The US has turned over the last remaining prisoner in its custody in Iraq, a decision which is likely to spark political controversy in the United States because he may face only minor criminal charges in an Iraqi court.
Ali Musa Daqduq is suspected of working for Lebanon's Hezbollah group and organising a January 2007 raid by Shia rebels. In the raid, gunmen drove up to a checkpoint in Karbala, in central Iraq, where they shot and killed one American soldier; four other soldiers were kidnapped and executed, their bodies dumped on the side of a road.
"The handover to the Iraqi government causes grave concerns in my mind that he’ll find his way back to the battlefield, where undoubtedly innocent people will be killed"
- Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican
On Friday, Daqduq was handed over to the Iraqi government. Iraqi officials said on Saturday that he would likely be charged with entering the country illegally, a charge which could carry up to a five-year prison sentence.
The US military declined to comment on Daqduq’s transfer; Major General Jeffrey Buchanan, the chief spokesman for US forces in Iraq, referred questions to officials in Washington.
Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said the Obama administration had hoped to transfer Daqduq to the US and try him before a military commission; this is partly because the evidence against him would not be admissible in a civilian court.
"We worked a wide range of options consistent with US and Iraqi law to effect Daqduq's transfer to a US military commission," Carney said. "We are continuing to discuss this with the Iraqis ... and [we have] received assurances that he will be tried for his crimes."
Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the White House’s national security council, said the Obama administration had "received assurances" from the Iraqi government that Daqduq would be tried.
Still, it is unclear whether the Obama administration will leave Daqduq to the Iraqi criminal justice system or whether it will continue efforts to extradite him.
Iraqi judicial officials have said there is no hard evidence that Daqduq actually killed the five American soldiers. He could be acquitted of those charges if judges at a preliminary hearing do not think there is enough evidence against him to warrant a trial.
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Despite the administration’s assurances, the handover has sparked an angry reaction from US conservatives, who say Daqduq will probably be released. Few of the former military detainees handed over to the Iraqi government have faced prison time.
Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, called the decision "disgraceful". Senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said it was a "slap in the face" to the families of the soldiers Daqduq allegedly killed.
"The handover to the Iraqi government causes grave concerns in my mind that he’ll find his way back to the battlefield, where undoubtedly innocent people will be killed," Grassley said.
Daqduq was one of hundreds of prisoners held by US forces in Iraq; most of them have been released in recent months.
His handover to the Iraqis is another step in the ongoing US pullout from the country, ending the nearly nine-year war.
Less than 4,000 American soldiers remain in Iraq, and the remaining troops must be withdrawn by the end of the year under the terms of a 2008 status-of-forces agreement between the US and Iraqi governments.