Shiite Muslims protest close to an image of anti-US cleric Moqtada al-Sadr during a protest following Friday noon prayers in the impoverished Sadr City neighborhood of eastern Baghdad in 2008. AFP PHOTO
Michael Chand was working in south-east Iraq as a civilian contractor for American reconstruction efforts when his convoy was attacked in 2007 by forces believed to be loyal to then firebrand Shia cleric Moqtada Al Sadr.
At first, his family were told he was shot and killed. They later learned he was being held hostage at a time when militant attacks on American forces were at their bloodiest.
His body was returned three years later, bearing the hallmarks of torture.
Now his widow is one of the dozens of bereaved relatives who accuse big international pharmaceutical companies of helping bankroll the Mahdi Army in its campaign of violence through kickbacks of medicine and supplies given to the Iraqi ministry of health which was then under Mr Al Sadr’s control.
For Washington, Mr Al Sadr has been the most vocal opponent of the American war. His militias were blamed for deadly attacks on a US-backed political opponent and soldiers, triggering an arrest warrant for murder that was never executed. But in recent years he has moved away from his openly anti-US stance and the position in Washington has softened.
The five pharmaceutical companies deny the allegations but this week it emerged that the US Department of Justice had launched an investigation.
In a regulatory filing, AstraZeneca, the UK pharmaceutical giant, said it “has received an inquiry from the US Department of Justice in connection with an anti-corruption investigation relating to activities in Iraq, including interactions with the Iraqi government and certain of the same matters alleged in the lawsuit.”
The suit, filed in federal court in the District of Columbia on behalf of 112 victims, seeks to hold five companies responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers from 2005 to 2009.
The defendants are household names: General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Roche as well as AstraZeneca.