Sunni lawmaker linked to 2007 parliament bombing, Iraq officials say
Iraqi security forces Sunday identified a Sunni Arab lawmaker as a suspect in the bombing of the Shiite-dominated parliament in 2007 and a slew of other crimes, including burying victims alive and robbing gold stores.
The April 2007 blast, which killed a fellow parliament member, came at the height of Iraq’s sectarian bloodshed and coincided with the start of the major U.S.-Iraqi security push that included the deployment of 30,000 additional American forces to Iraq. Violence is a fraction of what it was then, but parliament remains bitterly split along sectarian and ethnic lines. The latest announcement, coming on the heels of a victory in provincial elections by Shiite Muslims loyal to Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, was likely to aggravate those divisions.
At a news conference, Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta Moussawi said hard-line Sunni lawmaker Mohammed Daini, who remains free because of immunity enjoyed by parliament members, had been named by two bodyguards as being involved in criminal activity. Security forces cannot arrest Daini unless a court grants their request to lift his immunity.
On a large screen behind Moussawi, the bodyguards were shown describing activities allegedly masterminded by Daini, including kidnappings for ransom, mortar attacks and the parliament bombing, which struck at the heart of the U.S.-backed government and shattered the veneer of security inside Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone.
Daini declined to discuss the accusations when reached by phone Sunday night and said he would respond at a news conference today. Earlier, the Associated Press quoted him as rejecting the accusations as baseless and politically motivated.
The guards were arrested this month during a raid on Daini’s house in west Baghdad. There was no way to independently verify their statements.
One of them, Riyadh Ibrahim Daini, who is the lawmaker’s nephew, said his uncle set up a security team of about 15 men with government badges to give them unfettered freedom to travel. Their tasks included picking up bombs and explosives belts for attacks, as well as undertaking mob-like activities to silence political opponents and line Mohammed Daini’s pockets, he said.
The day of the parliament bombing, April 12, 2007, the nephew said, he picked up a man from the lawmaker’s office and dropped him at the back door of the Rasheed Hotel, near parliament inside the Green Zone. He said he later was told the man was a suicide bomber who had entered parliament using Daini’s identification card and blown himself up at the lawmakers’ cafe.
The second guard, Alaa Maliki, Daini’s chief of security, said he had worked with the lawmaker since 2006. He said the security team’s activities included launching mortar shells into the Green Zone, and killing a goldsmith in Baghdad and bringing his gold to Daini. “When a man asked us what we were doing . . . we shot him dead in front of his house,” Maliki said.
Maliki accused Daini of being a close associate of Harith Dhari, the head of the Muslim Scholars Assn., which was closed by a government-sponsored group in November 2007 amid allegations of involvement with insurgents.
Perhaps the most heinous of the alleged crimes involved the abduction of more than 100 people in Baqubah, the capital of Diyala province, Daini’s home region. The guard alleged that after 11 of Daini’s associates were killed in the violent region, Daini ordered 10 people captured for each of his slain loyalists and had them buried alive.
Daini has been a vocal opponent of the U.S. presence in Iraq and of Nouri Maliki’s government, and he opposed passage in November of an Iraqi-U.S. security plan giving American forces until the end of 2011 to leave Iraq.
Times staff writers Raheem Salman and Caesar Ahmed contributed to this report.