BAGHDAD — An Iraqi court has rejected a request to send a terror commander to the United States for trial, a decision that apparently ends the Obama administration's efforts to prosecute the Lebanese Hezbollah figure held in Iraq for the 2007 killings of five American soldiers.
The U.S. believes Ali Mussa Daqduq is a top threat to Americans in the Mideast, and had asked Baghdad to extradite him even before two Iraqi courts found him not guilty of masterminding the 2007 raid on a U.S. military base in the Shiite city of Karbala.
But Monday's decision by the Iraqi central criminal court, a copy of which was obtained by the Associated Press, ordered that the prisoner be freed immediately. It also makes it clear that Iraq believes the legal case against Hezbollah commander is over.
"It is not possible to hand him over because the charges were dropped in the same case," the three-judge panel ruled. "Therefore, the court decided to reject the request to hand over the Lebanese defendant Ali Mussa Daqduq to the U.S. judiciary authorities and to release him immediately."
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad declined to comment Thursday and referred questions about the case to Washington.
In an AP interview last month, the national security adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden said the White House also has asked Iraq's highest appeals court to review and overturn its June 25 release order.
It was not immediately clear Thursday whether that review was continuing.
The militant's lawyer, Abdul-Mahdi al-Mitairi, said his client is still being held under house arrest in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone. But he said he will push to have him released before the end of Ramadan, the ongoing holy Muslim month that ends later in August.
Washington believes the Lebanese-born militant worked with Iranian agents to train Shiite militias to target the U.S. military during the years of sectarian violence that gripped Iraq over the last decade.
This case has illustrated the tricky aftermath of the long U.S. military campaign in Iraq that ended last year and has elements of both Iraqi and U.S. internal politics.
The detainee was held for more than four years by the U.S. military before it left Iraq in December. He was handed over to Iraqi authorities as required when the troops left, and amid a debate between the Democratic White House and congressional Republicans over whether high-risk terror suspects should be brought to the U.S. for trial.
Republican lawmakers said the prisoner in this case was too much of a public threat to be incarcerated on U.S. soil, and wanted him to be held at the military detention center at the Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. President Obama refused. He has promised to close the detention center at Guantanamo, which became a worldwide symbol of detainee abuses during the administration of President George W. Bush.