Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat- After being detained for three years by US forces, the Iraqi Government released Al-Sadr Trend spokesperson Abdul-Hadi al-Daraji, as apart of a deal to release British hostages kidnapped in Iraq, according to Sami al-Askari, an Iraqi MP with close ties to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
Asharq Al-Awsat tried to contact Al-Daraji, but he refused to give any statements to any media outlet. However, Salman al-Furayji, the director of martyr Al-Sadr’s office in the Al-Rasafah region told Asharq Al-Awsat that he met with Al-Daraji, who is in good health. He added that “an apology was extended to Al-Daraji, because he was arrested despite being innocent of any charges.” He said that Al-Daraji did not mention that he was subjected to any torture or pressure. He denied the existence of any deal involving his release.
A leader from the League of the Righteous [Asaib Ahl al-Haq], an armed group that seceded from the Al-Mahdi Army militia, which is affiliated with Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, was released recently. At the time of his release, news circulated that the release was part of a deal to release the British hostages, for whose abduction the League of the Righteous claimed responsibility in 2007. The British Government announced last week that it received two bodies it later confirmed belong to two of the hostages.
As for Sadrist and Baghdad Governorate Council member, Sabbar al-Saidi, he stressed that a number of Al-Sadr Trend prisoners will also be released in the next few days. For his part, spokesperson for the Al-Sadr Trend Sheikh Salah al-Ubaydi told the French News Agency that “an Iraqi-US force released on Friday [26 June] Sheikh Abdul-Hadi al-Daraji, [Al-Sadr Trend] media official in Baghdad, after two and a half years of detention.” He said that “Al-Daraji arrived at his home in the Al-Urfali neighborhood in Al-Sadr city in eastern Baghdad.”
Al-Ubaydi said that ” US forces did not file any charges against Al-Daraji throughout his detention period, during which he moved between Camp Buka (in Basra) and Camp Cropper (near Baghdad Airport).” He added: “This means that Al-Daraji’s arrest was for political rather than criminal reasons.”
Sami al-Askari, an MP belonging to the Unified Iraqi Coalition said that Al-Daraji’s release is part of the deal that was reached between the government and the League of the Righteous. He told Asharq Al-Awsat that “Al-Daraji’s release is part of the deal that was reached recently during the talks that were held between the government and the League of the Righteous and that focused in some of its parts on the release of all hostages and prisoners.”
It is worth noting that the US Army announced on 19 January 2007 that a special squad belonging to the Iraqi forces had arrested an Al-Mahdi Army leader. A US statement stated that the arrested person was in charge of the Shariaa Committee of an armed group involved in organized kidnapping operations, in addition to the killing and torture of innocent Iraqis,” in reference to Al-Daraji. The statement pointed out that the arrest took place in the Al-Baladiyyat region in eastern Baghdad.”
The US statement confirmed that “the suspect was involved in the assassination of a number of Iraqi security and government officials and is close to Abu-Dar and other death squad leaders.” Abu-Dar is accused of involvement in acts of sectarian killing.
The League of the Righteous seceded from the Al-Mahdi Army in 2004 after engaging in two battles against the US side in Al-Najaf, Al-Sadr city, and other regions in southern Iraq. The organization is led by Sheikh Qays al-Khazali, who was the spokesperson for the Al-Sadr Trend in the same year. Al-Khazali was arrested by the British forces in the Basra Governorate in southern Iraq in 2007 together with four other leaders. They were then handed over to the Americans, who accuse them of being responsible for the abduction and killing of five US soldiers at the Karbala Governorate headquarters to the south of Baghdad at the beginning of 2007, after the kidnappers disguised themselves as US soldiers.
Al-Askari denied playing the role of mediator in the ongoing negotiations between the government and the League of the Righteous. However, he told Asharq Al-Awsat that the government is negotiating with the armed group to renounce arms, as part of the national reconciliation process, and to join the political process.