Members of an elite Czech police unit were detained in early January when trying to leave Iraq with weapons, including guns with silencers, Czech public radio reported on Monday. Pro-Baath Party media said the Czechs had then been allowed to leave because they were in fact “mercenaries” hired by the Shiite-dominated government to eliminate members of the Sunni opposition as part of a “death squad.”
According to Czech Radio’s information, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has decided to bolster security at the Czech Embassy in Baghdad in response to the incident and the subsequent speculation in some sections of the local media.
Karel Šrol of the Czech foreign ministry’s press department told Czech Position that two men from the police’s Rapid Intervention Squad (ÚRN) had been detained at Baghdad airport at the start of this month, but, he said, they were not in position of any weaponry and both had since returned to the Czech Republic. The men were travelling on diplomatic passports and were leaving Iraq as scheduled, having completed a stint protecting the Czech diplomatic mission in Iraq, Šrol said.
The report emerged as an Iraqi government delegation sat down to talks with Czech counterparts in Prague. Speaking at a press conference during a break in the talks, Iraq’s Minister of Defense Saadon al-Dulaymi said one of the two had been in possession of a weapon when apprehended at Baghdad airport. “It was discovered that the employee had travelled with a weapon that the authorities deemed he shouldn’t have had on his person. It had a silencer, etc. Therefore, we wanted to verify the reason why he had it,” al-Dulaymi explained. ‘It was discovered that the employee had travelled with a weapon that the authorities deemed he shouldn’t have had on his person. It had a silencer, etc. Therefore, we wanted to verify the reason why he had it.’
Speaking at the same press conference, Czech Minister of Defense Alexandr Vondra (Civic Democrats, ODS) attempted to play down the incident.
“There’s no reason to make a mountain out of a molehill. It was a question of mutual verification of cooperation in this area after Iraq took full control of security of its borders,” Vondra said, adding that some formalities and regulations in Iraq had changed since the withdrawal of the last US troops from the country in December 2011. “This is about cooperation with the Iraqi side, and I don’t see any problem with it,” Vondra added.
In an interview with the server novinky.cz published on Monday afternoon, the head of the ÚRN unit, Libor Lochman, said the two men were detained on January 7 at Baghdad airport and were travelling with eight other ÚRN members who were on their way home having completed a three-month tour protecting the Czech embassy building and diplomatic staff. Lochman also denied the men were carrying weapons but said the Iraqi officials did not like the fact that they were carrying bullet-proof vests.
New proceedures following US pull-out
“I attribute [the incident] to the fact this was the first time since the departure of the US troops that they [the Czech police] were departing from the civilian sector of the airport. ... When they used to leave from the military sector there were never such problems, and back then we carried weapons when we changed tours. This time we were without them and problems emerged,” Lochman explained.
The two ÚRN members detained at Baghdad airport were not arrested and stayed at the Czech Embassy in the Iraqi capital before the situation was clarified and the two returned home last week, Lochman said, describing the reports about the ÚRN unit in the Iraqi pro-Baath Party media as “nonsense.”
“I read them, and had them translated from Arabic. This is probably part of an internal struggle in Iraq that we don’t have anything to do with. Like the reports that we were carrying C4 [plastic explosive] and such like, this is disinformation,” Lochman told novinky.cz.