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Iraq targeting officials with ties to militants

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Iraqi authorities would begin preparing cases against unspecified officials. (Samir Mizban/Pool)

BAGHDAD -- Iraq's prime minister says US and Iraqi authorities are working together to arrest and prosecute Iraqi politicians and top officials suspected of links to armed extremist groups.

"There is coordination between us and the [US-led] Multinational Forces [that] started at the beginning of this year . . . to determine who should be arrested and the reasons behind arresting them," Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said in an interview Saturday.

His comments were in response to a question about whether lists had been prepared of senior Iraqi officials, politicians, and lawmakers targeted for arrest.

Maliki said Iraqi authorities would begin preparing cases against unspecified officials and would refer them to investigative judges, who under the Iraqi legal system can issue indictments like American grand juries.

The prime minister gave no further details, such as how many people were targets of investigations or any specific names. He also did not specify when cases would be forward ed to investigative judges.

US officials would not comment on the purported lists or even confirm whether they exist, citing a policy not to discuss intelligence operations.

"We will not discuss actual, alleged, or potential intelligence activities in order to protect operational security," said Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Garver, a military spokesman. "Obviously, such a list would fall under this type of activity."

Garver noted that the coalition has authority to "take all necessary measures" to maintain security, but said it would not arrest people for political reasons.

Five Iraqi officials -- two of them generals and the others from Sunni and Shi'ite parties -- said that US officials and Iraqi intelligence agents were drawing up such lists of top officials and politicians to be arrested under the Baghdad security plan.

All five said they had knowledge of the lists, but none would speak on the record because of the sensitivity of the issue.

An Iraqi Army spokesman, Brigadier General Qassim Moussawi, alluded to "lists" but stopped short of confirming their existence.

"This subject has some delicate intelligence elements," he said at a news conference last month, without elaborating.

One of the Iraqi officials who spoke to the Associated Press said Maliki had asked the Americans to make the arrests to provide his government with political cover.

"There is a list of lawmakers, undersecretaries at several ministries, and politicians who are involved in terrorist activities," the official said. "There is no immunity for lawmakers . . . the prime minister is determined to pursue this."

A UN Security Council resolution gives the US-led coalition authority to detain anyone suspected of presenting a security risk to multinational forces. One Iraqi general said some people on the list were believed to be providing financial help to extremists.

Deputy Health Minister Hakim al-Zamili was arrested Feb. 9 by US and Iraqi soldiers for allegedly diverting millions of dollars from his ministry to the Shi'ite militia.

Iraqi officials gave various estimates about the number of people on the list, ranging from 50 to more than 100.