Gunmen kill cleric associated with Iraq's top Shiite leader

Assassination is one in string of attacks targeting Muslim sect

The World

July 02, 2005|By Aamer Madhani | Aamer Madhani,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - In the latest in a string of sectarian attacks, gunmen killed a leading cleric yesterday who served as an aide to the head of Iraq's Shiite community.

Kamal Ezz al-Din al-Ghuraifi, who for more than a decade served as an emissary in Baghdad to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, was killed along with two of his bodyguards outside the al-Doriyeen mosque in central Baghdad, an Interior Ministry spokesman said. The attackers drove past the mosque and sprayed the imam's entourage with bullets.

Soon after he was gunned down, mourners cried in the streets and Iraqi police fired their Kalashnikovs into the air as a sign of respect. His body was quickly prepared for a funeral, and pallbearers carried his coffin through the neighborhood around the mosque before the body was taken to the Shiite holy city of Najaf for burial.

Al-Ghuraifi's assassination was the latest in a string of sectarian attacks in Baghdad in recent days.

This week, a Shiite member of the National Assembly was killed in a car bomb attack on his convoy on the one-year anniversary of Iraq's sovereignty, and another cleric in Baghdad with ties to al-Sistani was gunned down in May. Last week, car bombs exploded outside mosques in another predominantly Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad, killing at least 17.

As someone with close ties to al-Sistani, al-Ghuraifi was a prime target. Al-Sistani, who has eschewed political life but whose opinion carries enormous weight in Iraq's political dialogue, is one of the Shiite leaders most despised by the Sunni-dominated insurgency.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant and leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, has disparaged al-Sistani as "the leader of the unbelievers," and al-Zarqawi's group has targeted Shiites in an effort to spark a civil war.

Also yesterday, a car bomb exploded outside the offices of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's Dawa Party headquarters, killing one and injuring four others, an Interior Ministry spokesman said.

The party headquarters was also the residence of al-Jaafari, a Shiite, before he became prime minister and moved into quarters inside the fortified Green Zone, which houses the U.S. Embassy and many Iraqi government offices.

Late yesterday, U.S. and Iraqi authorities were investigating the cause of a blaze at a power station that cut off electricity to a water plant serving northern and western parts of the capital, according to news service reports. Problems with the water supply have been wreaking havoc in Baghdad for weeks, and the latest incident could leave thousands more in the capital without tap water for days.

In a separate development, Sheik Daher Khamis al-Dhari, the head of the Zowba tribe, accused coalition troops of abusing him and his sons during their detainment this week. He was released hours after his arrest when Iraqi politicians intervened.

Al-Dhari, 82, who leads the large tribe that mostly resides along the Euphrates River between Hilla and Mosul, was arrested Wednesday after an early morning raid on his home in Khan Dhari, a village on the western edge of Baghdad. The sheik said the troops trampled through his home, damaged furniture and doors, and cracked the windshields of family cars parked outside.

Al-Dhari's nephew, Harith al-Dhari, is the leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars, a Sunni organization that has been critical of the U.S. presence in Iraq and the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government.

Coalition forces acknowledge detaining al-Dhari and his sons and releasing him at the request of Iraqi Vice President Ghazi al-Yawer. Maj. Darryl Wright, a spokesman for the 3rd Infantry Division, which operates in and around Baghdad, would not say why al-Dhari was detained or provide other details of the incident.

A U.S. official briefing Western reporters in Baghdad yesterday said that al-Dhari was picked up in a case of "mistaken identity." Last month, U.S. troops briefly detained Mohsen Abdul-Hamid, the political leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, but released him after concluding that they had raided his home on a bad tip.

In an interview at his home, al-Dhari said the soldiers took over 18 million Iraqi dinars from the house and $1,000 in U.S. currency. The money, al-Dhari said, has not been returned.

Al-Dhari also said the soldiers treated him roughly, dragging him barefoot through gravel and causing injuries.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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