WASHINGTON — The American Embassy in Baghdad is offering de facto protection to the Iraqi culture minister, who an Iraqi judge this week charged with the attempted murder of a fellow parliamentarian, Mithal al-Alusi.
That is what Mr. Alusi told The New York Sun yesterday in a phone call from Baghdad. Mr. Alusi said the wanted man, As'ad Kamal al-Hashemi, had fled to al-Rashid Hotel inside the American-protected international zone in the center of Baghdad. Iraqi national police on Tuesday went to this location, only to be told by the South American mercenaries guarding the al-Rashid compound that they could not enter the grounds of the hotel where Mr. Hashemi was staying. Mr. Alusi then called the office of the American ambassador in Iraq, Ryan Crocker, to ask the Americans to order the guards to allow the national police to enter the premises. He was, in so many words, refused.
"I called Ambassador Ryan Crocker's office today and yesterday and they did not give any kind of answer. They are playing with us. They say this is an Iraqi issue, we are not going to be involved. And normally this is a very good attitude, but not when it stops us from arresting terrorists," Mr. Alusi said.
The contractors who guard al-Rashid Hotel report directly to American contractors, who in turn report to the American military command in Iraq or the American Embassy.
An American officer who has been monitoring the standoff said that General David Petraeus, who commands the Iraqi theater, had originally ordered American soldiers to accompany Iraqi national police on the raid Monday of Mr. Hashemi's home. But on the way to his home, the GIs were ordered to turn around after the Pentagon decided no Americans should be involved in the arrest. "The order was overturned in Washington," the officer said.
A State Department spokesman said, "This is an Iraqi issue," and offered no further comment on the matter.
Mr. Alusi is the sole representative of an Iraqi party that has explicitly rejected the sectarian extremes of either the Sunni or Shiite bloc. Mr. Hashemi is a member of the Tawafuq, or Iraqi Accordance Front, a Sunni party that has recently tried to gin up legislation asking that American troops leave Iraq. On Monday, an Iraqi jurist with the Central Criminal Court in Baghdad signed a warrant for Mr. Hashemi's arrest, charging him with financing and ordering the February 8, 2005, assassination attempt. Mr. Alusi's sons, Ayman and Jamal, were killed in the attack.
The standoff in Baghdad places one of America's best allies in the parliament in Iraq at odds with the Bush administration. Mr. Alusi campaigned in 2005 on a platform that supported the rule of law and rejected both Sunni and Shiite terrorism.
In 2004, he earned enmity from Muslim terrorists of both sectarian stripes when he told reporters that he had visited Israel to attend a counterterrorism conference.
Mr. Crocker has for his part used his energies in recent months to get the Shiite and Sunni confessional parties to agree on political reconciliation, including an energy law.
At the same time, one of the chief missions of the military surge in Baghdad is to assist the Iraqi government in enforcing the rule of law.
In a phone interview with Al-Jazeera this week, Mr. Hashemi said the charges against him were false and that the moves against him were part of a political campaign to sideline Sunni politicians. He has announced his resignation as culture minister late last month.
The New York Sun first reported the order to arrest the culture minister on Monday evening. In May the Sun wrote that the interior ministry had recommended to Prime Minister al-Maliki that he prosecute 15 Sunni members of parliament for ties to terrorism. To date those prosecutions have not been ordered.
Mr. Alusi, who opted to allow the national police, rather than his own men, to pursue the killer of his sons, expressed frustration and outrage.
"The joke is that the embassy is repeating is that this is an Iraqi issue. But they block the police to go get him. I am asking them to give an order to open up the checkpoint so we do not have a problem. The reality is there is a potential for an international scandal and an American scandal. I am going now to say the American embassy is protecting terrorists. The Americans need to let the police go into the compound," he said.
The head of the Iraqi Accordance Front, Adnan al-Duleimi, in an appearance yesterday on the American-funded Radio Sawa, said that a solution to the problem may be to allow Mr. Hashemi leave Iraq and resign his post abroad.
"I believe he will leave Iraq and declare his resignation," he said. He added that he thought Mr. Maliki would agree to allow the culture minister to flee Iraq as a deal to reduce tensions.
Aides to Mr. Maliki, however, who approved the warrant for Mr. Hashemi's arrest on Monday, denied any such bargain was in the offing.