A prominent Sunni paramilitary leader was released from jail Thursday, a little more than a week after being arrested as part an apparent crackdown against the movement of former insurgents who switched sides and helped end Iraq's civil war.
Raad Ali, head of the Sons of Iraq fighters in part of Baghdad's Ghazaliya district, returned home after a judge dismissed murder charges against him Wednesday. His release came after the arrest of at least two other Sons of Iraq leaders in Baghdad and the jailing of a few dozen other Sunni Arabs associated with the movement.
"They've accused me many times. I went to the court and they listened to me and said I am clean," Ali said. "If anyone wants to talk about me, every time they have a charge against me, I have shown that I am clean."
The dismissal ended a 10-day ordeal that saw Ali swallowed up into the country's security apparatus. It remains unclear who jailed him. The paramilitary leader said he was detained by the Baghdad operations command, which in turn blamed the Iraqi special forces. Both entities report to the prime minister's office.
Ali said that even the U.S. military couldn't track him during his incarceration at a base in east Baghdad. "I expected the Americans would help me, but they didn't know where I was held," he said. "This place was very secret."
Despite repeated requests, the U.S. military had refused to comment on Ali's case, calling it an internal Iraqi matter.
The country's Shiite-led government remains deeply suspicious of former Sunni insurgents like Ali who formed an alliance with the U.S. military in 2007 to defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq and other militant groups.
In recent months, Ali and other paramilitary leaders have been jailed, forced out of the country or killed, weakening the movement. One Sons of Iraq leader, Adel Mashadani, was arrested Saturday by the Iraqi security forces, sparking a two-day fight in his neighborhood of Fadhil.
But where Mashadani courted controversy with provocative statements against the Iraqi government, Ali had moved carefully in his neighborhood, eager to persuade the Iraqi government to hire his men for the police force. His arrest showed that Sons of Iraq fighters remain at the mercy of the Iraqi government and military commanders.
Ali described how men in six or seven military Humvees arrived at his home and asked him to come with them to find some suspected criminals. But he said he knew their intention. He was driven to a military base, and then to an Interior ministry jail.
Ali said he was well-treated. But he said he was unsure who wanted him arrested: Was it an Iraqi security force commander who hates the Sons of Iraq, or the government?
"Maybe the prime minister and the guys around him are good, but there are some leaders in security in the Iraqi army and police who don't understand the situation in a good way," Ali said. "They think this is the best way to finish this mess."
The charges against Ali were based on testimony from a secret informant, a common tactic in cases against Sons of Iraq members. Ali faced seven charges, including accusations that he belonged to Al Qaeda in Iraq's Islamic court, kidnapped people in 2006, displaced Shiite families and planted bombs against Iraqi security forces.
Ali vowed to seek justice against the anonymous source, who was identified in court as source No. 200.
"I will send this informant to jail," he said. "Maybe this week I will go to the court and complain against him. He tried to destroy my reputation."
A Sons of Iraq chief in Arab Jabour, southeast of Baghdad, was detained earlier in the week by the Iraqi police on charges of murder. His supporters said the men he was accused of killing were members of Al Qaeda in Iraq who died during a joint raid with the U.S. military in October 2007.
Residents in Amiriya in west Baghdad have also complained that more than 20 men, many affiliated with the Sons of Iraq, have been arrested in the last few weeks.