WASHINGTON, Nov. 23 (UPI) -- Iraqi officials are balking at a request to send a militant held in Iraq to the United States for a likely military commission trial, U.S. officials said.
Officials say they think Iran wants to retain custody of the former operative for the country, turning the matter into an early indicator of whether Iraq's allegiances will be with the United States or Iran once U.S. troops pull out next month, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.
Ali Mussa Daqduq, a Lebanese Hezbollah commander the United States accused of orchestrating the 2007 kidnapping and murder of five U.S. soldiers, is the final detainee in Iraq in American custody. U.S. officials handed over all other remaining detainees, about 35, to the Iraqi government Tuesday.
A defense official said the United States can retain custody of Daqduq until the end of the year under terms of the 2008 security agreement with Iraq. If negotiations fail, Daqduq would be transferred to Iraqi custody, a move U.S. military officials said they fear would lead to his release either in Iraq or to the Iranian government.
Iranian pressure on Iraq has muddled negotiations to bring Daqduq to the United States, a national security law expert told the Journal.
"I would imagine there are significant elements in Iran who are willing to spend a fair amount of political capital to prevent America from pulling a Hezbollah commander out when we go," said Robert Chesney, a law professor at the University of Texas.
Iranian officials have denied U.S. claims that they are intervening and that Daqduq must stand trial in Iraq.
Daqduq was captured in 2007. Although he is U.S. custody, Iraqis control the prison where he is held and the United States can't remove him without Iraqi permission.