The Iraqi Health Ministry is threatening to sever all ties with the U.S. military after American forces attacked the Ministry, arresting its security guards. According to the Health Ministry, the U.S. military also took money meant for employees’ salaries.
The raid began at 3 a.m. Sunday, when U.S. troops in Humvees and tanks cordoned off the Ministry of Health and went inside.
“They went to the basement and they damaged the furniture,” explained Health Ministry spokesman Qassam Allawi. “I saw it myself. Most of the furniture was damaged. They broke the doors. They broke all the doors and they took the money. According to the minister, they took $35,000 worth of employees’ salaries and they detained seven people from the Minister’s personal guard.”
The American raid marks the latest clash between the United States military and the movement of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, which controls the Health Ministry. Sadr has millions of followers and dozens of seats in the parliament. Over the last few weeks, the U.S. has launched numerous attacks on the cleric’s Mehdi militia, including a raid on Sadr City that left 10 people dead and dozens injured. The Pentagon denies these raids mark any kind of pattern.
Speaking from Baghdad, U.S. military spokeswoman Maj. Josslyn Aberle says American soldiers were following up on a tip that 15 criminals wearing Iraqi army uniforms kidnapped six Iraqi citizens from a Baghdad emergency room and took them to the Ministry of Health.
“The important thing is that if credible information is given on the ground on a source, if the information is determined to be substantial then they’ll act on that,” she said. “Kidnappings have become a favorite tactic of the terrorists and the death squads.”
The Pentagon admitted no abductees were found during the raid and refused to say whose kidnapping set off the sweep. But this isn’t the first time allegations have surfaced about kidnappings run out of the ministry. In June, the health chief of Iraq’s Diyala province came in for a meeting with the health minister and disappeared inside the ministry building.
Like other Iraqis, lawyer Nezar al-Samarai is concerned about both the crisis of kidnappings in Iraq and the conduct of American soldiers.
“The Ministry of Health previously had a lot of fingers pointing at them having to do with kidnappings in front of the Baghdad morgue, which is nearby,” he said. “When people would come to take the bodies of their relatives from the morgue, they would kidnap the men. Still, I think the Americans should go through the right path and ask the government. Take a legal path. Don’t raid places and step on Iraqi sovereignty.”
Ministry of Health spokesman Allawi agrees.
“If you want to come to the Ministry of Health, you should have called us and told us that you were coming,” he said. “We are an open ministry. It’s not civilized just to raid.”
Now, Allawi says, the Health Ministry has gone on strike, refusing to return to work until the U.S. military releases the detainees, issues an apology, and returns the money allegedly seized in the raid.
“If they don’t meet our conditions and our requirements, we will halt all communication and we will not accept anything they’re giving,” he said. “Not that they’re giving us anything, but we will begin to help ourselves.”
Ironically, the Health Ministry was the first ministry handed over to the Iraqi government in 2004.