BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraqi soldiers arrested a high-ranking federal police official yesterday on suspicion of targeting Sunni Arabs in the capital for arrest and torture on behalf of radical Shiite militias, as well as for ransom.
The arrest underscored the country's deep sectarian divisions and concerns over the degree to which extremist groups have infiltrated Iraqi institutions responsible for protecting the public.
Col. Thamir Mohammed Ismail Husseini, known as Abu Turab, was the intelligence officer for the 2nd National Police Division Headquarters. He is accused of directing federal officers to detain Sunnis at checkpoints in west Baghdad, the U.S. military said.
Husseini allegedly ordered officers to abuse their captives into making false confessions and to hold them for ransom. He also had access to intelligence information that he used against American and Iraqi forces, the military said in a statement.
In July, U.S. officials alleged that Husseini was connected to the Mahdi Army militia loyal to Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. They also alleged that Husseini's staff allowed Shiite detainees to go free more quickly while Sunni prisoners languished in crowded, unsanitary conditions.
Since May, 11 members of Iraqi security forces have been arrested for suspected involvement in illegal activities, the military said.
"The detention of Col. Thamir is a proactive measure aimed at eliminating the influence of illegal militias, sectarianism and criminal activities in the Iraqi security forces," Maj. Scott Nelson said in the statement.
U.S. and Iraqi security forces rarely release details about arrests, detention and killings of Iraqis accused of having ties to extremist groups. The absence of public disclosure can make it difficult to uncover sectarian loyalties among security forces.
Also yesterday, the U.S. military said it had arrested an Iranian who allegedly was involved in transporting explosives used against U.S. and Iraqi security forces, as well as in training terrorists on behalf of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
The suspect, Aghawi Farhadi, was one of three men arrested before dawn at a hotel in Sulaymaniya, a largely Kurdish city in northern Iraq, witnesses said. About 20 U.S. troops arriving in civilian cars entered the Sulaymaniya Palace hotel about 4:30 a.m., witnesses said.
The other two men were released, witnesses said. Farhadi was visiting as part of an Iranian trade delegation.
U.S. authorities would not release details of the arrest or of the evidence linking Farhadi to so-called explosively formed penetrators, bombs that can pierce tank armor. U.S. officials say the lethal explosives originate in Iran.
In Baghdad yesterday, Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the second-ranking U.S. commander in Iraq, said at a news conference that car bombs and suicide attacks had fallen to their lowest level in a year. Average daily killings fell from 32 to about a dozen, he said, drawing on data first released last week.
Despite the drop, "I would say again that it's not at the level we want it to be. There are still way too many civilian casualties inside of Baghdad and Iraq," he said.
In east Baghdad, gunmen shot the chief judge of a local criminal court, Mustafa Kadhim Jawad, and his driver. The men were pronounced dead at Kindi Hospital.
At a checkpoint in northeastern Baghdad, three Iraqi police officers and a bystander were killed by a car bomb. A tow truck driver left the car, saying he needed to fetch another vehicle. The car later exploded. Seven people were injured.
One Iraqi was killed when U.S. forces conducted a raid in east Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood; five people were injured.
Sam Enriquez writes for the Los Angeles Times.