New York Times: A Sunni Arab leader of a citizen patrol group in Baghdad who had been a proponent of reconciliation in his neighborhood was assassinated over the weekend.
The New York Times
By SAM DAGHER
BAGHDAD — A Sunni Arab leader of a citizen patrol group in Baghdad who had been a proponent of reconciliation in his neighborhood was assassinated over the weekend.
The killing of the leader, Fouad Ali Hussein al-Douri, a Sunni mosque imam who directed a group of about 65 guards in the Jihad neighborhood in western Baghdad, is the latest in a string of attacks on members of the so-called Awakening Councils. Relations between the Awakening Councils and the Shiite-led government have become increasingly strained.
Administration of the Awakening program, which is made up of almost 100,000 mostly Sunni men countrywide on the American military payroll, is expected to be handed over to the government starting Oct. 1.
About 54,000 Awakening patrol members in Baghdad will start reporting to the government that day. There are serious concerns that many might be arrested for previous links to the insurgency or denied long-promised jobs in the army and the police.
The Awakening members, whose ranks include many former Sunni insurgents, backed by the Americans to fight militants, are often cited as a crucial factor in the improvement of security in Iraq. But they have long been viewed with deep suspicion by many Shiites in the government.
Mr. Douri’s death is a double blow, given his efforts to promote Sunni-Shiite coexistence in a section of Baghdad especially riven by sectarian killing and displacement. Ryan C. Crocker, the American ambassador, specifically mentioned Jihad in October as a place that was “critical” for preserving security gains in Baghdad.
It was unclear who was responsible for Mr. Douri’s death. Relatives and friends blamed the government. “The Awakenings are being targeted by the government, Iran and Al Qaeda elements linked to Iran and other neighboring countries,” said Nusayef Jassim Muhammad, Mr. Douri’s cousin and neighbor.
Mr. Douri was killed when a bomb concealed in shrubs was detonated as he drove his car into his driveway on Saturday night.
At Mr. Douri’s funeral on Sunday, a simple wood coffin was carried out of his home by members of the citizen patrol he commanded, as women in black wailed and slapped their faces in grief.
Some of Mr. Douri’s men, dressed in tan uniforms with patches reading “JG,” for Jihad Guards, fired their AK-47s skyward as the funeral procession traversed the dusty and unpaved roads of Hay al-Hussein, a section of Jihad.
“A curse on those who did this and burned his mother’s heart with grief!” shouted one of Mr. Douri’s two wives, both of whom were at the funeral. He had eight children from the two marriages.
An air force colonel during the government of Saddam Hussein, Mr. Douri turned to Islamic studies after the American-led invasion in 2003.
His wish, subordinates in the Jihad Guards said, was to ensure his men got police and army jobs when the Awakening program was transferred to the government so that he could dedicate himself to completing a mosque he had started building.
“I do not think I am interested in a job in the police or army anymore,” said a Jihad Guard member who gave his name as Mohammed. “Not like before. He’s gone. He was the tent that held us all together.”
There are now about 850 citizen patrol members in Jihad and neighboring Furat, according to Khaled al-Jouhi, deputy head of a neighborhood support council set up by the American military and backed by the government.
Their goal is to promote reconciliation and economic revival in the area. Guards are paid a monthly salary of $300, and Jihad Guard leaders $450, by the American military.
Mr. Jouhi, a Shiite, said Mr. Douri had been instrumental in promoting reconciliation in Jihad. Mr. Jouhi blamed extremists and Qaeda-linked militants who he said had infiltrated the neighborhood patrols for Mr. Douri’s death.
Mr. Jouhi said Mr. Douri had been warned four months ago to stop delivering Friday Prayer sermons at the Sunni Fakhri Shanshal mosque in Jihad because of his moderate views.
Gen. David H. Petraeus, the departing commander of American forces in Iraq and a strong proponent of the Awakening Councils, distributed a final letter of thanks to the troops on Sunday in which he underscored his view that Iraq’s stability remained fragile and tenuous.
“The progress achieved has been hard-earned,” he wrote in the letter. “There have been many tough days along the way, and we have suffered tragic losses. Indeed, nothing in Iraq has been anything but hard. But you have been more than equal to every task.”
In other violence in Baghdad, two police officers were killed and six civilians wounded by a car bomb that exploded Sunday next to an ice cream shop in the Jadriya neighborhood, an Interior Ministry source said. That bombing, which coincided with the breaking of the daytime fast observed during Ramadan, was followed by a bomb attack in the Mansour district that wounded two policemen, the official said.
In the semiautonomous Kurdistan region, two roadside bombs hit a police convoy on the outskirts of Jalawla, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, killing five policemen and wounding seven, a security source in Diyala Province said.
Iraq’s Parliament, meanwhile, embroiled itself in the recent visit of a lawmaker to Israel to attend a conference on terrorism. Parliament voted to strip the lawmaker, Mithal al-Alousi, an independent Sunni Arab, of his immunity and recommended that he be prosecuted for “dealing with the enemy.”
Mr. Alousi, who was repeatedly heckled, appeared defiant. He said he had pressed his argument at the conference that an Israeli military strike on Iran over its nuclear program, which the Israelis have not ruled out, would cause “chaos and civil war” in Iraq.