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Iraq: Sadr's aides meet Sunnis
Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad | May 23, 2005 18:14 IST
Iraqi authorities released Ghazi Hammud al-Obeidi, one of the most-wanted officials from Saddam Hussein's former regime, because he is apparently terminally ill, Justice Minister Abdel Hussein Shandal and the suspect's lawyer said Sunday.
Iraq's government also said it had captured a "terrorist" close to the network of militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who had planned car bomb attacks and rigged booby-trapped cars for foreign fighters.
Separately, three Romanian journalists and their Iraqi-American guide who had been held hostage for nearly two months in Iraq were released.
Senior aides of anti-US cleric Muqtada al-Sadr met a key Sunni group in a bid to soothe tensions that have flared amid violence that has killed at least 550 people, including 10 Shiite and Sunni clerics, since the new Shiite-dominated government was announced on April 28.
"There is a wound that needs to be treated and Muqtada was the first to offer his medicine," said Sheik Abdul Salam al-Kubaisi, spokesman for the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars after the talks with the al-Sadr delegation.
The association's leader, Harith al-Dhari, last week pinned the killing of several Sunnis, including clerics, on the Badr Brigades, the military wing of Iraq's largest Shiite party, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
Brigade general secretary Hadi al-Amri has denied the charge and accused the Sunni association of wanting to "push Iraq into a sectarian conflict."
Al-Sadr, a burly, black-bearded cleric, said in a television interview aired Sunday the talks were aimed at settling the feud between the association and the Badr Brigades.
"Iraq needs to stand side-by-side for the time being," al-Sadr told Al-Arabiya TV, referring to fears that extremists within Iraq's Shiite and Sunni communities were pushing the country toward a civil war.
Muqtada al-Sadr taunts US
Sunni leaders announced Saturday they had formed an alliance of tribal, political and religious groups to help Iraq's once dominant minority break out of its isolation following a Shiite rise to power after Saddam's ouster.
The Sunni fall from grace is regarded by many as a key source of Iraq's raging insurgency, which claimed more victims Sunday, including Trade Ministry official Ali Moussa and his driver.
They were killed in a drive-by shooting while heading to work, ministry spokesman Faraj al-Jaafari said. Moussa ran the ministry's auditing office and was a junior official during Saddam's regime.
A roadside bomb blast also killed one Iraqi civilian and wounded another near Oyoun, a village 30 miles west of the northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk, army Maj. Gen. Anwar Mohammed Amin said.
Amin said he escaped an assassination attempt when two roadside bombs exploded late Saturday near his military convoy between Kirkuk and Hawija to the southeast.
On Sunday, a suicide car bomber blew himself near a US convoy and police station in northern Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad, wounding three American soldiers and two Iraqi policemen, said military spokesman Maj. Richard Goldenberg.
Al-Sadr resurfaced this week after lying low following fierce battles last year in the southern holy city of Najaf and Baghdad's impoverished Sadr City between his supporters and US forces.
Al-Kubaisi, the Sunni association official, said he handed al-Sadr's delegation a document committing his group to certain steps, but he did not elaborate.
More meetings with al-Sadr's group will be held in the future, he said.
Iraqi security forces captured Ismail Budair Ibrahim al-Obeidi, also known as Abu Omar, who they said was close to al-Zarqawi's network, on Tuesday in Baqouba, northeast of Baghdad, a government statement said.
A Saudi militant was killed and an Iraqi detained during clashes with Iraqi police in Sinaa, a neighborhood in the northern city of Mosul, said police commander Lt. Gen. Ahmad Mohammed Khalaf.
Mosul police also found two tons of explosive hidden in mountainous area in Nimroud, and 38 suspected militants were captured during several raids in the city, Khalaf said.
Former Saddam loyalist al-Obeidi, 65, the former regional chairman of the ruling Baath Party in the southern Iraqi city of Kut, was detained May 7, 2003, and released April 28, making him the first of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis to be freed.
He was number 51 on the most-wanted list and was the "two of hearts" in the deck of cards. His lawyer said he is expected to undergo cancer treatment in Germany.
"Ghazi al-Obeidi is suffering from cancer and according to my information he has been released for health reasons," Shandal, the justice minister, told The Associated Press.
Shandal did not elaborate but al-Obeidi's lawyer, Badee Izzat Aref, said he was released on April 28 because he was suffering from what appears to be terminal stomach cancer.
Aref said he met al-Obeidi recently and described his condition as "very bad," adding that he was in a wheelchair.
Aref also appealed for the release of Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, known as "Mrs. Anthrax" for her alleged work trying to develop biological weapons for Saddam because she was suffering from breast cancer.
Meanwhile, a spokesman said a US military investigation into who photographed and gave pictures of Saddam to a British tabloid will probably involve American soldiers guarding him in his Baghdad prison cell more than a year ago, when the shots were likely taken.
Major Wes Hayes also said the former dictator is "not aware that these photos were taken" and had been published. He did not elaborate.
Charges against Saddam include killing rival politicians during his 30-year rule, gassing Kurds, invading Kuwait in 1990 and suppressing Kurdish and Shiite uprisings the next year.
The Romanians -- newspaper reporter Ovidiu Ohanesian, TV reporter Marie-Jeanne Ion and cameraman Sorin Miscoci --were kidnapped in Iraq on March 28, along with their Iraqi-American guide, Mohammed Monaf.
Their kidnappers had threatened to kill the hostages unless Romania pulled its 800 troops out of Iraq, but the Romanian president had refused.
(Associated Press writers Bassem Mroue, Qassim Abdul-Zahara and Hamid Ahmed contributed to this report.)