As it formally wrapped up war operations in Iraq, the Obama administration handed over terrorism suspect Ali Musa Daqduq to Baghdad’s government, dealing a blow to U.S. military and intelligence officials who wanted him tried by a U.S. tribunal on charges he plotted the killings of five American soldiers.
The White House said Friday night it has tried to secure assurances from Iraq that Daqduq will be tried in that country for his role in the January 2007 killings, but U.S. intelligence fears he will eventually be released to Iran, where he has been linked to Hizbullah and the notorious Quds Force.
The administration’s decision drew a swift, harsh rebuke from a Republican senator who had pressed in recent weeks to have Daqduq tried by a U.S. military tribunal.
“Daqduq is one of the worst of the worst,” Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa said. “He’s got a significant record of terrorist activity with Hizbullah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds Force, even training them. The handover to the Iraqi government causes grave concerns in my mind that he’ll find his way back to the battlefield where undoubtedly innocent people will be killed.
“And, to add further insult, the decision to turn this terrorist over to the Iraqi government is a slap in the face to the families of the five service members who were killed under Daqduq’s direction,” Grassley lamented.
The resolution of Daqduq’s status was one of the thorniest remaining issues as U.S. troops leave the country this month.
Plans as recent as this summer envisioned some U.S. forces remaining on bases in Iraq and working out a way to at least monitor the custody of Daqduq. But after President Obama failed to reach a new troop agreement with his Iraqi counterpart, Nuri al-Maliki, the U.S. was compelled to transfer the last of thousands of prisoners it kept in jails on U.S. bases.
Daqduq was one of hundreds senior Shiite and al Qaeda suspects kept in detention centers on U.S. bases when Obama took office. But slowly, most of those prisoners were released. The highest-profile prisoners released until Friday were Laith and Qais Qazali, two brothers who led a network that provided Iran-supported militias in southern Iraq with lethal roadside bombs known as EFPs, or explosively formed penetrators.
White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said Friday night that the United States “sought and received assurances that he will be tried for his crimes.”
Last month, though, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta acknowledged that Daqduq “would certainly find better justice here.”
One reason Daqduq could not be sent to the United States is that Obama had not allowed new detainees to be sent to the Guantánamo prison in Cuba.
Intelligence officials are frustrated by the outcome. “This is one of many things we just dropped,” one intelligence officer told The Daily Beast, predicting that some of those turned over by the U.S. in recent days will be released and “will go back to the Iranian terror machine.”