Nation & World

Iraqi army seizes 2 Sunni officials in chaotic pre-dawn raid

BAGHDAD — Iraqi forces raided the provincial government compound in Diyala Province in a chaotic operation early Tuesday, killing the governor's secretary and seizing computers and cars before local police engaged them in a two-hour gun battle, police and local officials said.

Four policemen were wounded, according to a local police official. Local police and government officials claimed the raiders had U.S. support, but U.S. spokesmen said the U.S. military was unaware of the raid and provided no assistance. Iraq's Interior Ministry said the raid is being investigated.

The Iraqi forces arrested Hussein al Zubaidi, provincial council member and head of the provincial security committee. A nearby raid conducted almost simultaneously by unidentified armed forces arrested the president of Diyala University.

A spokesman for the Iraqi Diyala Operations Center told McClatchy the raiding party was a "special unit" of the Iraqi Army, which works closely with U.S. forces. Diyala governor Raad Rashid told McClatchy the troops wore U.S. fatigues and carried U.S.-issued equipment.

"They were wearing khaki. Their weapons were American. The Humvees they used looked American," said a surviving secretary, Abbas Adnan, who was in the government compound when it was raided. "They didn't have any ranks on their shoulders. They didn't talk."

An officer in the Iraqi Diyala Operations Room said the unit "that came to conduct the operation had air cover. This air cover was American helicopters. They shot at the police in protection of their unit." The officer asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

American officials disputed this account. Maj. John Hall and Navy Lt. Patrick Evans, both U.S. military spokesmen, issued identical statements saying the operation was conducted "without the knowledge or assistance of coalition forces."

The arrested men were all Sunni. The Iraqi Islamic Party, the largest Sunni party in the country, condemned the raids as sectarian persecution that was directed at the party. "These violations represent a violation of the law they claim they have come to implement," the party said in a statement on its Web site.

Iraqi army and police, backed by the U.S. military, launched a major operation three weeks ago intended to clear Diyala of insurgents, most prominently the Sunni-led al-Qaida in Iraq. Some leaders of U.S.-backed Sunni militias, including former Sunni insurgents now paid by the Pentagon to fight al-Qaida in Iraq, say the operation has targeted them as well.

Adnan said that, when the secretary, Abbas Al Timimi, headed for the operational command building, "he was shot dead, without a word." Adnan said Timimi was a civilian and "wasn't carrying any weapons."

Local police surrounded the raiders as they withdrew. A two-hour gun battle ensued, stopping only when orders came from Baghdad to let the raiders pass, said the police official.

Dria said that the soldiers beat up lawmakers, took computers and left the government compound in disarray.

Governor Raad Rashid said he'd not been told about the raid beforehand. "Even the security forces in Diyala had no idea," he said.

Majida Orebi, wife of university president Nazar Jabbar al Khafaji, said their house was raided after midnight Tuesday morning. Security forces pinned down her husband, she said. He told them: "'I'm the president of Diyala University and I've done nothing wrong,'" she said. But the troops "told him to shut up, and started shooting down the doors upstairs," she said. The forces also took money and computer gear, she said.

The incidents are under investigation, said Abdul Karim Khalaf, acting Baquba police chief and a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, which oversees police throughout the country.

"An operation took place not according to accepted procedures," he said.

(Spangler reports for The Miami Herald. Hammoudi is a McClatchy Special Correspondent in Baghdad. Special Correspondents Hussein Kadhim, Hamad Al Dulaimy, Sahar Issa and a McClatchy Special Correspondent in Diyala contributed reporting.)