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 Wednesday, according to witnesses and government officials.
The 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 a-sleep just before 4 a.m. when his home in Baghdad’s middle-class Hurriya neighborhood was surrounded by gunmen in as many as 10 sport utility vehicles 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.
The elder al-Hemaiyem was leader of the Batta clan of Iraq’s powerful Dulaimi tribe. 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 former President Saddam Hussein and to the ongoing 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.
“I would not be surprised that terrorists have a hand in this,” said an officer at the Hurriya police department identified as Brig. Gen. Hammoudi.
Family members of the victims, however, 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.