BAGHDAD (Reuters) â€” Iraqi forces placed Baghdad under a blanket curfew throughout Saturday after US troops arrested a man suspected of plotting to attack the capital’s government compound with suicide car bombings.
US troops arrested a security guard at the home of the leader of the main Sunni Arab political bloc on Friday.
The US military said on Saturday the man was suspected of planning attacks on the fortified “Green Zone” and may have been linked to Al Qaeda.
“Coalition force personnel detained an individual at the residence of Dr Adnan Dulaimi in Baghdad September 29. The detained individual is suspected of involvement in the planning of a multi-vehicle suicide operation inside Baghdad’s international zone,” the military said in a statement.
Dulaimi leads the Accordance Front, the largest Sunni bloc in parliament, which is also housed inside the sprawling Green Zone.
A senior official in the Front named the arrested man as Khudhar Farhan and said he was in his mid-20s and had joined Dulaimi’s security staff about a month ago. Farhan did not have a security pass to enter the Green Zone, he said. Dulaimi told Reuters on Friday immediately after the raid that he expected the man to be released. He denied a report from a police source that his son was detained.
There was no official explanation for the curfew, which emptied streets. A political source said it was linked to fears that security in the Green Zone had been compromised. He said access for all but the most senior officials had been curtailed.
The five-square-metre riverside compound, once occupied by Saddam Hussein, is home to thousands of people, including most senior officials and the US and British embassies.
In March, Iraq jailed several defence officials accused of a plot to infiltrate hundreds of Al Qaeda fighters into the zone’s security force.
Another senior Iraqi official said the curfew was imposed because of fears of more widespread unrest after a bloody first week of the holy month of Ramadan, during which the US military said suicide attacks had hit a record high.
The curfew would hold until 6:00am (0300 GMT) on Sunday, Prime Minister Nuri Maliki’s office said. In the evening, state television announced a three-hour lifting of the ban on pedestrians, enabling some traditional Ramadan social life.
The US military said the curfew was the government’s decision and said such measures had proven effective in the past. The capital is permanently under curfew overnight and cars are routinely banned on Fridays during weekly prayers.
The surge in sectarian killings since February has been marked by dozens of corpses being found nearly every day dumped in the streets of Baghdad, bound, tortured and shot.
Sunni Arabs say some of the killings are carried out by Shiite death squads with links to the government and police.
Increasingly, US officials have backed up such claims.
One senior US military official said this week police had allowed death squads to re-enter areas already cleared by US forces in a seven-week-old crackdown in the capital.
Washington’s ambassador to Iraq threatened to cut off funding for the Iraqi police if the government failed to punish police officials for torture and human rights violations.
Zalmay Khalilzad said in an interview with the New York Times that he had faith in the motives of Iraq’s new Interior Minister Jawad Bolani, in charge of the police since June.
But he said US officials were reviewing programmes under a law named after Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy that bans US funding for armies and police forces that violate human rights.
Outside Baghdad, a suicide car bomber targeting an Iraqi army checkpoint in the northern town of Tal Afar killed two people and wounded 30. Other bombs struck in Mosul and Kirkuk in the north and in Iskandariya south of Baghdad.