the dead man was a distant relative of Maliki. The prime minister comes from the al-Hindiya district, about 80km south of Baghdad.

Sadeq al-Rikabi, Maliki’s political adviser, said the dead man had heard movement outside his house and came out with a gun to investigate. US troops shot him dead, Rikabi said.

”There are some circumstances that need to be clarified. The US military has arrested a suspect and killed another person who has no relation to the case,” Rikabi told Reuters.

The US military handed security control of Kerbala province to Iraq in October. It is one of nine of Iraq’s 18 provinces where Iraqi forces are now responsible for security.

Iraq to take control in Qadisiya
Officials said Iraq would take control of security in another southern Shi’ite province, Qadisiya, on Monday.

The head of the Qadisiya provincial council security committee, Hussain al-Budairi, said a curfew would be imposed from this evening ahead of the handover ceremony.

The US military is also expected to transfer security in Sunni Arab Anbar province in the coming week. That handover was supposed to take place on Saturday, but was delayed because forecast bad weather would have prevented officials flying in.

Anbar will be the first Sunni Arab province to come under Iraqi security control. All others have been Shi’ite or Kurdish.

The new security pact being negotiated by Iraqi and US officials has come under intense scrutiny.

Maliki said on June 13 that talks on the agreement were deadlocked, partly because Baghdad objected to giving US forces freedom to detain Iraqis or to conduct operations independent of Iraqi control.

Since then, officials say Washington has agreed to set up joint bodies to vet planned US security operations.

A week after his criticism of the negotiations, Maliki and President George Bush spoke via a video conference call and the White House said the two agreed talks were proceeding well.

The ”status of forces” security agreement is similar to pacts the United States has with many other countries, setting out rules for US military activity.

Besides the pact, the two countries are negotiating a long-term agreement on political, economic and security ties.

In other violence, a suicide car bomber killed seven policemen and wounded three in an attack on a patrol in northern Iraq’s Salahuddin province, police said. The explosion took place in Dhuluiya, 70km north of Baghdad. – Reuters