Kurdish lawmaker's killing highlights deadly weekend

Islamic militants angry with secular government slay 5 others, abduct 2

February 11, 2003|By Jeffrey Fleishman | Jeffrey Fleishman,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

SULAYMANIYAH, Iraq - Shawkat Haji Mushir died writing the words live always.

The Kurdish legislator was assassinated over the weekend as he attempted to negotiate a surrender agreement for 121 guerrillas of the Ansar al-Islam militant group in northern Iraq. As he wrote the two-page agreement - a blood-splattered copy of which was obtained yesterday by the Los Angeles Times - he was shot in the head by an Ansar gunman who had deceived him. The pen stopped in the middle of the Kurdish salutation.

Mushir's death marked a weekend of killings and kidnappings as the Islamic group announced that its attacks were a response to the secular Kurdish government's attempts to "destroy the steel lines of the holy warriors and make them mercenaries and servants."

The rhetoric and tactics of Ansar al-Islam have grown more striking since Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said last week the group is tied to al-Qaida and manufactures chemical agents along the Iranian border.

The assassination and kidnappings have stunned the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which governs the eastern portion of northern Iraq and has been unable to rout Ansar guerrillas from their mountain caves and bunkers.

Two other PUK members were kidnapped Saturday after Ansar members assassinated Mushir and killed five others.

Those killings were orchestrated the same night two PUK soldiers were shot and their bodies burned at a checkpoint near the city of Chamchamal.

PUK security officials suggest the recent attacks come as Ansar faces a defining moment as it attempts to survive the possibility of a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

"There is a split opening within Ansar," said Kakamand Kakarush, a PUK military commander. "Some of them want to defect. Some want to continue fighting and begin suicide bombings. Others are planning for one big event before they disappear."

Mushir was assassinated, said PUK security officials, as he attempted to negotiate the surrender of Ansar fighters who intimated they wanted to defect.

He had been meeting for months with members of one of Ansar's strongest factions, known as Tawhid. Part of the deal included paying the militants to jump sides.

"We have an objective of destroying Ansar including dividing them," said one senior PUK official. "If we didn't do that, it'd be stupid."

Officials said Ansar deceived Mushir and lured him to the village of Gamesh Tapa, where he spoke for 45 minutes with an Ansar member named Ali Teezha. After the meeting, Mushir began writing an agreement outlining terms that would allow defecting guerrillas to form their own party, providing they support the liberation of Kurds and "are splitting away from Ansar al-Islam and that you are ... not hostile to any Kurdish or Islamic force." He was killed before he finished.

"As he was signing it, boom," said the senior PUK official.

Jeffrey Fleishman writes for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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