Shock and Anger in Baghdad Greet the Abu Ghraib News

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Even for a people used to waking up to the sound of explosions, Iraqis were jolted by a Friday morning bombshell: the news, first reported on, that Sgt. Santos Cardona, viewed here as one of the villains of Abu Ghraib, had been ordered back to their country. Although Iraqi and Arab media have been slow to pick up on the story (the news cycle here tends to be a day or two behind the U.S.) many in Baghdad read about it online, and word quickly spread. The reaction was predictable: total outrage.

"This is America spitting in our face," said Imad al-Hashimi, a Baghdad paediatrician. "The sheer arrogance of it is unbelievable."

It wasn't until midday that the news began to circulate in the Green Zone, the Baghdad enclave that includes many key government offices, including that of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. There, it was greeted with incredulity—and warnings of a backlash. "The reaction in the street will be very bad," warns Maryam al-Rais, a member of the Iraqi parliament. "This is just the latest in a long list of insults to Iraqi dignity by the Americans."

Officials said that the Iraqi government was not consulted on Sgt. Cardona's new posting. "He was sent without the knowledge of the Iraqi government," says Said Fadil al-Shara'a, internal affairs advisor to Nuri al-Maliki. "Nobody who has abused Iraqis should be allowed into this country, whether or not he has been convicted."

One Western official in the Green Zone told TIME he had received several angry calls from political figures, expressing "a cold fury" at what they interpreted as American arrogance and insensitivity. "To them, the fact that [U.S. Ambassador Zalmay] Khalilzad didn't pick up the phone and tell [Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri] al-Maliki shows the Americans simply don't care about Iraqi opinion," says the diplomat. "If Abu Ghraib was a p.r. calamity, then this is Part II—another disaster."

The U.S. Embassy declined TIME's request for a comment, saying questions about Sgt. Cardona were "military matters and issues." On Friday morning, in an apparent response to the publication of TIME's story, the Pentagon issued a statement saying that Cardona's transfer is being "evaluated" and that his movement with his unit into Iraq from a staging area in Kuwait has been "stopped." But the U.S. military in Iraq went further. "He's not coming to Iraq," Lt. Col. Josslyn L. Aberle, chief of media operations for the Multinational Corps in Iraq stated flatly. And indeed, by Friday afternoon, the Pentagon said in a statement that Cardona "will depart Kuwait and will return to Fort Bragg immediately."

Iraqis contacted by TIME said it was especially galling that Sgt. Cardona would have been involved in training police. To political analyst Tahseen al-Sheekli, it suggested "that America wants to build a police force that doesn't believe in human rights."

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