Top Sunni lawmaker killed outside mosque in Baghdad

By Hamid Ahmed
Associated Press / June 13, 2009
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BAGHDAD - The head of Iraq's main Sunni parliamentary bloc was killed in a bold daylight attack after delivering a sermon during Friday prayers at a mosque in western Baghdad, raising fears that insurgents are trying to rekindle sectarian violence.

A gunman believed to be as young as 15 shot Harith al-Obeidi as he left the mosque and walked toward his nearby home, police said.

There were conflicting accounts about what happened next.

Guards at the scene said the assailant was chased a few hundred yards down the street, then detonated a grenade, killing himself and an undetermined number of pursuers.

But an Interior Ministry official said guards killed the attacker after he threw the grenade during a shootout.

At least four other people, including a worshipper, were killed and several others were wounded, according to the official, who read details from the police report on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

"While we were leaving the mosque we heard a gunshot fired, followed by an explosion," said Majid Hameed, a 50-year-old worshipper wounded in the shoulder by shrapnel. "I blame the security forces for allowing gunmen to enter the neighborhood even though all entrances are blocked by checkpoints."

Obeidi, who led the Iraqi Accordance Front, was known as a fierce advocate of prisoners' rights - a divisive issue in relations between the disaffected Sunni Muslim minority and the Shi'ite-led government.

He championed their cause to the end, saying in his sermon that "nobody dares to tell the ruler that such imprisonment is wrong."

The brazen shooting followed a spate of high-profile bombings that US and Iraqi officials have warned are part of an effort by insurgents to re-ignite sectarian violence and undermine confidence in the Shi'ite-led government.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who warned a day earlier that violence was likely to increase ahead of the parliamentary vote set for the end of January, promised an investigation into the attack.

"This cowardly crime is a futile attempt to incite sectarian rifts among the Iraqi people and to prove that terrorist organizations are still there after these organizations have received hard punches by our armed forces," he said in a statement read on Iraqi state TV.