- The Washington Times - Friday, February 23, 2007

BAGHDAD — U.S. troops detained the eldest son of Iraq’s most influential Shi’ite politician for nearly 12 hours yesterday as he crossed back from Iran, sparking protests from Shi’ite politicians.

Even though the U.S. ambassador issued a rapid apology, the decision to hold Amar al-Hakim risks touching off a backlash from Shi’ite leaders at a time when their cooperation is needed most to keep a major security sweep through Baghdad from unraveling.

Shi’ite reaction to the detention was quick and sharp, with some officials suggesting it was a veiled warning about the limits of ties to Iran.

“What happened is unacceptable,” Shi’ite lawmaker Hamid Majid Moussa told Al-Forat television. “The Iraqi government and the American forces must put an end to such transgressions.”

The station is just one part of the multilayered clout of the al-Hakim family.

Mr. al-Hakim’s father, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, is the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the country’s largest political force. Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim met with President Bush at the White House in December.

The bloc carries the strongest voice in the 275-seat parliament and holds critical sway over the fate of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. It also maintains very close ties to Iran, which hosted Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim and other SCIRI officials before the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

In December, American forces seized two Iranian security agents at Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim’s compound in Baghdad. Six other Iranians were arrested Jan. 11 at an Iranian liaison office in northern Iraq. The U.S. military said they were members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard. Tehran denies the charges.

Washington has repeatedly accused Iran of funneling weapons to militants, including lethal roadside bombs that have targeted U.S. troops.

But the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, tried to defuse any showdowns with Shi’ites that could upset a 10-day-old offensive seeking to reclaim Baghdad’s streets from militants and sectarian death squads.

“I am sorry about the arrest,” Mr. Khalilzad said. “We don’t know the circumstances of the arrest, and we are investigating and we don’t mean any disrespect to al-Sayed Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim or his family.”

A U.S. Embassy spokesman in Baghdad, Lou Fintor, said Amar al-Hakim “was not singled out” and “soldiers were following standard procedure” since the border crossing was closed at the time.

Amar al-Hakim, 35, was taken into custody at the Zirbatyah crossing point southeast of Baghdad along with his security guards, said his father’s secretary, Jamal al-Sagheer. Amar al-Hakim was freed about 12 hours later, but his bodyguards remained in custody, Mr. al-Sagheer said.

Amar al-Hakim heads a charity dedicated to the memory of his uncle, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, who was killed along with scores of others in a car bombing in Najaf in August 2003. His father took over SCIRI after the killings, and Amar al-Hakim is apparently being groomed to take his place someday.

The U.S. military, meanwhile, said three U.S. troops were killed Thursday in combat in volatile Anbar province, but did not give specific locations or circumstances for the deaths.

In Basra, police said they arrested a suspected Sunni insurgent with links to al Qaeda. Issa Abdul-Razzaq Ahmed, 22, was on the Iraqi Interior Ministry’s most-wanted list, accused of financing and recruiting fighters, said provincial police commander Gen. Mohammed al-Moussawi.

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