Middle East
Iraqis linked to death squads freed
Sunni politicians say US decision to free the two Shia officials a "big mistake".
Last Modified: 06 Mar 2008 16:38 GMT
The decision could anger Sunnis and set back US-led efforts at national reconciliation [AFP]
Two former Iraqi health ministry officials accused of helping Shia death squads have been released from US custody, drawing condemnation from Sunni politicians.
Hakim al-Zamili, a former deputy health minister, and General Hameed al-Shimmari, who was in charge of the ministry's security force, were released on Wednesday.
Their release came two days after an Iraqi court decided to drop kidnapping, murder and corruption charges against them for lack of evidence.
Sunni politicians said the decision was a "big mistake" displaying the inadequacies of Iraq's judicial system.
The Iraqi Islamic party, a Sunni group, said in a statement that it "considers today as a black mark and a grave setback in the history of the Iraqi judiciary system".

"What has happened today is a big mistake that should be corrected immediately - otherwise, the country will be drawn into disaster."
Alleged al-Mahdi Army link

Al-Zamili and al-Shimmari were accused of involvement in a wave of sectarian violence that gripped Iraq after the bombing of the Samarra mosque in 2006.

The officials allegedly used their positions to help the al-Mahdi Army, a militia loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, the Iraqi Shia leader.

Prosecutors charged that the fighters were given access to public hospitals and ambulances.

A US military statement issued after al-Zamili's 2007 arrest said that he was believed to have siphoned millions of dollars from the ministry to the al-Mahdi Army "to support sectarian attacks and violence targeting Iraqi citizens".

Once freed from a US-run detention facility, supporters took al-Zamili and al-Shimmari back to their homes to celebrate the court verdict.

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