BAGHDAD, Iraq – U.S. troops detained a representative of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr (search) for several hours on Tuesday. He said they apologized before setting him free.
Hazem al-Aaraji — who is also an outspoken anti-U.S. cleric — was detained in the conference hall of the Sheraton Hotel during a meeting of tribal leaders. His bodyguards tried to prevent the arrest, but were pushed aside by about six soldiers.
Hours later, al-Aaraji was set free.
Shortly after his release, the cleric said he was held for five hours at the Baghdad International Airport (search).
"Afterward an officer came to me and said 'we apologize,"' said al-Aaraji. He said the soldiers later returned him to the Sheraton Hotel, where he had been taken into custody earlier in the day.
U.S. Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt (search), deputy chief of operations in Iraq, said al-Aaraji was questioned and "determined to have no direct involvment in violent acts in Iraq and is not viewed as an imminent threat to security."
Al-Aaraji denied he was questioned, adding: "I condemn this inhuman act."
The detention angered tribal leaders at the conference. Some said it could trigger fighting in Baghdad like that in Fallujah.
"This arrest is a crime. ... If Americans are not going to respect us we will all be like the people of Fallujah," screamed Sheik Mohsen al-Shammari. "They (Americans) are savage cowboys."
Sheik Mohan Abed, another tribal leader, said "this (arrest) is an insult to Iraqis."
Al-Sadr's militia last week led a Shiite uprising against coalition troops in parts of central and southern Iraq — unrest that began, in part, because of the arrest of another aide, Mustafa al-Yacoubi.
U.S. commanders have vowed to kill or capture al-Sadr.