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Iraqi Official Arrested for Allegedly Funneling Millions to Shi'ites


The U.S. military says a senior official in Iraq's health ministry has been arrested and charged with funneling millions of dollars to a notorious Shi'ite militia. The arrest follows pledges by Iraqi and U.S. officials to dismantle sectarian militias as part of the new Baghdad security crackdown. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from northern Iraq.

A U.S. military statement released Thursday did not name the official accused of being involved in the deaths of several health ministry officials and in giving financial and logistical support to the Jaysh al-Mahdi militia. The statement said he played a key role in helping the militia infiltrate the health ministry.

The suspect is accused of helping to employ large numbers of militia members, who then used health ministry facilities for kidnapping and murder. He also allegedly raised money for the militia group through kickback schemes using ministry contracts. The schemes allegedly added up to millions of dollars in support for his group.

Iraqi forces detained the suspect at work Thursday, and the director general of the health ministry, Ali Bustan, later complained about the tactics used during the arrest.

"We appeal to the government, if it is independent and sovereign as it alleges, why don't they arrest the deputy health minister through official channels, either through a lawsuit or presenting an arrest warrant? Why do they storm the ministry in such a barbaric way and arrest the deputy health minister," said Ali Bustan.

Video footage of the health ministry taken after the arrest showed a bullet hole in broken glass and damaged doors and furniture.

U.S and Iraqi forces are boosting troop levels in Baghdad in a push to put down continuing sectarian violence in the capital city. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has urged Iraqi forces not to let sectarian groups or political agendas influence their mission.