BAGHDAD – A Sunni cleric who had joined with U.S. forces to fight the insurgent group al-Qaida in Iraq was seriously wounded Saturday in a bomb blast at his Baghdad home, a dramatic act of retribution for his role in aiding the American military. Three of his relatives were killed in the attack.
A few hours later, two regional government leaders were killed in Qadisiyah, a predominantly Shiite province south of Baghdad.
The two attacks highlight a major obstacle still facing the U.S. military even as commanders cautiously welcome a declining overall level of violence. In both cases, the victims were believed to have been targeted by members of their own sect, providing a glimpse into the complexity of allegiances in Iraq.
A bomb hit Wathiq al-Obeidi’s home in the Adhamiyah area of northern Baghdad before dawn on Saturday, four days after Sunni insurgents had issued a four-page threat against his life. Local leaders said al-Obeidi was leading a group that was working with – and receiving weapons from – American troops as part of a growing effort to drive al-Qaida in Iraq from some of Baghdad’s most dangerous neighborhoods.
Saturday’s bombing is the first known incident in which a Sunni leader in Baghdad has been targeted for his alliance with American forces in working against al-Qaida in Iraq. Over the past two months, U.S. commanders have provided large sums of money and significant powers to scores of Sunni fighters – some of whom are believed to have battled U.S. troops in the past – in an attempt to eliminate al-Qaida in Iraq.
The attack against al-Obeidi highlights a major hurdle for American forces to overcome if the strategy of arming Sunnis is to succeed. The death threat issued against the cleric earlier this week, which was posted to the Web site of an umbrella group for Sunni insurgents, made clear that he was being targeted not only for opposing al-Qaida in Iraq but for aiding the enemy.
“Obeidi is an agent for the occupier and a traitor. He is fighting against the mujaheddin and destroying Islam,” the statement said, using the Arabic term for holy warriors.
Questions have swirled about the wisdom of the U.S. military’s newest alliances since the tactic of arming them was first made public. The Sunni fighters oppose the Shiite-led government, and their long-term goals remain unclear. If a significant number of the Americans’ new Sunni allies begin to fear for their lives, the system of “concerned citizens,” as U.S. commanders call them, could break down.
A few hours after al-Obeidi’s home was bombed, a roadside bomb killed the governor and the police chief of Qadisiyah province, as well as their driver and bodyguard, as they traveled home from a funeral for a local tribal sheik, police said.
The governor, Khalil Jalil Hamza, was a member of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, a powerful Shiite political group led by the influential politician Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. The group has waged fierce battles with the Mahdi Army, Iraq’s most powerful Shiite militia, for control of the region.