U.S., Iraqi forces kill organizer of attacks on Golden Mosque

Man also suspected in deaths of three Arabiya TV workers

August 05, 2007|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske | Molly Hennessy-Fiske,Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD -- U.S. and Iraqi forces announced yesterday that they had killed the mastermind of attacks on Samarra's famed Golden Mosque, which sparked sectarian violence across the country.

Haytham Badri, who also used the last name Sabi, was killed Thursday when his car caught fire as he fled a U.S. air assault on his home, Iraqi police said. He had been hiding with a group of armed men in the Banat Hassan area of eastern Samarra, about 65 miles north of the capital.

Badri's cousin, who spoke on condition that he not be further identified, said in an interview that the dead man's father and brother identified his body.

Iraqi officials said that Badri, field commander in Samarra for the militant group al-Qaida in Iraq, was wanted in connection with the February 2006 bombing at the mosque, which ignited sectarian violence across Iraq. He was also suspected of orchestrating the killing of Arabiya television correspondent Artwar Bahjat and two co-workers, who were kidnapped while covering the bombing and later shot.

"We know a lot about him. He was one of the main leaders of al-Qaida in Iraq," said Mowaffak Rubaie, Iraq's national security adviser. Rubaie said Badri was "the main culprit" in the mosque bombing.

The U.S. military confirmed in a statement that Badri was killed by U.S. forces but tied him only to a subsequent attack on the Golden Mosque on June 13, which destroyed its minarets. Fearing a repeat of the bloodshed that followed the February 2006 attack, officials in many parts of Iraq imposed curfews, which were credited with limiting the violence.

The U.S.-Iraqi joint attack in Samarra also killed a dozen other insurgents, police said. Eighty-eight were arrested, including fighters from Afghanistan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. A man said to be the local administrative commander of the group was also detained, police said.

National leaders were still attempting to hold together Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's coalition government yesterday after the largest Sunni bloc in parliament, the National Accordance Front, or Tawafiq, withdrew. The Sunnis said the government had not met their demands, including the disarming of militias, the release of prisoners held without evidence and power sharing among sectarian factions handling national security.

At a briefing yesterday, a senior Western official called the Sunni bloc's withdrawal a "moment of truth" for al-Maliki's government.

"This is not just a tiff," the official said. "It is a very, very serious set of disagreements that are on the table, and Maliki has to step up and start addressing them."

The official said he was encouraged that Sunnis have not withdrawn from parliament, which is on August recess, and by a coming "leadership summit" to address the future of legislation Washington wants passed, including laws governing oil revenue sharing and provincial elections.

The summit will include al-Maliki, a Shiite activist; President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd; Sunni Vice President Tariq Hashemi; Shiite Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi and possibly Massoud Barzani, president of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

"If this leadership summit actually does adopt this agenda and begin to address it, I could foresee the council of representatives coming back at the beginning of September and beginning to move very, very quickly on legislation because a deal would have been struck," the Western official said. "These next few days, the next few weeks are critical."

Some Sunni tribal leaders allied with U.S. forces in western Anbar province have condemned the Sunni bloc's withdrawal and are jockeying for government posts.

Members of the Anbar Salvation Council allied themselves with U.S. forces earlier this year to support the Iraqi government in its fight against insurgent groups. But the council split, with one faction supporting national Sunni politicians while another sought to represent the region themselves in Baghdad.

Sheik Hamid Hayis demanded that he and other members of the council be appointed to government posts. "There is a big political vacancy and the government must resort to us to fill it," he said.

Other council members, including Ali Hatam Salman, said they have no interest in pursuing political posts or alienating democratically elected Sunni politicians.

"All the tribes took part in the Anbar Salvation Council to get rid of al-Qaida," he said, but the dissenters now want to make political gains. Sunni political leaders should be chosen through elections, he said.

"If the Sunnis or the Anbar citizens decide that they like us and like our work, then they will choose us in the elections," Salman said.

Iranian news agencies reported that a security committee formed after the last round of talks between the U.S., Iran and Iraq is set to meet in Baghdad tomorrow, but U.S. Embassy officials said arrangements are being finalized.

In other news, the U.S. military announced yesterday that a Marine was killed in western Anbar province Thursday.

U.S. forces killed four suspects yesterday during a raid on a Shiite militia group in the town of Qasirin in eastern Diyala province that was allegedly receiving support from Iran, the military said.

In the northern oil city of Kirkuk, the deputy director of provincial security was killed in a drive-by shooting on his way to work Saturday, police said.

In the capital, select Iraqi soccer fans gathered at the Rashid Hotel in the fortified Green Zone Saturday to cheer the national soccer team and catch a glimpse of the silver Asian Cup they won July 29.

Elsewhere in the capital, a roadside bomb targeting an Iraqi army patrol killed a civilian and injured five people, including four soldiers. A mortar strike in the parking lot of the Palestine Meridien Hotel injured two people.

Molly Hennessy-Fiske writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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