Anti-war lawyer questioned over Iraq connection

A human rights lawyer investigating reports of war crimes by US forces in Iraq has been arrested in London and accused of helping break sanctions against Saddam Hussein's regime in the 1990s.

Anti-war activists claimed yesterday that Dr Abdul Haq al-Ani, who is acting for the former Iraqi deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, is the victim of a political prosecution.

Dr Ani, 59, a British citizen, was an active opponent of Saddam's regime who left Iraq in 1986 and qualified as a barrister in the UK. As a member of the campaign group Lawyers Against the War (LAW) he recently returned from Iraq where he had been gathering testimonies about alleged abuse of civil rights by the US military.

While in Iraq, Dr Ani, who has been retained by Tariq Aziz's family, attempted to see the former deputy prime minister, being held by US forces in Baghdad, but was denied permission.

LAW and Dr Ani are considering legal action against the Prime Minister and the Attorney General, Peter Goldsmith QC, on the basis that the Iraq war was illegal. They also want to take up the case of the detainees being held by British and American forces in Iraq with the European Court of Human Rights.

Dr Ani was arrested by Customs and Excise on Tuesday. He had made himself available for questioning after hearing that officers had raided the homes of two of his friends and removed computers and documentation.

The friends, who are of Iraqi descent, were absent at the time of the searches and found notes from customs officers stating that they were seeking information about Dr Ani. On the day of his arrest, Dr Ani had received a letter from the Attorney General in relation to the legal actions being contemplated by LAW.

Dr Ani is believed to have been questioned about his brother, Tariq, who was arrested in January in Finland also in connection with the breaking of UN sanctions against Iraq. He was released without charge.

After questioning, Dr Ani's home was searched, but nothing was taken away. He was released on bail and is due to return for questioning on 23 January.

Dr Ani said: "We have been collecting evidence in Iraq, as well as campaigning against the war in this country. The Americans were not very happy when I attempted to see Tariq Aziz in Baghdad. I suppose me and my colleagues are irritations for Tony Blair's government.

"I find it very odd that my friends' homes are raided the day before I get the letter from the Attorney General. We will co-operate with any investigation, we have nothing to hide. But neither are we going to be intimidated out of our activities over Iraq."