BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraq is ready to accept U.S. help in investigating the killing and kidnapping of government officials, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (search) said Sunday after a surprise visit amid tight security.
The informal agreement covering the criminal investigations came after Gonzales met with Iraq's prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari (search), as well as police and judicial officials during a six-hour visit to the Iraqi capital. Word of the arrangement followed the abduction on Saturday night of Egypt's top envoy to Iraq.
"There are still some high-level crimes, murders and kidnappings that are not being prosecuted. One reason is that the evidence is not available," Gonzales said in an interview on his return trip to Washington.
While details still need to be worked out, investigators from the FBI and other U.S. law enforcement agencies would join their Iraqi counterparts at crime scenes and in other aspects of the probes, Gonzales' aides said.
Gonzales' visit took place under extraordinary security precautions, including a news blackout until Gonzales was safely inside the heavily fortified green zone where Iraqi and U.S. officials work.
Yet the visit almost was scrapped because bad weather temporarily grounded helicopters that were to take Gonzales and his entourage from the airport to the city. Driving the eight miles from the airport — a stretch that risks bombings and other attacks — was considered too dangerous.
On his first trip to the country, Gonzales praised Iraq's commitment to democracy in the face of sustained deadly attacks by insurgents. The Bush administration's top law enforcer also used the trip to show support for U.S. troops in Iraq.
The attorney general condemned abuses by American soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, blaming them on a few individuals, not official U.S. policy.
As White House counsel in President Bush's first term, Gonzales helped develop the administration's legal strategy in the fight against terror. He wrote a memo in 2002 contending that Bush had the right to waive anti-torture laws and international treaties that provide protections to prisoners of war. Critics have said the memo helped lead to abuses of the type seen at Abu Ghraib.
A few senior Justice Department officials accompanied Gonzales, including Max Wood, the U.S. attorney in Macon, Ga., who is beginning a posting as the senior U.S. law enforcement official in Iraq.
"As we approach the Fourth of July weekend, I suspect there's some of you that are here that sometimes feel lonely and you sometimes wonder whether you are alone," Gonzales told American soldiers at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. "And I'm here to tell you that you are not alone, that the American people are very much with you."
More than 400 Justice Department employees and contractors are working to train Iraqi judges, prosecutors, police and prison guards. A separate unit is working with the Iraqi tribunal preparing to try former President Saddam Hussein and others.
Some five dozen FBI agents and analysts are also on assignment in Iraq investigating roadside bombings and other attacks against U.S.-led coalition forces.
Gonzales said the work sends a strong message that the U.S. is determined to find those responsible for the attacks.
"If that follow-up work is not done, you can't promote the rule of law in that environment," he said.
Militant attacks, mainly by Sunnis, have killed around 1,400 people, since al-Jaafari announced his Shiite-dominated government April 28.