NEW YORK – A former Iraqi minister said he broke out of a Baghdad jail over the weekend because he feared he was about to be assassinated and claimed he had already slipped out of the country, the New York Times reported on its Web site.
The Times said it had a lengthy phone conversation on Tuesday with Ayham al-Samaraie, who escaped from jail on Sunday. Al-Samaraie, who holds dual American and Iraqi citizenship, said he had been tipped off that he was about to be killed and did not trust police to protect him.
He claimed he had managed to board a flight out of Baghdad International Airport and left Iraq but he did not offer any proof.
Private guards in sport utility vehicles helped the former official escape from a police station inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone where he was being held on corruption charges, Iraqi officials said. He walked out with private security experts who once protected him and officials said the agents were "foreign."
The Times quoted Iraqi security and justice officials as saying someone as well known as al-Samaraie could not possibly have boarded a flight when he was the subject of a manhunt.
Al-Samaraie derided Iraqi and U.S. officials in the interview.
"Those suckers who are sitting in the Green Zone, they cannot go out and see the people they are governing?" he was quoted as saying. "This is a joke.
"So why I cannot take the airport? It's not because I am a smart cookie. Any Iraqi can do it, even if they have 10,000 court orders against him. This is Iraq."
The report did not explain how the newspaper verified his identity but said it had also communicated with al-Samaraie via e-mail.
Al-Samaraie was the only Iraqi official to have been convicted and jailed on corruption charges. He had served several months of a two-year sentence.
He confirmed that he had help in his escape but did not give any details on those who helped him.
"I don't like to harm these people who helped me," he was quoted as saying.