'Americans' helped Iraqi ex-minister escape jail
The US launched an investigation yesterday after a former Iraqi minister was reported to have escaped from jail in Baghdad with the help of plainclothes Americans.
The US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, said the FBI had been enlisted to help find out the circumstances of former Iraqi electricity minister Ayham al-Samarraie's escape.
Initial reports said four SUVs had approached the police station in the green zone where Samarraie was being held, sparking rumours that US officials or troops had been involved.
Mr Khalilzad categorically denied this was the case and said that it may well be that he had paid some private individuals to help him escape.
An Iraqi government source told the Guardian he had received a phone call three weeks ago from Samarraie in prison saying he would be free soon.
It is fairly common for inmates to offer bribes to escape prison.
On December 9, a nephew of Saddam Hussein who was serving a life sentence for bomb-making escaped from prison in northern Iraq. Ayman Sabawi, the son of Saddam's half brother Sabawi Ibrahim Hassan al-Tikriti, fled the prison some 45 miles west of Mosul with the help of a police officer, according to local police.
Mr Samarraie, who served in prime minister Ayad Allawi's post-war interim government, was found guilty of corruption in October and jailed for two years.
A judge close to the case, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Samarraie had won that case on appeal. But the trial court had ordered that he remain in custody to face trial in up to 12 other cases.
Ali al-Shaboot, spokesman for the independent anti-corruption watchdog, the Public Integrity Commission, said Samarraie had previously employed a private US security company to protect him.
Faris Kareem, deputy head of Iraq's Public Integrity Commission, an anti-corruption panel, said a group of private security experts had helped with the escape. It was Samaraie's second escape since he was convicted in October. Mr Kareem said the security agents were "foreign," but he had no further details.
Elsewhere in Baghdad yesterday, the Iraqi Red Crescent said it had suspended operations in Baghdad after gunmen in police uniforms kidnapped 30 people from one of its offices in the capital on Sunday.
"We have suspended our operations in Baghdad until all the hostages are released," said Maazen Abdullah, secretary-general of the Iraqi humanitarian body. Gunmen have released 17 hostages. Mr Abdullah did not know why the employees were abducted.
The Red Crescent, which works in Iraq with the International Committee of the Red Cross, has 40 offices in Iraq. Work will continue in its other offices.
In the latest mass kidnapping highlighting lawlessness in Baghdad, gunmen wearing police uniforms stormed the branch of the Red Crescent office in central Karrada, separated men from women and took hostages.
Iraq's capital is plagued by daily kidnappings, many of which are carried out by armed groups on either side of the conflict between majority Shias and Sunni Arabs.
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