View Full Version : Gunmen Kill Member of Sunni Clerics' Group

11-22-04, 10:59 AM
Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Gunmen on Monday assassinated a member of an influential Sunni clerics' group that has called for a boycott of national elections, just a day after Iraqi officials announced the balloting would be held Jan. 30 in spite of rising violence in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces recovered 12 bodies, including five decapitated ones, from an area south of Baghdad, police said Monday. One was identified as a member of the Iraqi National Guard. The bodies were found during a raid Sunday in Latifiyah, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, said Lt. Adnan Abdullah.

Sheik Faidh Mohamed Amin al-Faidhi, a member of the Association of Muslim Scholars, was shot by gunmen at his home in northern Mosul - a sign of the continuing violence that wracks the country.

The slaying could further alienate Iraq's Sunni Arab minority ahead of the Jan. 30 election. The association is already calling for a boycott of the vote, and if many Sunni heed its call, the legitimacy of the election could be deeply undermined.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Monday, Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said his government was determined to hold the election as scheduled. He described those calling for a boycott as "the eventual losers" and "a small minority."

"The forces of darkness and terrorism will not benefit from this democratic experience and will fight it," Allawi said. "But we are determined that this experiment succeeds."

The vote for the 275-member National Assembly will be Iraq's first election since Saddam Hussein's fall and is seen as a major step toward building democracy.

But the ongoing violence, which escalated this month with the U.S.-led offensive against Fallujah, has also raised concerns that balloting could be nearly a practical impossibility in insurgency-torn regions. Iraqi authorities insist ballots will be cast even in volatile areas - including Fallujah, Mosul and other parts of the Sunni Triangle.

Twenty nations, including Iraq's neighbors and Western and Arab countries, gathered in the Egyptian resort of Sharm al-Sheik for a conference aimed at showing support for Iraq.

The delegates intended to call on Allawi's government to reach out to its opponents to encourage broad participation in the election. According to a draft of the conference's final statement, they were also to underline their condemnation of "terrorism" in Iraq - a boost to Allawi's and the U.S. military's crackdown on insurgents.

In a gesture to Sunnis, Allawi on Monday ordered an inquiry into a raid by U.S. and Iraqi forces on Baghdad's Abu Hanifa mosque, one of the holiest Sunni shrines in Iraq. The raid just after Friday prayers left three people dead and enraged many Sunnis.

It also brought a condemnation from Iraq's leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Allawi, a Shiite Muslim, conferred Sunday with Sunni officials on several issues, including the Abu Hanifa raid. Allawi told them that "although there had been reports of terrorist activity around the mosque, mistakes appeared to have been made and that he had ordered a full investigation," a statement by Allawi's office said.

Allawi's government has warned that Sunni clerics who incite violence will be considered as "participating in terrorism." Some already have been arrested.

Elsewhere Monday, a U.S. patrol that came under attack returned fire, killing two attackers in Hawija, about 150 miles north of Baghdad, according to witnesses. The U.S. military had no immediate confirmation.

The military said Monday a U.S. soldier died after he was wounded in an attack the night before in Baghdad. At least 1,222 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an AP count.

The former police chief of the northern city of Mosul was arrested after allegations that his force allowed insurgents to take over police stations during this month's uprising, Deputy Gov. Khasro Gouran said Monday.

Brig. Gen. Mohammed Kheiri Barhawi was arrested Sunday by Kurdish militia in northern Irbil, where he fled after he was fired in the wake of the uprising

A rocket slammed into a residential district in the center of Baghdad on Monday, injuring five people including a child, witnesses said. The blast sent a giant cloud of black smoke rising over the eastern side of the Tigris River.

U.S. and Iraqi troops have been clearing the last of the resistance from Fallujah, the main rebel bastion stormed Nov. 8 in hopes of breaking the back of the insurgency before the election.

Allawi called the Fallujah assault was an unqualified success.

"We went to Fallujah and we broke their back," he told AP. "We found enough weapons there to destroy an entire country."

In Fallujah, Marine Maj. Jim West said Sunday that U.S. troops have found nearly 20 "atrocity sites" where insurgents imprisoned, tortured and murdered hostages. West said troops found rooms containing knives and black hoods, "many of them blood-covered."

The storming of Fallujah has heightened tensions throughout Sunni Arab areas, triggering a surge of clashes in Mosul, Beiji, Samarra, Ramadi and elsewhere.

The government's announcement Sunday that elections were set for Jan. 30 reflected Iraqi and U.S. determination to hold the vote despite the persistent violence.

Iraq's Shiites, believed to comprise about 60 percent of Iraq's nearly 26 million people, have been clamoring for an election, and voting is expected to go smoothly in northern areas ruled by the Kurds. But Sunni Arabs, estimated at about 20 percent of the population, fear domination by the Shiites.

During the January election, Iraqis will choose a National Assembly to draft a new constitution. If it's ratified, another election will be held in December 2005. Voters will also select 18 provincial councils and in Kurdish-ruled areas a regional assembly.


A US tank burns on the back of a transport truck after it came under attack on a highway in Baghdad Monday, Nov. 22 2004. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)