BAGHDAD, Iraq – U.S. troops detained the son of Iraq's most powerful Shiite politician Friday as he returned to the country from Iran, keeping him in custody for nearly 12 hours before releasing him, Shiite officials said. The U.S. ambassador apologized for the arrest.
Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim heads the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the country's largest Shiite party with longtime ties to Iran. He met with President Bush at the White House in December, and his party is part of the Shiite alliance that includes Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Al-Sagheer said the younger al-Hakim's security guards were also detained at the Zirbatyah crossing point. Later, al-Sagheer said Amar al-Hakim was freed about 8 p.m., although his bodyguards remained in custody.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the arrest was being investigated but stressed that Washington did not mean any disrespect to al-Hakim or his family.
"I am sorry about the arrest," he said. "We don't know the circumstances of the arrest and we are investigating ... but he is being released."
U.S. authorities have complained about Iranian weapons sales and financial aid to major Shiite parties in Iraq, especially the Mahdi Army of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Both Washington and Iraqi leaders have vowed that no one would be exempt as a major security operation is under way in Baghdad.
In December, U.S. troops detained two Iranian security officials in the home of a Shiite politician associated with al-Hakim.
Six other Iranians were captured Jan. 11 at an Iranian liaison office in Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish self-ruled region, although one was later released. Tehran said it was a government liaison office. The U.S. military said those detained were connected to an Iranian Revolutionary Guard faction that funds and arms insurgents in Iraq.
But mainstream Shiite parties also have close ties to Iran, including political groups that have worked with the United States in trying to promote democracy here.
Amar al-Hakim heads a charity dedicated to the memory of his uncle, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, who was killed along with scores of others in a car bombing in Najaf in August 2003. Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim took over SCIRI after his older brother died.
A Shiite lawmaker close to al-Hakim, Hameed Moalah, said Amar al-Hakim was detained at 9 a.m. on the Iranian border. After contacting the offices of the president, the prime minister and the Americans about the detention, U.S. officials said it "was a mistake that will be rectified," Moalah told The Associated Press.
He later told SCIRI's Al-Forat television that the U.S. troops assaulted al-Hakim's bodyguards, but gave no details.
Also Friday, police said Issa Abdul-Razzaq Ahmed, a suspected al-Qaida-linked insurgent leader accused of financing attacks and recruiting fighters, was captured the day before at a house in the southern Iraqi city of Basra.
The 22-year-old Sunni man has been traveling to Syria and the United Arab Emirates to collect funds for militant operations in Iraq and was on the Interior Ministry's most-wanted list, provincial police commander Gen. Mohammed al-Moussawi said. Police also found lists with the names of other wanted militants, maps and propaganda CDs.
The announcement of the capture took on added significance, coming just days after Britain said it would withdraw 1,600 troops from the predominantly Shiite area in the coming months with hopes the Iraqis can take over their own security.
Meanwhile, retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, who was the vice chief of staff when the Iraq war was launched in 2003, urged Iraqis northeast of Baghdad to be patient during the security sweep in the capital. He acknowledged that militants had fled to the area ahead of the operation but said there weren't "enough forces to secure the population."
"We have a major effort taking place in Baghdad, and it's become the center of gravity. I know that doesn't solve your problems, and in some cases it contributes to it because it pushes the enemy into your area," Keane told the top Iraqi police and army officials in Diyala province. "But the model is to establish security and then restore essential services right behind it. If this works as we hope, it'll benefit you as well."
"We don't have enough forces to clear and actually secure the population," he added.
The U.S. military said three U.S. soldiers were killed Thursday in combat in volatile Anbar province, but did not give specific locations or circumstances for the deaths.
Spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver also said the military was investigating reports of civilian casualties during intense fighting between American troops and Sunni insurgents in Anbar province's capital of Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad.
A six-hour battle broke out Wednesday evening after insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades attacked U.S. troops from nearby buildings. Marine spokesman 1st Lt. Shawn Mercer said 12 insurgents were killed and no civilian casualties were reported; Iraqi authorities said the dead included women and children.
Meanwhile, a top al-Sadr aide, Salah al-Obeidi, was released Wednesday from U.S. custody after five months and appeared "in good shape," an al-Sadr official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
Al-Sadr's forces have significantly lowered their profile in parts of Baghdad since a major security effort began last week, including a drop in reports of Sunni killings blamed on Shiite death squads.