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THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ: TROOP INCREASE; DIYALA OFFENSIVE;
EXECUTIONS; ESCAPEE'S STORY

Iraq prison escape is defended

January 09, 2007|From the Associated Press

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES — A former Iraqi Cabinet minister on Monday defended his escape from a Baghdad prison and said he planned to return to his home in the U.S.

Ayham Sameraei, a former electricity minister with U.S. and Iraqi citizenship, was serving time for corruption when he escaped in December. The charges concerned an estimated $2 billion in missing funds for contracts to rebuild Iraq's electrical infrastructure.

Sameraei said he fled because he feared being killed or kidnapped. He said he would return to his home near Chicago as long as he received assurances that he would not be charged in the U.S. He said friends were negotiating with U.S. government officials.

"I am going home next week," Sameraei said at a news conference in a Dubai hotel. "I didn't break any U.S. laws."

Sameraei was appointed to the Iraqi transitional government in 2003. He said the charges against him in Iraq -- other than those related to his escape -- were politically motivated.

Sameraei's Dec. 17 escape triggered outbursts and countercharges between American and Iraqi officials.

Lou Fintor, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, said at the time that the U.S. government was not involved.

Sameraei said that Americans were involved in his escape but that they were not affiliated with the U.S. Embassy. He declined to say whether any worked for the U.S. government.

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