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Warrant issued for Sunni official

The Baltimore Sun

BAGHDAD -- Iraqi commandos backed by an arrest warrant raided the house of Iraq's culture minister yesterday in connection with the killing of two sons of a maverick Sunni Muslim politician.

The arrest warrant and raid provoked an outcry from the minister's Sunni political bloc and threatened to complicate the uphill effort to pass legislation, including an oil revenue-sharing law, sought by the Bush administration.

An Iraqi court prepared the warrant several days ago against Asad Kamal al-Hashimi after two men arrested last month told authorities that al-Hashimi had ordered them to assassinate Mithal al-Alusi, an independent Sunni legislator, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told the Al-Arabiya satellite channel.

Al-Alusi's sons, Amal and Gamal, were killed Feb. 8, 2005, when gunmen apparently trying to kill the politician opened fire on his home in western Baghdad.

Al-Alusi said that al-Hashimi was hiding in the Green Zone, the fortified enclosure that is home to the U.S. Embassy, Iraqi government and thousands of Iraqi civilians.

"We have to respect and accept the justice," he said, warning that the government should not cut a deal to ease tensions over the arrest of a Sunni minister.

Al-Alusi said al-Hashimi had been the imam at a mosque near al-Alusi's house in the Qughad neighborhood of western Baghdad at the time of the killings. There, al-Hashimi delivered sermons calling for the death of participants in Iraq's January 2005 elections, which most Sunni Arabs boycotted.

Al-Alusi has always cut against the grain. Returning to Baghdad from exile in Germany, he headed a committee that purged thousands of Iraqis from government jobs due to their membership in Iraq's ousted ruling party. He allied himself with Iraq's Shiite majority, the kingmakers in the post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, and criticized the growing radicalism in his own Sunni community.

Al-Alusi said that two witnesses to his sons' deaths had been killed and another badly injured Monday by gunmen in separate attacks. The wounded man later identified one of the gunmen as a bodyguard for al-Hashimi.

Al-Hashimi's bloc, known as Tawafiq, accused the Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry of vandalizing al-Hashimi's home during its raid and using torture to extract confessions about al-Hashimi's involvement.

Tawafiq said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had agreed to its request that an impartial committee investigate the charges against the culture minister and had freed the bodyguards who were arrested in yesterday's raid.

Al-Dabbagh said the culture minister would be brought to court to answer murder charges. Al-Hashimi said the warrant was a discriminatory move by the Shiite-led government.

"They have ready-made charges, and they use them against us so that they can chase us out of the country," al-Hashimi said on the Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera.

Sectarian violence continued yesterday. A Sunni tribal sheik was killed in a drive-by shooting in Baghdad, police said.

An al-Qaida-linked group claimed responsibility yesterday for a hotel bombing in Baghdad on Monday that killed at least five sheiks who had supported efforts to arm Sunni Muslim tribes to fight al-Qaida in Iraq, the Reuters news agency reported.

A U.S. Marine was killed yesterday in combat operations in Anbar province, the U.S. military said.

Ned Parker and Saif Hameed write for the Los Angeles Times.

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