- The Washington Times - Monday, May 30, 2005

BAGHDAD — The U.S. military mistakenly arrested the leader of Iraq’s top Sunni Muslim political party yesterday, threatening to exacerbate sectarian strains, while two suicide bombers killed about 30 police officers.

Northeast of Baghdad, an Iraqi military aircraft crashed during a mission with four Americans and one Iraqi on board, the U.S. military said. Details of their condition and the aircraft involved were not clear.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. military in Baghdad, Sgt. Kate Neuman, said the four Americans were military personnel.

U.S. fighter jets, meanwhile, destroyed insurgent strongholds near Syria’s border.

Mohsen Abdul-Hamid, head of Iraq’s largest Sunni Muslim party and a former president of the Iraqi Governing Council, was taken from his home in western Baghdad at about 6 a.m. by military forces, party officials said.

The U.S. military later said it had arrested him by mistake and released him after questioning, with his three sons and four guards.

“Coalition forces regret any inconvenience and acknowledge [Mr. Abdul-Hamid’s] cooperation in resolving this matter,” the U.S. military said.

The arrest came on the second day of Operation Lightning, an anti-insurgent offensive in Baghdad that Mr. Abdul-Hamid’s party opposes, fearing security forces will trample on the rights of the innocent.

The error could complicate efforts to entice Iraq’s once-dominant Sunni community back into the political fold. Sunnis are thought to be the main actors in an insurgency that has killed more than 760 people since a Shi’ite-dominated government was announced April 28.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari vowed yesterday that Operation Lightning would rid Baghdad of militants and, in particular, suicide car bombers.

“We needed to clean up some of our problem districts, and that’s why Operation Lightning was launched … to quickly come to the protection of civilians and stop the bloodshed,” Mr. al-Jaafari said at a press conference.

But renewed carnage south of the capital showed the difficulty of his job.

Two bombers blew themselves up outside the mayor’s office in Hillah, 60 miles south of Baghdad. The attackers waded into a crowd of 500 police officers staging an early morning protest of a government decision to disband their special forces unit.

Staggering the detonations by one minute and 100 yards to maximize the casualties, the bombers killed at least 27 police officers and wounded 118, said police Capt. Muthana Khalid Ali. The attack scattered body parts, blood and shards of glass across a wide area.

The Polish military, which controls the area, said about 30 Iraqis were killed.

The terror group Al Qaeda in Iraq issued an Internet statement that one of its members had carried out an attack “against a group of special Iraqi forces.”

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