BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Several hundred Iraqi police recruits were being treated yesterday in an outbreak of severe food poisoning that triggered a mutinous episode in southern Iraq, and the capital was shaken by the assassination of the vice president's brother.
Officials in Numaniyah, about 75 miles southeast of Baghdad, said disorder broke out at a military base yesterday, the day after the recruits became ill. Angry recruits stoned the car of their commander.
Authorities said they had not yet established that the food poisoning, which broke out Sunday evening, was intentional. But several people connected with the base dining facility, including the food supplier, were arrested, military spokesman Brig. Gen. Khasim Mosawi said in a televised news conference.
Some local officials feared that the poisoning reflected a new and more frightening form of terrorism in an area that has been relatively free of violence. But a security official who requested anonymity said he thought the soldiers were poisoned by meat served after its expiration date.
About 350 of the soldiers remained in two hospitals yesterday, officials said.
The soldiers began to collapse in pain Sunday while doing field drills after eating the large evening meal that breaks the day's fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.
"I thought someone hiding somewhere was sniping at them with a silencer," said a base security official who would only give the name Ali.
Soldiers who did not eat the evening meal were not sickened, officials said.
Several members of the Wasit provincial council and a Numaniyah official, who all asked not to be named out of fear for their safety, said they had received complaints from soldiers about abuse by Col. Amer Flaih Hasoon Dulaimi, commander of the 1,800-member national police brigade.
They said the colonel publicly reproached the recruits after they celebrated the birth date of one of the Muslim imams with a meal and the singing of religious anthems.
In Baghdad, armed men arriving in a convoy of about 10 vehicles stormed the house of Lt. Gen. Amir al-Hashimi, killed him and his guards, and kidnapped his son. Al-Hashimi was the eldest brother of Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a top-ranking Sunni Arab politician.
Some of the attackers wore uniforms and others were in civilian clothes, a spokesman for the Iraqi Interior Ministry said.
Amir al-Hashimi was the vice president's third sibling of be assassinated. Their sister was killed along with her driver in April, two weeks after a brother was killed while driving with friends.
Amir al-Hashimi was an officer in Saddam Hussein's army and was the army's chief of staff for several months in 2004. Recently, he worked as an adviser to the minister of defense. Sunni political leaders said they held the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki responsible for the killing because it had failed to bring Shiite Muslim militias under control. The militias have been widely accused of carrying out killings of minority Sunnis.
"What makes us wonder, is that why they make promises about the militias that they can't fulfill?" said Saleem Abdullah of the Iraqi Accordance Front. "Every time we think there is a solution it disappears."
Hussein's trial resumed yesterday after a nearly two-week recess. During testimony, a Kurdish woman accused the deposed government of burying her family alive after destroying her village, rounding up men, women and children and herding them into camps where they were tortured and left hungry and exposed to the elements.
"I want you to ask Saddam Hussein a question," the Kurdish woman said while testifying from behind a curtain in a heavily protected Baghdad courtroom. "What was the guilt of the women and children?"
The woman, who was 13 at the time of a large-scale counterinsurgency operation carried out by Hussein's forces in 1988, added, "I know what happened to my family. They were buried alive."
Hussein's defense attorneys again boycotted the trial, objecting to the court's decision to remove the first judge in case, who was widely perceived by Shiites and Kurds as too lenient toward the former president and the defense.
In addition to four witnesses, the prosecution presented identification cards of Kurdish victims discovered in mass grave sites in southern Iraq. Although Iraqi security forces tried to seize the identification cards during the roundup of suspects, some victims managed to hide them on their person and smuggle them to their graves, giving forensic scientists valuable clues in building up the case.
In other developments yesterday:
The U.S. military reported the deaths of four U.S. troops. A soldier was killed by small-arms fire in Baghdad, and three Marines were killed Sunday by enemy fire in Anbar province.
Parliament set a vote for tomorrow on implementation of a federal system to transfer power from Baghdad to the provinces. The parliament will be choosing between four competing plans.
Disturbances continued in the southern city of Diwaniyah, where the U.S. Army said it killed 30 militants in a firefight Saturday, said Sheik Abdul-Razaq Nadawi, manager of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's office in the city. The Americans withdrew after clashing with worshipers, several of whom were injured, he said.
Besides al-Hashimi, at least 35 violent deaths were reported yesterday in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq.
Eleven 11 Iraqi soldiers were reported kidnapped in a dawn raid on a checkpoint in an al-Sadr stronghold in the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City.
Doug Smith and Zeena Kareem writes for the Los Angeles Times.
Killed in Iraq
As of yesterday, at least 2,748 members of the U.S. military have died since March 2003.
Cpl. Benjamin S. Rosales, 20, Houston; killed Wednesday in combat in Anbar province; assigned to 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force; Camp Lejeune, N.C.