Ex-officials to face trial for Iraq militia support

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BAGHDAD, Nov 17 (Reuters) Iraq's former deputy health minister and a former senior ministry official will soon face trial, the Iraqi government said today, after accusations they helped Shi'ite militiamen fuel sectarian bloodshed.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Hakim Zamili, the one-time deputy minister detained in a raid in February, and another former official from the ministry had been presented before the US-backed Central Criminal Court of Iraq last week.

The move ''shows the government wants to implement the rule of law for these two persons'', Dabbagh said.

He denied Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had intervened to get the trial off the ground, as some media reports had suggested.

He said the judicial process was advancing independently.

US and Iraqi forces launched the raid on the Health Ministry in Baghdad to arrest Zamili on suspicion he had infiltrated rogue members of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's feared Mehdi Army into the ministry and had helped funnel millions of dollars to Shi'ite militiamen.

US forces accused the rogue Mehdi units of using ministry resources to launch sectarian attacks and kidnapping.

The arrest was seen at the time as evidence Maliki's Shi'ite-led government would not stand for government officials, even fellow Shi'ites, fomenting sectarian bloodshed.

''There have been a lot of problems in the Ministry of Health during the period in which they served. There is no favour because they are Sadrists,'' Dabbagh said.

''They have to face the charges,'' he added.

The arrest was condemned by supporters of Sadr, who abandoned Maliki's governing coalition earlier this year. In August, the Shi'ite cleric issued an order freezing the activities of the feared militia.

No date has been set for the trial, Dabbagh said.

REUTERS PY BST2139

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