U.S. Troops Arrest Iraqi Mayor, Top Aides
- Jul 1, 2:06 AM EDT
U.S. Troops Arrest Iraqi Mayor, Top Aides
By BASSEM MROUE
Associated Press Writer
NAJAF, Iraq (AP) -- American troops moved in force Monday to arrest the
U.S.-appointed mayor of this southern Iraqi town, removing him on kidnapping and
corruption charges and detaining 62 of his aides, a step likely to please
Najaf's Shiite residents.
In the restive town of Fallujah, a massive explosion rocked a mosque, killing at
least five Iraqi civilians and injuring four others, witnesses and hospital
officials said Tuesday.
Iraqi civilians blamed U.S. forces, saying the blast in the town 35 miles west
of Baghdad was caused by a missile or bomb. American soldiers at the scene
disputed that account, saying it was likely caused when explosives hidden at the
site went off.
Also Monday in Fallujah, insurgents fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a
military vehicle, injuring an NBC news sound engineer. A pickup truck then
slammed into a vehicle helping evacuate the wounded reporter. The three Iraqis
in the truck were killed.
NBC News producer Carol Grisanti identified the injured employee as Australian
Jeremy Little, a television sound man. She said his injuries were serious but
not life threatening.
The arrest of the mayor of Najaf, Abu Haydar Abdul Mun'im came as a sweep across
central Iraq entered its second day, aimed at capturing Saddam Hussein loyalists
and curbing a wave of attacks on American soldiers. But so far in the crackdown,
dubbed Operation Sidewinder, no major fugitives have been reported arrested.
Some soldiers say their efforts have been plagued by faulty intelligence and bad
Southern Iraq, dominated by Shiite Muslims who largely hated Saddam, has seen
less violence in recent weeks - though many Shiites have rankled at U.S.
domination. One of the country's top Shiite clerics issued a fatwa, or religious
ruling, this week, denouncing U.S. administrators' plans to appoint a council to
draw up a new constitution and demanding elections so Iraqis can elect their own
The arrest of the mayor came less than three months after he was installed by
American troops, who entered the town in April. The former Iraqi army colonel
was unpopular from the start with the local population because of his background
in Saddam's military.
In recent weeks, residents of Najaf, 110 miles southwest of Baghdad, have held
demonstrations against Abdul Mun'im, accusing him of links to Saddam's Baath
Coalition forces made the arrest at the request of an Iraqi investigative judge
in Najaf, said a statement by the U.S.-led provisional authority.
In addition to kidnapping, Abdul Mun'im stands accused of holding hostages,
pressuring government employees to commit financial crimes, and attacking a bank
"They have been investigating these allegations for some time before concluding
that there is sufficient evidence to warrant arrest," the statement said. "These
allegations are very serious."
Abdul Mun'im was replaced by Haydar Mahdi Mattar al Mayali, a former deputy in
the mayor's office.
On Monday, U.S. forces blocked the entrance to Abdul Mun'im's offices and would
not let reporters enter.
From his headquarters in Najaf, one of Iraq's most senior Shiite clerics,
Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a fatwa saying a constitutional council
handpicked by the Americans was "fundamentally unacceptable."
"There is no guarantee that the council would create a constitution conforming
with the greater interests of the Iraqi people and expressing the national
identity, whose basis is Islam and its noble social values," read the fatwa,
dated Saturday and posted on al-Sistani's Web site.
The ayatollah called for elections to pick delegates to a constitutional
convention and a referendum to approve any constitution it draws up. Al-Sistani,
one of Iraq's most influential people, has been largely supportive of American
interests since Saddam's ouster - and it wasn't clear how the fatwa would affect
U.S. plans for a new government.
Al-Sistani and another senior Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim,
told The Associated Press on Monday that they favored a peaceful end to the U.S.
occupation, and its replacement by a representative Iraqi government.
"What we want is the formation of a government that represents the will of the
Iraqi people, by all its sects and ethnic groups," said al-Sistani.
Al-Hakim of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, dismissed
U.S. concerns about his group's links to neighboring Iran, and also called for
the end of the occupation.
"Our demand is that a government be formed by the Iraqis and work to end the
occupation by peaceful means," he said.
Sidewinder, which began early Sunday, was an effort by the Americans to snuff
out remaining pockets of anti-occupation resistance in the so-called "Sunni
triangle" north and west of Baghdad, where Saddam enjoyed a degree of support.
U.S. troops have been increasingly targeted in recent weeks, raising fears that
their mission will become mired by a guerrilla-style insurgency. At least 20
American and six British troops have been killed by hostile fire since President
Bush declared the end of major combat in Iraq on May 1. Two more Americans were
found dead over the weekend after several days missing and believed abducted,
but the circumstances of their deaths were not yet known.
As part of the sweep, troops detained a colonel from Saddam's Baath Party along
with five other individuals, a military statement said Monday, without providing
details. The statement said at least 319 Iraqis have been detained in several
operations, including Sidewinder, across Iraq since Sunday.
There have been no reports of U.S. casualties during Sidewinder, the military
Meanwhile, a huge explosion at an ammunitions depot killed at least three people
and injured four in the western city of Hadithah, 150 miles northwest of
Baghdad, according to initial reports from the U.S. military. It was not
immediately clear who the ammunition belonged to or what caused the explosion.