Iraq army offers to escort Sunni leader from home

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq’s army said on Sunday it had offered to escort the leader of the main Sunni Arab political bloc out of his home, where he has been confined for three days in a standoff that has threatened to worsen sectarian tension.

But Adnan al-Dulaimi said he had received no offer of an escort and considered himself still under house arrest in Baghdad, three days after his son and dozens of members of his entourage were detained, accused of links to a car rigged as a bomb that was found near Dulaimi’s office.

The standoff has threatened to worsen tension between the Shi’ite-led government and the Sunni Arab minority at a time when violence countrywide has dropped sharply after a U.S. “surge” of 30,000 additional troops this year.

“This is not just house arrest. This is prison. They will not even allow anyone to visit me. I am under siege,” Dulaimi told Reuters by telephone.

Baghdad security spokesman Brigadier-General Qassim Moussawi said the military had sent an officer to Dulaimi’s compound with an offer to accompany him if he wished to go out.

“We told him, if you want to go here or there, we are ready and will provide protection… because his security detail is in prison,” he said.

Dulaimi’s Accordance Front bloc, the Sunni Arab group with the most seats, walked out of parliament on Saturday while the legislature was debating a key bill to allow members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party to return to public life. Many Baath members were Sunni Arabs.

The Front quit the government in August, complaining that Sunni Arabs were being marginalized.

About 250 supporters of Dulaimi marched in the mainly Sunni town of Tikrit north of Baghdad, demanding he be released from “house arrest.”

Police and soldiers arrested Dulaimi’s son Mekki and dozens of bodyguards after pursuing suspected gunmen into his office compound following a shooting on Thursday. The U.S. military has said one of Dulaimi’s guards had the key to a car rigged as a bomb which was discovered near the office compound.

As a member of parliament, Dulaimi is immune from prosecution, but the government has said it could lift his immunity if he is found to have links to car bombs.

Washington hopes measures like the “de-Baathification” law will help ensure that the decline in violence remains permanent by reconciling Sunni Arabs and Shi’ites.

But the political process has so far been stalled, with little progress in passing benchmark laws.

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