A Largo urologist who spent several years as head of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society is suing the Washington Post, alleging he was defamed in a 2008 article that implied he was corrupt and had obtained the job partly because of contributions to Republican candidates and organizations.
In a suit filed in Pinellas Circuit Court, Dr. Said Hakki claims the Post story contained factual errors and knowingly cast him in a "bad light'' that has damaged him personally and professionally.
A Post spokeswoman said it would "not be appropriate'' to comment on a pending lawsuit. The reporters, Amit R. Paley and Ernesto Londono, could not be reached.
A former adviser to Saddam Hussein, Hakki fled Iraq in 1983 and became a U.S. citizen. He was working at the Bay Pines VA Medical Center in 2003 when the Bush administration asked him to return to his native country to help rebuild the war-torn health care system.
Two years later, Hakki was elected president of the Red Crescent, the Muslim equivalent of the Red Cross, and oversaw its growth to a $100 million annual operation with more than 100,000 workers in all 18 Iraqi provinces. But in 2008 he was fired in what he claims was a move by the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to seize control of a rich, powerful organization.
The Sept. 25, 2008, Post article detailed an alleged "culture of corruption'' that critics said began during Hakki's tenure.
"Iraqi officials point to Hakki and other former exiles brought to Iraq by the U.S. government as one reason that key institutions remain inefficient and corrupt,'' the story said. Among the critics quoted in the article was Hakki's interim successor, Abdul Kareem Aboud al-Humeidi. The story did not point out that Humeidi had once been fired from the Red Crescent for alleged corruption.
In his lawsuit, Hakki says he had "fixed problems at the Red Crescent,'' not created them, and accuses the Post of errors and misleading statements including:
• The story said Hakki left Iraq after a warrant was issued for his arrest. He says he actually left on a planned trip to the United States on July 7, 2008, the day before the warrant was issued.
• The story said Hakki had contributed $13,800 to Republican interests since 1988, but didn't note that he had made no political donations since 1993, several years before the Bush administration took office.
• The Post said U.S. officials in Baghdad said they would support Hakki's extradition to Iraq to face charges. However, the Post did not name the officials, and Hakki's suit says the U.S. Embassy later denied making any such statements.
Criminal charges accusing Hakki of theft and mismanagement were later dropped. In July, he won a round in his fight for potential reinstatement as Red Crescent president when an Iraqi lower court ruled he had been illegally fired.
Hakki, 65, is also in talks with the Department of Veterans Affairs about extending his leave from Bay Pines while he tries to clear his name.
"Once that's done, I can go back to the thing I love most, which is to serve my country,'' he said, referring to the United States. "Whatever my country wants me to do I will do.''
Susan Taylor Martin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.