Iraq election: Winning Sunni candidates targeted by Maliki forces
Four Sunni candidates on Iyad Allawi's winning Iraq election ticket are targets of investigation by forces loyal to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is jostling for leverage as the two seek partners for a coalition government.
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Mr. Harbi's case is the most talked-about in Diyala because of his stature in the province, where he's served in several city and provincial positions since 2004. Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has targeted him and his family, and last month Iraqi security forces arrested him.Skip to next paragraph
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The 41-year-old farmer with two wives and seven children left behind the family citrus orchards to enter politics, said his brother, Ammar Abdullah, age 31.
It was a risky move for a Sunni in Diyala, for which his extended family paid dearly. The province is one of the last bastions for Sunni extremists who have been pushed out of Baghdad and areas to the west, and nearly two dozen of his relatives who joined him as bodyguards were killed in well-documented bombings and assassinations in 2007 and 2008.
These were some of the worst years for attacks by AQI, the mostly home-grown extremist group that targets fellow Sunnis they deem "collaborators" for joining the political process supported by the US government.
In September, Harbi's 9-year-old son, Qutaiba, was kidnapped and killed, said Mr. Abdullah. US forces confirmed the incident, and also said they knew of a bomb attack on Harbi's home.
"Even after that, we just intensified security and tried to live with these facts," Abdullah said. "We didn't move our families until the raid by Iraqi forces."
Iraqi forces detained Harbi in a Feb.7 raid on his house in the city of Muqdadiya, Abdullah said. Initially held on suspicion of involvement with a homicide, Harbi retained an attorney and was ordered released by a judge for lack of evidence, Abdullah said.
In the few days it took before his release was processed, a special Iraqi counterterrorism force that's said to answer directly to Maliki arrived from Baghdad, took Harbi into custody, and has held him without access to an attorney or visitors ever since, his brother and the Diyala security official said. Abdullah said he's called several security offices in hopes of finding out where his brother is being held and what charges he faces, but hasn't received an answer.
"When they took him to Baghdad, all access to him was cut," Abdullah said. "No one has seen him, spoken to him, or even heard his voice."
US official: Harbi arrested for stealing
McClatchy also tried to pin down the charges against Harbi, but to no avail. The Diyala security official said Harbi "confessed to facilitating a suicide-vest bombing this year and, consequently, we detained him, his driver, and two bodyguards."
US forces, who worked closely with Harbi during his stint as the mayor of Muqdadiya and in his long campaign against Sunni insurgents, said they received a different story from Iraqi forces.
"He is currently arrested and is likely held in Baghdad. He was arrested for stealing money from government projects. Any speculation beyond that as to why this happened would be for the [government of Iraq]," said Maj. Lee Peters, spokesman for the US military in northern Iraq.
Harbi: 'I will never stop'
Harbi's family and friends were gathered around a TV set Friday in hopes of hearing his name announced as part of Allawi's winning coalition, a victory made bittersweet because of his detention. Abdullah said he's not even sure his brother knows he's the second highest vote-getter in the entire province, with 28,273 votes, according to figures released by Iraq's election commission.
Abdullah said the group's excitement turned to fear when they heard Maliki mention the case in a roundabout way. To him, it signaled that his brother might never be freed to take the seat he won in parliament. He said he's never heard of any corruption charges or bombing plots and is convinced the arrest is just another attempt to keep Harbi from giving his constituents a voice in government.
"He who chooses the path of politics, especially in these circumstances, knows he will pay a price," Abdullah said. "He lost the dearest thing to him, his son, and the image is still in my mind of him standing over his son's body and saying, 'They're doing these things to make me stop. I will never stop.' "
(McClatchy special correspondents Sahar Issa in Baghdad and a reporter in Diyala, who cannot be named for security reasons, contributed.)