Aide, teacher, sheik assassinated in Iraq

BAGHDAD – Assailants shot to death a high-ranking government aide in Baghdad and a school principal north of the capital Monday as political wrangling continued over legislation considered key to stabilizing the country.

Police in the capital said Maj. Gen. Fauzi Hussein Muhammed, an adviser at the Ministry of Information, was gunned down while driving in western Baghdad. The ministry oversees the police, who in November lost 46 officers to violence. The previous month, 117 were killed, according to government figures.

The school principal was assassinated in Samarra, about 70 miles northwest of Baghdad. Police said two men opened fire on the unidentified school official’s car as he drove to work. More than 300 teachers or educational employees have been killed since the start of the war in March 2003, according to the government.

Another assassination was reported in the northern city of Kirkuk. Police Brig. Gen. Sarhad Qadir said armed men traveling in two vehicles opened fire on a car carrying a local sheik who was involved in community efforts to fight insurgents. The sheik, Atallah Iskender, was killed, as was his driver. Qadir said the assailants dragged their bodies from the vehicle and burned them on the road.

Iskender was a member of the Hawija Awakening Council, which has recruited about 6,000 volunteers to work alongside U.S. and Iraqi forces to quell the insurgency in the region.

Violence has dropped considerably in the past two months, but politicians again Monday showed little inclination to match the trend with political reconciliation.

A bill that would expand employment opportunities in government for people who were members of Saddam Hussein’s ruling Baath Party was the subject of another heated debate in parliament. Passage of the measure is considered crucial to bringing Sunni Arabs and Shiite Muslims closer together. However, many Shiites, who suffered under Saddam’s Sunni-run regime, oppose letting ex-Baathists back into high-level government jobs.

No action was taken on the bill, the first of the so-called benchmarks sought by Washington to prove Iraqi political progress to even reach parliament. When the bill was first debated last week, the session quickly deteriorated into yelling and finger-pointing.

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