Iraqi legislator says he was roughed up by U.S. soldier

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraqi lawmakers adjourned in protest Tuesday and demanded an apology after a Shiite legislator linked to a radical anti-American cleric tearfully said he was handcuffed and humiliated at a U.S. checkpoint.

It was the third consecutive day that Iraq's interim parliament was sidetracked from its job of setting up a government and writing a constitution.

Beyond the sandbags and blast walls of the U.S.-protected Green Zone, where the National Assembly meets, at least a dozen Iraqis were killed and more than 60 wounded in a series of attacks, including two that targeted the army and its recruits.

Al-Qaida in Iraq, the nation's most feared terrorist group, claimed responsibility for the worst attack, a suicide bombing near an army recruitment center in Baghdad that police said killed at least six Iraqis and wounded 44.

A car bomb in western Baghdad targeting a U.S. patrol wounded seven Iraqis, police and hospital officials said.

Laith Abdullah, the husband of a woman injured in the attack, angrily criticized the legislature for worrying more about its rights than the violence. "The government should be concerned about all the people getting hurt," Abdullah said.

But in the National Assembly, lawmaker Fattah al-Sheik stood and cried as he described being stopped at a checkpoint on the way to work Tuesday. He claimed an American soldier kicked his car, mocked the legislature, handcuffed him and held him by the neck.

"What happened to me represents an insult to the whole National Assembly that was elected by the Iraqi people. This shows that the democracy we are enjoying is fake," al-Sheik said. "Through such incidents, the U.S. Army tries to show that it is the real controlling power in the country, not the new Iraqi government."

Al-Sheik's small party has been linked to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who led uprisings against the U.S.-led coalition in 2004.

The U.S. military said its initial investigation indicated that in the morning, al-Sheik got into an altercation with a coalition translator at the checkpoint. U.S. soldiers tried to separate them and "briefly held on to the legislator," while preventing another member of al-Sheik's party from getting out of his vehicle, a military statement said.

"We have the highest respect for all members of the Transitional National Assembly. Their safety and security is critically important," U.S. Brig. Gen. Karl R. Horst said in the statement. "We regret this incident occurred and are conducting a thorough investigation."

During a one-hour adjournment to protest al-Sheik's treatment, lawmaker Salam al-Maliki read an assembly statement demanding an apology from the U.S. Embassy and the prosecution of the soldier who allegedly mistreated the legislator.

Hajim al-Hassani, the parliament speaker, said: "We reject any sign of disrespect directed at lawmakers."

Each day this week, the legislature's opening session on current affairs has extended well beyond the scheduled 30 minutes. Legislators have discussed traffic jams in Baghdad, Saddam Hussein's alleged war crimes, claims that hostages were being held south of Baghdad and al-Sheik's complaint.

Coffee breaks, lunch and lengthy debates over issues such as how long each legislator should be allowed to speak have taken up the rest of the day.

Tuesday's attacks followed an Iraqi security operation in Madain, a town south of Baghdad where Sunni insurgents were believed to be holding Shiite hostages. No captives were found, but officials said they seized weapons and detained 10 suspects.

Also Tuesday, insurgents opened fire on Iraqi soldiers in Khaldiyah town, 75 miles west of Baghdad, killing four and wounding seven, police and hospital officials said. And in the capital, masked men shot and killed professor Fuad Ibrahim Mohamed al-Bayati as he left home for the University of Baghdad, police said.

One Iraqi civilian was killed in a roadside bombing in the Iskandariyah area, about 30 miles south of Baghdad, and three were wounded in a similar attack in Baqouba, northeast of the capital. The Baqouba bombing missed a U.S. military convoy. American soldiers returned fire, wounding one of the attackers, the military said.

Associated Press correspondents Jamie Tarabay and Omar Sinan and AP photographer Hadi Mizban contributed to this report.

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