Top Sunni Lawmaker Killed Outside Baghdad Mosque

June 12, 2009

Author: Kim Gamel

Source: The Houston Chronicle

Wire Service: AP

The moderate leader of the largest Sunni bloc in parliament was assassinated Friday after delivering a sermon at a Baghdad mosque, a killing that could set back efforts to reconcile differences between the two Muslim sects before national elections.

Harith al-Obeidi, 47, was an outspoken advocate for prisoners' rights, one of the most divisive issues in relations between the disaffected Sunni minority and the Shiite-led government.

He was killed a day after colleagues said he called on parliament to summon interior and defense ministry officials to answer allegations of torture in Iraqi jails. Although most detainees are Sunni, al-Obeidi promoted human rights for all Iraqis, even followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Politicians traded theories and accusations over a possible motive for the killing — ranging from retaliation for his campaign for detainees, to punishment by Sunni extremists for his joint efforts with Shiite groups to achieve national reconciliation.

The brazen daylight shooting in a heavily guarded area raised fresh concerns about the ability of Iraqi forces to maintain security with U.S. forces withdrawing from cities by the end of the month. The attack took place in a western Baghdad neighborhood that was once a Sunni insurgent stronghold until local tribal leaders turned against al-Qaida in Iraq.

The gunman shot and killed al-Obeidi and a bodyguard in the mosque courtyard at about 1:30 p.m., then was killed himself after detonating a grenade as he tried to flee, according to Iraqi officials.