Prominent Sunni is slain

Gunmen in uniforms invade home

3 sons, son-in-law also killed


BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Dozens of gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms killed a prominent Sunni Arab tribal leader and three of his sons in their beds early yesterday in Baghdad, according to witnesses and government officials.

The coordinated pre-dawn slayings underscore the still-perilous security situation as the country heads toward its third national vote in less than a year. Unsolved murders and the discovery of bound, mutilated bodies have become commonplace amid growing speculation that at least some of the killers are operating from inside the Iraqi security forces.

Witnesses and relatives say Sheik Khadim Sarhid al-Hemaiyem was asleep just before 4 a.m. when his home in the middle-class Hurriyah neighborhood was surrounded by gunmen in as many as 10 SUVs and pickup trucks.

"They surrounded the house from all directions, keeping a few cars on the main road for protection," said weeping family member Abdel Sattar Jabbar.

Between 30 and 35 gunmen stormed the house, Jabbar said, and killed al-Hemaiyem, 70; his three sons Amir, 35, Waseem, 21, and Allawi, 19; and his son-in-law, identified only as Ali.

"There weren't any confrontations at all," Jabbar said. "Then they immediately dispersed leaving only the dead bodies behind."

The elderly al-Hemaiyem was leader of the Batta clan of Iraq's powerful Dulaimi tribe and a distant fellow tribesman of Defense Minister Saadoun Dulaimi. The Dulaimi name is one of a handful of tribal affiliations that are synonymous with Iraq's Sunni Arab minority, closely linked with the regime of Saddam Hussein and to the Sunni-led insurgency.

But given the violent, murky landscape of modern day Iraq, even police officials could only speculate whether the killings were sectarian, tribal or connected to the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections in which al-Hemaiyem's brother is a candidate.

"This is probably part of tribal revenge or other problems, or it could have political aims as to start sedition among the Iraqi people, especially now that we are a few weeks away from the elections," said an officer at the Hurriyah Police Department identified as Brig. Gen. Hammoudi. "I would not be surprised that terrorists have a hand in this."

But the victims' family members point the finger at Iraq's security forces. The killers drove trucks and wore uniforms of the Iraqi army, a common event in the dozens of mysterious killings and abductions taking place each week in Iraq.

Government officials often point out in response that police and army uniforms are easily acquired on the black market and accuse insurgents of trying to tarnish the government's reputation.

But Abdel Moneim Sarhid al-Hemaiyem, the sheik's brother, said it was unlikely that a heavily armed 10-car convoy of insurgents could easily pass through the dozens of late-night checkpoints that dot the capital without some form of official license.

"They attacked us at 4 a.m. during the curfew, so they had to be from authority," he said. "I want to ask the ministers of defense and interior why are they killing us?"

Elsewhere, an American soldier died of a gunshot wound yesterday in central Baghdad, the U.S. military said. More than 2,100 U.S. military personnel have been killed since the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Ashraf Khalil and Caesar Ahmed write for the Los Angeles Times.

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