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Ex-Iraqi Officials Sought in $1B Theft
By Qassim Abdul-Zahra
The Associated Press
Iraq has issued arrest warrants against the defense minister and 27 other officials from the U.S.-backed government of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi over the alleged disappearance or misappropriation of $1 billion in military procurement funds, officials said Monday.
Those accused include four other ministers from Allawi's government, which was replaced by an elected Cabinet led by Shiite parties in April, said Ali al-Lami of Iraq's Integrity Commission. Many of the officials are believed to have left Iraq, including Hazem Shaalan, the former defense minister who moved to Jordan shortly after the new government was installed.
For months, Iraqi investigators have been looking into allegations that millions of dollars were spent on overpriced deals for shoddy weapons and military hardware, apparently to launder cash, at a time when Iraq was battling a bloody insurgency that still persists.
In Baghdad, a suicide bomber detonated a car full of mortars near an entrance to the fortified Green Zone on Monday, killing a U.S. soldier and six Iraqis in one of a string of insurgent attacks in which at least 13 other Iraqis also died.
Gunmen opened fire on a convoy carrying delegates from the Arab League in Baghdad during the organization's first visit to Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein. The league has met resistance from Shiite and Kurdish leaders as it tries to piece together a reconciliation conference with Sunnis. A policeman was wounded in the shooting, but no one in the delegation was hurt.
The violence comes five days ahead of Iraq's key vote on a new constitution, which Kurds and the majority Shiites largely support and the Sunni Arab minority rejects. Sunnis are campaigning to defeat the charter at the polls, though officials from all sides have been trying up to the last minute to decide on changes to the constitution to swing Sunni support.
Whether the constitution passes or fails, Iraq is due to hold elections for a new parliament on Dec. 15. The corruption allegations are a blow to Allawi as he tries to assemble a coalition of moderates to run against the current ruling Shiite-led coalition in the election in a bid to get back into the government.
With strong U.S. backing, Allawi was named head of the first transitional government after the U.S. returned sovereignty to Iraq in June 2004, but his Iraqi List party did poorly in January parliamentary elections that swept the Shiite-Kurdish coalition into power.
Besides Shaalan, warrants were issued against Allawi's labor, transportation, electricity and housing ministers, as well as 23 former Defense Ministry officials, said al-Lami, who heads Iraq's De-Baathification Commission, part of the Commission of Public Integrity.
He did not name all the officials, and Shaalan and the ministers could not be reached for comment.
An attempt was under way to strip Shaalan, a member of parliament, of his immunity from prosecution. Parliament met Monday to do so but did not have a quorum.
"The warrant was issued against Shaalan due to the corruption allegations regarding the missing $1 billion in the Iraqi Defense Ministry. As soon as his immunity is lifted, the country where he is now living will be asked to extradite him to Iraq," al-Lami said, without naming the country.
In Monday's worst attack, a suicide bomber drove his car toward a U.S-Iraqi checkpoint at an entrance to the Green Zone — the most fortified sector of Baghdad, where government offices and the U.S. Embassy are located behind a maze of blast walls and checkpoints.
Iraqi police opened fire on the car as it approached, and it detonated. The car was packed with 11 mortar rounds and 60 pounds of explosives, Sgt. 1st Class David Abrams said.
A U.S. soldier was killed in the blast, the military said. Three Iraqi policemen and three Iraqi civilians were also killed, said Capt. Qassim Hussein said.
The American death brought to 1,954 the number of U.S. service members who have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
Within an hour of that explosions, suicide attackers set off car bombs in two other parts of Baghdad, though they caused no death. One hit near a police station, wounding four officers and leaving the twisted wreckage of the vehicle and the bomber's body lying on the pavement near a billboard advertising the constitution with the slogan, "Iraq: A Promising Future."
Also Monday, a video was posted on an Islamic Web site showing purported Iraqi militants shooting dead two Iraqi policemen. The Ansar al-Sunnah Army said it carried out the executions, but the claim could not be immediately verified.
In earlier scenes, the victims were shown sitting blindfolded. The men said they were captured while traveling from Baghdad to the northern city of Kirkuk. The group said the two were captured after a battle that killed 10 other policemen.
In other violence:
Four policemen were killed in shootings in Baghdad. In Kirkuk, a city 180 miles north of the capital, four Iraqi soldiers were killed in two separate roadside bomb attacks, police said.
Further north, two Sunni Arab political leaders, an Iraqi soldier and an Iraqi policeman died in separate drive-by shootings in Mosul, officials said.
A roadside bomb blast killed an Iraqi policeman in the city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad.