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Arrest Warrant Issued For Iraq's Culture Minister

BAGHDAD, June 26, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iraqi authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Culture Minister As'ad Kamal al-Hashimi, after he was accused of ordering an assassination attempt against a secular Sunni leader two years ago.

Al-Hashimi, whose home was raided today, is the first Iraqi cabinet minister to face arrest.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the minister is suspected of being the mastermind of a February 2005 ambush on then parliamentary candidate Mithal al-Alusi.

Al-Alusi, a secular Sunni Arab, was unharmed in the attack, but his two sons were killed when armed men fired on his car just outside his Baghdad home.

Al-Dabbagh said the two men who carried it out confessed they took orders from al-Hashimi.

Political allies of al-Hashimi, who was not at his home when it was raided, called the allegations against the minister "fabricated."

In an interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraqi, al-Alusi, a secular Sunni Arab, reiterated his charge that al-Hashimi was behind the assassination attempt.

He said he believes al-Hashimi has fled to the heavily fortified Green Zone.

"We know that he is now in the Green Zone, and we also know that he is currently under the protection of a highly positioned official in the Iraqi government," al-Alusi said, without elaborating.

Israeli Talks

Al-Alusi was a leading figure in the secular Iraqi National Congress party of Ahmad Chalabi, the former exile and Pentagon ally. But he was expelled from that party after meeting for talks with Israeli officials in Jordan.

It's unclear what motives anyone would have for trying to kill him, but the Israeli talks took place shortly before the attempt on al-Alusi’s life. Al-Alusi was later elected to parliament as head of his own party, the Iraqi Democratic National Party.

Al-Hashimi, for his part, is a Sunni Arab professor of Islamic studies.

His party, the General Conference of the People of Iraq, has condemned the arrest warrant and raid. It also warned the Shi'ite-dominated government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to avoid "playing with fire by continuing the policy of fabricating lies to exclude Sunni politicians and officials from the Iraqi arena."

Al-Hashimi’s party is affiliated with the Iraqi Accordance Front, Iraq’s largest Sunni political bloc. It holds 44 seats in the 275-member parliament.

Accordance Front spokesman Muhanad al-Essawi today said: "Iraqi authorities have issued an arrest warrant against al-Hashimi over fabricated terrorism charges."

Authorities have also made other accusations.

Government spokesman al-Dabbagh noted today in his remarks to reporters that at the time of the attack on al-Alusi, the culture minister was working as an imam in a Baghdad mosque.

He did not elaborate, but al-Alusi told Radio Free Iraq that the mosque in question is known for inciting violence and terrorism:

"People living in the neighborhood of Hattyn and Kalat in Baghdad, where I used to live and where Mr. Asad al-Hashimi, who worked in a local mosque, lived -- these people [identified] killers and criminals," al-Alusi said. "And those killers and criminals -- or some of them -- indicated that the orders came from Mr. As'ad al-Hashimi, then leader of the mosque community and later minister of culture.”

Hotel Attack

Today’s developments come as Iraqi officials are reeling from a major security breach at a key Baghdad meeting on June 25 of U.S.-backed Sunni and Shi’ite tribal chiefs.

A suicide bomber penetrated at least three levels of security to slip into Baghdad’s busy Al-Mansur Hotel, which is also the base for many foreign journalists.

RFI reports that speculation is now swirling that the bomber must have had some official help to get into the hotel, where he blew himself up in the midst of the gathering of tribal sheiks.

The attack undermined efforts to forge a front against the extremists of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Four chiefs were among the 13 victims, including chiefs associated with the Anbar Salvation Council, an alliance of Sunni Muslim tribes that have turned against Al-Qaeda in Iraq in a bid to drive the group from the western province of Anbar.

U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, called the hotel bombing "wanton slaughter that shows Al-Qaeda's complete lack of respect for life."

(RFE/RL’s Radio Free Iraq, with AP, Reuters, Newsroom-Donovan)

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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