BAGHDAD — An Iraqi lawmaker on Monday blasted accusations that he'd ordered mafia-like murders, charging that the case was politically motivated because of his hard-line stance on human rights issues.
The Iraqi military says that Sunni Muslim Arab lawmaker Mohammed al Dayni orchestrated a string of deadly attacks that ranged from burying his rivals alive to hiring a suicide bomber who killed one person and wounded 22 others in a cafeteria in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone.
"The injustice against us is because of our national positions," Dayni said at a news conference in the Iraqi parliament, referring to his advocacy work. "We knew that we were going to pay a price for that."
Parliament members soon will have to decide whether to lift the immunity that Dayni has as a lawmaker. Dayni, who's from Iraq's Diyala province, belongs to the Sunni-led National Dialogue Front.
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His rebuttal came a day after Iraqi authorities announced at a news conference that they'd issued an arrest warrant alleging that Dayni was the chief architect of several deadly attacks on the Green Zone. The Iraqi military based the warrant on statements given by two former bodyguards of Dayni's, one of whom is his nephew.
In a statement taped by authorities, Riyadh Ibrahim Jassim Hussein al Dayni said that his uncle had ordered him to rob gold merchants, bury more than a hundred rivals in Diyala province and fire mortars at the Green Zone, the fortresslike compound where the parliament, U.S. Embassy and other government buildings are.
The nephew also charged that his uncle was behind a bloody attack in a parliament cafeteria in April 2007. After clearing the Green Zone's numerous security checkpoints with Mohammed al Dayni's identification badge, a suicide bomber received an explosives-laden belt from a cafeteria supervisor and blew himself up among the lunchtime crowd. The blast killed a Sunni lawmaker from Dayni's party.
The bombing exposed how much the heavily guarded Green Zone — then under U.S. military control — was still vulnerable to attacks.
On Monday, the parliament building was abuzz with Iraqi reporters shadowing lawmakers to find out more and gather responses. A waiting room TV was tuned to the latest news report on Dayni.
Then Dayni emerged and strode alone into an auditorium. Wearing a dark brown suit, he read from a prepared statement and answered questions.
He said that the accusations were part of a political attack because of his advocacy on human rights, and that the Iraqi military spokesman who announced the arrest warrant had defied legal procedures by going to the news media first.
Dayni's former bodyguards, he added, made their statements after being beaten.
"They were tortured heavily," he said. "These confessions need proof."
Lawmakers called for a committee to study the Dayni case.
The judiciary must submit a formal request for lawmakers to vote on the immunity matter; an Iraqi military spokesman said the court had received the motion. Once the request reaches the chamber, lawmakers need an absolute majority to lift immunity and deliver the arrest warrant.
Some lawmakers said they opposed the public circumstances of the warrant, while others said they'd honor the request, provided that the judiciary offered convincing proof.
"We are awaiting a request from the judiciary to lift immunity based on detailed documents or evidence . . . that would warrant lifting immunity," said Haider al Abadi, a Shiite Muslim lawmaker from Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's Dawa party. "When we receive them, we will vote for it one time."
Even after the parliament receives the warrant, however, it could take weeks or months before lawmakers put it up for a vote.
The chamber has been at an impasse for more than two months, after the speaker resigned under pressure because some of his cohorts didn't like his impulsive leadership style. Lawmakers have been unable to agree on a successor, holding back debate on a new budget or other matters that could speed up reconstruction efforts.
"I think it will take months," Mithal al Alusi, a lawmaker with the Sunni-led Iraqi Nation party, said about lifting Dayni's immunity.
Alusi added that it was crucial for parliament to do so because of the need to serve the arrest warrant or at least question Dayni.
"We're talking about a huge criminal case," he said.
Also on Monday, the Interior Ministry announced that it had detained 12 low-level police officers on a range of criminal charges, including the high-profile killing in 2006 of Maysoun al Hashemi, the sister of Sunni Arab Vice President Tariq al Hashemi. Authorities also issued warrants against another 15 who were outside the country.
Hashemi and her bodyguard were killed as they left her home in southwestern Baghdad. The slaying happened only a few days after parliament appointed her brother to the vice presidency. A couple of weeks earlier, another brother had been gunned down in Baghdad.
Most of the suspects nabbed in the Interior Ministry investigation hailed from Sadr City, a Baghdad slum once known as a hotbed for Shiite militias.
(Daniel is a staff writer for The Miami Herald. McClatchy special correspondent Mohammed al Dulaimy contributed to this report.)
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