- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 10, 2006

BAGHDAD — A nephew of Saddam Hussein serving a life sentence for financing insurgents and possessing bombs escaped from prison yesterday in northern Iraq with the help of a police officer, authorities said.

Sectarian attacks killed at least 20 persons, including five who died in a suicide car bombing outside a Shi’ite shrine in Karbala, police said. Officers also found 39 bullet-riddled bodies in Baghdad that apparently were victims of revenge killings by Sunni Arabs and Shi’ites.

Also yesterday, outgoing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld flew to Iraq, a Pentagon spokesman said in Washington.

“He’s there to express his appreciation to the troops and to thank both the troops and their families for the sacrifices they are making,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Todd Vician, a Defense Department spokesman.

It was Mr. Rumsfeld’s 15th trip to Iraq since the war began; he was last there in July.

The escape by Saddam’s nephew underlined one of the problems facing the U.S. military as it tries to train enough Iraqi security personnel so U.S. troops can go home: the ability of Sunni Arab insurgents and Shi’ite militiamen to infiltrate Iraqi police forces.

Ayman Sabawi, son of Saddam’s half brother Sabawi Ibrahim Hassan al-Tikriti, escaped from a prison 45 miles west of the northern city of Mosul in the afternoon with the help of a policeman, said a local police commander, Brig. Abdul Karim al-Jubouri.

Brig. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, an Interior Ministry spokesman, confirmed the escape but declined to discuss details.

Sabawi, whom U.S. and Iraqi forces arrested in May 2005 near Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad, was convicted of illegally crossing the border from Syria and sentenced to 15 years in prison late last year in Iraqi court.

He was sentenced to life in prison in an earlier case for possession of illegal weapons and the manufacture of bombs.

He “played a particularly active role in sustaining the terrorism by providing financial support, weapons and explosives to terrorist groups,” Iraq’s government said.

In July 2005, the United States froze Sabawi’s assets along with those of five other Saddam nephews, accusing them of providing funds to Iraq’s Sunni Arab-dominated insurgency.

Sabawi’s father was captured in February 2005. Formerly the head of Saddam’s intelligence service, al-Tikriti was No. 36 on a U.S. list of the 55 most-wanted members of Saddam’s ousted regime.

The suicide bomb attack occurred near the Al-Abbas shrine in Karbala, a Shi’ite holy city 50 miles south of Baghdad.

The shrine’s golden dome and minarets did not appear damaged in video shown on Iraqi state television, but the blast set many parked cars on fire in a nearby street. Two men with bloody faces could be seen running through heavy black smoke past the body of another victim.

A main goal of Sunni Arab insurgent groups such as al Qaeda in Iraq has been to spark sectarian violence by attacking sites revered by the country’s Shi’ite majority.

In Baghdad, some of the worst violence was in a Sunni pocket of Hurriyah, a mixed neighborhood.

Witnesses said Shi’ite militiamen entered the area after Sunnis warned the few Shi’ites living there to leave or be killed. Heavy fire from machine guns erupted and three columns of black smoke rose into the sky, the witnesses said on the condition of anonymity out of concern for their own safety.

Mohamed al-Askeri, a Defense Ministry spokesman, said some people were chased from their homes, but Iraqi security forces drove off the attackers, handed out food to displaced people and persuaded most to return to their homes, but “others are still frightened.”

Adnan al-Dulaimi, who heads a large Sunni bloc in parliament, went on a Sunni-run TV station to demand protection for the district’s Sunnis. “We appeal to the government and U.S. forces to rescue Sunni families in Hurriyah who are facing killings and displacement by militias.”

The U.S. military, meanwhile, announced that two Marines were killed in combat in Anbar province, raising to 42 the number of U.S. troops who have died in Iraq this month. At least 2,930 have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003.

Iraq’s influential Association of Muslim Scholars and the country’s largest Sunni Arab political party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, yesterday condemned a deadly U.S. military attack the previous day in al-Ishaqi village in volatile Salahuddin province.

The U.S. command said a ground raid and air strike killed 20 insurgents, but local officials reported that at least 19 civilians, including seven women and eight children, had died.

About 1,000 residents of the predominantly Sunni village of al-Ishaqi held a funeral for the 19 dead yesterday, shouting, “Down with the occupiers,” “Long live the resistance” and “There is no God but Allah.”

Last spring, a U.S. investigation cleared American soldiers of misconduct during a March 15 raid in al-Ishaqi in which Air Force planes destroyed a building thought to be hiding insurgents. Villagers said soldiers killed 11 civilians before ordering the air strike.

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