U.S. Detention of Sheik Angers Sunnis in Iraq

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 25, 2006

BAGHDAD, June 24 -- U.S. troops in the Iraqi city of Tikrit raided the house of a senior Sunni Muslim religious leader on Saturday and detained him for several hours, outraging Sunnis and sparking a protest in front of the governor's office.

The unrest over the detention of Jamal Abdel Karim al-Dabaan came on a day when the U.S. military announced that four of its soldiers had died in and around Baghdad despite a security crackdown in the city.

One soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in central Baghdad early Friday morning. Two others were killed by a bomb Saturday morning while on a foot patrol south of the capital, and the fourth died early Friday evening from a "non-combat incident" that is under investigation, the military said.

At least 16 U.S. service members were killed or found dead in the past week, most of them killed by roadside bombs around Baghdad and in the turbulent western province of Anbar.

Iraq's Sunni Arab minority drives the insurgency battling Iraq's government and its foreign allies, and the response to the raid on Dabaan's home in Tikrit illustrated how combustible relations are between U.S. troops and Sunnis.

The U.S. military said in a statement that the early morning raid, prompted by intelligence gained during the recent killing of insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, led to the detention of "five suspected terrorists." One of the suspects, who was not named, was directly associated with several senior al-Qaeda members, the statement said.

During the raid, two people fired at coalition forces, who responded with a flash grenade, the military said. In the house, the troops found five AK-47 assault rifles, 13 loaded magazines and two pistols, U.S. officials said.

But the capture of Dabaan, who is in his seventies, was a mistake, the U.S. officials said, adding that the troops did not know the house was his. He was released several hours later. Army Lt. Col. Edward Loomis said that four other people were released, including one of Dabaan's sons, but that a second son remained in custody Saturday afternoon.

More than 1,000 protesters soon gathered outside the office of the governor of the Salahuddin province to condemn the raid. Government workers walked off their jobs, and the provincial governor vowed to cut off all relations with the Americans until Dabaan was released.

"This is ridiculing the feelings of Sunni Muslims and the entire Muslim world," said Qusai al-Tikriti, the imam of the al-Sidiq mosque. "Today we are out in protest. Any other aggression from the side of the American forces will mean that next time we will wear our explosive belts and blow ourselves up on the Americans."

When Dabaan was released, protesters celebrated by slaughtering sheep on the steps of his house to welcome him. Dabaan appeared fatigued, and declined to speak about his experience. "The American forces told me that they have arrested the wrong person," he said.

Elsewhere in Iraq, violence continued on Saturday. A roadside bomb targeting a police patrol in Khadra, in western Baghdad, killed two policemen and wounded five, said Brig. Gen. Sadoun Mahmoud of the Interior Ministry. A car bomb detonated at a joint Iraqi army and police patrol in Yarmouk, in western Baghdad, killing five people and wounding 11, he said.

The Iraqi government's proposed reconciliation plan, intended to defuse the violence and begin a dialogue with insurgents, is expected to be discussed Sunday in parliament. Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, the parliamentary speaker, said Saturday on al-Hurra television that "the success of this initiative will have far-reaching effects on the country's security, politics, economy and services, because Iraqis want to overcome the present crisis. And those who would remain outside this initiative will be, in the end, the losers."

Special correspondents K.I. Ibrahim, Naseer Nouri and Saad al-Izzi in Baghdad, Hassan Shammari in Baqubah, and other Washington Post employees in Iraq contributed to this report.

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