BAGHDAD – Two Iraqi election officials facing corruption charges said Sunday they have been released on bail after a three-day detention that they said was designed to pressure the independent electoral body.
The detention of the two election officials has fueled concerns that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is seeking to consolidate power and bring independent officials and government bodies under his control.
The officials, Faraj al-Haidari and Karim al-Tamimi, were detained Thursday after a decision to reinvestigate old corruption charges against the commission. Both officials vehemently denied the allegations, and described their detentions as an attempt to pressure the panel. A spokesman for al-Maliki has denied any government pressure, saying the issue is with the courts.
Al-Haidari, who heads the electoral commission, said by phone that he and al-Tamimi were released Sunday. He said the judge who released them found that the two did not violate the law but said it was not clear whether the case will continue or not. Both paid 15 million Iraqi dinars (about $12,500) in bail.
Al-Tamimi confirmed that he had also been set free. He spoke to The Associated Press by phone from his house.
"Right now, I am with my family. I will continue my work in IHEC in order to serve my country," he vowed.
The charges against the two officials relate to payments given to employees of the government real estate registration department for plots of land given to IHEC board members. The officials said they acted completely within the law in making the payments, and earlier charges were dropped.
Although corruption is a serious and widespread problem in Iraq, such investigations have also been used as way to pressure officials.
The election commission, which carries out voting and tallies the results, is one of the country's more powerful institutions, and the detained officials are two of its more prominent members.
The nine-member board is drawn from Iraq's various ethnic and sectarian factions.
The panel found itself in the middle of Iraq's most heated political debate in years after the recent parliamentary election in 2010. A Sunni-backed bloc narrowly won the most seats in the election. Although it was not enough to secure a majority, its strong showing was a surprise in the Shiite-dominated country.
As political factions scrambled to assemble support for a governing coalition, supporters of al-Maliki demanded recounts and complained the vote was plagued with fraud.
International observers called the vote and ballot count fair, and after a torturous recount also supervised by IHEC, the original results were widely found to be accurate.
Haidari said the detention is retribution for the men's work on the last elections.
Al-Maliki eventually kept his job after managing to form a broader Shiite coalition.
Also on Sunday, three separate attacks killed five people across the country.
In the northern city of Kirkuk, security official Hallow Najat said an explosion near the city's university killed one and wounded 15. A roadside bomb in Hawija in northern Iraq hit a car carrying the leader of an anti-al-Qaida militia, killing his son, said Brig. Gen. Sarhat Qadir.
In the northern suburbs of Baghdad, gunmen blew up a Shiite family's house in the Sunni-dominated Taji area, killing three and wounding two others, police and health officials said on condition of anonymity.
Associated Press writers Sameer N. Yacoub and Sinan Salaheddin contributed to this report