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Iraqi religious official dies of heart attack following escape from prison

Saad Kumbesh, the former head of Iraq's Sunni waqf, died after he was caught by police. He was serving time for corruption before his escape.
HUSSEIN FALEH/AFP via Getty Images

The former head of a Sunni Muslim organization in Iraq who had escaped from prison died of a heart on Thursday after police re-arrested him, according to multiple Iraqi media reports. 

What happened: Saad Kumbesh is the former president of the Sunni Endowment Office in Iraq. He was arrested on March 21. On April 11, Kumbesh was sentenced to four years in prison for corruption. Kumbesh was serving his sentence at the Karrada Maryam police station in Baghdad, said Iraqi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasoul, according to the official Iraqi News Agency.

On Tuesday evening, Kumbesh received a visitor for iftar, the meal in which Muslims break their daily fast for Ramadan. At 10:30 p.m. local time, he escaped with the help of three individuals from within the prison to two vehicles that were waiting for him. The search for him is ongoing.

Iraq’s Interior Minister Abdul Amir Al-Shammari said that an officer at Baghdad’s Salhiya police station, another from the Karrada Maryam station and one from an unspecified detention center have been detained in relation to the incident. Shammari said he formed a committee to find Kumbesh, according to the Iraqi News Agency.

On Thursday, several Iraqi media outlets reported that Kumbesh was located and arrested by the Ministry of the Interior, and then died of a heart attack. The Iraqi News Agency likewise reported on Friday that Kumbesh's death was heart related. 

Why it matters: The Iraqi government of Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani has made fighting the widespread corruption in Iraq a priority. Sudani dismissed several officials to this end upon taking office late last year.

Many are skeptical of the effort, accusing the government of using the anti-corruption campaign to target political opponents, Mustafa Saadoun reported for Al-Monitor from Baghdad last December.

Kumbesh’s escape could be embarrassing for the government’s anti-corruption efforts. Hisham al-Rekabi, an adviser to Sudani, referred to Iraqi detention centers as “five-star hotels for corrupt people” in reaction to the escape, the Iraqi Kurdish news outlet Rudaw reported.

Editor's note: this article was updated on April 20 and April 21 to include information on Kumbesh's death. 

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