RE: Iraq: Meltdown
Gunmen in Iraq kill top Shiite cleric's aide
Second aide slain this week; police say 9 die in separate attack
Thursday, May 19, 2005 Posted: 12:07 PM EDT (1607 GMT)
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- An aide to Iraq's most powerful Shiite cleric was shot to death Thursday in Baghdad, police said, the second of his aides killed this week.
The attack is part of an upsurge in violence since the largely Shiite transitional government came to power. Many of the targets have been Shiites and Kurds. Authorities believe the insurgents are mainly Sunni Arabs.
The aide to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, whose name is Sayid Mohammed al-Allaf, was shot to death in Sadr City, a largely Shiite neighborhood of northeast Baghdad, Iraqi police said.
The other al-Sistani aide shot this week was Sheikh Qasin al-Ghiri. He and his nephew were killed in a drive-by shooting early Sunday in eastern Baghdad, where there is a large Shiite presence.
Al-Allaf's assassination follows Wednesday's call by the Association of Muslim Scholars and the Iraqi Islamic Party to close Sunni mosques from Saturday dawn prayers until Tuesday dawn prayers to protest the treatment of Sunnis.
According to the GlobalSecurity.org Web site, the association was created after the fall of Saddam Hussein and his largely Sunni government. It is the highest Sunni authority in Iraq.
The association's statement says the Shiite-dominated transitional government disregards the Sunni community's rights, and has violated "mosques, (the) holy Quran and private homes; in addition to the arrest, torture and assassination of scholars and thousands of youth and worshippers without proper trial, along with a deliberate marring of the reputation of Sunnis through official and non-official media."
The statement demands the end of government practices, threatening a "stricter" response if it does not.
Sunnis represent a small portion of the 275-member transitional National Assembly.
One of those Sunni Arab lawmakers escaped an assassination attempt Thursday in which at least nine others died, police said.
Gunmen fired at the car of Sheikh Fawaz al-Jarba as it approached his house in the northern city of Mosul. Al-Jarba's driver was killed, but his bodyguards shot dead one of the attackers.
Mosul police said later they recovered seven other bodies, identifying them as family and personnel.
Wire services said witnesses reported the U.S. military became involved in the incident, but it was unclear in what capacity.
Also Thursday, an official from Iraq's Oil Ministry, Ali Maneed, and a professor at Baghdad University, Dr. Qasim Mohammed Al-Umari, were gunned down in a separate incidents in Baghdad, police said. Al-Umari was the son of an ex-Sunni imam of a mosque in the southeastern city of Ur.
On Monday, Iraq Defense Minister Sadoun al-Dulaimi ordered the Iraqi army to stop raids on mosques and churches.
"We have ordered a ministerial order to all units," said al-Dulaimi, who expressed concern about harming civilians.
Insurgents have used mosques, Muslim houses of worship, to stage attacks and to hide guns and explosives.
On Wednesday, the head of a Sunni group made fiery accusations against Shiites, directing his ire at a group that once was a militia for a powerful Shiite organization.
Harith al-Dhari, head of the Association of Muslim Scholars, criticized the Badr Organization, once known as the Badr Brigade, the group that was formerly the militia of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, whose party has members in the government.
Last week, the Interior Ministry announced that the Badr Organization helped authorities arrest a handful of people in connection with a Baghdad attack.
Sunnis are concerned that the Shiite government is allowing groups like the Badr Organization to behave like militias. Al-Dhari makes a reference to the arrests in a statement, referring to four Palestinians who were seized.
"We knew the sides that stand behind the assassinations of imams, sheikhs, and prayers. They are the same sides that cordoned off the camp of our Palestinian brothers in al-Baladiat area to take them out of the country. They are the Badr militant group," al-Dhari said.
"All the world should know that we are heading toward a catastrophe, only God knows when it ends. This is our warning."
Terror tape justifies civilian killings
A chilling, rambling audio file thought to be the voice of the most-wanted man in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, says religious doctrine justifies the killing of innocent Muslims by insurgents.
CNN has been unable to confirm that that it is al-Zarqawi speaking. The recording, posted on several Islamist Web sites Wednesday, introduces the speaker as al-Zarqawi, but the speaker does not identify himself.
The voice says in Arabic: "The shedding of Muslim blood ... is allowed in order to avoid the greater evil of disrupting jihad."
"God knows that we were careful not to kill Muslims, and we have called off many operations in the past to avoid losses ... but we cannot kill infidels without killing some Muslims. It is unavoidable," he adds.
In Washington, Lt. Gen. John Abizaid, head of the U.S. Army's Central Command, said, "It's the same old thing. He says that it's OK to kill Muslims, and that it's an Islamic duty. And it's incorrect. That's not true."
A roadside bomb struck a convoy and killed a Task Force Baghdad soldier Thursday in southeast Baghdad, the U.S. military said. With that death, 1,626 U.S. troops have died in the Iraq war.
The U.S. Army has scheduled another Article 32 hearing for May 24 for Pfc. Lynndie England, the first step in restarting the process in her court-martial. A military judge declared a mistrial in the England case May 4 and threw out her guilty plea in connection with her role in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. She is charged with seven criminal counts: two of conspiracy, four of abusing detainees and one of committing an indecent act. (Full story)
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick arrived in Baghdad Thursday for meetings with top Iraqi officials, U.S. officials said. His first meeting was with Hachem al-Hassani, speaker of the Iraq's transitional National Assembly. Zoellick was scheduled to meet Thursday afternoon with interim Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, U.S. embassy officials said, as well as other U.S. and Iraqi officials.
The House Armed Services Committee approved a measure barring women in the U.S. military from roles in direct ground combat. (Full story)
In Baquba, two Iraqi police officers were killed Thursday and two other people were wounded when a roadside bomb detonated near a police convoy in front of the Diyala University Medicine School, police said.
CNN's Enes Dulami and Kevin Flower contributed to this report.
Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.
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