BAGHDAD -- A tribal chief who challenged Iraq's most feared terrorist and sent fighters to help US troops battle Al Qaeda in western Iraq died in a hail of bullets yesterday, the latest victim of an apparent insurgent campaign against Sunni Arabs who work with Americans.
The prime minister, meanwhile, was frustrated again in trying to fill key security posts, and his spokesman hinted at a deadline if the impasse continued. Nouri al-Maliki is trying to get Shi'ite and Sunni politicians to back candidates who are independent and not tied to sectarian militias.
A roadside bomb exploded today on a main road north of Baghdad, killing nine people and wounding 11, police said. The victims were traveling in cars and a bus when the blast occurred near Khalis. Shootings and bombings killed nine people and wounded 35 across the country yesterday, and the bodies of at least 10 more people were found in Baghdad, possible victims of the sectarian bloodshed tearing at Iraq.
The most significant killing involved Sheik Osama al-Jadaan, who was ambushed by gunmen as he was being driven in Baghdad's Mansour district, a predominantly Sunni Arab area. Jadaan's driver and one of his bodyguards also were killed, police Lieutenant Maitham Abdul Razzaq said.
Jadaan was a leader of the Karabila tribe, which has thousands of members in Anbar Province, an insurgent hotbed stretching from west of Baghdad to Syria. He had announced an agreement with the US-backed Iraqi government to help forces capture Al Qaeda members and foreign fighters.
US troops also raised a scout force from Jadaan's followers known as the ``Desert Protectors" to help find insurgents living under the protection of a rival tribe in Qaim and a cluster of nearby towns in Anbar. US officials said the area is a staging ground for smuggling weapons and fighters.
In March, Jadaan said his people had captured hundreds of foreign fighters and handed them over to authorities. He also issued a warning to the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who is blamed for many of the worst terror bombings in the country.
``Under my leadership and that of our brothers in other tribes, we are getting close to the shelter of this terrorist," Jadaan said. ``We will capture him soon."
Anti-American sentiments have been strong in Anbar since the US-led invasion in 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein's regime, which was dominated by the Sunni Arab minority. But relations between Anbar locals and foreign fighters soured when the outsiders started killing Iraqis suspected of having links to the Americans or those holding government jobs.
US officials hope Iraqis will be able to take on more security duties, allowing US forces to begin pulling out. But a week after Maliki's unity government took office, ethnic, sectarian, and secular parties are struggling to agree on who should run the crucial interior and defense ministries . The impasse dashed hopes that Maliki could swear in the two new ministers when the 275-member parliament convened yesterday.