US wants Iraq to try American

The US government wants an Iraqi court to handle criminal charges against a naturalised American citizen who is being held in Iraq on suspicion that he is linked to insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

The US government wants an Iraqi court to handle criminal charges against a naturalised American citizen who is being held in Iraq on suspicion that he is linked to insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

The man’s lawyers said he is innocent and likely to be tortured if he is handed over to the Iraqis.

Shawqi Omar, 44, who once served in the Minnesota National Guard, has been held in US-run military prisons since his capture in 2004.

The government said Omar was harbouring an Iraqi insurgent and four Jordanian fighters at the time of his arrest and also had bomb-making materials.

Omar’s family said he is a businessman who was seeking reconstruction contracts in Iraq. He also has not had access to a lawyer or been formally charged with a crime since he was taken into custody, said Jonathan Hafetz, an American lawyer representing Omar’s family.

Separately, Omar, Zarqawi and 11 others also have been indicted by a Jordanian court on charges they plotted a chemical attack against Jordan’s intelligence agency.

Omar’s family is asking a US judge to step in and force the government to charge Omar with a crime or release him.

US District Judge Ricardo Urbina last week issued an order in Washington temporarily blocking Omar’s transfer to Iraqi custody.

The order is set to expire on Monday, but the judge could extend it.

The Justice Department weighed in yesterday, arguing that Urbina has no business intervening on Omar’s behalf and denying that Omar is even in US custody.

Shannon Purvis, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota National Guard, said Omar spent about 11 months in the Guard before being discharged in November 1984 without completing training.

He was let go under an “uncharacterised discharge,” she said, meaning he was discharged for such things as health problems or poor performance.

Purvis said she was certain Omar is the same person as the man identified in the court records because his birth date in Guard records matches the birth date in the court documents.

Omar became a US citizen in 1986, two years after he served in the National Guard.

Non-citizens can serve in the Guard as long as they obtain citizenship within eight years of joining, Purvis said.

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