BAGHDAD -- The family of an Iraqi government scientist whose battered body turned up at a Baghdad hospital more than a year ago welcomed the news yesterday that the US Army has reopened an inquiry into how he died while in US detention.
Mohammad Munim al-Izmerly, who died Jan. 31, 2004, at age 65, is the only known weapons scientist among at least 96 detainees who have died in US custody in Iraq. The CIA says Izmerly tested poisons on prisoners for Saddam Hussein's intelligence service.
The US military last year supplied only a sketchy death certificate for Izmerly. The family then commissioned an Iraqi autopsy, which found that he died of a blow to the head, and they tried unsuccessfully to get Iraqi legal intervention.
Now the Army's Criminal Investigation Command in Washington, after an inquiry by the Associated Press, says it has reopened an investigation into what it calls a previously closed case. Spokesmen would not explain why or discuss the focus of the inquiry.
The case is one of 27 between August 2002 and November 2004 which the Army has classified as suspected or confirmed homicides, according to a comprehensive accounting released yesterday. The Criminal Investigation Command said it recommended charges against 17 soldiers, but commanders have decided not to prosecute them, The New York Times reported yesterday.
''We think that God wants us to get to the truth and to the fact my father was innocent of anything bad," Izmerly's son, Ashraf, said yesterday.
Izmerly's family seemed unaware of the nature of his work.
The final report of the CIA-led Iraq Survey Group, which came up empty-handed hunting for banned weapons in Iraq, says Izmerly, a native of Egypt who was a naturalized Iraqi citizen, was a leader in Iraq's efforts to build chemical weapons in the 1970s and became an assassination specialist.
Former colleagues said Izmerly tested poisoned food or injections on about 100 prisoners, the CIA report says.
Izmerly was seized by US troops in April 2003. In February 2004, the Red Cross notified his family of his death. Ashraf said that when he went to claim the remains, he saw injuries to the head and a pool of blood beneath it.