Sunday, November 18, 2012
WASHINGTON — Iraq has released a Hezbollah operative who has been accused by American military prosecutors of the killing of American troops, terrorism and espionage, Iraqi and American officials said Friday.
The prisoner, Ali Musa Daqduq, was released on Thursday despite the entreaties of the Obama administration. In a phone call on Tuesday, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. told the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, that the United States believed that Mr. Daqduq should be held accountable for his actions and that Iraq should explore all legal options toward this end, an American official said.
Robert S. Beecroft, the United States ambassador in Baghdad, made a similar appeal to Mr. Maliki that day. But Mr. Maliki told Mr. Biden that Iraq had run out of legal options to hold Mr. Daqduq, who this year had been ordered released by an Iraqi court. Mr. Daqduq has left Iraq and is now in Beirut, his lawyer told Reuters.
The case is noteworthy not only because of the accusations against Mr. Daqduq, but also because it is regarded by Middle East experts as a test of whether the United States or Iran has more influence over the Shiite-dominated government of Iraq. Hezbollah, a Shiite militant organization in Lebanon, is backed by Iran, a Shiite state.
Iraqi officials have said that they thought delaying Mr. Daqduq’s release until after the American presidential election would mollify the Obama administration. American officials have repeatedly insisted that they did not want him released at all.
“We didn’t want it to happen, and we were concerned about it,” said Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman. “We said that to the Iraqis. They have said back to us that they didn’t have a legal basis to continue to hold him. Let me add to that, as with other terrorists who we believe have committed crimes against Americans, we are going to continue to pursue all legal means to see that Daqduq sees justice for the crimes of which he is accused.”
Ms. Nuland declined to say how Washington intended to pursue Mr. Daqduq but said that the United States had been in touch with the Lebanese government. Conservative critics said that it showed that the Obama administration’s influence in Iraq had waned after the United States and Iraq failed to reach an agreement that would have provided for the continued presence of a modest number of American troops after 2011.
“The United States now has so little influence that it could not prevail upon the Iraqi government to extradite Daqduq to the U.S. to stand trial for his crimes,” Senator John McCain of Arizona and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, both Republicans, said in a statement. “We now face a similar situation in Afghanistan as we did in Iraq as America draws down troops and hands over detainees to the Afghani government. The administration must tell the American people exactly how it will ensure that terrorists in Afghanistan with American and allied blood on their hands will be brought to justice.”
One prominent Iraqi, who asked not to be identified because he was worried about retribution by the Maliki government, agreed with the critics. Mr. Daqduq’s release, he said, “underscores how little influence Washington holds over Baghdad’s government since American troops left the country last December.”
Mr. Daqduq, who was captured by British forces in Basra in March 2007, was the last detainee to be handed over to the Iraqis by the United States as American troops withdrew in December.
American military officials have accused Mr. Daqduq of working with the Quds Force — an Iranian paramilitary unit that supports militant groups abroad — to train Shiite militias in Iraq during the war. One of the most serious accusations is that he had a role in helping to organize a January 2007 raid in Karbala that led to the deaths of five American soldiers.
After Mr. Daqduq was transferred to Iraqi custody, an Iraqi court ruled that there was not enough evidence to hold him. The United States had sought his extradition for trial by an American military tribunal, but that request was rejected.
The charge sheet prepared by American military prosecutors accused him of murder, terrorism, perfidy and espionage, among other war crimes. Specifically, he said that Mr. Daqduq had drafted plans for the Karbala attack, which was carried out by a Shiite militant group, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, and had advised the group how to infiltrate the compound using American and Iraqi uniforms and by muffling its vehicles.
When he was captured, Mr. Daqduq was with the leaders of the group, Laith Khazali and his brother Qais.
This is not the only issue that has strained relations between the United States and Iraq recently. American officials said there have been continued flights from Iran to Syria through Iraq’s airspace that are believed to have carried military supplies to support the embattled government of Bashar al-Assad. Iraq ordered two flights to land in Baghdad for inspection, and no military supplies were found. But they represented just a small portion of the total flights.