U.S. troops detained the head of Iraq’s largest Sunni Muslim political party during a house raid early Monday in western Baghdad, a top party official and police said.
Mohsen Abdul Hamid, head of the Iraqi Islamic Party, was detained by American soldiers along with his three sons and four guards, said party-secretary-general Ayad al-Samarei. U.S. military officials could not immediately confirm the detentions.
Al-Samarei said American soldiers raided Hamid’s home at around 6 a.m. and confiscated various items, including a computer.
“This is a provocative and foolish act and this is part of the pressure exerted on the party,” he said.
“At the time when the Americans say they are keen on real Sunni participation, they are now arresting the head of the only Sunni party that calls for a peaceful solution and have participated in the political process,” he added.
In a statement, the party demanded Hamid’s immediate release, saying he “represents a large sector of the Iraqi people.”
“This irresponsible behavior will only complicate the situation,” the party statement said.
Sunni Muslims were Iraq’s dominant community under Saddam Hussein, but they have lost their influence since the dictator’s ouster two years ago and the country’s predominant Shiite community gained political power.
The country’s raging insurgency is believed to be driven mainly from disaffected Iraqi Sunnis and extremist Islamists from neighboring, predominantly Sunni Arab states.
Tensions have been high in recent weeks during a spate of violence, some which has demonstrated Sunni-Shiite tensions. Sunni and Shiite religious leaders have been trading accusations against each other’s communities amid the killings of hundreds of people, including Shiite and Sunni clerics.
Hamid, aged in his late 60s, is regarded as a moderate Islamic leader. He was a member of the now dissolved U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council and and has been involved with the party since the 1970s and headed it since 2003.