( LatWp ) - Iraqi law enforcement officials stretched a dragnet over the Green Zone and other parts of the capital Tuesday, seeking to arrest the country's culture minister in connection with an attempted political assassination two years ago in which three people were killed, Iraqi officials said.
Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said an arrest warrant had been issued for Culture Minister Asad Kamal al-Hashimi in the February 2005 attempted assassination of Mithal al-Alusi, a newly elected independent member of parliament who had been harshly criticized by many politicians here after he visited Israel in 2004. Alusi was not injured in the attack, but two sons, Ayman, 22, and Jamal, 30, were killed, as was a bodyguard.
``The arrest warrant is the result of accusations and confessions of those who killed the sons of Mithal al-Alusi,'' Dabbagh said on Al-Arabiya television. ``They confessed that the planning and all the orders came from the current minister'' of culture. Alusi, a secular Sunni, said in a telephone interview Tuesday that he had heard several months ago that Hashimi was a suspect in the killings of his sons. More recently, Alusi said, senior Iraqi officials told him that the triggermen in the case told investigators that Hashimi wanted him killed in retaliation for his trip to Israel. At the time of the killings, Hashimi was an imam at a Sunni mosque in Baghdad, Alusi said.
Sunni political groups Tuesday criticized the warrant against Hashimi, saying it was an attempt by the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to exclude Sunni politicians from the political process.
A statement by Hashimi's party, the Iraqi Accordance Front, the largest Sunni bloc in parliament, said two gunmen involved in the attack had been tortured into falsely implicating Hashimi. The minister, in a telephone interview with the Al-Jazeera satellite television network, said the case was ``fabricated'' to damage his party and ``to run us out of the country.''
Hashimi's whereabouts were not known late Tuesday. But Alusi said the minister was ``hiding out in the home of a very senior Iraqi leader and politician in the Green Zone,'' attempting to broker a deal to remain free. Alusi said he had been contacted ``indirectly'' by people seeking his agreement for a deal, which he refused.
``They are trying to make a political deal,'' Alusi said. ``No one has the power to make a deal because this is a matter that involves the Iraqi justice system. He has to be arrested. He has to face the courts.''
A neighbor of Hashimi's, who would not be quoted by name, said U.S. soldiers raided Hashimi's house just outside the Green Zone about 5 a.m. Tuesday. The soldiers took away a man with a hood placed over his head, the neighbor said.
A U.S. military spokesman, Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, said he was unaware of the incident. It was possible, he said, that U.S. troops acting as advisers had accompanied Iraqi security forces on such a raid, but he said he had seen no reports about it.
Alusi, 54, was expelled from the Iraqi National Congress, the secular party of former deputy prime minister Ahmad Chalabi, after Alusi attended a counterterrorism conference in Tel Aviv in September 2004. In addition to calling for normalizing relations with Israel, he has been a harsh critic of Syria and Iran.
He formed the Iraqi Democratic National Party and is its only member in parliament.
Elsewhere Tuesday, a U.S. soldier was killed in clashes with the Mahdi Army militia of anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Diwaniya, about 100 miles south of Baghdad, the Reuters news agency reported.
The U.S. military said militiamen ambushed American troops from the cover of civilian buildings, including a school, Reuters reported. It quoted a witness as saying that three civilians were killed in the clashes.
In a separate development, a Sunni group known as the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella group said to have been founded by al-Qaida in Iraq, asserted responsibility for a suicide blast Monday at the Mansour Hotel in Baghdad that killed 12 people, including six tribal leaders from the western province of Anbar.
The assertion, which was made in a posting on a Web site used by insurgent groups, said the attack was in retaliation for the rape of a Sunni woman by Anbar provincial police. The statement said the group targeted the tribal leaders, who had recently formed an alliance against al-Qaida in Iraq, for providing so many new members to the provincial police, which they said led to the rape of the woman.