Iraqi Sunni party cuts contact with US

Protests killing of senior member during a raid

By Sameer N. Yacoub
Associated Press / October 26, 2008
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BAGHDAD - Iraq's largest Sunni party said yesterday it has suspended official contacts with American military personnel and civilians after the killing of a man near Fallujah during a raid.

The Iraqi Islamic Party said the raid had a "hidden political motive" in an indication of rising tensions in Anbar Province ahead of provincial elections, set to be held by the end of January.

The US military said US-backed Iraqi soldiers arrested a wanted insurgent leader suspected of training roadside bomb cells in an operation Friday that killed an armed man who opened fire on the troops.

The Iraqi Islamic Party alleged that a senior member of the party was killed in his bed and five others were arrested during the raid in the Halabsa area on the outskirts of the former insurgent stronghold.

It accused the troops of targeting party members after its success in forging tribal alliances with other political blocs. "The hidden political motive behind this incident is clear," the party said in a statement posted on its website.

The party said it "has decided to suspend all official contacts with the Americans, both military and civilians, until the party receives a reasonable explanation about what happened, along with an official apology."

It also demanded assurances that those responsible would be punished, compensation for the victims, and the release of the five detainees.

Supporters of the Iraqi Islamic Party rallied yesterday in Fallujah to protest the raid.

The party has been locked in a bitter rivalry with Sunni tribal leaders who joined forces with the United States against Al Qaeda in Iraq in so-called Awakening Councils that started in Anbar and spread to other Sunni areas.

That has raised concerns that the political tensions could lead to new violence by disrupting the Sunni revolt, which is considered a key factor in recent security gains.

American forces handed over security responsibility for the province to the Iraqis on Sept. 1 but they retain a presence in Anbar, which extends west from Baghdad to the borders with Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.

Fallujah was the scene of the war's two heaviest battles between US forces and Sunni insurgents in 2004, but violence has subsided since Sunnis began cooperating with US troops in 2006.

In a separate development yesterday, a bomb attached to a car exploded near Andalus Square in central Baghdad, killing an Iraqi army brigadier general, according to police and hospital officials. No other details were available.

Elsewhere in Baghdad, a roadside bomb struck an Iraqi army patrol, killing one soldier and wounding three others, a police official said.

In the southern city of Basra, about 300 Shi'ites rallied against a security pact being negotiated that allows US troops to stay in Iraq for three more years.

The protesters were members of a Muslim charity linked to Iraq's largest Shi'ite political party, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, or SIIC.

The council has not decided whether to support the security agreement, and its decision will be crucial in determining whether it wins parliamentary approval. Critics say the pact is an infringement of national sovereignty.

Demonstrators raised banners that read "No to the agreement of humiliation" while chanting "No to America."

Tensions have been rising as the Dec. 31 deadline to reach agreement on the pact approaches. The proposed security pact calls for all US combat forces to be removed from Iraqi cities by June 2009 and for all forces to leave the country by the end of 2011.

Opposition from members of Sayyid al-Shuhada, a charitable organization in Basra, is significant because the protests against the deal so far have largely been led by followers of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

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