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Iraqi Officials Outraged by US Raid in Prime Minister's Hometown

by Hannah Allam

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Outraged Iraqi officials demanded an investigation into an early morning U.S. military raid Friday near the birthplace of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, saying the operation violated the terms of the handover of Karbala province to Iraqi security forces.

Karbala Gov. Oqeil al Khazaali said U.S. forces killed an unarmed civilian and arrested at least one person in the raid in the southern town of Janaja. The governor's brother, Hassanein al Khazaali, said late Friday that the Iraqi killed in the operation was a relative of the U.S.-backed prime minister.

The U.S. military command in Baghdad had no comment. Two senior aides to Maliki weren't available for comment; one was still in a meeting with the prime minister after midnight. The governor is said to belong to the prime minister's Dawa Party.

Iraqi officials in Karbala said the operation began at dawn Friday, when U.S. aircraft delivered dozens of American troops to the rural Shiite Muslim town of Janaja, which is populated mostly by members of the Maliki tribe.

Raed Shakir Jowdet, the Iraqi military commander of Karbala operations, said that four Apache helicopters and a jet fighter soared over the area. About 60 U.S. soldiers then stormed the town, "terrifying the families," he said.

Jowdet said that an unarmed civilian named Ali Abdulhussein was killed in his home. He added that the man detained in the operation, Hussein Nima, was visiting the area and didn't reside in Karbala.

"Not one Iraqi soldier took part in the airdrop, and the operation was not coordinated with any Iraqi authority," he said. "We are still looking for an answer as to why this has taken place, and we still have no logical explanation from the American forces."

Khazaali, the U.S.-allied governor, denounced the operation at a news conference, saying the U.S. military hadn't coordinated in advance with Iraqi forces, who assumed control of Karbala security in October 2007. The governor said the raid set "a dangerous precedent" for areas ostensibly under full Iraqi control.

"The airdrop confuses the agreements, and America should answer for this violation," Khazaali said.

Khazaali said the raid was based on false intelligence and that the U.S. military should "submit a report to clarify all the circumstances and to point out the killers and hand over the names of everyone who participated in the military operation in order for them to appear before the Iraqi judicial system."

At the time of the Karbala security handover, a joint statement from U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Army Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, praised Iraqi security forces in Karbala for "operating independently."

"Iraqi Security Forces in Karbala have been successfully operating independently, maintaining their own security for the past three months," the October 2007 statement said. "Working with local government officials, they have demonstrated their readiness to assume responsibility for the province. Today this responsibility is theirs."

Also Friday, the U.S. military announced the arrest of a suspect in connection with a suicide attack that killed more than 20 people, including three U.S. Marines and two military interpreters, at a meeting of allied Sunni tribal leaders Thursday in the western Anbar province. The military statement didn't identify the suspect, who was described as belonging to an extremist cell.

In Baghdad, gunmen assassinated Judge Kamil al Shwaili, who presided over the Risafa appeals court, the judiciary announced Friday. Abdulsattar al Bairaqdar, a spokesman for the Iraqi judiciary, said the judge was killed on his way home from work Thursday afternoon. He added that more than 40 Iraqi judges have been killed since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Issa is a McClatchy special correspondent. Special correspondent Qassim Zein contributed from Najaf, Iraq.

© Copyright 2008, The McClatchy Washington Bureau

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