Juan Cole on Ammar al-Hakim’s Detention

From Informed Comment

Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that al-Hakim complained of being hooded and treated roughly while in US custody. Al-Zaman says that al-Hakim’s cell phone eas confiscated, and hints broadly that the real reason for the arrest was to get access to his telephone records and the documents he had with him. The US suspects the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq of getting aid from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and Washington wants it stopped.

Al-Zaman provides two other interesting but unconfirmed narratives. One is that al-Hakim’s party came under fire as they entered Iraq near Kut and one or two of his guards were actually killed. The paper also reports an allegation that the US in arresting al-Hakim was acting on a tip from the Sadr Movement of Muqtada al-Sadr, which is popular in the Kut region and is a rival of the al-Hakims.

In contrast, al-Hayat reports that the US may have been hoping that the convoy coming from Iran was that of Muqtada al-Sadr, whom they have determined to arrest. In that case, the incident would be a case of mistaken identity.

Al-Hakim says his guards were abused and still have not been released. US military sources say that they were following procedure in verifying his identity, since passports can be forged, and that the issue had to go to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for resolution since the latter had prohibited lower-level officials from just releasing detainees.

I am unconvinced by this explanation, since there was not good reason to doubt al-Hakim’s passport, and it can’t have taken 12 hours to call al-Maliki. There is also the question of why US troops were even in the area, since it is a Polish sphere of operations. They had to have come over for some specific purpose. The likelihood is that it was an intelligence operation of some sort.

The incident, which produced a small demonstration in Basra and a lot of bad feeling among Iraqi Shiites, demonstrates the dangers of Bush’s cowboy policies in Iraq, such that he recently urged suspected Iranian agents be shot on sight. If Ammar had been killed instead of arrested for 12 hours, there would have been hell to pay.

The same al-Zaman article says that the security plan in Baghdad has been altered because of guerrillas increasing successes in shooting down US helicopters, and their recent use of attacks on chlorine gas trucks. Without as much chopper support, and facing the possibility of being gassed, US and Iraqi troops have been forced to change their tactics (obviously, the details are not specified).

Read it here.

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