Feb 24, 2007

Son of SCIRI Chief Detained By U.S. At Iran Border

American troops seized and then released the eldest son of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, perhaps the most powerful Shiite political leader in Iraq, after he crossed the border from Iran into Iraq on Friday morning.

The detention heightened tensions with one of Iraq’s most formidable political movements just as the planned American troop buildup was beginning in Baghdad to try to rescue the capital from the grip of Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents.

Allies of the Hakim family denounced the detention as a serious insult, and a senior adviser to the family asserted that American forces also had assaulted several guards. The Hakims control the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the backbone of the Shiite political alliance that has dominated politics during the occupation.

State-run television said Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite who depends on Mr. Hakim's support, intervened to help release the son, Amar Abdul Aziz al-Hakim.

In an interview after he was released from an American military base in Kut, Amar al-Hakim said that American forces had treated him roughly and that their justification for seizing him -- that he crossed the border with an invalid passport -- was untrue.

An official with the Iraqi force that guards the border said American troops had been lying in wait to apprehend the Hakim convoy as it drove into Iraq. But a spokesman for the American Embassy in Baghdad, Lou Fintor, said that the Americans followed standard procedures and that there had been no effort to "single out" Mr. Hakim. ...

The detention worsened relations with the Hakims — who spent years in exile in Iran and remain close to Tehran — two months after American forces raided the Hakims’ elaborate Baghdad compound near the Green Zone and detained two Iranians whom they accused of running guns and planning sectarian attacks.

That raid came just a few weeks after the elder Mr. Hakim met with President Bush in Washington. Mr. Hakim has generally been an ally of the United States presence, but he has criticized the Americans for what he said was favoring the interests of Sunnis over Shiites. ...

One of Amar al-Hakim’s most prominent public roles of late has been canvassing the Shiite provinces of southern Iraq to build support for his father’s controversial plan to cleave nine Shiite provinces into an autonomous region that would have wide authority over its security and natural resources.

Sunni political groups as well as some Shiite parties have objected to the plan, saying it would drive Iraq toward a three-way partition, with a Kurdish state in the northeast, a Sunni state in the west and northwest, and a Shiite state in the south.

One Shiite coalition that objects to the plan is the bloc allied with Moktada al-Sadr, the anti-American Shiite cleric who controls the Mahdi Army militia and whose political movement is the only one within the Shiite alliance whose power rivals that of Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or Sciri. ...

The detention led to a large demonstration in front of the offices of Mr. Hakim’s party in Basra by a crowd protesting the son’s treatment. A senior Sciri party official in Najaf, Sadr al-Din al-Qubanchi, called for a demonstration there.

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